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Tour of the Grabhorn Institute, Arion Press and M&H Type

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Columbian hand press, composing room. (Val Lucas)

Any letterpress enthusiast visiting San Francisco will want to make the effort to visit Arion Press and M&H Type located in the Presidio. Founded in 1974 by publisher-designer Andrew Hoyem, Arion Press produces two to three limited editions per year employing craftsmanship in the fine printing tradition. Augmented by M&H Type, it is a full-service operation creating exquisite works and creative collaborations with many contemporary artists. The Grabhorn Institute is the nonprofit umbrella organization.

Visitors are welcomed by a massive Columbian iron hand press and enter into the gallery through a hallway filled with type cabinets, mementos and drawers full of books and prints, showcasing some of the 100+ editions they published, including work by Kara Walker, Jim Dine, and Kiki Smith. All aspects of the fine press book or print edition were on display, including intermediate processes such as scratchboard drawings for frontispieces.

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, Wilkie with illustrations by Stan Washburn. Published by Arion Press, 2012. (Val Lucas)

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins with illustrations by Stan Washburn, 2012. (Val Lucas)

Downstairs, the working pressroom includes many kinds of relief presses, hundreds of cases of type, and other needed material for printing the limited edition books and prints. Only relief printing is done in house; other printing processes are completed elsewhere.

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Miller cylinder press. (Val Lucas)

In 1989, Arion Press acquired M&H Type (the venerable Mackenzie and Harris type foundry) as it was in decline and on the verge of closing forever. Arion, which had been one of its largest clients, bought the entire operation and avoided the need to find a new source of type. Next year the foundry will celebrate its centennial. A long hallway holding thousands of pounds of new type, packaged and ready to use, and leads to the casting room, where apprentice Chris Godek demonstrated casting sorts on the Thompson caster.  The intricate punch-tape system for Monotype composition casting that has been replaced with a laptop and special software ported right in to the caster!

Thompson casters for display fonts (Val Lucas)

Thompson casters for display fonts (Val Lucas)

After printing, pages are be taken down to the bindery, which is capable of producing a wide range of binding styles and custom finishing, including wooden covers, foil stamping, and intricate sewn structures. The whole premises are awe inspiring.

Arion Press bindery. (Val Lucas)

Arion Press bindery. (Val Lucas)