Burnt Fingers

It’s close work, letterpress. Boggling slightly, we sat hunched over a drawer of Garamond, havering over which tiny brass moulds to queue up in the chase, to reproduce our text. Don’t drop letters, they’ll never be found. Don’t pick a wrong one. Don’t put a wrong choice back in the wrong cell.

A letterpress chase with the letters 'Ode to a Nightingale' ready to cast in leadWe then moved to the Ludlow, its little bucket of hot lead quivering. You lock in the chase and pull down a lever, which makes a satisfying chock. Just like a ten-pin bowling ball returning to meet your hand, out slides the slug – your letters transformed by the Ludlow into one silvery, weighty segment. You pick it up to admire it and your fingertips smoulder. You’ve one more title from your 48-page book. Any mistake and back it goes in the pot, vanishing in the gloop.

a lead slug of the text 'Ode to a Nightingale' reversed out and ready for printingWe squeezed back to the drawer (space is tight at Paekakariki Press), freed the chase and dropped the individual letter brasses back into their individual cells. The Ludlow trembled and you sensed the contour lines of your fingertips smudging. You’re back office; beyond, Matt and Alexa exchange a word about Radio 3. From the lead pot a little smoke lifted.

MS Feb 22

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