Acorn Anchor Book Arts Studio
Ft Collins, Colorado
— est. April 2008 —

What is it?

Acorn Anchor Book Arts Studio is a 450-square-foot space annexed to Oak Root Press (180 square feet) which operates in a different location (in Windsor). Letterpress printing machines operate in both locations. The two studios are both within 1/2 mile of Colorado's endangered Poudre River. Oak Root Press is located some thirteen miles further downstream from Acorn Anchor. One day soon the Poudre River bike path will connect the two. See for the Larimer County portion and for the projected Weld County connector and the newly opened path from Windsor to Greeley.

What do we do here?

Acorn Anchor B.A.S. consists of various facets of a bohemian artist press including papermaking, hand-set letterpress printing on both vintage cylinder presses and vintage foot-treadle printing machines, and bookbinding. Hand-made linoleum & wood cuts illustrate the pages of our books. Two other sub-enterprises share the premises: Stone Book Statuary and the Linotype Linecasting Foundry. This latter pursuit is ambituous and rests upon acquiring a vintage Linoitype or Intertype linecasting machine.

Starting with raw materials, we publish limited editions of high quality, richly designed books of mystical poetry and inspired writings. Our first offerings will include tryptagonal poetry and excerpts from the Finnish Kalevala.

A Simple Philosophy

A traditional craft of high quality, limited edition literature, made from scratch. And powered by notable creative and historic content. In the tradition of William Morris and the Roycrofters. Read about the Private Press Movement at Five Roses for more information.

The Machines

Acorn Anchor rescues, restores, preserves, maintains, and uses vintage book arts equipment. These amazing machines have seen a century or more of use and were designed in the late 1800s without the expectation that power would be on hand in the country print shops. Our two platen press printing machines at Acorn Anchor are:

A Chandler & Price old-style tabletop "Pilot" press, with a 6 ½ x 10 ½ chase.

A Chandler & Price old-style (1910) floor press with an 8 x 12 chase. It can (theoretically) be run with its original variable-speed vintage 110-volt motor, or treadled by foot (preferred). Of novel interest is our unique "letter-cycle" - an old bike adapted to power the printer's flywheel. Of course, this method requires an assistant who wants to get some exercise. This press is in great condition but will need a foot treadle, which I plan to buy from Hern Iron Works. It can be dated with its B5402 serial number to a 1910 manufacture date.

These two presses print hand-set type and wood cuts. We currently have a modest selection of fonts in two Hamilton cabinets. Our current preferred fonts are 12-point Caslon and 14-point Century Schoolbook.

We use a large hand-operated guillotine cutter, a Peerless Gem built around 1900 (serial number 9409). It can cut through a ream of paper or an old phone book like butter. We also have a Chandler & Price 19" guillotine cutter that is sharp and nice for smaller jobs, such as trimming booklets.

We have an iron hand-crank book press - handy for bookbinding - with a 10" x 14" press surface.

We also have a vintage foot-lever Rosback Perforator, ca. 1900. It is complete and needs only some minor reconditioning to be operational.

Two recent acquisitions open up the possibility of larger scale book production: A rare 1926 Kelly A flatbed cylinder press (13.5 x 21 chase) and a Chandler & Price flatbed cylinder press (12 x 18 chase). These presses came from a museum in Port Ludlow, Washington and are both in operating condition with intact rollers.

Papermaking. This is an old bathtub operation and we are learning as we go. Paper pulp is acquired. Drying racks and presses are used. A typical limited-edition run of 100 copies of a 60-page book requires 1500 pieces of hand-made paper. 100 sheets can be made on a good day; thus 15 days of papermaking go into one of the limited editions. Boards are selected and prepared from pressed material; 20 are bound with solid hardwood boards. They sell for $125 each; the rest sell for $100 each.

Our books. We will start with the 44 tryptagonals (+ 8 others) that appear in A Wandering Scholar's Tryptacon, with three prints and a frontispiece. This will be a first offering, a 24-page book and thus priced accordingly.

See the Gallery of Machines.

Setting up Shop

A brief mini-movie reveals the scale of the studio

The shop configuration is beginning to take shape:

Peerless Gem paper cutter - reassembled and tested May 4.

