Feb. 24, 2019
In 1988, Sandy spotted a tiny classified ad in the Eugene Register-Guard: “Vandercook 219 proof press, $200 OBO. West Eugene, u-haul”. Sandy had learned letterpress printing on this kind of press during her graduate studies in Alabama, and was, shall we say, intrigued. After very brief deliberation, we followed up on the ad. As Robert Frost might observe, we took this less-traveled road, and it has made all the difference.
The press rested in our garage for a year, until Sandy secured a space adequate to house it. The 219 is a hand-cranked cylinder press originally made to pull single pages of type for magazines and other publications so they could be proofread and corrected before the form went to the big automated production presses. It allows for fine adjustments, so has become a favorite of limited-edition letterpress artists.
This venerable machine—did I mention that it has a cast iron base and weighs over 2,000 pounds?—allowed Sandy to inaugurate lone goose press in 1989 and has been the center of press operations since that time. It—or “she”—has generated small keepsakes, broadsides, and ambitious book projects, some requiring the cylinder to be cranked—by hand—along the bed of the press a thousand or more times to complete an edition. There is no doubt that she has a personality: demanding but faithful. During one dark period, Sandy and an intern encountered a persistent problem with ink migration; no matter what corrective measures they applied, ink built up on one side of the form, leaving the other side underinked. They began referring to the press as a “finicky bitch”, soon abbreviating the phrase to “Fibi.” After weeks of frustration, they discovered that the recently replaced form rollers were scandalously out of true. It was not Fibi’s fault! New rollers were ordered, and soon the press was back to its customary precise and reliable operation. Thereafter, Fibi became Phoebe, a name implying radiance rather than contrariness.
Needless to say, moving Phoebe requires considerable commitment and skilled professional help. Since her acquisition she has been moved five times. The last move has been the most challenging, 1500 miles from Sandy’s studio in Eugene, Oregon to a walkout basement in Bisbee, Arizona. You can catch a glimpse of the hair-raising final moments of this journey below. At this date, that basement is being overhauled to serve as a print studio. A new concrete floor, doors, windows, and lighting are in process. The comforting, competent clack and whirr of Phoebe in action have been absent from our lives since September 2018, just prior to our move. We are eager to hear those sounds again!