‘Though an angel should write, / still ’tis devils must print.’— Thomas Moore (1779–1852)
A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME
AT THE GAUNTLET PRESS
(OR, SOME DAYS THE EARTH MOVED)
by Richard Outram
When, early in 1960, Barbara Howard and I decided to start up a small press ('found' would then have been a term unfamiliar to us in this connection; and with no pecuniary motive we did not think of ourselves as 'proprietors'), we had several motives and numerous confusions.
Barbara had become interested in and was producing her first wood engravings. She sought a practicable alternative to hand-burnishing; a press of some sort seemed an obvious answer.
Largely through my close friendship with Allan Fleming, I had become aware of some of the complexities, niceties and rewards of fine printing, typography and book production. Allan encouraged me in the notion that nothing so enables one to appreciate these matters as does the actual designing, setting and printing from type and blocks.
My own output of poems was rapidly outstripping the realistic possibilities of ephemeral publication; one of the obvious solutions was to produce small editions of at least a few poems ourselves, for our own pleasure and that of a few friends.
Also we had produced, by one means or another, a Christmas keepsake each season since our first coming together, in London in 1955. That first effort was in fact a linocut, printed on mulberry paper and tipped onto a grey sugar-paper card. Latterly, however, we had keepsakes commercially designed and printed; a press of our own would enable us independently to produce our future keepsakes, a practice that had become increasingly meaningful to us both.
Our confusions were those of any largely uninformed amateurs approaching a craft with longstanding, elaborate disciplines. Youthful enthusiasm and some sound counsel, however, were sufficient to get us moving in the right directions, and we had the good sense to learn from our initial mistakes. And we were sensible of the pronouncement of that master typographer, Jan Tschichold:
“Beginners and amateurs in typography attribute too much weight to so-called inspiration. Perfect typography comes into being through the correct choice between various possibilities, the knowledge of which rests on long experience. The right choice is a matter of tact and taste. In a good typographical design all single units are interrelated by a single idea. Good typography is an extremely logical art, and it is precisely this inexorable logic that distinguishes it from other art forms.”
One crucial piece of advice received was Allan's recommendation of a small, beautifully produced book: Printing for Pleasure, A Practical Guide for Amateurs by John Ryder (London: Phoenix House Ltd., 1955). For certainly the most important decision to be made, from which much else followed, was the choice of a press. And Ryder quickly convinced us that a flat-bed, rather than a platen press, would best meet our needs; as he points out, “It is also necessary to note that the chase of a platen press fits into a vertical bed ... the correct technique of setting type must be strictly followed. Otherwise, when you start printing, the type will fall out of the chase.” Well, quite. “In a flat-bed press, where the bed is horizontal, simplified methods of typesetting can be employed.” Simplicity was what we sought, then as now.
Space was another primary consideration. We gave some thought to (or perhaps daydreamed briefly of) finding a second-hand Albion, Washington or even a Vandercook, all flatbeds, but we were living in a small third-floor flat in the Toronto Annex, with an outside staircase; not, in winter, for the faint-hearted. (Indeed, sometime in the seventies, ambition outstripping common sense, we did acquire a moribund and massive flatbed cylinder press that ruptured a clutch of husky blokes in the moving of it into our comparatively spacious ground-floor flat on Summerhill Gardens. I spent the winter wallowing in mineral spirits and steel wool, restoring it inkgunked bit by inkgunked bit until, on the very day that I pulled in triumph a single proof from the brute leviathan – when you turned the handle of the cylinder the floor if not the earth moved and our neighbours quailed – we were handed a month's notice to vacate by a new landlord.) In any event, sometime in the early autumn of 1960 there arrived from Twickenham and we excitedly unpacked from its deal crate (remember wooden 'excelsior'? The sweet smell of it?) what was to be our friend and companion for the next thirty years: an Adana HQ flatbed press. I quote from the Adana (Printing Machines) Ltd. Catalogue No. 100: AN ALL METAL QUARTO PRINTING MACHINE with Inside Chase Measurement 9 3/4" X 7 1/4". Twin Inking Rollers, Adjustable Platen, Pressure Adjustment on Handle, Sliding Gripper Fingers, Variable Roller Bearings. Essential Surfaces Accurately Machined.
