8t Bags About The Natural World

Eight quotations from eight tea bags amidst eighty Bags set in eighty fonts, annotated for reference in the forthcoming title,
from The Type Store at Der Klubhaus

11 x 7 cm, 28 pages, 4 colors
The hand set type is primarily genuine ATF Century Expanded, Oldstyle, and Schoolbook, but also includes every last font of the type inventory held by The Heavy Duty Press as of January 2022. Printed silently with Spiffy the Vandercook SP 15 on Kitakata paper and bound by hand with a pamphlet stitch, tucked into Bugra covers, and slipped into muslin tea bags screen printed by The Factory in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, as a limited edition of 88 copies, signed and numbered. $120

The Story Behind the Book

Further Organizing of a Mess

The first thought to make a simple book featuring tea bag quotations came in the middle of working on another, much more complex book project.

During the winter of 2016-17, I was deep in the sea of typographical composition on the bed of the press, in the throes of printing the Typesetting on a Winter’s Afternoon book. I cannot say how much this type [punny] of activity challenges other book-making letterpress printers, but locking up the forms for the translucent cascading text blocks in Typesetting… certainly tested my patience. The entire project was, intentionally, a challenge to Spiffy and I, but in the end we pulled it off [more pun stuff].

There is no doubt I am driven by challenges, and I seek them. Paradoxically, accepting challenges can sometimes leave me wanting for an easier go of it.

That same winter, our local food co-op was running a sale on Echinacea+ tea. I am no zealot of herbology, but I am certainly willing to believe that a daily dose of Echinacea+ tea could help my immune system during flu and cold season, so I bought a box, and enjoyed a cup daily. This particular brand included an inspirational quotation from major figures throughout human history printed on the tag of each bag. There is always time to read an inspirational quote when your tea is steeping.

One morning, while steeping my tea and reading an inspirational quotation, it occurred to me that it would be a sweet relief to create a simple a book comprised of a few tea bag quotes on a single sheet of paper. Lovely, another book in the queue. From that point on, I started saving the quotes, until I had enough to decide upon a theme. Easy: Nature.

I imagined the simplicity of small text blocks made from short quotations. I also liked the idea of utilizing an existing box of European hemp paper that has been with me since around the turn of the century. Keeping with the intention to think about it as little as possible, and to take the easiest course to completion, I created an accordion-fold mock-up from a standard letter-size sheet of paper. Everything sounded so sweet as I faced the looming task of printing, binding, and covering the Typesetting on a Winter’s Afternoon books.

Once the mock-up was created, it became clear that the book would conveniently include eight quotes. Eight has been a reoccurring theme with books from this printing office, going all the way back to Crux, in 1996 (under the Dead Art Limited imprint), when our friend and editor, Jennifer Kulbeck, suggested an edition of 88 copies because eights are cool: “…when you turn them on their side they are infinity.”

It was all going to be so easy.

So easy…until it is time to set a simple title page, and eight tea bags starts to sound like 8-T bags. And 8t bags sounds like eight-y Bags. This kind of fun with phonetics does not slip past a person who works with little metal letters and the sounds they represent. That same person could easily be tempted to set the word Bag eighty different ways with the type inventory on hand.

Let’s go all the way back to the beginning to explain this “type inventory.”

When a young artist becomes enthralled with letterpress printing, the biggest impediment to their ability to work with the medium is the acquisition of equipment. To me, it was a dream that might never come true. 

A long time ago—1995, to be precise, when I was a twenty-something out of college, publishing a hand-drawn fanzine for my family’s grocery store—my brother-in-law sent me a classified ad he found in one of those free shoppers you could pick up wherever there were free newspapers. An older gentleman on the south side of Milwaukee wanted to sell the printing press he had in his basement. Remarkably, within weeks, a phone call came in from another older gentleman near Madison. A few years earlier, near the end of my time as student at the University of Wisconsin, I occasionally snooped around local print shops in search of a decommissioned press and type. When I finally found it in Chuck Steckleberg’s shop in Middleton, I offered to buy it whenever he was ready to sell it. This was before email addresses or cell phone numbers. I wish I could tell you how he tracked me down. It’s a mystery.

Suddenly it all became available, so I snatched it up, without question, as fast as I could. Years later, I realized my hasty mistake. Most of the type I acquired with these two purchases was worn out and/or ugly. Or not my style. Simply put, not useful to me, if I wanted to create high quality artwork.

Over the years, the equipment has been moved six times, and a functioning shop set up in four locations. Most of the type I purchased in 1996 is long gone, either stood up and sold on Ebay or dumped in a bucket and sold for scrap. In 1998, after scrapping a recently acquired and then, fortuitously, broken-down Linotype, I selected and purchased dozens of fonts of virgin type from the famed 1993 ATF auction through Fritz Klinke at NA Graphics in Silverton, Colorado. I have also added a few desirable fonts through Ebay and the occasional Wayzgoose to create an inventory of type that can be accommodated in a 256 square foot studio. Upon re-establishment of The Heavy Duty Press in 2017, as set forth in the Declaration of Orientation, this is the type I will live with and utilize for whatever projects I invent.

