Jim Rimmer dies

Rollin Millroy reports: “I’m sad to report that Jim Rimmer passed away yesterday. We’ll all miss not just his expertise, but his spirit & generosity.”
I had the honor to interview him in March of 2008. Here is my report:

Jim Rimmer is a Vancouver typographer, printer, and designer. He is also one of the pieces of glue that holds the world of Vancouver fine printers together; countless times, I heard people say things like, “I had a problem, and Jim was able to fix it,” or, “I had no idea how I was going to get accents for the font, but Jim cut some for me.”
Rimmer was apprenticed to a Vancouver typographer, J. W. Boyd, in 1950. After his 6 years as an apprentice, he worked at composing another 6 years, but by then he could see the handwriting on the wall; there was no future in typography. So he went to night school to become a graphic designer, after which he worked at newspapers and design firms. He hung out his own shingle as a free-lancer in 1971, and never worked in someone else’s studio thereafter. But metal type and letterpress printing interested him all along, and he started to accumulate equipment in his basement and work/play with it in his spare time. “In 1964 I started collecting like crazy. So many people were getting rid of type and letterpress equipment. Some of it needed to be saved,” he said.
He has several presses, including the very large Colt’s Armory. He also has a complete Monotype setup, which lets him cast individual letters for handsetting and complete pages of text when driven by punched paper tapes. But the most unusual thing he has is a pair of pantograph machines, which allow him to engrave matrices for making new type faces. (I’ve seen working Monotype setups half a dozen times in my life, but the only pantographs I remember eeing were in books.) In fact, he even has a third pantograph in storage, a Ludlow Weibking pantograph he got from the late Paul Hayden Duensing who had, a couple of decades earlier, acquired it from the Caxton Club’s own Robert Hunter Middleton, who was allowed by the Ludlow company to place them with deserving individuals. But unlike the ones Rimmer uses, the Ludlow one has no markings for setup, so it is much harder to use.
In the graphic design world, Rimmer was always good with a brush or pen, and he frequently hand-lettered logotypes or drew insignias. (“They called me a ‘wrist,’” he joked.) So it was not a big step for him to design typefaces. He tried a few in the era when the Photo Typositor was the king of setting headlines (the 1960s and early 1970s), but was disappointed that they did not sell particularly well because they were not the kinds of styles then in vogue. But in the digital era he has a huge number of typefaces to his credit. P22 type house, of Buffalo, sells more than 200 of his faces, distributed through 18 type families. Many of these are revivals of classic faces (some done first for Lanston or Giampa) while others are entirely original. I have half a dozen of his adaptations in my font library, but didn’t realize he had done them until I spoke with him in Vancouver.
Here again, Rimmer goes one better than type designers I have known. He has not done just digital type, but metal versions of some of his faces. When he’s going to make a metal face, he first draws it by hand, then transfers it to the Ikarus program on the computer. That allows him to play with spacing and do trial settings to be sure it looks right in small sizes. He prints out outlines from the computer, and these are used to hand-cut cardboard ones. The cardboard outlines are used with the pantograph to create smaller lead matrices. A final pantograph step creates actual-size matrices in brass for use on the casters.
His most recent face, called Stern (in honor of friend and fellow typographer Chris Stern, who died unexpectedly in his 50s), is to be simultaneously released to the public in digital and metal by P22. The foundry has even made a video of Rimmer at work in his basement casting the metal. “They had a lot of fun shooting it,” he said. “My workshop is close quarters, and they had to be careful not to bump their heads or get into something hot.”
The big project front and center in his shop right now is his edition of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Right now all the pages of metal type are in cabinets around the room. “This one I’m having proofread four times. In the end, eleven typos were discovered in my last big book, which I consider an embarrassment. So this time I’m being as careful as I can be.” The Tom Sawyer includes his own drawings and uses his own typeface, Hannibal Oldstyle. The type is standing and he’s gotten the paper in (a cream-colored paper from Arches), so now all he’s waiting for is the completion of the proofreading.
This is actually the fourth big book from his Pie Tree press. He did an edition of Dickens’ Christmas Carol in 1998, Shadow River: The Selected and Illustrated Poems of Pauline Johnson in 1999, and Leaves from the Pie Tree (the story of his life in typography) in 2006. And in between, there have been dozens of pamphlets and broadsides for just about every book-related event in British Columbia over a span of many years.

–Bob McCamant


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