It was light (about 25 lb.) and hence portable; it had a small footprint and could easily be stowed away when not in use; it was relatively inexpensive; it was ours!
Then there was the question of type. Ryder's chapter on the subject is titled 'Choose a Face You Can Live With'. Well, we certainly did, past all expectation. For this is perhaps the moment to reveal that with the exception of a small font of Cochin Open Caps, which a generous colleague gave to us, we lived with our choice, Bembo, exclusively and monogamously for all of the years to come. We had arranged to purchase a batch of 14 point roman and italic Bembo monotype from Cooper & Beatty, Limited; they had some old California job cases lying around, and they pumped two of them full to the brim straight from the monotype machine. Our first mistake. For one thing, we paid by weight (it turned out to be no bargain) and the keyboard operator was unselective; we had enough dollar signs to set an Eaton's catalogue, never to be used. Then, monotype is a soft alloy, intended to be melted down after use, not distributed and used again. And again, and again. Also, evidently the gift-horse cases in question had been hanging around for a very long time indeed; they were encrusted with a filthy nap of dust, soot, ink and frass and our shiny new type was cast right in on top. This gave us problems with wayward smutches for years to come. A third case I cleaned and we carefully aligned into its compartments a font of 30 point Bembo purchased from a printing supply store. This, being foundry type, meant to be reset, was very much more durable and served us well.
We had problems with finding suitable inks. For starters, we went to an art supplies outlet and bought oil-based tube inks in a range of colours. These, sold as printing inks, were stocked chiefly for the then surprisingly popular pastime of making woodcuts and linocuts. We soon discovered that they were pretty well useless for type, far too oily and runny, and utterly useless for the particularly fine virtuoso line that Barbara was achieving in many of her engravings. Fortunately, an understanding friend provided us with a sample of a really useful stiff ink, 'Frost Black' from a firm in the USA. But we needed a source more readily available, and in a good range of colours. There was then on Spadina Road near Dupont (hard by the tracks) the huge office and works building of Sinclair & Valentine, manufacturers of printing inks for the industry. So, nothing ventured – one day we marched into the reception area carrying a few samples of our first efforts and started talking. It took some talking, and some time: but eventually we found ourselves in an executive office, making our wants known to a number of the top brass. We will not forget their kindness. It turned out that they were mostly veterans of the printing business who had worked their way up from the printshop floor and they could not have been more interested, sympathetic, or helpful. They examined with professional calm our slight achievements, exchanged glances, managed not to smile and directed us, armed with order forms, to a shipping dock where an incredulous foreman, after swallowing hard at the signature on the accompanying memo, found us a number of pound and half-pound tins of various resplendent inks and accepted our etiolated cheque, while the endless bays of half-loaded belching juggernauts thundered in frustrated outrage. I would like to think that such solicitude might be discovered even today.
In 1960 the printing industry was on the brink of a great change, the demise of the commercial use of letterpress. The printing district (in Toronto, at any rate) sported (letterpress) printing supplies outlets as numerous and varied as pubs in Chelsea or sex shops in Soho. We could find a cornucopia of everything in the way of further tools and equipment, bits and pieces, that we might ever conceivably need: type, leading, reglet, quoins, press furniture, brayers galore, you name it, everywhere to hand. Indeed at just about this time (although too late for us to purchase our press from it) the Adana brains trust opened a Canadian retail outlet in Toronto's Yorkville. Talk about lousy timing – in a twinkling, it seemed, the Damoclean sword had fallen and every one of these outlets vanished without trace. Leaving us wishing that we had found the foresight to stock up on various materials beforehand.
So we started in. Our first determination was to produce a Christmas keepsake for 1960. And we did so: a folded card with a text, Mute Woman inside recto, and two wood engravings: one over the colophon on the back, of a gauntleted fist bearing a tree symbol (adapted from the 'botanical signs' section of Rudolph Koch's The Book of Signs); a second decorative motif printed on various papers and pasted onto the front. From this tentative beginning we went on to produce, as well as all of our books, pamphlets, broadsheets, valentines and other ephemera, an unbroken series of Gauntlet Press keepsakes each Christmas thereafter until 1988.
