Printing in Wonderland: Tim Inkster Muses on Howard Graphic Equipment/Howard Iron Works

The Porcupine’s Quill is pleased to be participating in the Second Annual Howard Iron Works Print Expo & Book Fair, which will take place on Saturday, September 28 at the Howard Iron Works Printing Museum in Oakville. If you are fascinated by the printing process, you won’t want to miss this event, I promise you. 

Recently PQL publisher Tim Inkster got to thinking about his experiences with the fine folks at Howard Graphic Equipment and Howard Iron Works, and wrote this wonderful piece on the printing Wonderland out in Oakville. Many thanks Liana Howard and Howard Iron Works for providing images in this post, as well as Peter Taylor, for  images adopted here from an earlier guest post.

NOTE: This version of Tim’s post is slightly modified for use on the PQL blog. For the full post, visit the Devil’s Artisan blog.

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The Porcupine’s Quill upgraded to a Polar Cutter in 1982. A 28-inch Model 72CE, with a split back gauge (very useful for trimming books) and hydraulics on the clamp as well as the blade. That is where this story begins. The Polar is a quality German machine, that we still run, most days, but did not have the functionality of our previous machine (a Pivano cutter) which had a screw clamp that we were customarily mis-appropriating to crush the swell generated in the folds of signatures by the Smyth sewing machine. This was an ongoing issue because the Sulby binder required tight signatures or the spines of books might be crushed in the finishing stage.

Polar cutter

Polar Cutter. Photo credit: Peter Taylor.

The challenge of “puffy” signatures was an issue that wasn’t resolved until 1987 when we found an inexpensive used bundling press for sale at Howard Graphic Equipment on Dunwin Drive in Mississauga. Howard Graphic Equipment has since relocated to the furthest western reaches of Oakville, but I remember the old location because it was close to an upscale Italian restaurant called Rogues where Elke and I knew the proprietor, Tony Pereira, who had trained as a busboy at the Windsor Arms in Toronto and then later at the Millcroft Inn in Alton (near Erin Village). I feel confident that the Howards would have known Tony as well.

The Hunkeler

The Hunkeler. Photo credit: Peter Taylor.

The bundling press we bought from Nick Howard is Swiss, a Hunkeler MBP 90. Our capital equipment list suggests we paid the princely sum of $1300 for it, at a time when Howard Graphic Equipment was primarily involved in buying and selling large-format multi-color offset presses internationally. Heidelbergs, and Komoris. The sale of the Hunkeler to the Porcupine’s Quill may have been one of the least consequential transactions completed in the history of Howard Graphics, but I remember that, even as early as 1987, there was already evidence of the beginnings of the Iron Works Museum on display in the lobby of the cavernous warehouse on Dunwin Drive.

I suspect that Nick Howard may also remember the sale of the Hunkeler, possibly because it may WELL have been one of the least consequential transactions completed in his corporate history. Nick has been a godsend, on several occasions, and the fount from which salvation has been known to flow when we have found ourselves in desperate need of highly technical assistance of a rather esoteric sort. The Smyth sewing machine, once. And the Heidelberg KORD, once.

In the summer of 2017 I received an email from Nick Howard saying that he had recently bought a Linotype machine from a small-town newspaper somewhere in the American Midwest. The Linotype appeared to be in decent repair but it was not operational and wondered if I might know someone, possibly connected to the Devil’s Artisan, who might remember how to run a Linotype.

George Walker on the linotype

George Walker on the Linotype Model 31, 1953. Photo credit: Howard Iron Works Museum.

Naturally I remembered that George Walker had run an Intertype in the printmaking department at the Ontario College of Art. A very similar sort of linecaster. I contacted George, but George was more than a little reluctant to entertain the notion of carting off to the remote wilds of Oakville to service a Linotype of questionable provenance. It took some gentle persuasion, but George was eventually convinced to make the trek to Westgate Road. I had narrowly missed an opportunity to visit the Museum myself the previous summer , so I was curious to know what sort of a report I might get back from George about his expedition.

The way George tells the story I suspect the Howards (Nick, and his wife Liana) were more than a bit sceptical themselves, possibly because George did not look like the sort of iconic Linotype operator they had been expecting. A burly type, perhaps something akin to Don Black who had been a Linotype operator at the Globe and Mail back in the day. George Walker is not burly, and he is somewhat given to stylistic affectations that can often include a Charlie Chaplinesque pork-pie hat. Liana in particular was uncertain.

George was, however, able to recognize that there were a couple of critical bits and pieces of things missing from the Linotype in question, and asked if Nick Howard had “parts”. A fork-lift operator was dispatched and returned scant minutes later with a large wooden shipping crate labelled “Linotype parts”. George was impressed. Ever more so when the crate was opened to reveal an original parts manual for the machine, an operator’s manual and hundreds of parts in Ziploc bags, each labelled with the appropriate part number. George Walker is a wood engraver, an artist, a book designer, an art teacher and a half dozen other things but he is not a machinist and the level of professionalism on display at Howard Iron Works would have been utterly astonishing.

“The place is Wonderland,” said George. “You look around and realize that you are, already, down the rabbit hole.”

George on wooden press.

George Walker, looking ready to work at this a replica of a 17th century field press built in the late 1970s. Photo credit: Howard Iron Works Museum.

The Linotype Model 31, age 1953, is now fully operational and will be part of the demonstration George will give on Saturday, September 28 at the Second Annual Howard Iron Works Print Expo & Book Fair. George will also (time permitting) be demonstrating a wooden press the Howards have recently acquired … a replica of a seventeenth-century field press that would have been used in army field offices, and dragged around from location to another, by horse-drawn wagon.

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Join us at the Second Annual
Howard Iron Works Print Expo & Book Fair

Saturday, September 28, 2019
10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.


Howard Iron Works Printing Museum
800 Westgate Rd., Oakville, ON
(Half a dozen blocks west of the Bronte GO station.)

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We hope to see you there!

Remember, to read the full, detailed version of this post, check out the original on the Devil’s Artisan website.

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The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.