A Typographical Adventure April/May 2011

In the great tradition of trans-Atlantic typographical adventures (?), the spring of 2011 found me traveling first to New York, then to Belgium and Holland, and back, again, to New York before returning home to Vernon.

The trip, as a whole, was built around a multi-national research excursion into the work of the Dutch type and book designer Jan van Krimpen. John Friedrichs and I have been slowly working on compiling a thorough list of books designed by Van Krimpen between 1914 and 1956, and having completed a tentative draft, this trip was to put our hands on each and every one of the over 350 books we'd identified. In addition to this research towards a bibliography of Van Krimpen's designs, I was also eager to obtain good quality images of Van Krimpen's original drawings for many of his typefaces, in particular his Romanée, which I've been working on digitizing for a few years (more on this below).

Original punches for 14pt Romanée roman, cut by P.H. Rädisch from a design by Jan van Krimpen.
From the collection of the Enschedé Museum & Archive, Haarlem.

The trip included visits to the University of Amsterdam Library Special Collections, the Meermanno Museum of the Book (Den Hague), the Enschedé Museum (Haarlem), and to the legendary collection of Wilma Schuhmacher (Amsterdam), along with time spent exploring a number of private collections in New York and Holland. In addition, there were buying stops at over a dozen book shops and private dealers, as well as a lovely trip to Maastricht where I purchased 800lbs of foundry Romanée type from Ser Prop, proprietor of the Tuinpers Press, located in a lovely home on the Dutch countryside in the village of Banholt.


New York

The trip started with a 3-day visit to Jerry Kelly's home in Pomona, New York. Jerry and I first met in 2009 when I gave a talk for the Typophiles at the National Arts Club in New York, and since then we've kept up a lively email correspondence, exchanging drawings for typefaces and urging on each other's bibliomania (Jerry is certainly the most avid book collector I've met). The weekend in Pomona was a great opportunity to explore Jerry's shelves, and to discuss a range of typographic themes and histories. Jerry and his wife Nancy were very generous hosts, and I came away both with fine memories and a few books from Jerry's stash of duplicates.

From Pomona I spent a quick day in Manhattan to do a bit of shopping at Strand and at James Cummins' shop on Madison Avenue (where I escaped with just a nice copy of A.F. Johnson's Selected Essays). I also had enough time to stop by the Neue Gallery, where, to my pleasant surprise, an exhibit of Viennese work included my favourite drawing by Egon Schiele. From there it was into a cab and off to Newark for the red-eye to Amsterdam, and then a quick train down to Antwerp.



In Belgium I was hosted by Patrick Goossens, a type caster, handpress collector and baker who I'd met a year earlier at the American Typecasting Fellowship conference in Piqua, Ohio. Patrick kindly put me up in his 300-year-old house in the heart of Antwerp, a house filled to the attic with generations' worth of stuff; the house was, in itself, a wild adventure. In addition to the wonders of the house, Patrick also has a warehouse on the edge of the city absolutely filled with rare handpresses. The image below doesn't begin to do justice to his collection, but it's a taste nonetheless.

A visit to Patrick Goossens' collection of handpresses in Antwerp, Belgium.

From Patrick's I was able to finalize the purchase and shipping of 800lbs of foundry Romanée type, originally purchased from Enschedé by A.A.M. Stols. The type has long been in the possession of Ser Prop, proprietor of the Tuinpers Press, a very fine designer & printer in the tradition of Van Krimpen and Bram de Does. We spent a lovely afternoon with Ser and his wife at their beautiful home on the Dutch countryside outside the village of Banholt. At the end of the day the type was loaded into Patrick's SUV and hauled back to the house in Antwerp; in fact, we had to do this twice as we forgot one case of 14pt in Ser Prop's type room and had to return to Banholt a few days later. Back in Antwerp, I spent a few days packing the type for shipment back to Canada via sea freight.

While in Antwerp I also spent a day at the Plantin-Moretus Museum, one of the oldest printing museums in the world. Housed in the Plantin family mansion, the museum exhibits a fantastic assortment of wooden handpresses, displays of books, punches & matrices, and three very impressive libraries, with many of the rooms adorned with paintings by Belgian artist Peter Paul Rubins. Patrick and I also made the rounds of book shops in Antwerp and Maastricht, picking up a few nice things along the way, and by the end of the week, with the type packaged up and loaded into its crate, it was time to head off to off to Leiden.

The press room and a set of punches at the Plantin-Moretus Museum in Antwerp, Belgium.


For the remaining week of my time in Europe I stayed with John Friedrichs of Leiden, a translator and book collector with whom I've been working on the above-mentioned Jan van Krimpen project. John has an impressive collections of JvK books, and the first day in Leiden allowed time for John to welcome me into his home, introduce me to his lovely wife Wilma, and also to spend some time with his books. From Leiden John and I traveled back and forth to Amsterdam, The Hague, Utrecht and Haarlem, and one of the first sights John led me to was the Dutch war memorial monument in the heart of Amsterdam, the lettering of which was designed by Van Krimpen (see carousel images above).

Unique copy of The Centaur, written & bound by Van Krimpen, University of Amsterdam.

Full days of research at the University of Amsterdam and the Meermanno Museum in The Hague both turned up a wealth of material, including the original drawings for Van Krimpen's types Spectrum, Romulus, Cancelaresca Bastarda, Lutetia and Sheldon. In addition to over 100 books designed by Van Krimpen, highlights also included a beautiful calligraphic copy of Maurice de Guérin's The Centaur, hand-written on vellum and bound by Van Krimpen, as well as dozens of design mock-ups with Van Krimpen's distinctive calligraphy.

