Deconstructing Qwikster

I’m not surprised that Netflix had to renege on their proposal to divide its disc rental website with their file downloading site (named Qwikster). Customers hated it…and why…because things were working just fine for them. There was no need to divide Netflix’s offerings for the customer.

So why did Netflix propose this?

In my opinion, I think it’s their business model…less physical merchandise means higher profits. A digital download costs virtually nothing to store on a hard drive vs a physical disc that needs to be wrapped, mailed and stored in real space. I believe that Netflix wants to wean its rental customers off physical discs so all their offerings are digital downloads…saving them cost but offering the customer less.

Why do I say less? Because the actual disc often has specials and director cuts of the movie which is unlikely in a single digital download. Then there’s the slow downloading speed which renders videos unwatchable because of inadequate speed or signal loss. Lastly, and I’m not certain about this, the downloaded file (if there is one) would possibly be a file format that is proprietary to Netflix.

What it boils down to is control and profits. DVDs are in a format that is not under the control of Netflix, play well on any computer, contain a lot of additional content and look good all the time. Digital files are not physical, can be controlled by the owner and subject to download conditions and cost nothing to view. It’s a win, win scenario for Netflix, not so for the customer.

Not everyone has fast Internet access. A cheap DVD rental plan is under $10 and considering free shipping both ways, even low income customers can benefit from this. A download only service would negate these customers.

What’s my proof? Well, I suspect it’s part of the pricing. Netflix wants to encourage its current DVD customers to switch to digital downloads by offering their digital files at a lower price. I (once again) suspect that the physical DVD offerings will slowly diminish and eventually not be an option. Score a huge win for Netflix, no so for the customer.

I have always thought highly of Netflix. The offerings were generous as was their customer  policies. Now, despite the fact that they have a huge market share in rentals, it seems they have begun to get greedy. I hate to see this and consider it a downfall in their customer relations. Time will tell.

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Printing On a 1929 Printing Press

Well, today was the day…my first use of the 1929, 8×10 Chandler and Price printing press, and I am happy to report things went very well. I placed the rollers in the saddles, smeared a small blob of ink on the lower left side of the ink table and switched the press on. It took about 15 cycles of the rollers before the ink plate was covered with an even amount of ink (the ink table rotates a bit each cycle). I then placed the chase (with type) in the chase bed, got behind the press and switched it on again. Ink coverage was good as was depth. One of the gauge pins had to be moved but that was no bigee.

The speed of the opening and closing of each cycle was not horrible but I found it a bit fast given my lack of experience in hand feeding. I decided to wait one cycle between feeding my cards to the tympan. Too hasty of a move would result in poorly printed cards.

I am a visual learner by nature and watched many YouTube videos to see what the norm was for the moving parts and anything I could pick up. Much has been gleened from Ralph Polk’s 1926 book, “The Practice of Printing” and the reprint, “Elementary Platen Presswork” which I received for Christmas. Below is a video of me at the press, not terribly exciting but I call it success. The mechanical sound the press makes is very soothing to me. A friend even suggested it be used in a music video. I love creative minds. enjoy.

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Cleaning the Roller Saddles

I was so excited to use my 8×12 C&P printing press for the first time. I had installed the draw (top) sheet and packing earlier, made an initial blind embossed impression to set the depth and determined placement on the tympan. I figured at this point, it was time to install the rollers. Printing is imminent! I unpacked the new rollers which had been purchased about a year ago and kept in a dry, room temp location. The “trucks” which ride the rails beside the ink table were installed onto each end  the cores (axles) and were placed in the saddles. The saddles are no more than upside down U shaped hooks that hold the core (or axle) of the rollers in place.

Chandler and Price dirty roller saddles

The saddles are connected to a shaft that fits snuggly into the press. There is a spring on the end of the shaft to introduce tension as the rollers pass along the ink table to the rails. As this movement happens, the shaft contracts into the hole as the rollers pass over the type. I noticed some unusual tension on the rods as I installed the roller cores but didn’t pay much attention. Here, you see the saddles before the rollers are installed.

