A hot metal masterpiece

With 24 metal typefaces in more than 25 colours on handmade paper, this is a sensuous typographical experience

Published - June 24, 2017 06:00 pm IST

As a book collector who has only recently discovered the tactile pleasure and joy of a finely printed letterpress book, I have naturally been in a hurry to pursue (if not always acquire) as many beautiful examples of fine press books as I can afford.

Hunting assiduously, I often still end up arriving a little too late—the fine press party is over, and the lights have been turned out. The book has been snapped up or sold out. But sometimes my luck holds, or I get my timing right, or the bibliophile goddess smiles on me. One delicious fine press book I managed to thus acquire is Lead, Tin & Antimony , printed by Jason Dewinetz from his Greenboathouse Press.

So ravishingly tactile

It is printed from hot metal type (many cast just for the book!) on handmade paper. It was well beyond what I could easily afford, but I couldn’t resist getting it. And now that I own it, I feel privileged and lucky because Lead, Tin & Antimony is one of the finest handmade letterpress productions in recent years and for me, personally, a kind of culmination of a certain kind of typographic book I had been in search of.

It should be obvious to any typophile what the visceral thrill and satisfaction of a book printed letterpress is—the bite of metal type into textured paper, where you can run your hand over the pages to feel the letters sculpted on to the paper almost in three-dimensional fashion. But, of all such finely printed letterpress books, the most ravishingly tactile is the one printed from hot metal type into handmade paper, while the most typographically engaging is a book showcasing or displaying the types of a private press. And in Lead, Tin & Antimony , both come together in an exquisite example.

What Dewinetz, typecaster, typographer, designer and fine press printer from British Columbia, has done here is to choose 24 of his favourite metal typefaces that he had long been drawn to or wanted to use in a book, and then, after trying out various arrangements of each type with different short texts (some just a few lines, others running to a page) went on to, using his unerring eye for type design, to immaculately print these hot metal types on to textured handmade paper (made by Timothy Barrett, master papermaker) in more than 25 colours to showcase the typographic beauty of all the typefaces on several pages.

Lead, Tin & Antimony: A Specimen of Types Held in Cases or Cast Fresh at the Greenboathouse Press has just won the Alcuin Society Awards for Excellence in Book Design in Canada. For his other books from the press, Dewinetz has won seven national awards for book design, and wide praise from fine press magazines and critics. The title of the book (comprising metal alloys used in typefounding) is fit and evocative for this specimen book of type, which demanded new typefaces be cast and printed to illuminate a particular text. Only 55 copies of the book were printed (another reason to count myself fortunate to possess one).

In the prospectus for the book, Dewinetz writes, “As such, Lead, Tin & Antimony serves not so much as a specimen book, but an eclectic and playful tour through some of the cabinets and matrix cases here at the Greenboathouse Press.”

The moment I set my eyes on the book, I knew I had found the typographic/ type specimen book I had been longing for. I had by now managed to gather some really wonderful books produced in a similar vein—a display of various texts in a variety of metal faces. While all of them satisfied me in one aspect or the other, none of them completely or deeply fulfilled me. If they used metal types, they used machine-made paper, if they used handmade paper, the texts weren’t attractive, if the texts were arresting, they used only two colours—usually black and red—to print, and if all the elements I most wanted in a typographic book were present, the presswork would be lacking or, the biggest turn-off for me, the impression of type on paper would not be deep but slight.

Sumptuous feast

Lead, Tin & Antimony immediately and fully aroused my typographic imagination. Everything I had dreamed about was present in the book: for me this was the full flowering of the beautiful press specimen book that has had such a bracing, lovely and long tradition in the modern fine press movement. I guess what lay underneath this is what all fine press enthusiasts realise about themselves: a love for or of letterforms .

The showing of Centaur Alphabet in colour is the most beautiful of its kind I have seen. The display of Duensing’s Chancery Italic is exquisite, Zapf’s Civilite is gem-like, Rimmer’s Medieval Nephi is a revelation, and of course, there’s the rich title page. I’ll probably have to single out every display, because they all hit the mark.

The book felt like a culmination or coming together of the best books in this tradition I have been following, the zenith of a type specimen book from a contemporary private press.

What a luxurious and sumptuous book it is, making for a sensuous typographical experience. Jason Dewinetz’s Lead, Tin & Antimony is a typographic gem, a hot metal masterpiece.

The writer is a bibliophile, columnist and critic.

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