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San Francisco, California

Arion Press and M & H Type

Fonts are born and bred here at the oldest letterpress type foundry in the U.S. 

It might seem impossible that the precise lines of an entire book could be done by hand, but the Mackenzie & Harris Type foundry, established in 1915, finds that the old-fashioned method needs no perfecting. 

The M & H Type foundry continues to make fonts the old-fashioned way, by moulding them out of red hot metal. Located in San Francisco’s beautiful Presidio, the foundry shares a roof with one of the most vintage typesetters, Arion Press, and you can get a tour of the printing process from start to finish.

Founded in 1974, Arion made its name publishing Beat-era books and classics printed in period-authentic type. Today, it publishes three to four new books each year, in limited editions, using letterpress for its distinct aesthetic and custom illustrations—all with limited computer involvement. A gallery in the lobby showcases some of the recent and older books and prints. A public tour is even more interesting: Visitors are walked through the typesetting area where you can see vintage presses, rollers, and letters being strung together to form words, and then whole pages.

Further along, tours descend to the basement to see the alchemical process of actually making the individual letters out of the foundry. The tour ends where the bookmaking process does, when the paper is inspected and the volumes are bound.

Know Before You Go

The gallery is open every weekday.

Public tours of the press and the type foundry happen every Thursday at 3:30pm. For reservations, call (415) 668-2542 or e-mail grabhorn@arionpress.com. Group tours at a different time can be requested.