In the process of trying out various branding for Wychbury, I have become a huge fan of hand stamping. Not the perfect, embossed, multicoloured kind you see on done so expertly on greetings cards: but rough, black, half-stamped and smudged. I discovered that making display cards by hand took a similar amount of time to creating a template on the computer and faffing about with spacing until my eyes were popping out of my head. The handmade results were so much more pleasing, showed off both mine and Lesley's pieces way better than before and often offered the chance to recycle card as well!
The first batch of handmade backing cards I produced were made from an old poster book of Toulouse Lautrec, made of thick, rough paper aged with a lovely yellow tinge. I kept all the glossy prints from the the pages but scrunched up the paper itself, soaked it in tea, ironed it, burned it and then did it all again until I was left with a gorgeous absorbent surface just gagging to soak up some black ink! I used some long forgotten rubber stamps that had gone all dry at the corners and used the bottom bit of our logo stamp with the tree covered up for the lettering. A bog standard blacker-than-black ink stamp from the stationers and a beautiful little tin of sticky red ink I had been given with a soapstone stamp (of a pig - my year!) from Hong Kong. The whole effect was rough, random, even sloppy but somehow when our work was pinned to the cards the pieces had a warmth to them that hadn't been there before. Now Lesley and I both make our own versions with our own card and stamps and it all comes together.
Lettering is always an issue with rubber stamping. We both own several of the gorgeous little sets of peg stamps in various fonts and they are great fun to use - especially since words are never properly spaced or in-line - a look we have come to embrace! But the only real way of repeating words like 'Tudor Bobby Pins' with any speed is to get two sets of stamps and sellotape the things together in blocks! This process has always sparked a distant memory for me.
When I was a child in the 1970s, I remembered owning and loving a simple little printing set. It had tiny, blue, rubber characters that you placed into a red plastic frame with fiddly tweezers to spell out whatever you liked (the most I ever had the patience for was my name and that was about it!) and make your own rubber stamp. The ink was a gorgeous purpley blue colour that wouldn't wash off my hands for days! I mentioned it to my husband and he said he also owned one but neither of us could remember what it was called. We googled and googled but to no avail and we started to think we had dreamt it!
Until a stroke of Ebay-related luck many months later. I am after some vintage printers trays to store stuff in when I get my long awaited loft conversion (I'll be blogging like a maniac as that unfolds!) and the search term 'vintage print tray' brought up, joy of joys: 'VINTAGE JOHN BULL PRINTING OUTFIT No.18' to which my husband and I both exclaimed 'That was it!'.
This one was a beautiful version from the toy's heyday in the 1950s and internet research and a call to my mom revealed that it was THE toy to have if you were 7-11 years old in post-war Britain! It had wooden trays instead of plastic and the letters were black rubber and when I won it and it arrived I discovered with glee that most of the letters were still in one strip and it had hardly been used. The ink tins were dried up but the residual powder was unmistakably the purpley blue still around in the 1970s when I owned my set. The tweezers were made of pliable tin and the previous owners' name and address were carefully printed - in purpley blue ink - inside the lid of the immaculate box.
Since the rubber has hardened a little with age I have had to be very careful separating the letters and placing them in the block but that has proved to be half the delight of the thing. Taking and examining each tiny character and treating them with the reverence and care a 55 year old toy deserves. The same way that I tried to keep the dust jackets on my mom’s original hardback Famous Five books, or took care with her little tin toy sewing machine when I was a child.
If I owned a brand new John Bull Printing Outfit, if such a thing existed, I know I would be my usual slapdash self and all the letters would be lost in days because I didn’t take the time to put them away. Always one to leave a huge gap in a used car’s previously immaculate service history, I hope I am worthy of my new treasure and keep it as intact as the previous owner did for many years. I still had a go with it though – it is a toy after all!