Stauffacher at age 95

Jack Stauffacher at age 95Jack Werner Stauffacher, a San Francisco typographer and printer, is still at his work at age 95. Pino Trogu, who is an Assistant Professor of Information Design at San Francisco State University, keeps me updated on Jack’s activities. Pino worked with Jack with a project yesterday on Jack’s SP-15 and the attached photo shows Jack working with his press. This SP-15 was shipped to Jack from Vandercook on 11/6/66 and Jack has it in his studio, The Greenwood Press,  at 300 Broadway Avenue, home to the press all these years. Once upon a time, 300 Broadway Ave was a printing building, each floor containing trade pressrooms and on the third floor, as I dimly recall, was Griffin Brothers, a trade typography operation that had hot metal composition, a room full of hand set type, and was the Northern California ATF type dealer.  From this great tradition of letterpress, Jack is the sole survivor.

Back in the dark ages, I had Jack as a typography instructor at Carnegie Institute of Technology and was his student assistant for a semester teaching typography to fine arts students. Jack recently sold his Gietz platen press to Peter Koch, but he retains the Vandercook and still comes into the city once a week to be in his studio.


7 thoughts on “Stauffacher at age 95

  1. mattkelsey - April 21, 2015

    Regarding the quantity of can labels printed in the Bay Area, this topic comes up in a new exhibit at History San Jose that opened Saturday, same day as our Bay Area Printers’ Fair and Wayzgoose. The exhibit is called “Slugs, Dingbats & Tramp Printers: Printing in Santa Clara Valley.” One panel displays a number of colorful vintage can labels and describes one of the San Jose printers who produced them – noting that at peak times they would go through several train car loads of paper each week!

    Anyway, there’s much else of interest in the exhibit, starting with hot metal and letterpress printing in the early days of the valley, the ITU’s “traveling card” that so called tramp printers used in going from city to city, Donald Knuth and TeX at Stanford, die-cutting huge quantities of vinyl for 7″ and 5″ floppy discs in Santa Clara (one of the members of the San Jose Printers Guild lent the original dies used for this, and some logbooks showing the quantities per order, from his father’s shop), and on to Adobe Postscript and digital type, and Adobe’s partnership with Linotype (according to John Warnock, all of the other phototypesetting manufacturers that Adobe approached about licensing fonts refused to work with them in the early days, trying to protect their proprietary technologies).

    The exhibit is scheduled to be up through December or possibly longer. Info at:

  2. Fritz Klinke - April 20, 2015

    These buildings were amazing–The Printers Building had several floors full of heavy flat bed presses along with offset presses, composing rooms, and tons of type metal. At Carlisle, the offices were on the first floor, the press rooms on the second and third floors, and the engraving department I worked with on the fourth floor. When the presses were running, the buildings had a hum to them that could be felt in the floors. On a few Saturdays when I had to work, with no equipment running, the building was quiet and sort of spooky. And this against a San Francisco concern about earthquakes meant the construction involved was massive. As the surviving companies left the city, they moved into single floor plants in the suburbs. Griffin Bros., as an example, ended up in the East Bay in San Leandro or Hayward as a supply firm, shedding all the typesetting in the move. I bought my last new ATF type from them in 1989 not long before they went out of business.

  3. Eric Holub - April 20, 2015

    300 Broadway wasn’t just A printer’s building, it was actually built as THE Printer’s Building, though there were many other buildings with even more printers in them.
    At some point a printer in the bottom floor at 300 Broadway offered Jack some of their wood type (not seen as be useful any longer) and Jack took something like 65 pieces, not as alphabetic characters but as pure typographic forms. He did prints over the years on his SP-15, and they were eventually exhibited in galleries and museums like SF MOMA and LACMA. Here’s one taken from the LACMA website:

  4. Fritz Klinke - April 18, 2015

    Eric brings up the good old days of printing in San Francisco that some of us saw. Where I worked, at Carlisle Co., we had Miehle 54×77 offset presses that did a tremendous quantity of can labels. These typically were combination sheets that could have many different labels on them, from tuna fish small cans to #10 can labels. These larger labels usually ended up in small trade shops for imprinting what was in the can, like Fancy Green Beans, and depending on the needs of the cannery, these could be several hundred to the thousands. And almost exclusively, the imprinting was done by letterpress. Even though we had a letterpress shop, this work went out to specialty shops.

    And to grasp the size of the work involved, I worked one summer at National Can in Sunnyvale that supported the Libby fruit cannery, plus a number of smaller ones in San Jose. We made about 1 million cans every day during the packing season, and all those cans got a paper label at the cannery. The big label printer in the city was Stecher-Traung-Schmidt Litho, just around the corner from Carlisle. Others included Diamond National, Schwabacher Frey, Recorder Printing and others, all now gone. One of our more interesting jobs was printing neck labels for bottles of Budweiser. That order came in for 10 million labels at a time.

    It was against this background of intense commercial printing that the fine press movement thrived in San Francisco. There was excellent support in type setting with several Monotype shops to work with, including Mackenzie & Harris. There were great suppliers, like Harry W. Brintnall Co., ink makers, several roller makers, and great paper houses like Blake, Moffitt & Towne. All the support needed for both major printing firms and the presses like the Greenwood Press and the Grabhorns once existed in San Francisco. Those were the days and all the more marvelous that Jack still has a presence in the city.

  5. Eric Holub - April 17, 2015

    The first document Paul lists is Jack’s “The Word, Bearer of Our Confessions”. The second I haven’t read yet. Stauffacher alone actually rated not just two, but three oral histories at the Bancroft Library, and the earliest is called “A Printed Word Has Its Own Measure” or “printedwordhasit00staurich.pdf” at the Internet archive.
    Adrian’s piece is “Printers and Book Designing” or, “printingbook00wilsrich.pdf”
    You can even order cloth-bound versions from the Bancroft. (Not sure about fulfillment.) There are also OCR-scanned versions to be read directly on the web, but they have lots of scanning errors.

  6. Eric Holub - April 17, 2015

    It is good to see Jack is still at work; I heard he had a stroke, but life, and the need to print, continues.
    I’ve been re-reading the Bancroft oral histories of Jack and his former partner Adrian Wilson (available at Internet Archive) and it turns out that Jack had a shop before 300 Broadway, at 509 Sansome, and that is where Adrian first worked with Jack. But finances were so bad–they didn’t keep any records at all, or understand the idea of tax–that Adrian had to find work elsewhere and he was the first of them working at 300 Broadway, landing a job at Phoenix Press there, which specialized in making over-print corrections to litho label jobs. Even before that my dad worked at Independant Litho on the first floor, hence my attention.
    It is remarkable how these two “art-printers” came up and persisted as the commercial printing world around them altered and eventually collapsed. Jack is the last printer standing at the 300 Broadway Printer’s Building. Adrian’s own equipment is still printing, split between SFCB (Vandercook 219AB and type), and Norman Clayton (Heidelberg KSBA, bought with his MacArthur “Genius” grant). And the AutoVic Jack bought at Front Street was sold to the Grabhorns, and still does jobwork at Arion Press. (That’s the press that lead on to Jack’s Gietz.)

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