Arion Press for a Tour...

We actually came to San Francisco in order to take a public demonstration tour of the historic printing and bookmaking facilities of Arion Press and the historic type foundry of M & H Type. These 90 minute tours are only given on Thursday afternoons at 3:30 p.m. Founded by Andrew Hoyem in 1974, Arion Press publishes deluxe, limited-edition books, many of them printed by letterpress, illustrated by prominent artists, and some accompanied by separate editions of original prints. Arion Press is a cultural tenant at the Presidio, the new National Park in San Francisco.

These tours provide an extraordinary opportunity to witness this unique facility, one of the last of its kind in the world, in full operation. Visitors can see how type is cast from hot metal in our foundry, watch pages being made up in the composition room and printed by letterpress, and learn how a book is bound by hand, from sewing to backing to casing in.
Blake was an excellent guide, sharing with us all the ins and outs of creating a book the Arion way. I was mesmerized.





After touring the print shop, we were lead to Mackenzie & Harris Type, the oldest and largest letterpress type foundry in the U.S. Dating from the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition, it has been designated an “irreplaceable cultural treasure” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
M & H was established with demonstration Monotype machines from the Panama Pacific International Exposition’s Palace of Machinery. These have been preserved as part of the historic foundry, still in operation on a full-time basis, where handset and composition “hot metal” type is manufactured for the Arion Press and other letterpress customers. And we got to see it all in action. So very cool.

After being thoroughly impressed by all the processes involved with printing the book, we went to the bookbinding room. Wow.  Approximately, one-third of their books are bound by hand. Having sewn some books myself, I was very impressed by this.
I loved their book Sampler, poetry by Emily Dickinson, with art by Kiki Smith. This book is hand-bound in goatskin and cloth with embroidered, cross-stitched front cover. The title of was chosen for two reasons. It signals that this is a sampling of the poetry of Emily Dickinson and it refers to embroidered samplers from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that inspired the imagery of Kiki Smith.

I'm a lover of books so to have been in a place where books are created- from start to finish- was pretty powerful. I am so glad we had the opportunity to visit Arion Press. I will never look at a book in the same way.

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