Hot-Metal Printer Profiles

We (Mike Maher & Ben Lopez) are happy to report that we have received positive responses for the web site, including pictures, tidbits, hot-metal printer profiles and comments. We will post them as soon as possible as we get them. As we all know, the hot-metal printing trade was a male-dominated craft. So the women were in a minority, so it was surprising to see that the first person to submit a profile of their hot-metal printing career, was a woman, Wilma Grant. So guys, let’s hear from you.

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Bob Robb

What a blast from the past. So glad to hear from you and hope you and yours are well.

What you are doing to carry on the tradition of the Has-Beens is just terrific. I think a lot of Dick Grasso and always looked forward to his updates of goings-on of many of the printers we all “grew up” with. I think we can use that phrase since we did spend most or at least a good part of our lives with these individuals.

I stopped to see Bob McArtor just a couple of months ago on the way to Florida. We had a delightful lunch and I got to meet his Daughter.

Calling the hot metal shop I set up a museum is really complimentary, however, might be fractionally a little grandiose. As you know, printers ink once in the blood is there for good. The “shop” is actually a part of rather large old machine show in Goochland County, VA, just a few miles west of Richmond. It’s called ”Field Day of the Past and has a website FieldDayOfThePast.net. It started as a steam and gas show but has evolved into a show of machinery that built American industry with emphasis on it being in operating condition and actually operating at the show. One day in about 1995 I went to another heritage event and there was this couple there promoting Field Day and I made the statement “you guys need a letterpress print shop at Field Day”. Well, they grabbed both arms and the rest is history. The “shop” started with a single Kluge platen press that had been dumped in front of the blacksmith shop. The only thing that kept it from turning into a pile of rust was grease and a coating of printers’ ink. I set about with a bucket of kerosene and by the time I was finished it looked pretty good. I then had one of the guys with a backhoe move it into a space that had been identified as where the print shop was going to be.

Well I had gotten to know several people in the area who were in working in various segments of the trade. They fortunately belonged to a chapter of the Richmond Craftsmans Club. I went to a couple of meetings and met several guys who owned local shops. They wanted me to join but the I couldn’ justify the dues because like them I couldn’t write them off.

Richmond was at least 30 years behind DC so there were letterpress shops still operating here (there still is one, Ben Franklin Printing and it is a union shop). Anyway these owners were mostly old guys who wanted to get out but didn”t know what to do with their stuff other than the scrap heap. I was like a kid in a toy shop. Only one, Coghill Composition, is still around. Coghill just did comp for book manufacturers and had four Intertype machines. I couldn”t take them all so I took the one that would set up to 24 point type. Coghill was in the process to going to all computer typesetting. We hauled the Intertype to the grounds in a dump truck.

So from Coghill I got the Intertype, a type cabinet with cases of type, an Elrod machine, a saw, a metal stone, several galley racks with galleys filled with metal type and all kinds on miscellaneous stuff. From another comp shop I got a Ludlow with a mat cabinet full and a burnisher. Then there are so many items that just showed up that were just left.

We only operate 3 days a year. The stuff belongs to the show association and sits idle for most of the time. Occasionally we have entertained hobby printers at other times. We’re always looking for volunteers and it took at least 12–13 years to find a guy who could restore the Intertype and get it running. It runs beautifully and is his pride and joy.

You mentioned on your website about letterpress not being around by the end of the 21st Century. Maybe. But there is a new revival of letterpress in some colleges. Here in Richmond, Virginia Commonwealth University has a complete letterpress shop and teaches a course in the subject. It is now, though, referred to as an “art form” but the principles exist and are being taught. We have an informal printing club here that I belong to made up of mostly college types and we had a meeting at the VCU shop. Very interesting.

Bob Robb