Presstival coincides with Whittington's Summer Show – quintessentially English.
It was mid morning on a cool but bright September Saturday when we arrived for this year's Presstival: the annual gathering of letterpress printers and enthusiasts, hosted by Pat and John Randle at their press in the picture postcard Cotswold village of Whittington. We were early, but the prospect of a day exploring the rambling annexes of the press, while catching up with fellow printers was just too exciting for us to arrive any later. And we weren’t the only keen ones either, as a small group of people were already milling around, setting up stalls, talking type and tucking into the tea and biscuits.
And it was a good job we were early too, because there was wood type to be procured! Two rather lovely grots to be precise, surplus from Typoretum’s immense collection. Once these were safely in the bag (or rather the car boot), we said our hellos and ducked off to look around the press before the heaving afternoon crowds arrived.
Two cases of wood type from Typoretum
Having visited The Whittington Press before, we already knew what to expect, yet the sense of awe still catches you out as you enter the warren of print rooms. There’s a wonderful sense of honesty as the Randles welcome you so openly in to their world: unrestricted you're free to delve into every corner as you please, never quite knowing what you'll find this time... A small pot of change perched on a type case; a jar of milk bottle tops collected on a window sill; endless pairs of spectacles in an endless number of places (perhaps lessons learnt from too much time spent hunting for a pair!); family photos pinned next to newspaper clippings and a variety of printed ephemera; tins upon tins of ink squeezed onto shelves above doorways; plants growing in, and out, of the building's crevices; toy cars parked beside editions of Matrix... And of course the most exquisitely printed and bound books.
The press is a treasure trove
New old type sits next to old old type
Well worn and used
Each publication, much like the press, appears timeless. It's hard to pin point which books are recent editions and which are years, or even decades old, such is the classic style of their work. We happily leafed through a selection of books on display, enjoying the feeling of the beautiful heavy papers as we went. But it was the crisply printed serif typefaces in rich blacks, rusty reds and yellow ochres we enjoyed pouring over most.
Just two examples of the wonderful print work at the press
Mind you, Whittington is not just about fine printed books. There are broadsides and posters pinned up everywhere, a lot of them raising a smile with a wry sense of humour. And at the furthest end of the building Pat Randle is busy working as The Nomad Press, crafting some pretty amazing and innovative prints — this years Presstival poster being just one of them. Often these lock-ups involve working with Tommy Mayo, who has mastered the art of laser cutting to create massive and beautiful letters. These are then mounted to type high, or there abouts, ready to print — a Western Proofing Press, with a handy adjustable bed taking up any slack.
Tommy Mayo demonstrates printing his laser-cut type
And Tommy's wonderful large-scale prints for sale (we may have bought a couple of these)
And of course there are the Monotype casters too, with box upon box of die cases for the huge range of founts and ornaments the press holds. We didn’t get to see any type marching off the casters this time, but we did feel the heat from the molten pot of shimmering hot metal on the side: a reminder that health and safety was a different thing back in the day.
Even the boxes of Monotype die cases are beautiful in their own right
By the afternoon the press and it’s leafy grounds were packed with people, buzzing around the stalls and catching up with friends wherever they could find space to stop and chat. As always, we enjoyed meeting up with old friends and finding out what they were up to. It’s inspiring to hear and see the range of things people are printing (and experimenting with), whether self-initiated or commercial. There’s a lot of great things happening all over the country and it’s exciting to see letterpress thriving.
By mid afternoon the press was packed. Great to see
Team Typoretum, doing their thing, a proper family affair
It was also a great to meet some new faces who we had been in contact with on twitter, but had yet to meet in reality. Or, in fact, just introducing ourselves to complete strangers because we like their printing. Such was the case with Graham Moss and Kathy Whalen of The Incline Press, who were soon regaling us with entertaining stories of printing, “fly shit” typography (using commas in addresses and contact details on business cards and the like) and Heidelbergs as tables and apron racks, whilst we were eagerly looking at their beautiful books.
A lovely range of work from the Incline Press
Presstival 1972 (or 1974? One of the two): a somewhat smaller affair
This exchange rather sums up this years Presstival for us. Yes there was beautiful printing, amazing presses and of course the shopping, but it was really about the people and the conversations. It's a wonderful, friendly, buzzing community, all passionate about keeping letterpress printing alive. And what better place to do it.