A Bible For The Millennium

The Arion Press is filled with sounds and machinery that have disappeared almost everywhere else. An old monotype machine makes letters out of molten lead, as a creaking printing press turns out the pages of a grand and beautiful Bible. Only a few hundred copies of this large-scale 25-pound Bible will be made.

Computers and laser printers have largely made the printing presses and hot metal type foundry at the Arion Press obsolete. But as the people who work here print this limited edition Bible the old fashioned way, they aren't standing against progress. Instead, they have harnessed computers to help run machinery from the 19th century.

As Correspondent John Blackstone reports, this Bible is a unique and elegant bridge between the age of Gutenberg and the age of digital information.

There's a noisy rhythm to the machinery that turns molten lead into letters--the type that will become the printed word.

When Andres Hoyem works, he proofreads words like: "There will arise seven years of famine; all the plenty will be forgotten in the land of Egypt."

The words are even older than the wheels and cranks and presses.

Hoyem says this is serious work: "The making of a large-format Bible is not something you begin taking lightly. One is going up against great books of the past."

For 25 years, Andrew Hoyem's Arion Press in San Francisco has been publishing fine books that are both beautiful and heavy.

Hoyem is proud to show them off. "This is James Joyce's great book Ulysses, with 40 etchings by the artist Robert Motherwell," he says. "And here we have a dummy of the Bible giving some sense of its scale. Not exactly the sort of thing you'll read in bed."

This Bible just beginning to come off the press here is the biggest project yet likely to be another 18 months in the making.

We did print the very first two pages of the edition yesterday," says Hoyem ..."and I felt both exhilaration and a certain sense of relief that we were finally underway."

Hoyem says it's been 60 years since anyone published a Bible of this grandeur, and that was the old King James version. He says there's now a need for a new large-scale Bible for church lecterns using the more contemporary Biblical translation, the New Revised Standard Version.

Hoyem plans to print only 400 copies of this Bible. Each will have 1,200 pages.

"I've tried to make a page that is of the present moment, is of the 1990s, and yet I hope will have a timelessness that will be enduring into the next century and perhaps beyond," he says of his edition.

Reading the type upside down and backwards, typographers Gerald Redden and Peggy Gothold adjust each page until it's perfect.

Says Gothold, "It is the book as opposed to a book."

At the back of the shop, in the type foundry, Lewis Mitchell is turning molten lead into every letter of every chapter and verse. "The nly objection I have," he says, "is, I've always been a King James man and this is a New Standard Revised Bible, which I don't even own a copy of."

It may be a new translation, but there is something both historic and nostalgic about this Bible.

"It'll probably be the last one ever printed directly off of lead type in the world," Mitchell explains. With computer technology making the printing press obsolete, this Bible may well be at the end of a line that goes back 550 years, to Johann Gutenberg himself, the German printer whose 1455 Mazarin Bible is believed to be the first book printed with movable type.

At the Library of Congress, the Gutenberg Bible has a place of honor as the first masterpiece of the printers' trade. It was printed on vellum, a fine parchment, and Gutenberg had to invent the printing press to make it. No such thing existed. He began with a wine press.

Says Hoyem "What we're doing here is not too different from what Gutenberg did when he was creating the individual letters."

Hoyem insists that even in this age of digital typography, the methods of Gutenberg still have a place: "The type when inked is impressed into the paper. When you're looking at a sheet that's been properly printed by letterpress, you're looking at a very three-dimensional object," Hoyem says. "It's a quite different aesthetic experience from seeing a laser printing from a computer where the letter form floats on the surface of the paper."

But the old ways involve some time-consuming drudgery. To create the lead type for printing, an operator would have to copy the entire Bible using the monotype's tortuous keyboard. That could take months - even years.

So, at the Arion Press, they came up with a better way. Stuck to the side of Louis Mitchell's monotype casting machine is a complicated array of wires and chips that looks a little like a Rube Goldberg invention.

"And it is being driven, " says Hoyem, "and this is rather unusual, by a computer."

The little Macintosh, with the Biblical translation on floppy disks, has been rigged to tell the monotype what letters to make next. It took months of struggling to make it work. "We encountered difficulties in getting the casting machine to obey the computer," says Hoyem.

John Blackstone: "So the 19th century technology resisted bending to the will of the computer for a while."

Hoyem: "Ah, well, to a large extent also the computer was resisting operating in this 19th century manner."

Hoyem has built a bridge between the industrial revolution and the computer revolution, harnessing a computer to design each page.

To help him do that, Hoyem brought in Sumner Stone, a designer of typefaces for computers. Stone shows a drawing of his letter "I." "This was the final pencil drawing I did for the 'I' that we used in Genesis to create a ew and unique type to be used for the large initial letters that will begin each book of this Bible," he says. "There's an attempt to be somewhat grand about the whole thing because that's the intent ... This is the opening of the book."

In the deluxe version of this Bible, the initial letters will be grander still. In a style that even predates Gutenberg, some will be hand-painted, and a few even embellished with gold. That's the job of Thomas Ingmire.

Blackstone: "Is this anachronistic to be doing this sort of work?"

Ingmire: "Well, it is anachronistic, but it's really the only way that you can make something that has this quality. I think because society has this technology to allow us to produce something efficiently and quickly we lose sight of the value of something like this that takes so much time."

While the value of this Bible may not be properly measured in dollars, it does, of course have a price. "With illuminated initial letters, $2,500 is added regardless of what binding option is chosen. So it can go up to $11,000," Hoyem explains.

The Bible will be sewn together by hand, and printed on paper of such high quality that it is likely to last for centuries. "The book will last to the extent of the quality of the paper, and we wanted to make a book that would last perhaps as long as, we hope as long as the Gutenberg Bible has lasted--500 years," says Hoyem.

But in the daily proof-reading sessions, Hoyem has come to see that the real magnificence is not in the type or the paper or the layout but in the words. "Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, comma, quote, 'in my dream, I was standing on the banks of the Nile'..."

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