The Jim Rimmer Collection

by Eric Swanick
Photograpy by Raeff Miles <>

The Jim Rimmer Collection

He is “one of Canada’s most remarkable typographic figures” according to noted University of Toronto Press book designer Will Reuter. He has been a commercial artist, type designer, book designer, and mentor to countless younger artists in a career that started with a printing apprenticeship in 1950.

New Westminster’s Jim Rimmer is an icon in the book and typography world.

In addition to his type design, Rimmer completed many commercial jobs. Above, one for a local realty firm. Below, Rimmer noted his "lo-tech mode" and offered for sale from his type foundry various fleurons, or ornaments.

The special collections and rare books department at the SFU library now has a substantial assemblage of Rimmer’s output, including printing, art and type design work, manuscripts, printers’ dummies, and various “backgrounders” (contextual analyses provided by Rimmer). The new material joins the books, broadsides, and linoleum blocks for printing already in the collection.

Included in the recent aquisition is a copy of an Allen Ginsberg proposed chapbook called Reflections at Lake Louise and a sheet of music called “Do the Meditation Rock,” with words and music by Ginsberg. The manuscript contains the handwritten annotation “second proofs” with suggested revisions initialled by Ginsberg.

In 1982 Rimmer had been commissioned by Jim McIntosh of Vancouver’s Colophon Books to print the chapbook, but his notes, or backgrounders, graphically describe his frustration in dealing with Ginsberg’s endless demands. Eventually Rimmer threw all the type into a “hell box” and the project was never completed.

Under his Pie Tree Press imprint, Rimmer has published two books and done much of the work toward completing a third. He decides which books to publish based on those books he has enjoyed reading during his leisure hours.

Rimmer says Pie Tree Press is named after “an ancient snagly old tree in our backyard, from which a couple of lovely old sister ladies who used to live next door to us would bake apple pies. They always referred to it as the Pie Tree.”

hadow River: The Selected and Illustrated Poems of Pauline Johnson was published in 1997. The linoleum blocks for the illustrations can be viewed by appointment in special collections.

Shadow River is a limited edition of 40 copies with 10 multi-coloured lino cut prints. It is a beautiful book, impeccably printed, with grand illustrations in very strong colours. Rimmer says he “forced an inked cedar bough through his Vandercook to print the paper sides.” All in green, of course.

In addition to Shadow River, Rimmer has published Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and is working on Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, to be followed by Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. He also wants to print copies of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Robin Hood, and Sonnets from the Portuguese.

During the 1980s Rimmer printed several very attractive and coveted broadsides and a book (also coveted and attractive) for Colophon Books. Canadian literary icons Irving Layton, Dorothy Livesay, and Al Purdy are included in the broadside series. The book was Alison’s Fishing Birds, by noted B.C. natural history writer Roderick Haig-Brown. The library has the annotated proofs and copies of several illustrations used in the book.

" Paul Duensing has been a friend and mentor to me for over 20 years," says Jim Rimmer. Rimmer designed and cut the typeface Duensing Titling seen here. The typeface was first printed in this hand-accordion-bound limited edition of 50 copies in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Duensing's press - published by Heavenly Monkey.
Roderick Haig-Brown's Alison's Fishing Birds was designed, illustrated, and typeset by Jim Rimmer in 1980. The manuscript of this story of a child's encounter with five west coast birds was discovered in the author's papers after his death in 1976. Both Rimmer and Valerie Haig-Brown suggested revisions, as seen here in an early manuscript proof.
Rough sketches and final pencil linears on tracing paper used to digitize into a typeface. Rimmer has designed many digital typefaces.

Also in the library’s collection are the dummy copy and illustrations for a proposed book on F. W. Goudy, the foremost recent American type designer. Rimmer, a lifelong admirer of Goudy, had planned to write a book about the distinguished book man but abandoned the project after much of the work was completed.

Rimmer’s long fascination with type design has resulted in many typefaces, six of which have been cast or cut in metal, and many more that are found in digital format. His cut or cast typefaces are named for those important to him: Nephi Mediaeval (after his father, John Nephi), Juliana Oldstyle (after a daughter), Fellowship (in honour of the American Typecasting Fellowship), Albertan (after his wife), Hannibal Oldstyle (after Mark Twain’s birthplace), and Duensing Titling (after long-time friend Paul Duensing).

Rimmer ran his own freelance design office from 1972 until 1999 During that time, before he began to devote himself primarily to type design and book publishing, Rimmer had a stellar career as a commercial artist and designer. He designed a series of typographic broadsides

on Eric Gill, F. W. Goudy, and others for Westgraphica (now Karo Design), for which he won the prestigious Communication Arts Award of Excellence in the self-promotion class.

His extensive and diverse work also includes the logo of Canadian Pacific Airlines, the provincial mark for the Province of British Columbia, a Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation newsletter, a handbag sold on Granville Island, and a Robert Kroetsch broadside poem, “Masquerading North.” His eclectic design work adds to the richness of the SFU collection. When not working on one of his book or type projects, Rimmer is found teaching or offering tours of his shop. The shop is filled with presses, type, casters, and all the other wonderful tools of a letterpress shop.

Items shown on pages in order from top to bottom
1 Gill, Kuldip. Kildeer’s Dance. Vancouver: Colophon Books, 1998. A broadside designed, illustrated, and printed by Jim Rimmer in 50 copies.
2 A broadside printed for members of the American Typecasting Fellowship in 1984. Rimmer explains his design and casting of Juliana Oldstyle.
3 Johnson, E. Pauline. Shadow River: The Selected and Illustrated Poems of Pauline Johnson. New Westminster: Pie Tree Press, 1997. [30]p. 10 coloured plates from linoleum blocks tipped in. Limited to 40 copies.
4 Linoleum blocks to both of Rimmer’s publications, Shadow River and A Christmas Carol.
5 An experimental woodcut proof of a man’s head.
6 Canvas page that is part of an assemblage of commercial work Rimmer made into a “book” in 50 copies to promote his illustrative work.
7 Ferryboat, winner of the Creativity in Illustration Award given by Art Direction magazine.
8 Dummy of a proposed book on Fred Goudy. Project abandoned.