I have done a lot of books on a lot of different subjects, but this has always been among my favorites. It’s a collection of recollections from printers who slugged their way through life in the back shops of newspapers during the earlier part of the 20th Century. The stories give a personal flavor to what that life was really like for the men and women who added their own special grace to the tradition of printing.
It was written by Robert MacGregor Shaw who spent years as a newspaper publisher and as director of a couple different newspaper associations. He knew these characters and found their lives fascinating enough to memorialize them in his book Life In The Back Shop. It’s has become one of my best selling titles and I think you will enjoy it as others across the United States have.
I would like to share Ron Hylton’s review of the book in a letter he wrote some time back:
“Enclosed is a check for another copy of the Back Shop book. I enjoyed the first one so much I’m sending a copy to a friend.
“It really hit the spot in many ways. For me who began in a county weekly in 1967, they had ‘gone offset’ but we still set all the type on Linos. A model 5 and 14. The heads were on Ludlow. We still cast stereo and pulled proofs. Also had an Elrod. It took us two and a half days to set all the type, pull proofs and do the paste up, then took it to a web press which only took 25 minutes to run 8,000 copies of 12 to 16 pages. That was humbling!
“I stayed in hot metal–to this day of sorts. For 15 years I operated the largest hot metal/letterpress operation in Portland, OR. My timing was wonderful–I got all the choice equipment and mats when the big type houses went out in the 70s. At one time I had over 400 fonts in Intertype Visulite mags. That was an impressive sight! We rand a F4 mixer, two F2-2 mixers, two C4s and a C3. Ludlow and Elrod as well. The end was in sight in the late 1980s. So I switched gears and bought a funeral home. Moved here to the Washington coast and brought two Intertypes and the Ludlow along with two Heidelberg platens. I did a residual business up until three or four years ago. . . . It’s a joy to pull a magazine of Optima or Souvenir or Melior or Palatino–even if no one else enjoys it!
“I got the best laughs about the constant reference in the book about pi-ing magazines! Early on I saw the light and went Intertype. No fall outs anytime, anyplace! Intertype was very prominent on the West Coast–almost all the large newspapers and trade shops.
“I’m 54 years-old-and have every intention of keeping the pots hot.. I was very fortunate to learn the trade from some of the best in their twilight years. I met some wonderful men who blessed me.”
Until next time . . .