About The Press

I first became intrigued with letterpress printing during my first teaching job, when a colleague in the English Department at Millikin University, Sidney Berger, let me watch as he printed what I believe is the only book issued by his press, Lament, by the British poet Thom Gunn (Doe Press, 1985). I was fascinated by the delicate Hosho paper, but mostly by Sid’s little table-top flat-bed press, which had been made for him by a machinist in Southern California. Sid himself had learned the art of printing from Kim Merker at the Windhover Press in Iowa City, where a great deal of high quality literary fine press printing was done in the 1970s, when Sid was in graduate school at the University of Iowa.I was fortunate that among those who attended the studio regularly.

Flash forward thirty-five years to the early days of my retirement in Seattle. The desire to learn to print–which I had kept on the back burner throughout my academic career–began to simmer. In 2011 I was fortunate to find (by means of an on-line search) Bonnie Thompson Norman, a fine press printer and book binder who offered an open studio in the basement of her house every Wednesday night. I signed up immediately to begin my first project, a poem I wrote for the occasion called “Invocation.” I was fortunate that among those who attended the studio regularly was the eminent book artist Margery Hellmann, who exemplified the careful planning and meticulous attention to detail necessary to produce elegant printing. Bonnie’s teaching method worked well for me: I conceived the projects, and she helped me execute them. In the course of five and a half years under her watchful eye, I learned to print tolerably well. All the larger format pieces for sale on this website were printed at Bonnie’s studio and credit The Windowpane Press in their colophons.

Bonnie also introduced me to her own lineage as a Southern California printer, demanding primarily two general qualities: dry ink and light impression. Although I have diverged slightly from these requirements, I still do not engage in the extremely wet ink and deep impressions favored by many young letterpress printers in the twenty-first century. At Bonnie’s suggestion, then, I began to study the work of Saul and Lilian Marks, from whom she learned to print, as well as the more commercial Los Angeles printers like Ward Ritchie. I find that I still favor their minimalist approach to typography and design.

Not long after I began to attend Bonnie’s weekly studio, I got a part-time job at an antiquarian bookstore in Seattle’s Pioneer Square, the now-defunct concern of Wessel and Lieberman. One of the owners, Mark Wessel, is a connoisseur of literary fine press printing, so the shop was a veritable museum of high-quality artists’ books, chapbooks, broadsides, and ephemera, as well as books on the history and technique of hand printing. Consequently, in addition to learning a little bit about the rare book business, I was able–simply by browsing through the stock when I wasn’t busy–to school myself in the design and construction of fine press books and ephemera.

Working in the bookstore even one day a week also enabled me to meet many of the printers who produced such fine work, as well as the consumers who collected it. The highlight of such contacts, without a doubt, was my fateful meeting with Gabriel Rummonds, one of the greatest handpress printers of the twentieth century, who appeared one gloomy day in lime-green pants to check on the sales of his two-volume history of nineteenth-century handpress printing. We quickly became friends, and when Gabriel learned that I was a printer myself, he asked me to edit his massive autobiography. Seeing Fantasies & Hard Knocks (Ex Ophidia Press, 2017) through to publication was like getting a graduate degree in fine press printing, and it set the seal to my commitment to join the small company of men and women who devote themselves to printing works of literature with hand-set type.

Another advantage of spending so much time in an antiquarian bookstore is that I got to handle and examine many extremely old books. This opportunity fed my desire to learn more about the history of printing from Gutenberg forward, so I read voraciously about the origins of printing with moveable type, the famous printers from each of the five centuries since the invention of the press, and the book collectors who preserved so much printed material.

My taste in design was formed by looking at everything from rare incunabula (pages printed before the year 1500) to prolific popular broadside ballads. Much of the work you find on this website attempts to imitate or reflect the best of early printing, and my all-time exemplar remains the sixteenth-century Venetian printer Aldus Manutius.

After the bookstore closed, I decided I needed to study calligraphy in order to better appreciate the letter forms of the different fonts of type, which were originally imitations of fine handwriting. I found a teacher through my wife’s connection to Seattle University and began to study with Rev. Josef Venker, S.J. Sometime during my first calligraphy class in the spring of 2015, Father Venker offered me the use of a table-top press, which began a new era in the history of J. Jones Imprimatur. Suddenly, I had to acquire all the equipment necessary for printing: fonts of type, various colors of ink, furniture, galleys, spacing material, type cabinets, an imposing stone, ornaments, and all the other bits and pieces necessary to a print shop. I converted the living room of my apartment in Queen Anne into a printing shop.

I had to renovate the press, a nineteenth-century Pilot made by Chandler & Price. It needed new rollers, but all the parts were present, so after a lot of cleaning and oiling, the press was up and running by fall of 2105. I also acquired a proof press, an 8 x 10 Showcard, which was originally used by businesses to print prices and other shop signs. Then I began to solicit poems from my friends and acquaintances in the literary world and from friends and acquaintances of my wife, Sharon Cumberland, who is a well-established poet herself. The first card I printed was a new edition of “Invocation,” the first thing I printed at The Windowpane Press, to mark a new beginning under the auspices of the same muse of printing. Since then, it’s been a process of learning to use the Pilot with help and advice from Northwest printers and online. Most of what I print I select myself, but occasionally I print work for others, and I do accept special orders for limited editions of small format printing. The dimensions of the Pilot’s chase (10 x 6) prevent me from printing anything much larger than that, and only about sixty percent of that surface area can be covered with text or images in one run. I can print in virtually any color on the Pantone chart, however, and I welcome inquiries about special orders. I prefer not to print more than fifty copies of anything. My left arm is seventy years old, and more than fifty pulls at a time diminishes the pleasure of watching words and images take shape on paper.