Beautiful black serif impressions on thick creamy paper
Mythical engravings you can feel, with a pass of your fingers over the paper
A substantial, weighty, J.C. Paul & Son press engraved with serpent decorations… and other solid metal equipment, all with a notable lack of safety features
These were some of what was on offer at a tour of Arion Press in the Presidio, San Francisco. Arion Press is a boutique San Francisco press where many of the production aspects of the publishing trade are practiced as they were in pre-World War II days. It would be hard to find a publisher more in love with exquisite typography than Arion. They still compose and cast their own type, using the foundry they purchased in 1989, Mackenzie & Harris. M&H is the oldest and largest surviving typefoundry in America. Arion Press also operates a letterpress and full book bindery on the premises. Mark Sarigianis, apprentice typecaster, gave us the full tour yesterday (public tours are available on Thursdays).
The best thing about touring Arion was getting this tangible view into the past, when working the typesetting keyboard was a craft requiring 6 years’ apprenticeship. When typos weren’t possible to fix with backspace, because the letters were cast into words in metal. When the keyboard operator needed to calculate, line by line, whether to hyphenate a word, because he heard the chime that signals that the end of the line is drawing near. When signatures were imposed by positioning metal blocks of composed type in a frame. When paper was cut and folded by hand, and then sewn into bindings. Every step was tangible, every step carried its own set of sensations—sight, touch, smell, and sound.
The people at Arion Press have gone out of their way to hold on to those tenets of publishing they hold in highest regard. They may have discarded older ideas and processes that no longer served (gender inequality used to be prevalent in the printing industry, for example), but they held onto their core values of typography and design. While the most obvious direct application to PLOS is thinking about typesetting and typography, I prefer to consider how PLOS can hold on to what we most value in the scholarly publishing world, and ditch the rest, the things that no longer serve, much like acid etching away the negative space from an illustrative plate in an Arion Press book.
So tell us your thoughts, please:
What are the existing tenets of scholarly publishing that we should retain?
What are the ones that used to serve a purpose, but no longer do?