With everything correctly installed, I flipped the switch to the on position. The motor began to hum and the press began moving. As soon as the top two rollers passed over the ink bed onto the rials, the rods did not retract and the rollers simply fell out of the saddles. I was horrified! Fortunately, they landed below the press and not in the type area. I was so stunned by this, I couldn’t figure it out. All thoughts of printing ceased.

Chandler and Price saddles and rods before cleaning

I thought about this and wondered what might have caused such a disaster, springs, loose axils, hmmm. A few hours passed before I realized that the roller arms were stuck in the extended position, not retracting into their sockets. It didn’t take much detective work to determine that the oil of 20 years sitting in a basement had become grime, mixed with dirt and solidified making the rods almost impossible to move. Another setback…but easily fixed. I had to disassemble the arms and clean them. On the left, you can see the rods and springs awaiting cleaning. The third picture is a close up of the saddles prior to cleaning. I used an orange based solvent, an abrasive, green kitchen sponge and rags to clean the entire mechanism.

Chandler and Price Saddles Close Up

Once cleaned, they fit snuggly in their sockets but move freely. Not sure of what type of lubricant to use, I called my car mechanic and he suggested a lubricant that does not easily leave the area when parts are moving. Tomorrow is the big day for reinstall. I’ll follow up when things progress.

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Inking and Printing a Two Color Card

A few years ago I was fortunate to find a 1938 Showcard brand proofing press. It works much like the old manual credit card sliding machine. You place a relief (carved) image on the bed of the press face up, ink it with a small ink roller, place paper over it and run the large roller over what you’ve inked which then transfers the ink onto the paper. Depending on the height of the piece on the press, the contact with the paper can leave a depressed or debossed area on the printed areas which many people find appealing. In order to write on the inside of the card, my debossing could not be too deep. This is a simple adjustment of adding or subtracting paper under the carved block to increase or decrease height. Even the thickness of a sheet of paper can make a difference!

Linoleum cut of a sun.

I had decided my first project would be a “thank you” card. Not many people send these anymore but I think it’s appropriate to do so when people are helpful plus I have the satisfaction of making and printing the card myself. I decided on two colors, yellow and orange. I like that color combination and it happens that these are two colors I have in stock. The first color was to be yellow and printed from a carved linoleum block. Since I like bold, bright colors, I chose to styalize the carving into a simple, bold graphic.

Yellow ink printed cards drying on rack.


The freshly printed cards were placed on a drying rack which allows air to pass through them to hasten the drying time. This drying rack came with the press.

The second color was to be orange. I didn’t have orange ink so I mixed Fire Engine Red ink with White Opaque and came up with this pleasing hue. The second color was to be text. Here you can see the text snugged into the metal chase and inked with the orange ink.

Close up of wood type with orange ink.

This typeface is from an alphabet I bought a while back at a flea market. The odd styling of the letters matches the bold stylization of the graphic creating a pleasing balance of shape and color. On a practical note, when you’re working with objects rather than digital images, you cannot change their size. I chose this face for its size as much as its look. It simply fits!

Yellow and orange printed thank you card.




Here is the final, printed card. I am very pleased at the final product and hope to continue with this printing method for future projects.

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Passing Ownership

In 2008, I was fortunate to have found and purchased an old tabletop proofing press from a defunct department store. Earlier in the day, I had wandered into an antique market looking for wooden type. The owner said he knew of not only the wood type but a press and acessories that were for sale. I became immediately excited and drove directly to the store. All the store fixtures were for sale with empty clothing racks all over the place. The press was upstairs. I was told if I wanted the press and type to cart off whatever looked like it belonged together. I found a well used dictionary, lots of metal type, wood type, printing ink and the press itself. Upon researching the press, I found out it was a fairly common one used to print department store sales signs in the 1950s and before. I dated the press and items to 1938 because of the printing date in the dictionary. The date is consistent with the type styles accompanying the press (more on that in another post). It had obviously been well used and was still in perfect condition..

