Right down the highway from Syracuse, New York, is Rochester’s very own Type High Letterpress. At the helm of this cozy, treasure-packed print shop is Tony Zanni. From wood & metal type goodies to presses that shine, Tony gives us a tour of this hidden gem tucked away in upstate New York.
PRESSES AND WOODCUTS AND TYPE, OH MY!
Our shop is located on the second floor of an old candy factory in downtown Rochester, NY called the Hungerford Building. It houses around 40 other artisans of varying crafts. We occupy a 1,200 sq. ft. space that is long and narrow.
At the front of the shop is a small retail area. The rest of the shop is packed to the gills with over 700 cases of wood and metal type, and over 150 galleys of dingbats and cuts. At the back we have our 4 large presses: a Damon & Peets 8×12, Heidelberg Windmill (with factory foil stamping attachment), a Vandercook No. 3 Proof press and a giant Wesel Iron Handpress. We also have a fun collection of small table top presses hiding around the shop as well.
The space in and of itself isn’t really interesting, however, what it’s filled with captures imaginations and inspires creativity. There are all sorts of letterpress goodies to look at. We have originals of Adobe’s Wood Type Ornaments typeface, old wood cuts from various shops around the western NY area, slug cutters, miterers… The Hell Bucket. There’s a lot of stuff to look at if you ever visit.
MOST PRIZED POSSESSIONS
This is going to sound funny but my favorite thing about the shop is that it’s heat included. Our original location was a bit better but boy was it cold in the Upstate winters. The new space… Toasty!
As for fun things / prized possessions, there’s a couple. First would have to be my Vandercook, Izzy. Yeah, I named her Isabelle or Izzy for short. I found her thanks to Shelly at French Press. I asked Shelly to visit this estate sale (because I couldn’t attend) and had her look for Vandy’s. She called and said there was a Vandy in the garage, mostly complete. I said great, put me on the phone with the seller, offered $500 sight unseen. They said yes and I picked it up two days later. I honestly think this was the last $500 Vandercook to be had and this was back in 2009.
This past summer I acquired another nifty item: a Lufkin 6 ft. tape measure with inches and Pica rules on it. Maybe not super practical, but pretty cool.
One more super cool thing I have is an original plate of the very first Photographic image printed in a magazine. It is “A Scene in Shantytown, New York” that appeared in the March 4, 1880 issue of New York Daily Graphic – the first halftone photograph ever printed by a newspaper. Yes, we have a pretty cool collection.
I jokingly refer to my shop as the “train car”. It’s about 15′ wide by 65′ long and has 3 windows in the back and a double door up front. With any luck we’ll be moving down the hall later this year a space that is 1500 square feet. I’m not looking forward to moving all this again.
PRINTING IN THE EMPIRE STATE
We are in the Hungerford Building. surrounded by many other creative artists. On the first Friday and second Saturday of every month we host events. We are the northern border of an area called the Neighborhood of the Arts. About 3 blocks away are the Memorial Art Gallery, Anderson Alley Arts building, plus a host of other galleries & public art pieces.
TYPE OF SHOP
Type High is a commercial letterpress print shop specializing in hand set typography and design for letterpress printing. Obviously, I use Boxcar Press for our plates when the need arises. We teach letterpress workshops in our space, how to set type properly and print an edition. In addition, I also teach a semester long letterpress design class for the Rochester Institute of Technology.
The long list of things currently in the shop from largest to smallest…
- Wesel Iron Handpress
- Sheet 18×24 printable 16×22
- Vandercook No. 3 Proof press
- Sheet 14×20 Printable 13.5ish x 18.5ish
- Heidelberg Windmill 10 x 13 with Foil
- Damon & Peets 8 x12
- Nolan Proof press 12 x 18 galley proof press
- Showcard Press 14 x 20ish
- Old style Pilot Press 7 x10
- Craftsman 5×8
- Golding 4×6
- Kelsey 3×5
- Sigwalt 2×3 toy press
- Challenge 26.5″ cutter
MOST VALUABLE TOOL
The most valuable tool in my shop is my line gauge, Pica Stick, ruler… whatever you want to call it. My favorite one is a Gaebel 612H-12 with inches, Picas, Points and millimeters. Not only is it great for measuring and drawing straight lines, but it’s also great for opening ink cans, cutting open packages, getting things out from under the press. Not to mention, slicing pizza, and cutting cookie cake on those special occasions.
My favorite inks are from the old cans we pull out of shops that we buy out. The older the ink, the better the coverage. Plus it’s usually free and we’re saving it from going to the landfill. When we have to buy new stuff, it’s usually Van Son due to ease of ordering with our local supplier.
SOLVENT OF CHOICE
Don’t tell anyone, I order California Type Wash. It’s an older solvent, that’s probably not as good for the environment as some of the newer stuff but it’s by far the best i’ve ever used. It cleans quick, dries fast, and will take 100 years of ink off in only a few wipes. I like to challenge myself when cleaning up the Vandercook to do it only using one or 2 rags at the most.
For most jobs I need plates for, I use the Boxcar Base and polymer plates. My base is beat up, but it still does the trick. To be honest, I hate printing with polymer plates. It’s been my experience that the ink does not carry well, and they can be finicky at times with the amount of ink on the roller and the roller height. Since we go in between hand-set type and plates, it is challenging at times for make-ready.
OIL OF CHOICE
You’re supposed to oil these things? Honestly, I just use the same oil I use for my race car. If it’s good enough to run at 6000 RPM for an hour in a race car it’s good enough for a press.
PREFERRED CLEAN-UP RAG
I’m cheap… I use Scotts Rags in a box… but only the ones from small mom and pops hardware stores, because they are different from the ones at Home Depot.
I just recycled a 91 lb. bucket of pied worn out old metal type. However, there’s still standing forms from shops we cleaned out years ago. Some of the type from those shops may have been sold or dumped at this point but the standing forms are still in our galley storage. There are also 5 drawers of miscellaneous wood type hiding in the shop. I need a few more hours in the day to handle pied type.
I guess the only secret I have is a Sharpie. I have a pretty photographic memory for where my type is, what it is, and to where that random Cap L needs to go. When I take something out to use, I write in Sharpie the cabinet and drawer number on the back of it. Other than that, as long as I put it away I know right where it is. When I don’t, well let’s just say I swear a lot until I find it.
Things I wish I knew from day one: How to price my work for lines of type setting, vs pricing a computer-aided design. And pricing for press time vs make-ready time vs finishing time. That probably needs to evolve for each person. As a one man shop, it’s tough to figure all that out. If anyone has a magic button for that, let me know.
I was just trying to get on to Briar Press. Someone asked about type high and where did .918 in come from. I couldn’t seem to log on. So I will say it here. You may want to pass it on:
Type high was a very standard size back in the 1400s as it was the width of the kings thumb. All countries used this size as well as other measurements from the king. Standardization occurred because of war; e.g: one country’s parts or ammunition for guns did not fit another country’s weaponry. Maybe just common sense intervened. All printing machines were made to accept 918 in, so this size never changed except for a few discrepancies.
Great post, thank you! I participate in the Syracuse Antique shows at the Fairgrounds…out of commission this past year of course…but whenever I am in for a show, I visit Rochester for a day or two afterwards to shop the antique shops..maybe I’ll try to coordinate a visit when you are having an art weekend…sounds like fun and I would love to see your shop!