My first practical introduction to letterpress printing came whilst studying BA (hons) Graphic Design at Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design (1991-1994). After spending two days in the College’s Composing Room – a 1950s time capsule deep down in the bowels of the building – I quickly became fascinated by the creative potential of the process and by the ancient skills and ingenious machines employed to make it all happen.
A few years prior to this my late Uncle, Ernest Mansfield, saved for me a Monotype typeface sample book from Royle’s, where he was a Compositor and witnessed the sudden shift from letterpress to newer technology. For weeks piles of typecases, composing room equipment and wooden type burned behind the factory – it is from one of these bonfires that he rescued my specimen book.
Further back than this, the primary school that I attended in Tiptree, Essex, stood in the shadow of the Anchor Press; a factory engaged in book printing for the Hutchinson Printing Trust and for many years the largest book printer in the country. A photograph showing the Composing Room of the Anchor Press, in 1933, can be seen below.
Since then my involvement with letterpress printing has deepened and I have acquired a substantial collection of lead and wooden types, printing machines and other paraphernalia – much of which I have rescued and restored to working order. My continuing interest in letterpress printing has led me to provide practical demonstrations and workshops and I am deeply involved with preserving the history of the Anchor Press, with the long-term ambition of establishing a printing museum in Tiptree. Visit http://www.anchorpress.org.uk for more information about this project.
I am also a Friend of the St Bride Printing Library and Printing Historical Society. Since May 2002 I have been pleased to serve as a Trustee of the National Printing Heritage Trust.
I have many ongoing letterpress projects – not least the ambition of getting my 1888 Double Crown Wharfedale cylinder press running, for the first time, next month since I acquired it and had it moved from Wales. I have almost completed an extensive restoration of an 1857 Columbian Press, for which I have had many parts repaired, the most challenging was to have one of the main castings re-made as the press had been badly damaged during its’ former life within the print room of an art school.
After having spent many years designing and printing letterpress work for friends, family and fellow printmakers, I decided to introduce my designs to a wider audience. Typoretum operates with the support of my wife, Cecilia, and occasional artistic input from our two year-old daughter!
Justin Knopp – 27th August 2008Home