Click on first picture for a short movie:

The 1910 Chandler & Price 8 x 12 Letterpress

The Rosback Perforator will be set aside for now, to be thoroughly restored in time. Today, May 5, I'll transport tables and boards and various other things to begin setting up the various operations. Here's the Chandler and Price 19" paper cutter:


May 10 and 11. Got the press running on the motor, tested out some printing. It's looking good. Ordered a foot treadle from Hern Iron works so I can print via foot power. Will pick it up in Idaho on my trip out west in late June.

Projects. June 5, 2008. Am setting up three cabinets to house the many California type drawers I salvaged last-minute from Ken Ticket in Denver. I've tested the 8 x 12, got the belt hooked up and running. It's a nice little press. Printed up some tryptagonals using the same form that I used on the 10 x 15 C&P. A project that I'll begin will be a two-sheet, eight-page sequence of 24 tryptagonals in 14 point Century Schoolbook bold.

Looks like my timing and fortuitous providential "going for it" I have secured ownership of a rare 1920s "Kelly A" cylinder press, in fully functional condition with good rollers. Here's the actual press:

It comes from a private museum shop in Port Ludlow, Washington. I was planning a driving trip out there to visit my brother's family and pick up the C & P Pilot press, and with an impending July 1 pickup deadline, I quickly adjusted my plans. I used mileage to purchase a one-way ticket Denver-Seattle ($140), and will rent a pretty huge truck - probably a 24 footer with 12,000 load capacity. Why? The Kelly weighs 4200, and the seller wants to give me an intertype or a linotype - must be another 4000. Then, there are other miscellaneous things of interest which are going to have to be disposed of one way or another, including a C&P cylinder press, a Little Giant, cabinets and other things - which would pay for a good chunk of gas and truck rental if it happened to be tossed onto the truck. Gas driving my own car would have been close to $400.

The Old Style Pilot Press, with semi-good rollers, to be donated for use at the local printing collective

Update. July 4, 2008. My evolving strategies with letterpress now includes a level of endeavor that is best described as "traditional letterpress book publishing." It's not quite the scaled down, hand-set and off-the-grid concept I started with (which can still continue as its own enterprise), but instead I envision a book publishing operation that uses vintage high-end letterpress equipment - such as my new Kelly A - along with Linotype or Intertype casting of text lines for books. The automation of a high-speed Kelly flatbed cylinder press, so popular in the 1920s and 30s, will allow the production of books on the order of 1000 to 3000 copies. My recent trip to Port Ludlow failed to acquire the Intertype, which is now looming as quite a disappointment. It would have been the key to this new concept of book production. However, I am in no place to devote the time right now to mastering typecasting on one of these highly complex machines, for it looks as though I will be signing a lucrative book contract with Penguin Books, due date of the manuscript March 1, 2009. The vision of a dedicated book publishing operation on a grander scale - still completely managed and operated by yours truly - will be set aside for now, with some angst and difficulty. Besides, I have my work cut out for me with figuring out the Kelly A press.

Also, I did manage to load the C & P cylinder press (a 12 x 18). My hired assistant, Kevin, and I had to mobilize our efforts very quickly to get it hoisted into a pallet mover and dragged out 30 yards of barn on boards to where the fork lift could put it in my truck. This is a nice little production level press, and is virtually ready to go, although I forgot three of the rollers in Port Ludlow; they will be shipped ASAP. Both of my cylinder presses run off 220 lines (The Kelly has a newer 3 h.p. motor), which I will work on getting activated in the shop. The lines are there, I just need some junction boxes and plugs installed.

Ideally, my new book production outfit will produce between one and two books a year; material costs per item will be fairly minimal, thus maximizing profits. The low print runs will assume direct sales for 60% of the stock. A low print run being perhaps 2,500 copies at a time. The high-end design concept will be the major selling point, with nice borders, multiple colors, ornamentation, and paper choices. Attention to design and multi-color process will add to the books' selling appeal - and cover price. They will be nice, solid, harcover books to own. And the content will likewise be noteworthy.

