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Halcyon Days or Rose-tinted Glasses

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Well there we were, driving down to the Canterbury campus of the University of Kent, moving my youngest daughter into Halls to begin her new adventure.

I don't know what it was, whether it was the fact that she was embarking on a honours degree in Art History, which I would have loved to have done myself, or whether it was simply the realisation that time goes so quickly, one minute I was taking her to school, the next I was taking her to university. We then started talking about my route to adulthood after leaving school.


I had left school and started a formal apprenticeship at the age of sixteen. An apprenticeship, which seemed to me, hadn't changed since Gutenburg. I was  to be trained as a Compositor/Typesetter craftsman.

After  sweeping floors for the first two months I then entered the world of letterpress. It does seem surreal now that in one persons lifetime you can go from hand-setting type to producing websites.

We were taught how to memorise the layout of a case of type, how to read upside down and back-to-front, how to space individual pieces of metal type into lines which would then be placed into a chase (metal frame), locked into place and given to the printer.

Remembering those freezing cold days of the lead ingot deliveries, where us mere apprentices would have to brave the cold and off-load the ingots from the lorry and bring them inside, where they would be stacked and given to the linotype operators to be melted to produce Type. I can still remember how the cold lead felt on my already cold cold hands each time the delivery arrived.

My daughter couldn't believe the time and trouble it took to produce a book or a magazine using these methods, how did anything get finished? Well for a start there were a lot more people doing it and a lot more people employed as a consequence.


And yet, when you look at examples of letterpress typography, it is a thing of beauty, it is sublime ... and at the time we took it for granted, it was simply ... what we did.

So I started to look around the Net and jumped onto YouTube, to my amazement and astonishment there are people, younger people who are taking it up again, lovely little studios in places like London and New York who are embracing it – as well as finding that, incredibly, there is a resurgence of demand for it again.

Not surprising really, the advent of desktop publishing trashed the world of type, everyone and his mother could suddenly, apparently,  'do it'. I guess there was always going to be a backlash, a revolt back to the past, people still wanting to see great print and be passionate about it.

And so I thanked my daughter for helping remind me that I still had such a passion for it, albeit buried at the back of my mind. The feeling when you had created something that looked so ..... so perfect.

I guess now all I have to do is start to implement my love of type into my web projects, it won't be easy and it will take time but it will be worth it.

In a fast-paced world, thank God we're rediscovering this perfect, imperfection called Letterpress.

It may have just been halycon days but I had fallen in love with it all over again.

©Terry Rugg
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