The Vortex Press is the name of a tiny ‘private’ press in Hook, Hampshire (England). Like many private presses, it uses the age-old letterpress system to print – the same system that Mr Willam Caxton used in 15th century London. However, the comparison is rather unfair: his creaky wooden presses would have pushed out a single impression once every few minutes, while their hand-made wooden type would have been difficult to set and make-ready. Meanwhile, the Vortex Press enjoys all the recent advances in steam technology. The press is cast-iron, ensuring a more precise impression. The type is machine made, making composing a new forme somewhat simpler. All these engineering advances help in an incredibly high impression rate of around 3-4 sheets a minute (theoretical – though it all depends on how fast I can treadle on the day).
The Vortex Press was previously named the Vorticist Press. However I decided on a name change to the simpler ‘vortex’ because ‘vorticist’ was rather difficult to spell (and on some ocassions, pronounce), hence the name change. I also felt compelled to explain what a Vorticist was, and what Vorticist art was like. It was all too complex. But at least with the name change I still have a connection with Vorticism….
Fixation with Vorticism
Art students amongst you may recognise a reflected interest in Vorticism. The Vortex was the central image of the Vorticists, representing a kind of cultural whirlwind that constantly presses against each of us. The group was active in 1914, and were responsible for some of the first non-figurative paintings (and sculptures) in British art. Their periodical ‘Blast’ was also hugely influencial in the world of graphic art, and the typography of its pages (seen here) was the first example of its kind in English.
The actual printing press itself is a Furnival Express from the 1890’s. It weighs an estimated 500 Kilos. It was bought in 2008, and was fetched in a Luton van with a tail-lift (which only just managed to lift it into the van!).
So what do I print?
Just this and that at the moment, although every small press like mine has big plans… but for the time being I print letterheadings, business cards, beer labels and ‘ex libris’ plates.
What typefaces do I enjoy printing with?
I love the typefaces that came out at the dawn of mechanical casting. Monotype was the pioneering mechanical system that appeared in the early years of the twentieth century, and effectively automated the whole printing industry. This system, plus Linotype machines (which were used by newspapers until the 1980’s) extended the usefulness of the letterpress system until digital typography took over in the 1990’s. So the early typefaces such as Modern (Monotype series 1 – from 1901), Imprint (series 101 from 1912) and the early Grotesques (15, 33, 150 – all from the early twentieth century) are my favourites. Stephenson Blake in Sheffield, also was responsible for some wonderful faces from this time, and their Grotesque No 9 is for me a wonderfully proportioned face, redolent of the era, which came out in 1909. Grotesque No 9 was used for the manifesto pages of the Vorticist Blast.
Type I have at the moment includes:
- 12pt Egyptian (extra-wide Latin)
- 12pt Old Style
- 12pt Plantin (roman and italic)
- 18pt Bembo
- 18pt Albertus
- 18pt Gloucester Bold
- 18pt Gloucester Bold Condensed
- 18pt Rockwell Shadow
- 24pt Gloucester Bold
- 24pt Imprint Shadow
- 30pt Othello
- 48pt Festival Titling
- 60pt Grotesque Condensed
- 60pt Grotesque Ex. Condensed (S and B)
Comparitively Full fonts of Wood Type
- 8 line Sans Serif bold
- 8 line De Vinne
- 8 line Sans Serif