Some hypothetical numbers to work with: A typical run of 2,500 copies will cost $5000 to produce in material costs. My time, and the rental of my shop, is assumed and set aside in this estimate as an accepted business expense. The machines used will be: Linotype, Kelly / C & P cylinder presses, C & P foot-treadle 8 x 12 for special features of the book, Rosback Perforator for special paste in features, C & P paper cutter, Peerless Gem paper cutter, and a signature sewing machine to be sought and aquired. Gross sales of this run, at 60 / 40 direct/distributor sales of a $35 cover price, will equal $31500 + $17500 = $49,000. Figure $5000 in material costs, $5,000 in packaging, promo, and other costs, and you still have a nice profit for the year. The ideal would be working on the project an average of 15-20 hours a week, 2 to 3 days per week.

Some pictures of my Kelly A cylinder press follow. A Kelly B press in action is here on Youtube.

The Kelly press with feed board and roller mechanism lifted up.

The Style A Kelly presses began being produced at the Elizabeth plant in 1925. Serial #A166 strongly suggests it was a first year press.

Fork Lifts are handy! The Kelly A on my heavy duty homemade skid. Weight: approximately 4500 pounds

The two presses loaded in the 24-foot rental truck, ready for the 36-hour, 1500-mile drive, Port Ludlow to Fort Collins.

The Chandler and Price 12 x 18 flatbed cylinder press (left) and the Style A Kelly (right), in the shop at Acorn Anchor Book Arts Studio.

The Chandler & Price cylinder press:

Both of these presses are pretty rare and are in great condition. Both will be restored and operational, vintage work horses for Oak Root Press. Here's the Intertype that was given to me but which I was unable to pick up in Port Ludlow due to time running out and the fork lift unable to dead lift it (5000 pounds):

Update. October 2008. My recent trip to Belgium, visiting printers and museums, is here:

October 19, 2008. I finally brainstormed how to test the 220 circuit at my shop and get the Kelly powered up. Basically, I had to buy a three-prong heavy duty 220 volt plug, $17. The rest was surprisingly easy, and my delay in getting the Kelly started and tested can only be ascribed to a combination of fear and laziness. I had to set all the systems in place, and reconnect the belt to the vacuum pump, and then the circuit shut remianed closed until I hit the stop button. The vacuum / air is operational and strong. The next step see if I can get paper and delivery correctly. Then, I can set up a form and get the ink system tested. This 82-year-old press is going to be ready to do some posters.

October 20-22, 2008. Made progress setting grippers and figuring this beast out. Ran some paper through, but it tends to jam - need some fine tuning. I trust I can work the details out and have it operational very soon - just have so little time right now. Here's a little movie of the Style A Kelly press running (click on the image):

October 28, 2008. Update. I figured out the vacuum paper feed system adjustments. Also figured out the adjustments on the paper guides and grippers. And so, I was able to get a stack of 8 1/2 x 11 paper to feed and deliver all the way through. I'll be going to San Francisco for a conference this weekend and will visit M & H Type Foundry, and Arion Press. I plan on picking up a few fonts w/ italics and special characters. Then I'll be ready for some projects.

Update. November 7, 2008. Having learned more about the difference between monotype casting and linotype / intertype casting, I am leaning toward monotype, for three reasons. 1. The equipment is lighter than a linotype or intertype (1400 lbs vs close to 5000 lbs), and is not as space hogging or tall; 2. it casts with a harder metal and is thus more suited for quality printing; 3. it can be adapted to and driven by a computer. The latter possibility was illustrated for me when I visited Arion Press and the M & H type foundry in San Francisco last week (and was discussed by Patrick Goossens in Antwerp). They had a whole bank of Lanston-style monotype machines. The keyboard (on the left, below) is important to have.

Keyboard and monotype caster, from The Monotype System (1912)

Looks like I have a lead on a monotype with keyboard for sale in California. Might be able to pick up next March. The Book Arts studio will then have a type foundry (as originally planned), a 13 x 20 flatbed cylinder press, an 8 x 12 Chandler and Price, two hand cutters, and a C & P Pilot press.

All content © Acorn Anchor Book Arts Studio. 2008.