The following is the introduction delivered on April 2, 2014, at a lecture by Harold Kyle to the Society of Printers, the country’s first graphic design organization. An early reader commented that it was perhaps inappropriate to praise Harold. We would argue that the following is no more about Harold Kyle than “Ode to a Grecian Urn” is about a Greek vase.
In Skaneateles, New York, there is a printer, Michael Bixler. For many years he was a member of the Society of Printers and I think some of you may remember him. Forty-nine years ago he began his career as this country’s premiere typecaster and he built up the best collection of English Monotype faces around. His types have been on the beds of every major and minor printer working within the last decades. Stinehour, Colish, Godine, Pennyroyal, Wild Carrot, Horton Tank. He’s dedicated his life to letterpress printing from metal type, and with very few exceptions, in this country there would not be any contemporary fine press books printed from metal without Michael Bixler.
Last week I told Michael that Harold would be speaking here and that there was a grumbling minority, concerned about the discussion of printing from polymer plates that would take place. Michael’s response was swift: Don’t they know there wouldn’t be any letterpress printing in this country without Harold Kyle?
I agree with Michael. Harold offers reliable products and services that make letterpress printing practical and affordable and possible in the twenty-first century. What Michael Bixler makes possible as affordably as he can, but still for an elite few, Harold makes possible for everyone else. And even many of those elite few that Michael Bixler casts for—and Michael Bixler himself—concede that there are times when a plastic plate is the right tool for the job. What are the options when type is needed in a size or face not available? A crappy magnesium plate mounted crooked on a lumpy block of wood? Expensive brass that is used for fifty impressions? Or an inexpensive piece of plastic that can do the job and be recycled when finished?
I say let the printer decide what he or she wants to use. The fact of the matter is that the transfer of ink to paper lasts a fraction of a second. It seems to me of greater importance that the ink be arranged intelligently and with care, and of little importance what that ink was sitting on when it met the paper. The paper doesn’t care. The ink doesn’t care. The reader doesn’t care. Why should we? In the process of printing, the matrix is an ephemeral component. Let’s not get too hung up on something so unimportant.
But this is only tangentially related to an introduction of Harold. I’ve never had the sense that he’s too concerned with these minor debates relating to printing. That’s because he’s been too busy printing, too busy making plates, and too busy making letterpress printing possible in the twenty-first century. When others are talking, he is doing.
There are some that like to talk about letterpress printing and there are some that actually do it for a living. I choose to defer to those that do it for a living while making it possible for others to do the same. Printing—like its greatest product—books—should be available to as many people as possible, and not in the hands of just a few. This is what Harold Kyle’s Boxcar Press facilitates and our world of printing is better off for it.