letterpress printing and typography have taken me to many odd places. weird basement print shops in hamilton. meeting Hermann Zapf and Gudrun Zapf von Hesse a buffet line over lobster newberg. holding the gutenberg bible with my bare (and not altogether clean) hands at an unnamed museum.

it also landed me (on a regular basis) at the tools of the trade antique tool show in pickering.

i sort of getting into woodworking in order to learn more about woodtype and to help me complete the big project. the big project (i will talk about it more in posts to come) is the creation of a new font of woodtype using traditional techniques. i’ve designed the type, acquired a pantograph and all i have to do is surface the wood to the .918″ thickness.

however, i got really into the wood. and i started taking cabinetmaking courses at a local college. i started making furniture and i must admit that it rekindled an interest that has laid dormant in me since high school. it also has connected some intellectual dots linking typography, craft, letterpress, design, and the materials that we use (and one of the reasons for this blog).

this almost brings me back to the tool show in pickering.

the first time i went, i found a book press and lots of other small letterpress stuff that i really didn’t need. but who can’t use a bookpress. so i bought it.

the next time i found some a massively overpriced wooden composing stick. with herculean restraint, i did not purchase it.

this time i found : a book press, a Rouse slug cutter and three composing sticks. i held off on the book press (in another act of restraint), but couldn’t resist the slug cutter and the composing sticks.

the slug cutter was in amazingly good nick. i just propped it up on the type cabinet and it looked like it had been there forever.


the composing sticks were pretty cool. two of the three were from the stephenson blake type foundry in sheffield, england. i bought them because, as a left-handed typesetter, they have a little indent on the right-hand end of the stick that allows the thumb of my right hand to hold the stick more steadily than the other sticks i have.

the other interesting thing about the largest of the three sticks was some engraving on the back.


it seems one D.R. Coats won first prize in ‘Stage III’ composing in 1953. and now i have his stick.

i will never win any prizes at the speed of my typesetting, but it sort of feels cool to have something like this to work with. the stick had seen much use over the years (D.R. Coats obviously put the stick to good use) and i hope to be able to use is as my primary stick for setting longer lines of type — maybe book composition.

in some ways tools are unimportant. they are there to do a job. i don’t know who D.R. Coats is. 1953 isn’t that long ago. but it does, somehow, make me feel better than if there had been no engraving on the back.

on another stick, ‘D.R. Coats’ is inscribed on the back. the engraving is hamfisted and not up to the quality of the other work. it’s better than the other one, though, sweeter. it’s like someone was doing it to imitate the other stick and not doing a good job of it.

i like that even more because it also describes the process of craft.

note : i just looked up the name ‘D.R. Coats’ on the googles and found that there is a D.R. Coats ink and resin compant in mumbai, maharashtra, india. the information seems to indicate that the company began in 1998.