We have sometimes been asked how we settled on our press name, 'Gauntlet' (not infrequently by those who fail to discriminate between 'gauntlet' and 'gantlet'). Certainly, we thought of the press as something of a challenge, at least thrown down to ourselves by ourselves. More obscurely perhaps, Barbara has a strong Scottish connection, her mother being a double Mackintosh: the motto of the Mackintosh clan is 'Touch not the cat bot a glove'. Utterly obscure was the fact that we had admired both the seamless playing and the resonant name, Ambrose Gauntlet, of a violist in the London Harpsichord Ensemble, whose chamber concerts we often attended in the Recital Room of London's Festival Hall (lesser factors have removed mountains). And then, simply, we liked the stalwart sound of it: The Gauntlet Press! Right! No nonsense. Let's get on with it.
And so we did, gradually coming to terms with our equipment and ambitions. Essentially, I did all of the typesetting and printing, Barbara did the designing and binding and became very skilled at the mixing of inks to achieve the rich colours she wanted, although each of us might at times assist the other in one way or another. As Ryder mentioned, simpler methods of handling type were possible with a flatbed, and this became evident at once. I learned what I could from various books, one of which was a Pitman introductory text, Elementary Typography by Bernard Rogers. Who holds forth solemnly, complete with exemplary diagrams, on the proper method of tying up, with page cord, set type in galleys ('care should be taken that the turns of cord do not cross one another and thus waste their gripping power'). It is a craft probably no more difficult to master in the long run than performing a hysterectomy on a dew worm: nevertheless after a few extremely dodgy attempts and coming parlously close not to wasting but losing entirely my always negligible gripping power, I realized that the same results, for all of our needs, could be achieved swiftly and effortlessly by the judicious if heretical use of - rubber bands. I did so without exception thereafter and not once pied a single galley. Bernie is still spinning in his grave.
Improvisation was of the essence. Admirers of the clean, simple setting of the text of Circle (1979) might be interested to learn that the various slugs of set monotype, laboriously encased in multiple layers of leads and taped together, were butted at the centre against the lid from a tin of dubbin. This was the only template that we could find in our entire household of the right diameter and height; the problem with it was that it proved to be rather flexible and the type (which had been positioned according to a geometrical design transcribed on a fixed sheet of underlay) being held in place by a Heath Robinsonian clutter of wedges and binder twine and clamps (some of which were fashioned from spring clothespins, which could be reversed to provide either inwards or outwards pressure: mine own brainchild, that) was desperately prone to shifting out of position with the subtlest change in the movements of the heavens, or so it seemed. Hence extreme care had to be taken in the locking up of the whole makeshift rig in the chase where it was so painstakingly assembled, as the least excess of quoin pressure was apt to shift everything askew. The consequent screams of anguish from the printer were heart-wrenching and dreadful to encounter!
When we came to print signatures for our various books, the angst potential soared. A sheet in Locus for instance, folded into a French-fold signature of four pages, might when completed have been subject to as many as a dozen separate printings over a period of several days or even, logistics intervening, weeks. There is a refined printers' version of Sod's Law, which states that: 'In all multiple-impression printing it shall be the last or next-to-last impression that gets screwed up.' Then the weeping, wailing and lamentation really gets under way.
Another time-and-effort-consuming dodge that we sometimes used involved inking text and/or block(s) with the rollers, then while the printer's devil (Barbara) held the rollers up and away inserting a much larger sheet of paper than would fit between the roller arms into the positioning pins on the make-ready, and somehow juggling the whole enchilada while closing the press and taking an impression, then reversing our balletic movement. This enabled us to print unfolded sheets of considerably larger size, as in Gardener (1977). It also necessitated a mutually coordinated dance of intertwined members that would have been the envy of the authors of the Kama Sutra but did not always end in unalloyed bliss. The same result could have been achieved, of course, by dismantling the rollers after each impression, then reassembling them for the next inking; but this would have so drastically reduced the print runs (and the staff) as not to be considered practical.
Finding drying space in small quarters demanded considerable ingenuity. We quickly became accustomed to ducking under strings bannered with wet pages in already cramped domestic quarters. But not every marriage, perhaps, would survive having the lone bathtub occupied for days on end with a giant collapsible galvanized metal clothes horse festooned with non-loo papers in various stages of completion. That 'collapsible' gave us the odd nightmare, although the worst never did happen.
