I have always been a very tactile person, whether it be the texture of fabric or an imprint on paper. So, when I received the opportunity to visit and tour Arion Press, a letterpress company in San Francisco, CA, I was ecstatic!
Founded in 1974 by Andrew Hoyem, Arion Press is one of the finest letterpress companies in the nation that crafts and publishes limited edition fine-press books. For those of you who aren’t familiar with letterpress, letterpress is a printing technique in which words and/or designs are printed with ink while simultaneously making an impression into thick, soft paper.
Two to three limited edition books are published per year at Arion Press, and the one they were working on at the time of our visit was being sold for about $600 each!
Arion Press shares its building in San Francisco’s Presidio with M & H Type, which is the oldest and largest hot metal type foundry in the United States for letterpress printers.
This room was filled from floor to ceiling with boxes of metal type of all sizes and shapes.
There were also drawers upon drawers replete with letterpress letters, and pages of thick books with everything you’d want to know about a particular type.
In the early days, all the letters were painstakingly created individually out of molten lead and put together to form each and every word. Nowadays, they use computerized casting machines to produce text for whole pages. Either way, I find all the care and precision incredible.
Truthfully, I can’t remember exactly what all this stuff below was for, but it looked cool, nonetheless – ha! I believe it had to do with a keyboard operator that perforates a tape with text which runs the casting machine. Luckily, I stumbled across these videos about Arion Press that explains things much better than I could ever have.
We also saw how the plates were used with the machines to actually print the pages of the book onto large sheets of paper.
And then finally, the binding room, where books were being hand-bound — a laborious, yet inspiring process.
An attached museum held various antique letterpress machines and old printing tools, as well as some letterpress plates from various projects. The circular plate at the bottom was my favorite.
Overall, it was such a great experience, and it made me realize how much these artisans truly love their craft! Now on to take a modern letterpress tour where invitations and stationery are printed! Any suggestions in the San Francisco Bay Area?