Meet my right hand lady.
She’s a 1948 Heidelberg Windmill named Barbara, a.k.a. Babs. She’s fierce, tough as nails (3,000lbs. worth) and takes no BS. But under all that iron she has quite a sweet history and a long adventure with a printer named Francis.
Francis was Barbara’s one and only previous owner. He was a San Francisco native who started his printing apprenticeship when he was just a teen.
Francis joined the army shortly after WWII started, but nothing could stop this printer from doing what he loved, so he would come back to the print shop to work weekends before returning back to base.
When he returned from war he bought Barbara, one of the first batches of presses being made again, and started his own company, Larkin Street Press. Located in Chinatown, his company specialized in letterpress, offset, and photo engraving. He “retired” in his 70’s, closed Larkin Street Press, and brought his extensive type collection, equipment, and Barbara to his basement workshop off of 19th Avenue in the Richmond district.
Retirement didn’t seem to slow him down. He continued to print out of his workshop and take on clients, which included ongoing jobs for Cost Plus and numbering paychecks for national Dollar Stores.
When he was no longer able to print, he still kept taking care of Barbara, meticulously recording every time he oiled the press. He kept up with her care until he passed away in his 90’s.
Years later, the press still had a lockup with the last thing Francis had printed, “Thank you for being you.”
Francis’ daughters wanted their father’s collection to be given to fellow printers, so through the grapevine Joel from Dependable Letterpress and Annemarie from LadyBones Print Collective came to take a look. The type collection went to Joel and Barbara went to Annemarie. While they were loading the press onto the moving truck, it slowly started to slide back down on the ramp to which Annemarie (who’s a weightlifter and all around bad-ass) jumped in front of it (ahhhhh!), started to push on it saying, “No no no no!”. Thankfully, her mighty friends regained control and avoided an Annemarie pancake situation. “And that was the last time I’ll ever move a press,” she said.
LadyBones was the one who taught me how to use this type of press, so as she prepared to move to LA, I took over her studio space, which also meant I got to take over Barbara.
So that’s the story of Barbara. The press who’s been a part of San Francisco for a long time, who belonged to a printer who loved what he did for a long time. She’s an amazing teacher and I wouldn’t be able to do what I do without her. I can’t help but to think that there’s some Francis magic watching over us…especially on great print days.