So we proceeded for nearly thirty years. The Gauntlet Press was always of necessity less than a first priority for us; and often we were, to understate matters, strained in the doing. Nevertheless, I am proud of what we did manage to achieve. Which was, at the least, a number of productions, using an absolute minimum of resources, of a high standard of craftsmanship and a classic simplicity of elegant design and sometime gorgeousness. We gradually realized that what had come to interest and concern us intensely was the fathomless question of how most meaningfully to combine word and image. And in this, on occasion, we managed to reach perhaps beyond our ambitions. My own favourite is the combination of text and two-colour engraving in Salamander; but there are other close candidates.
Eventually The Gauntlet Press ended with neither a bang nor a whimper, but silence. We had run out of just about everything. To continue and to progress, we would have needed new type (just obtainable, but at very considerable price from specialty foundries in the USA), new rollers, really a new and more versatile press, and much more space and time than we felt that we could then allot. Our last production was a circular text (the type set between two strips of 1 point leading formed around the bottom of a tumbler, plastic-taped together and with some of the spacing done with those ever useful tapered malleable balsa wood 'interdental cleaners') about a beautiful, strong little engraving of a humpback whale fluke, with the colophon: Christmas 1988 & The New Year 1989 (i.e., Well, dear friends, we will probably miss the Christmas post with this one).
Time passed. Technology surged, and broke over us. I acquired an electric typewriter; then a 'smart' electronic typewriter; then at last a computer worthy of the name: an Apple Powerbook 140 (2 megs of ram, 20 megs hard drive) and a black only inkjet printer (an Apple StyleWriter). Gradually I became somewhat knowledgeable, then somewhat comfortable with the new hardware and software (to date, having upgraded to a maximum 8 megs of ram, I operate with WriteNow 4 for Macintosh, and QuarkXPress 3.3 which has a brain-fart and dies for want of memory about six times a day). In 1992 we designed and printed a Christmas keepsake, 'Christ-Cross-Row', with our new equipment and coloured some of the ornaments by hand. Finally in 1993, for the first time since 1988, we felt happy enough with results achieved to place the imprint of The Gauntlet Press on our Christmas keepsake, 'Far North'.
This momentous decision heralded the advent of what I would term The Gauntlet Press Redivivus Electronicus: a fascinating contrast to the old in almost every way. No one who has not spent the better part of a working evening with galleys or composing stick, putting into effect even slight changes of mind in a set text of lead type, can ever truly appreciate the ease and luxury of previewing a page composed in combinations of, say, a dozen fonts in half a dozen sizes with limitless variations of spacing all in a matter of minutes. On the other hand no one, possessed even of a state-of-the art laser printer, can ever guess at the sensual delight of lifting from the platen of one's press a really fine piece of letterpress printing and seeing, feeling and smelling its unparalleled new-minted quality.
The new electronic Press raises various considerations. For one thing, we are a press without much control over the actual printing; the output of a low-end ink jet printer does leave much to be desired. Quality is almost entirely based on whatever technology is available and affordable; outstanding print quality is obviously possible electronically – if funds are unlimited. Then, whereas with the letterpress GP items had a single format as printed (though perhaps with binding variants) and a fixed number of copies (our print runs were usually determined by the time taken for the ink on the inking disk to become unworkable), electronic items lend themselves to improvements over time, both in design and content; and some broadsheets and keepsakes we have been printing as required, thus their number is in theory limitless.
So we proceed: and have to date produced five more booklets. Syzygy  is without colophon or limitation, but carries the Press name on the title page. Around & About the Toronto Islands , Peripatetics  and Tradecraft  are in black and white and each has a colophon with the Press imprint and a statement of limitation. In 1995 we acquired an Apple Color StyleWriter 2400 (inkjet), and the addition of colour in our fourth booklet, Eros Descending  has made us sensible of the weight of the phrase, 'a world of difference'. As well, we have produced a considerable number of broadsheets, keepsakes (both for Christmas and for Saint Valentine's Day) and other ephemera greatly enhanced by the integration of colour with design. The most important work in hand was begun early in 1997 and continues: Ms Cassie, A Work in Progress. This consists of a sequence of closely related but individual broadsheets: to date more than sixty have been completed.
