Ten years ago in New York City, Kit Robinson introduced me to Michael Waltuch, founder and publisher of Whale Cloth Press. Waltuch published Robinson’s first book, and the first book from the Press, Chinatown of Cheyenne, in an edition of 100 copies in 1974. The book was handset in Bembo and printed on Rives at Kim Merker’s Windhover Press in Iowa City. It is a remarkably beautiful instance of what can happen when a young printer and poet work on a book together. The poems and the craftsmanship are astonishing. Whale Cloth went on to publish early works by Barry Yourgrau, Steve Benson, Robert Grenier (including the infamous Sentences, a box of 500 minimalist poems printed on cards), and Alan Bernheimer’s translation of Valéry Larbaud’s Le Hameau des Abeilles. Whale Cloth was active until the early eighties.
Over dinner, Michael mentioned to me that although he was no longer printing, he still had his press in storage up in the Berkshires, and was wondering if I might be interested in it? Shortly after that wonderful evening, Dan Morris, then owner of The Arm Letterpress Studio in Brooklyn, and I borrowed a truck and drove up to the Berkshires to meet Michael and brought a beautiful Vandercook 4 back to Dan’s shop in Brooklyn. It was a lovely spring day. I was astonished that some of the handset type from Bernheimer’s book was still standing nearly thirty years later.
I moved to Austin that summer, where Michael’s press has served me well for ten years. While I’ve always liked the 4, I’ve been wanting to print larger books and broadsides for some time, so when the opportunity came to swap out the 4 for Vandercook’s 219AB, I accepted the opportunity. The 219 can print up to 18¾” × 26″ where the 4 maxes out at 14¾” × 20″. The adjustable bed also presents opportunities to explore more experimental techniques.
So here’s the new press! In this picture you can see a cabinet of wood type stashed below the feedboard (the swivel shelves that are normally down there are missing) and behind the feedboard is Robert Grenier’s Cambridge M’ass. Further down the wall there is a self-portait by Bill Berkson, a postcard for a reading by Larry Fagin and Michael Brownstein, a self-portrait by Lewis Warsh, and a poem by Joanne Kyger printed by Alastair Johnston at Poltroon Press.
Steve Robinson of Letterpreservation restored the 219AB at his shop in Indiana and drove it to Austin. After installing the new press, he took Michael’s press to UT Austin, home of the Rob Roy Kelley wood type collection. I’ll miss that press and all the good history that came with it, and I hope at the University, young poets and printers like Kit and Michael will have the opportunity to set out on new collaborations.
Meanwhile, I’m getting to know the 219AB, and looking forward to printing again soon. The first project will be finishing Vast Acid West, a collaboration with Crane Giamo. More on that soon!