This, ladies and gents, is my new toy. And when I say ‘toy’, I mean ‘monstrous and daunting new project’.
This beautiful hunk of cast iron is a Cropper Minerva, made by H.S Cropper & co., Nottingham, sometime around 1880. It was gifted to me by a very lovely and generous friend and ex-work colleague, who was moving house, wanted a lighter load and knew I would love it. Whilst the (yet to be named) Cropper has a relatively small footprint, the beast weighs at least 500kg. It took a couple of guys with some heavy-duty lifting power to move this baby into position.
Prior to my friend’s ownership, it belonged to an old bloke who worked his life in a print shop, and was gifted it upon his retirement. He hadn’t used it in years when he gave it to my friend. Judging by the grime, it’s been dormant for quite some time. But it’s been stored out of the weather, I dare say, because the rust isn’t too bad. That, or the thick layer of grime protected it!
I’ve been lying in bed at night thinking about it. I have zero experience with letterpress, and zero experience in restoration. I have been reading like a fiend. There is limited Cropper Minerva info on the ‘net — I don’t think it’s a common printing piece. It doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page! According to British Letterpress, production of the Minerva began in 1867. It’s fairly similar to the more recent Chandler & Price (1880–onwards), so I’ve been learning my lingo from studying them.
The Minerva was famously used by Virginia and Leonard Woolf, to produce Hogarth Press books. There is a drawing of Leonard at the press with Virginia in the background composing. The Woolfs gave the press to Vita Sackville-West and it is still at Sissinghurst.British Letterpress
There is a lovely project over at Letterpress Reimagined, where they have re-printed a Vita Sackville-West poem using the Cropper Minerva and traditional type forms and leading — a massive undertaking, and one I am unlikely to follow. My friend did have some type, but it was not in any order, and the task of putting a page together is incredibly time consuming.
My plan is to use the modern approach — design on the computer, and outsource to a polymer plate maker for the printing plate. It’s not going to be easy to get a perfect print initially. With so many moving parts, alignment has to be ‘just so’.
I have been chatting with the lovely Amy from Saint Gertrude, a letterpress aficionado here in Melbourne. She has very generously spared some time from her busy schedule (running a small business with two young kiddies — I know that feeling!) to advise me. She has a similar treadle press and runs letterpress classes, which I am looking forward to attending. I’m hoping to get my Cropper in working order before attending, so that I have a long list of questions ready!