The Old Printing Office

Photo of The Old Printing Office Book

The Old Printing Office by Frank Luther Mott is an account of Mott as a printer’s devil for his father’s small town weekly papers in Iowa. It’s set in the late 19th century, but the people could just as easily be from any present day creative shop. Take the highwheeler cyclist:

“My Uncle Artie worked in Father’s printing office for several years; he was a fine, spruce young man who excited my unbounded admiration by dressing up in approved bicycle costume—sweater, tight pants, and black stockings in the evenings and riding a highwheeler along the wooden sidewalks and dusty streets of What Cheer.”

Photo of The Old Printing Office Book

Woodcut stick-up W by John DePol

There is also a story of a wandering “tourist typo” compositor. These tourist typos were also known as grass hands, smouts, or tramps back in those days. The scene brings to mind many of my own friends, some also heavily tattooed, who set and make type from the far reaches of what seem different continents each year.

“He was the son of parents who were circus performers and had been trained as a child aerialist; but a fall from a trapeze had injured his feet and turned him from the big tops to the printing office. He was tattooed all over the upper part of his body; and when he worked near the big window of the shop in the summertime with his shirt off for coolness, he drew such a crowd on the sidewalk and made such a scandal that a sleeveless undershirt had to be prescribed as minimum clothing. Wether this offended him, or what it was, one morning he simply did not show up. He left no debts behind him; indeed he had a couple of days’ pay due him and he had paid his landlady ahead for board and room. Apparently the old wanderlust had carried him off between days. We never heard of him again.”

Woodcut by John DePol

Editor woodcut by John DePol

The Old Printing Office Book

The dirty work of the printer’s devil

Old Printing Office
By Frank Luther Mott
Published in 1988 by Blackwell North America, Lake Oswego, Oregon & Blackwood, New Jersey
Designed by Neil Shaver at Yellow Barn Press
The type was handset in 12 point Italian Oldstyle by Frederic W. Goudy
Wood engravings, including cover pattern, by John DePol.
Printed on Mohawk Superfine paper.

20 pages

Posted by on January 23, 2014
Filed Under Books, Typography | Leave a Comment