There is one thing still missing. Labels. Most of the type drawers have hand written labels, and a handful have labels that came with the type that is in them. Better labels are not necessarily needed on the drawers; I am familiar with what is where, and I’m the only person who uses them. I am the only person who sees them. But the type has always been the primary interest for me, and therefore, for my own pleasure, and in the spirit of organizing my mess, I want to create nice looking labels for all the drawers and galleys. Similar to the reasons why we decorate our walls, tidy our homes, or dress smartly when we go out in public, I anticipate having good-looking labels on all of the type drawers will make me feel good, and foster the production of good artwork.The labeling project is underway.

Now back to 8t Bags, and why the inclusion of eighty Bags is apropos.

In 2012, I pledged to myself that I would no longer acquire unnecessary things, and would make an effort to unload any unnecessary things I have accumulated, with an ultimate goal to finish life with nothing but my birthday suit. For this reason, when I look around my studio, I want everything to be useful; everything must have a reason for being in my possession. The easiest way to resolve this is to work in reverse: rather than allowing new projects to dictate a need to obtain lacking resources, I look for reasons to use the resources I have, especially those resources I have yet to use. This approach lends itself to a slightly cosmic approach to all my creative work. Choices I have made earlier in life have put me where I am now, with what I have now. Having always trusted my heart, my instincts, the cosmic energy of life, or God—whatever you wish to call it—when making decisions, I work with the belief that everything I have done and will do was and is meant to be. This is a fool proof way to justify just about everything.

It is for this reason that 8t Bags About The Natural World includes the word Bag in every last font of type I own. To my chagrin—and I don’t expect anyone to believe it—I have, miraculously, eighty fonts of type. More or less. Two of them are shown with small caps, which could have been counted as separate fonts, and I have a few more incomplete fonts of wood type, but it was not a great challenge to create a final count of eighty.

The final count of eighty fonts may not have been a challenge, but getting back to the bit about being “driven by challenges,” it had to get challenging. Start by having to set 6 pt. annotation numbers for each of eighty Bags, and then attempt to physically lock them all up in varying orientations around the previously printed quotations. And there’s the challenge I created for myself because the easy project initially imagined wasn’t challenging enough.

I am always searching for reasons.

The eighty Bags may have been set for the sole purpose of using and seeing all of my eighty fonts in print, once and for all, or maybe just to turn the book into a challenging project, but my mind wanders and I felt there must be more to it. What other justification could there be to litter a book of nature quotations with eighty Bags? Why has the cosmic energy of life put me in this scenario? The answer is easy. The Declaration of Orientation also states that the Press will focus on subjects related to “thoughtful and sustainable living.” It is sweet to take time to admire and worship Nature, but at this time in human history, the conscious among us are aware that we have damaged, and continue to damage the health of our mother, the beautiful planet we call Earth. The Bags littering the book, therefore, represent eight (t)rillion bags floating about the natural world in the first quarter of the twenty-first century.

Furthermore, to create a reason for producing 8t Bags in the first place—a reason other than simply deciding to create it, or to remind us of our connection to nature, or to remind us that we have made a mess we need to organize—each Bag has been annotated, allowing the fonts to be referenced in a forthcoming book, which shall be comprised of all eighty labels, currently in production, for the drawers and galleys of type I have distilled from my acquisitions through January 2022.

It is all very practical, in the end.

Printing the green ink over the white and blue for the illustrations on Spiffy the Vandercook SP 15.
The final lock-up for the last pass of brown ink.

27 February 2022
Finished printing 8t Bags about the Natural World about a week ago, and have bound and covered half of the edition. About 50% more shop hours invested than anticipated, and requiring many mentally exhausting hours locking up type for 6 passes through the press: brown and green ink on both sides of a half sheet of Kitakata paper, plus white and sky blue on one side, per book, but it was the eighty Bags that held up the show.
The quality of printing turned out better than anticipated, and the registration of colors as well as could have been expected. Cutting down the paper into folios revealed that placement of the text and illustrations were all correct and very accurate. A few new tricks learned along the way.
In the end, this precious little book is, like all of these projects, pleasing to the proprietor (me)—a pleasure to hold, and to see with my own eyes. Whether or not it will have any appeal to any market remains to be seen. 8t Bags about the Natural World is available on Etsy, and will debut at the Oxford Fine Press Book Fair next weekend, 5-6 March 2022.

20 January 2022
Top priority. It’s hard to believe this project started nearly five years ago and initially had such humble aspirations. Actually, no. The humble aspirations part is very believable. Ideally, this will be the winter to finish it, before going to jolly old England for the Oxford Fine Press Book Fair in March.

The title has morphed into 8t Bags about the Natural World, and all of the type is set, except for the colophon page. Paper is on order, and printing will begin next week, provided the paper arrives. Binding in February.

A sneak peak at the initial proofs of all the type, 18 January 2022

31 March 2017

8t Bags started as a challenge to myself to make a sweet little book in a short time (2 weeks) out of some nature-themed tea bag tags I had been saving from my morning Echinacea Plus tea. I never did catch a cold, but that might be partly attributed to 6 years of daily dandelion root tea.

As these ideas always go, it got too big to be completed in 2 weeks and that’s okay. 8 tea bags became 8t bags, and that sounds an awful lot like EIGH-TY bags…