One of the most intriguing things that came with the press was a metal ruler. I say intriguing because the previous owner had hand etched “Now is the time!” on it along with his name. Obviously the previous owner had been an artist in his own right to have hand lettered the ruler with small images in such detail. What a personal memento!Hand engraved ruler, "now is the time."

I guess I’m somewhat of a romantic thinking of the previous owner, Mr. Story through his tools but there’s a lineage in that the tools will still be used by myself. I am proud to have them and wonder what type of person Mr. Story was and how much I might be like him. The attention to detail, the fine lettering, the fact that he took the time to personalize his belongings makes me think we would have been good friends because I share those traits. I did some research to try and find his family through an inscription in the dictionary but the trail dropped off at some point. Mr. Story, Ernest, I know you’re smiling as you see your tools being put to use rather than out to pasture. Thank you for taking care of them. I will do the same for the next person.

Hand engraved ruler, "personal property."

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Letterpress Adventures-Too Much Speed

When I was given my 1929 Chandler & Price 8×12″ press, I was also given the motor and drive belt to run it.  Well, after months of arranging type, I finally got around to working on the press. I cleaned it, lubricated it, adjusted it etc. Then I installed the motor and belt. It was a direct drive system with the belt surrounding the 32″ flywheel and the 2″ pulley. The result was crazy speed. The press ran so fast that I could never use it.

I asked my neighbor to come over and take a look at my situation. He is a very good technician and understands machines. Sure enough, he explained to me the math of size and rotation given the different diameters of the flywheel and the 2” pulley. And as expected, it was way over my head, mostly because I am a right brained person. He understood my confusion and simplified it for me. Basically, a smaller pulley would yield a slower machine. He looked at the drive pulley and found it was a variable sized one that could be adjusted in width by a set screw which would cause the belt to sink into the pulley, effectively making it smaller. Sure enough, when he widened the pulley, the belt sank into it and the press operates about a third slower than before, very manageable.

a v shaped belt in a pulley

I am still amazed at how much the speed has been reduced given the small change. If I want the press to operate faster, I just narrow the width of the pulley raising the belt in the groove. Problem solved. You can see my pulley setup in the attached picture.
The slack in the belt is because it now rides lower in the pulley. Even with this slack, the press runs just fine. It’s nice to have friendly neighbors.

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Origin of Guardant Press Name

I have had several people ask me why I have named my blog the “Guardant Press.” It is the tradition of small private presses to have a name befitting their origin, owner, location or creative intent. The lion as herald is really the defining reason. In heraldry, the lion with its paws extended while looking towards the viewer is known as the Lion Guardant or “Lion Guard.”

Aesthetically, the lion is often connected with historic documents in some fashion. A variety of heraldric lions can be seen here.


Guardant LionLastly, a wooden cutout of the lion I use was sitting in my basement and I liked how it looked. I took a picture of it and recreated the image in Adobe Illustrator for use on my blog and at some point, on the press.



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The Koreans Were Ahead of Gutenberg

Korean movable type charactersA quotation from a writer in Korea towards the end of the fifteenth century sounds a bit like a publisher’s dream in the twentieth: ”Fortunately through the inventive wisdom of the sages of our dynasty, who have discovered the art of casting type to print books, all classics, histories, books of philosophy and literary collections are in every home.”

The Koreans had borrowed the idea of block printing from the Chinese, with whom they were closely associated. Whole pages of books were printed from wooden blocks as early as the ninth century. By the eleventh, movable type of clay was used in both countries. This type was glued to a flat surface, inked, and the paper pressed upon it by hand. The clay did not prove durable, and other materials—wood, iron, tin, lead and copper were tried.

To the Koreans goes the credit for the first experiments in metal movable type, as well as in type casting. No one metal proved satisfactory, therefore alloys were evolved. These varied widely, no doubt, but one analysis of early Korean type metal shows small amounts of iron, lead and zinc, with larger proportions of copper and tin, as well as a trace of manganese.