After these visits to Amsterdam and The Hague John and I made our way to Haarlem to visit the Enschedé Museum, housed in the new Enschedé print works on Jan van Krimpen Way. This visit was both intimidating and exhilarating, first because of the incredible security measures we had to make our way through (Enschedé prints currency, stamps and passports for over 30 countries), and secondly for the amazing 300-year collection of typographic materials. Enschedé is, of course, where Van Krimpen worked for most of his adult life, and where he designed all of his types. Amongst the many treasures at Enschedé are the punches of all of Van Krimpen's types, but I was particularly eager to see and photograph the original drawings and soot proofs for Romanée.

Street sign of Jan van Krimpen Way, adjacent both to the Enschedé print works & museum and, well, IKEA.
Original punches for Jan van Krimpen's Romulus, Lutetia & Cancelaresca Bastarda.
Original drawing and soot proofs for Romanée by Jan van Krimpen. Enschedé Museum, Haarlem.

After a full day of exploring Enschedé's collections, purchasing some rare items from curator Johan de Zoete (who was extremely generous and helpful, not only providing me with scans of the Romanée drawings, but also presenting John and I with "goody bags" of ephemera designed by Van Krimpen early in the 20th century), we headed into Haarlem to visit the original Enschedé buildings, one of which is now a restaurant where John and I had dinner before heading back to Leiden.

Amidst all of the research, John and I also made our way to a handful of book dealers, including Paul Snijders and his partner Fokas of Fokas Holthuis in The Hague, Andre Swertz in Utrecht, Nol Sanders' Minotaurus Bookshop, and the infamous shop of Wilma Schuhmacher, as well as a stop at Sander Pinske's workshop in Amsterdam. From each of these stops a growing stack of books was picked up, including a good number of books designed by Van Krimpen, along with other Dutch private press books. One highlight, and my final purchase from Holland, is a copy of the 1917 Zilverdistel edition of Shelley's Prometheus Unbound, a lovely book very similar in design to the Doves Press editions.

Vellum-bound Zilverdistel editions with their distinctive thistle device, and a spread from the 1917 Prometheus Unbound.

Two other appointments filled out the week. The first was a casual sit-down with Paul van der Laan of TEFF (The Enschedé Font Foundry) to discuss digital revivals of Van Krimpen's types. We'd arranged this meeting months before to talk about the possibility of TEFF picking up my digital Romanée, but our meeting at a pub in The Hague was much more about Paul and I talking shop. We'll keep in touch regarding the Romanée, but it was great to meet and spend some time with Paul while I had the chance. Finally, John (and his wife Wilma) and I made our way to the beautiful sea-side home of Fred Gertsen, a book collector who recently subscribed to Greenboathouse Press and picked up a copy of everything we still had in print. It was a pleasure to deliver the books to Fred in person, and he presented us with a delicious 3 course meal and an evening of pleasant company. It was, in fact, this visit that inspired my Zilverdistel purchase, as Fred has a number of their beautiful books on his shelves.

And so my time in Holland came to an end. After nearly two weeks of non-stop travel and work and book-hunting and the making of new friends, it was time to get back on the plane. The trip wasn't over, though: there were still a few days to spend with Micah Currier and Theo Rehak at the Dale Guild type foundry.


New Jersey

Micah Currier & his haggard but gentle dog Buck picked me up, somewhat haggard myself and crushed by the New Jersey heat, from Newark airport mid-afternoon, and we were then off on the freeway to Howell. At the Guild, we had a quick look around, went out for a bite to eat, and I then hit the floor (army cot, next to the fonting counter) like a thousand pounds of type to get some sleep.

Micah Courier, Theo Rehak and I at the Dale Guild typefoundry in Howell, NY. Cranking out type on the hand-operated pivotal caster.

Up at 6am, I stumbled my way across the 8-lane hiway (later discovering that this is actually illegal) to grab an orange and some tea, and I then wandered through the rooms of the foundry while Micah grabbed another couple of hours of sleep. Once up, we got to work. Our plan was to run the sequence through: to cut a matrix on the Benton engraver, to fit it, and then to cast some type from the new mat on one of the old pivotal casters. After selecting a simple pattern, Micah hit the grinder and sharpened up a couple of cutting tools, and then shifted to the engraver to start cutting. Once cut, he moved to the fitting machine to finish the mat, while I wandered into the house to sit with Theo and talk books. We broke for lunch while we waited for the pot to warm on the caster, and back at the Guild Micah got the machine running smoothly so that I could try my hand at it in relative safety. All went perfectly, and by the end of the day we'd cast 20 lines of the ornament, with a few lines packed up to bring back to Canada.

Micah was also extremely generous in giving me a few very hard-to-find casting tools, and the promise of a fitting machine, which he'll drive out west when he makes the trip for the 2012 ATF conference in Portland. With any luck, we'll get him up to Vernon for a few days at the end of that trip, and we might even be able to spark up the SuperCaster I brought home from Jim Rimmer's shop last year.


Back in Vernon

Once home, the wave of adrenaline that had carried me through the last 3 weeks suddenly crashed, and it took a few days to even out, but there were plenty of books to catalogue, and prep to be done before getting to work on 2010's three Greenboathouse Press books. The first (a small book of poems by Robert Kroetsch) was soon on the press, and with the jet-lag worn off, the ink was turning. A few weeks later all of the type arrived in Vancouver, and one more quick trip to the coast was needed before settling back into the Okanagan for the rest of the summer.

A hell of a trip, and this page hardly covers half of the adventure. I may not find myself in Europe again for a few years, but these three weeks should carry me and keep me inspired for months to come. And I may need it: John Friedrichs and I have a lot of work to do to compile and edit all of the material gathered for our Van Krimpen project, and with scans and photographs of Van Krimpen's drawings, I have plenty of tuning to do to my digital revivals of Romanée and Lutetia...


Jason Dewinetz
May 20, 2011