Some of the Ms Cassie pages and numerous other Broadsheets are on long-term exhibition in a Cybershow at the Home Page of The Porcupine's Quill. And this does give us some concern for the future. At the present time, these have all been (extremely well) scanned from our printed broadsheets. But the aspect ratio of the computer screen is not that of the originals, and considerable cropping and thus distortion of the original design takes place. These broadsheets can be downloaded by any netsurfer and hence are evidently out in the world in unknown numbers and in varying degrees of quality. Should we ever find ourselves, lured by technology, designing directly for the screen, then what grounds might we have for legitimately retaining a press imprint? When is a Press not a Press? There are no simple answers.
And there is the question of the omnipresent inundation by the media. When we began printing and distributing our efforts, we would I suspect somewhat naively have agreed with Wordsworth that:
Discourse was deemed man's noblest attribute,
And written words the glory of his hand.
Then followed printing with enlarged command
For thought – dominion vast and absolute
For spreading truth and making love expand.
Precariously surfing the great tsunamis of mindless bafflegab, rapacious manipulation and merciless ideological malice thundered everywhere today, one is given pause. However, it remains a constancy, our hope and act of faith, that the marriage of word and image made manifest here and there, now and again, through the best work of our dear Gauntlet Press, might indeed still serve 'For spreading truth and making love expand'.
Eight Poems, Tortoise Press, Toronto, 1959.
Exsultate, Jubilate, Macmillan Canada, Toronto, 1966.
Creatures, Gauntlet Press, Toronto, 1972.
Seer, Aliquando Press, Toronto, 1973.
Thresholds, Gauntlet Press, Toronto, 1973.
Locus, Gauntlet Press, Toronto, 1974.
Turns and Other Poems, Chatto and Windus with the Hogarth Press, London, 1975. Anson-Cartwright Editions, Toronto, 1976.
Arbor, Gauntlet Press, Toronto, 1976.
The Promise of Light, Anson-Cartwright Editions, Toronto, 1979.
Selected Poems, Exile Editions, Toronto, 1984.
Man in Love, The Porcupine's Quill, Erin, 1985.
Hiram and Jenny, The Porcupine's Quill, Erin, 1989.
Mogul Recollected, The Porcupine's Quill, Erin, 1993.
Around & About the Toronto Islands, Gauntlet Press, Toronto, 1993.
Hiram and Jenny, Unpublished Poems, Food for Thought Books, Ottawa, 1994.
Peripatetics, Gauntlet Press, Toronto, 1994.
Tradecraft, Gauntlet Press, Toronto, 1994.
Eros Descending, Gauntlet Press, Toronto, 1995.
Benedict Abroad, St. Thomas Poetry Series, Toronto, 1998.
Richard Outram was born in Canada in 1930. He is a graduate of the University of Toronto (English and Philosophy) and is now retired from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation where he worked for many years as a stagehand crew leader. He has written more than twenty books, four of these published by the Porcupine's Quill (Man in Love , Hiram and Jenny , Mogul Recollected , and Dove Legend ). He won the City of Toronto Book Award in 1999 for his collection Benedict Abroad (St Thomas Poetry Series). His work is be the focus of a special issue of the journal Canadian Notes & Queries (Number 63, Spring/Summer 2003). His work is also the subject of a book-length study, 'Her Kindled Shadow...': An Introduction to the Work of Richard Outram, by Peter Sanger (Nova Scotia: The Antigonish Review, 2001/2002).
Outram married painter and wood engraver Barbara Howard in 1957. Together, they produced many fine books and broadsides under their imprint, the Gauntlet Press. In 1999, poet and artist were celebrated with an exhibition of their work at the Robarts Library, University of Toronto, and the publication of a special issue of The Devil's Artisan: A Journal of the Printing Arts (Number 44). A cyber-exhibition of Gauntlet Press broadsides, entitled Ms Cassie, is to be found here.
The Devil's Artisan would like to acknowledge the generous financial support of the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council.
In This Issue:
A Brief History of Time at The Gauntlet Press by Richard Outram
A Painter Pressed into the Service of Poetry by Barbara Howard
A Checklist of The Gauntlet Press, 1960-1995 by Don McLeod
NOTE: This issue is not longer available from the publisher