It was in the year 1403, nearly 50 years before Gutenberg, that the King of Korea ordained that a type foundry should be set up in order to cast type for the printing of all books then existing. The work was carried out very promptly, financed by the King himself. The models for type faces were taken from books in his own library. The story of the project is told in a book printed from this very type six years later.

The type was rectangular in shape, usually with a groove on the under side. The pieces When set were still fastened with an adhesive, such as resin and wax, into a tray, usually of iron, and the surface smoothed with a wooden block. There was, of course, no printing press. The workman sat cross-legged before his tray, inked the plate with a brush, and pressed the sheet of paper over the type. A good man could pull 1500 impressions a day.

While Gutenberg was pulling his first proofs, the educated Korean was already familiar with a selection of works printed from movable, foundry-cast type.

Samples of early Korean type may be seen at the Museum of Natural History, New York, or at the Franklin Institute, Philadelphia. The specimens shown here are proofs from the American Museum of Natural History.Korean movable type print

*From “The Invention of Printing in China” by Thomas Francis Carter as translated from the original Korean volume.

Blog note: this article first appeared in the July 1951 edition of Print magazine.

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Sonic Cleaning Metal Type

Letterpress printing technology has come back in its own right. Interested and enthusiastic artists and designers are resurecting a lot of previously used metal type and equipment. In some cases, the equipment has been unused for a while and might be dusty, rusty, broken or otherwise unusuable. Most of the presses I have seen are easily (or with some effort) restorable.

In the case of metal type, it is almost always a solid piece. The worst thing that could happen is the face (top) becomes worn or damaged making it unusable or undesirable but in most cases, old type is fine for printing. Because the intricate details of letters or images cast in metal catch dirt and grime, they may need cleaning before use. dirty letterpress metal imageThe metal cut (image) above has been sitting in a dingy basement, unused for 20 years and is filled with grime.

I needed to find a way to clean the type in a reliable, easy, non toxic manner. I decided on trying a sonic cleaner which works on the priciple of vibration. The tiny bubbles created by the vibration get into the smallest of spaces and loosen the dust or grime off leaving a clean surface.

Below is the same cut after using the sonic cleaner.
clean letterpress metal image

I placed the cut in the sonic cleaner into a solution of roughly 2/3 part water/1/3 part orange degreaser (available from the dollar store) and cleaned it in 3 cycles (of 3 min each). Individual type was cleaned in a similar way. The type was bundled together, face up, placed into the basket then into the solution.

The degreaser allowed the bubbles to lift the grime out of the detailed areas. I them lightly brushed the cut with a soft toothbrush (also available from the dollar store), rinsed in water and air dried on a screen over a fan blowing upwards.

In my experience, the use of mild degreasers mixed with water works for removing about 90% of the old ink but may require more than 3 cycles in the solution.

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Etiquette & Food Trajectory

man seated with napkin tucked into neckline

The purpose of a napkin is to either prevent a spot on your clotting or to clean up a spill that has already happened. It seems in every old movie, a person at a restaurant has their napkin tucked into their collar (A). While looking like an adult bib, the napkin is located at a perfect position, below the mouth. When food falls, it falls onto the napkin. Accident prevented.

Modern diners seem to be less concerned about preventing stains from accidental food falling and more concerned about with napkin on lap I have often seen diners with their napkins across the lap (B). While this is a somewhat logical position since the food is likely to fall straight down, any obstruction near the neck such as a necklace, tie, or any protrusion from the clothing will be the spot where the food first makes contact with the body. If you have body contours that protrude such as a large chest or stomach, forget the food ever making contact with the napkin on the lap. It may roll off and onto the napkin but never hit it first.

Lastly are the diners that seem to have no understanding of gravity or direction. They daintily place their napkin on the right of left knee, parallel with, but to the side ofman with napkin on knee, the direction of any falling food from the mouth (C). There is no way food will drop down and to the side or make contact at all with the napkin. It’s essentially useless, but looks less dorky than under the collar and perhaps makes the diner feel good. Unless you play billiards with your food, any spillage is likely to fall straight down, not to the side.


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