January 2010 marked the passing of a Canadian master in the world of type design and letterpress. Jim Rimmer, proprietor of the Pie Tree Press and Typefoundry in New Westminster, BC, was one of the last practitioners creating custom typefaces in metal for hand-set and composition casting. In his basement shop, Jim drew, cut, engraved and cast original designs used in the printing of his fine press editions, including his magnum opus and final work, The Adventures of Tom Sawer, for which Jim also did the linocuts (many in up to 10 colours) and the binding. Far more than his considerable achievements at the Pie Tree, however, Jim was also a vital and important member of the letterpress community, and one of the most gracious and generous men one could ever meet.
Over the past few years I made a number of visits to Jim's workshop, where we talked for hours while he indulged my eager curiosity, walking me around the shop and explaining and demonstrating his various and incredible machines, including two pantographs (used for egraving matrices with which to cast type), and two Monotype casters (a Comp. and SuperCaster), along with a wide range of finishing machines, mats, molds and keybars - not to mention a large print shop with a flatbed and Colts Armory platen press.
It is difficult to explain Jim's legacy. A typographer and illustrator his entire adult life, Jim began setting type in the early 50s and, over more than a half-century, became the most significant and influential type designers Canada has ever produced. And by influential I mean to suggest that his impact, directly and indirectly, all but single-handedly carried on a 500 year tradition of creating and casting original metal types right here in BC.
My relationship with Jim was far too brief, but in the last year of his life we began working together to find a caster for me to set up here in Vernon. Unfortunately this search yielded little result, but my enthusiasm and Jim's encouragement kept that goal in mind and my intention to see it through all the more intense.
A few months after Jim's passing in January, I began talking with his widow Alberta Rimmer about the possibility of my aquiring Jim's equipment. In April of 2010 I spent 8 days organizing, cataloguing and photographing Jim's entire shop, a task I don't think I can adequately describe. Imagine walking into the basement of a mechanical museum that has been hit by a tornado – that might begin to explain. Now imagine that you have to organize that basement with little or no knowledge of the items scattered in every corner of a maze of rooms. Now we're getting close. However, throw in a hungry mind and an appreciation of oil and dirt covered hands, and the equation changes quite drastically: it becomes a fascinating archeological experience both rare and exciting.
At the end of that week, Alberta and I sat down in her cozy living room and in a matter of minutes came to an agreement. All of Jim's cutting and casting gear would come to Vernon, and I would do my best to continue Jim's legacy here at the Greenboathouse Press.
There will be much work to do to set up the new shop, beginning with a move. The shop I built a few years ago is now simply too small, so a house with more land will be necessary to build a shop three times as big. This will be a 2-year process before I'll have the new equipment operational, but in the meantime I'll work to restore the equipment and carry on with a busy publishing schedule for 2010 and 2011.