Translplanting a Pie Tree to the Okanagan

January 2010 marked the passing of a Canadian master in the world of type design and letterpress. Jim Rimmer, proprietor of the Pie Tree Press and Typefoundry in New Westminster, BC, was one of the last practitioners creating custom typefaces in metal for hand-set and composition casting. In his basement shop, Jim drew, cut, engraved and cast original designs used in the printing of his fine press editions, including his magnum opus and final work, The Adventures of Tom Sawer, for which Jim also did the linocuts (many in up to 10 colours) and the binding. Far more than his considerable achievements at the Pie Tree, however, Jim was also a vital and important member of the letterpress community, and one of the most gracious and generous men one could ever meet.

The boathouse...

Rimmer working at his Thompson type caster, at his shop in New Westminster.
[Still from Ryan Mah's forthcoming documentary on Rimmer's life & work: From Lead to Gold.]

In the years preceding Jim's death, I made a number of visits to his workshop, where we talked for hours while he indulged my eager curiosity, walking me around the shop and explaining and demonstrating his various and incredible machines, including two pantographs (used for egraving matrices with which to cast type), and two Monotype casters (a Comp. and SuperCaster), along with a wide range of finishing machines, mats, moulds and keybars - not to mention a large print shop with a Reprex flatbed and Colts Armory platen press.

 

Rimmer at one of his two pantographs.
[Still from Rich Keglar's forthcoming film: Making Faces.]

It is difficult to explain Jim's legacy. A typographer and illustrator his entire adult life, Jim began setting type in the early 50s and, over more than a half-century, became the most significant and influential type designer Canada has ever produced. And by influential I mean to suggest that his impact, directly and indirectly, all but single-handedly carried on a 500 year tradition of creating and casting original metal types right here in BC.

 

Working drawings of a new type by Jim Rimmer.

My relationship with Jim was far too brief, but in the last year of his life we began working together to find a caster for me to set up here in Vernon. Unfortunately this search yielded little result, but my enthusiasm and Jim's encouragement kept that goal in mind and my intention to see it through all the more intense.

A few months after Jim's passing in January of 2010, I began talking with his widow Alberta Rimmer about the possibility of my aquiring Jim's equipment. In April of that year I spent 8 days organizing, cataloguing and photographing Jim's entire shop, a task I don't think I can adequately describe. Imagine walking into the basement of a mechanical museum that has been hit by a tornado – that might begin to explain the wonder and chaos of the place. Now imagine that you have to organize that basement with little or no knowledge of the items scattered in every corner of a maze of rooms. Now we're getting close. However, throw in a hungry mind and an appreciation of oil and dirt, and the equation changes quite drastically: it becomes a fascinating archeological experience both rare and exciting.

 

One of many surfaces to be sorted & put away.

At the end of that week, Alberta and I sat down in her cozy living room and in a matter of minutes came to an agreement. All of Jim's cutting and casting gear would come to Vernon, and I would do my best to continue Jim's legacy here at the Greenboathouse Press.

For some more recent info on the progress of Jim's gear, head over here...

 

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