Steve Watts, Happiest Retired Printer

Steve WattsMany typographers look forward to retirement to do many of the things they were too busy to do when they were working. Some of them simply want the time to set type with no customer preferences to tolerate and with complete control of types and operating conditions. Needless to say, a lifetime in the competitive market place of typography creates many frustrations which must be soothed.

One of the happiest retired printers is Steven L. Watts. On his 110-acre farm in the Virginia hills, he is surrounded by cases of type, benches, a Chandler & Price 10×15 job press, stocks of paper, and all the appurtenances of a small printing office.

While at first glance this would appear to be just another country shop, the typographic library assembled there indicates interests above and beyond the production of farmer’s auction handbills. Mr. Watts, a former type foundry supervisor for American Type Founders, has a strong collection of specimen books and is an authority on the history of American foundries.

During his long employment with ATF, from 1919 to 1955, he worked in various capacities, getting his hands into everything but a type case, to which he had been apprenticed. As a result of this long absence from the case, he is now owner and operator of the Privateer Press, and he needs no production control system to plan his work schedule.

Friends of this hillside typo have kept up with his activities through the journal of this private press—The Pastime Printer, now some 12 issues old.

In the beginning Mr. Watts published a quarterly. But every one of his friends seemed to have three or four of their friends with whom they wished to share what rapidly became one of the most widely read and enjoyed private press journals ever printed. The publication settled down to an annual basis until its latest issue in December, 1959. Its pages are full of type lore and personal items that create retirement yearnings in every reader’s heart.

Steve Watts, in a long career in which he served as a chief printer in the Navy in World War I and as a major in the Army in World War II, has been the friend of every great printer of the period. He writes of his experiences with a pungent wit. There’s not a single issue of The Pastime Printer which hasn’t charmed and amused its readers in addition to informing them.

Ex-Chief Watts also puts into print from time to time essays on various phases of typographical history. Everybody knows him, for example, as the champion of Cheltenham, in speeches and in writing. As if this is not sufficient to keep him busy, he started the scheme of “Kitty Pot Casting,” in which he interests his friends in acquiring some of the unique types of the past. When he has enough orders, he inveigles ATF into dragging the mats out of the dungeon and recasting a few pot-fulls.

It is hoped that Steve Watts, his library, press, and The Pastime Printer will continue to serve friends, fans, and historians of typography until present-day types become applicants for the Kitty Pot.

This article first appeared in the March 1961 issue of PRINTER and LITHOGRAPHER. Although uncredited, it is most likely written by Alexander S. Lawson.

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  1. [...] the late Steve Watts was manager of the type foundry at ATF, he was fond of saying that while “types come and go, [...]

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