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Hand-made books for the collector who reads and the reader who collects

Handmade Type
Thoughts on the preservation of typographic materials

by James Mosley
[book cover]

Three hundred and fifty copies of this lecture have been printed on Zerkall Butten paper using Monotype Caslon cast by Harry McIntosh at Speedspools. The title-page border uses 19th-century Figgins ornaments recast by Stevens Shanks in the 1950s.

The book is two sections, 24 pages, 10 x 6 inches, and cased in stiff card with a square spine.

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From James Mosley's Foreword:

This is the text, more or less as it was delivered, of the first Justin Howes memorial lecture, which was given at the St Bride Institute on 21 February 2006, just one year after Justin Howes died. It was intended mostly as a personal tribute to a friend, and as the reader may detect, it was not written with publication in mind. There was in fact more of it than could be spoken in a reasonable time. Since the generous offer has been made to print it, I have responded by making only some slight pruning and correcting, and I have added details of some the publications to which I referred.

The general theme of this lecture is one with which I knew Justin had full sympathy. I had already approached it in an ‘Editorial’ that was published in the Bulletin du bibliophile, Paris, in the summer of 2005. I am well aware that there is no easy answer to the questions I raise. It seems to me, though, that it is high time to address them while we still have some grasp of the nature of the vanishing culture, technical and aesthetic, within which many typefaces that are currently in use were first created.

Justin Howes was born in 1963 and died in 2005. Notes on his life and work were published in The Times, the Independent and the Guardian. I contributed a personal note of my own to Forum, the journal of Letter Exchange, the association of calligraphers and letter designers. His early interests were centred on the calligraphic world that was associated with the work of Edward Johnston and his pupils. But his intellectual gifts took him into the world of software, and his enthusiasm expanded into the field of printing types, and together they led to the making of the digital type, based on original types, that he called Founder’s Caslon. We cooperated in the mounting of an exhibition called Primitive Types at the Soane Museum in 1999, dealing with the rediscovery of the sanserif letter, and one result of this experience for Justin was an exploration of the changing attitudes to letter forms that evolved during the eighteenth century. This would have been the subject of the research for his doctoral thesis at the University of Reading that he was only beginning when he died. There are plans to publish some of the fragmentary work that he had completed, but they will be poor compensation for the loss of the mature writing that he felt, with reason, that he was now able to produce.

For two years Justin, as curator at the Type Museum in London, had been cataloguing some of the materials of Stephenson, Blake, the Sheffield typefoundry, which had been bought in 1997 with the help of a grant from the National Heritage Lottery Fund. They comprised not only punches and matrices but also type specimens and commercial archives, and they offered a unique resource in Britain for understanding how types were made and sold before the arrival of machine composition of text at the end of the nineteenth century started the long decline of typefoundries in every country, and as I recalled in my talk, he had been due to travel to Antwerp to begin a programme of casting types from old matrices in a hand mould in the week in which he died. At the time of his death no single living person was better fitted than Justin to carry out the kind of work that, as I have tried to say in this lecture, I believe to be urgently necessary in order to save something of our typographical heritage. If his friendship and his example leads enough people with at least some of his gifts and qualities, not excepting his infectious enthusiasm, to carry on this work, then it will certainly be one of the happiest legacies that we could have received from him.

James Mosley retired as Librarian of the St Bride Printing Library in 1999, a post he had held since 1958 . He now serves as Visiting Professor in the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication at the University of Reading, is on the faculty of the Rare Book School, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, and is a Senior Research Fellow in the Institute of English Studies, University of London. One of the founding members of the Printing Historical Society, he acted as the first editor of its Journal. Mosley has written and lectured extensively on the history of European and English typography. In 2003 he received the annual award of the American Printing History Association for his contributions to printing history.


I was new to printing the first time I met Justin. He was standing beside a beautiful Albion hand press, which, he told me, had once belonged to the artist Eric Gill. As he talked about the press and its provenance, the history of British printing and typography unfolded before us, brough alive by his articulate enthusiasm. Graham and I had gone down to pick up a type cabinet full of Bembo type only half of which would fit in the car. When Graham went down by himself to retrieve the rest, Justin sent him home with a gift for me: a Favourite tabletop press, a Model No. 3 knockoff that is perfect for the sort of printing I had told him I wanted to do: business cards, binders tickets, and the occasional letterhead.

The second time we met, Justin was in Manchester to advise John Rylands Library on their printing presses before a major renovation. He arrived at our front door carrying a small cardboard box that he presented with a flourish, saying "I've brought flowers". The three wood blocks inside the box combined to make a cunningly designed three-colour wood engraving of summer roses -- the sort of flowers a printer likes best! I spent a delightful couple of days figuring out the best colours to use to create the perfect broadsheet.

The Incline Press workshop is full of memories of Justin. There are the tangible reminders such as the cases of Bembo, the Favourite press, and the Imperial Hand Press that Justin helped us get from Rylands when they didn't have room for it. Then there are the books -- Johnston’s Underground Type, The Nymph and the Grot, and his Tyndale New Testament. But just as evocative are memories of visits to the Type Museum, where Justin gave us animated demonstrations of hand typecasting, dexterously pouring molten lead into the moulds.

Kathy Whalen at Incline Press

Last updated 13 January 2007 by K. Whalen.