A visit with David Goines: Berkeley’s legendary letterpress printer and lithographer

David Goines in his Berkeley workshop. Photo: Melati Citrawireja
David Goines in his Berkeley workshop. Photo: Melati Citrawireja

In the second of a three-part series on expert craftspeople in Berkeley, Melati Citrawireja, a summer 2015 photography intern for Berkeleyside, visits St. Hieronymus Press, the workspace of David Lance Goines. (Read Citrawireja’s first story on Klaus-Ullrich Rötzscher and the Pettingell Book Bindery.)

You may recognize David Goines by his distinctive handlebar mustache and deep, chocolatey voice, or you may know him by his letterpress and lithography artwork. Several pieces that have awarded him widespread attention include a collaborative book with Alice Waters, the owner of Chez Panisse, called 30 Recipes Suitable for Framing, and posters for well-known Bay Area spots, like Acme Bread and UC Berkeley.

Curious to meet the man behind these beautiful pieces that I’ve seen my whole life when thumbing through cookbooks in the kitchen, I ask to visit his workspace and Goines politely invites me over.

A page from 30 Recipes Suitable for Framing. Photo: Codex99.com
A page from 30 Recipes Suitable for Framing. Photo: Codex99.com

I arrive at St. Hieronymus Press in North Berkeley on an unusually warm weekday morning. I step under the indigo awning, and Goines greets me cheerfully, leading me into his shop. The place smells delightfully of ink and turpentine. Dozens of his posters are tacked high on the yellowed walls, brightening up the room with their rich colors. In the work area there are cylinder and platen letterpresses on one end, and two offset lithography machines on the other. The glossy black lithography machines are mammoth and immensely heavy, hunks that max out just below 3,000 pounds. I think they’ll be staying put for a while longer.


David Goines Photo: Melati Citrawireja
Goines operating his platen press. Photo: Melati Citrawireja

These machines are incredibly intricate in their use, with levers and knobs jutting out from every angle, but Goines patiently (and somewhat excitedly, like a child showing me his favorite toys) talks me through the details of the beasts.

The letterpress machine operates by using a raised sheet (either hand-carved or created through photosensitive polymer), ink, and a little bit of elbow grease. Once it gets going, it runs smoothly, delightfully spitting out sheet after sheet of newly minted prints.

The letterpress was invented in the 15th century and reached its peak in the 19th century, its use declining after the introduction of the lithography machine in the 18th century. Goines enjoys lithography too — a process that employs a sticky waxy base on aluminum to print rich lettering and images. He often uses the machines interchangeably, depending on what look he is aiming for.

David Goines Photo: Melati Citrawireja
Goines fiddling with the platen press. Photo: Melati Citrawireja

Goines’ cylinder press happily purrs away at a set of blush pink birth announcements as he chats about his life. Since he was in elementary school, Goines has had a passion for graphic design and lettering. His mother, a fine-artist herself, remains one of his biggest influences. She would send him to school each day with with an impeccably lettered lunch bag. With the aid of a school-owned mimeograph he was producing high-quality posters for businesses and events by the time he was 15.

When asked about his distinguishing aesthetic, he replies: “What you may think of as an element of my style is actually forced … If I had started printing with modern equipment this style would never have crossed my mind. The things I can do with this are distinctive looking because necessity created this style here.”

David Goines Photo: Melati Citrawireja
Cleaning the platen press. Photo: Melati Citrawireja

When the 1960s rolled around, Goines was very active in the Free Speech Movement. He became the head leaflet printer for the activists which led to his expulsion from UC Berkeley. His dislocation from the academic life was actually a blessing in disguise, he says, launching him into a career as a printer.

“I had no business in school,” he says. His first job was with a printer named Marion Syreck, where he learned to operate his first lithography machine — the Multilith 1250. Their shop distinguished itself from others because they printed “a stupefying amount of left-wing propaganda. You know, things that other places would refuse to print. We were of the opinion that it wasn’t our job to be the editor.” Because of this stance, they had several visits from the FBI and their phones were tapped.

“They threatened to make it impossible for us to join the army. ‘Good!’ we said. They threatened to throw us in jail. I had an arrest record as long as your arm, so that didn’t intimidate me. We thumbed our noses at them. They had no power over us.”

David Goines Photo: Melati Citrawireja
Inserting paper into the platen press. Photo: Melati Citrawireja

Goines’ success aligned with that of Alice Waters. She frequented the shop to have pamphlets printed for a political campaign she was involved with, and the two artistic minds became quick friends. “I would invite her up for coffee and cognac and one thing led to another.” After their collaborative book was an immense success, Goines and Waters used this seed money to establish both their businesses in 1971 — Saint Hieronymus Press and Chez Panisse.

“Life isn’t peaches and cream, as you know. But I made a lot of money in the late 1970s and early 1980s, so I bought this building and my house,” says Goines, gesturing to the ink-scented room. What had been immense financial hardships throughout his whole young adult life suddenly all but vanished. “Had I not done that I probably would have disappeared sometime in the 1980s.”

David Goines Photo: Melati Citrawireja
Heidelberg platen letterpress emblem. Photo: Melati Citrawireja

Fellow fine-artist Richard Seibert putters about the kitchen preparing lunch. Seibert was a chef for 20 years, and still delights in spoiling Goines and their various daily visitors with finely crafted meals. Today’s menu is an escarole salad with prosciutto, fried shallots and dried fruit. Between happy bites we discuss how Japanese artists were late in discovering perspective, and ponder the origins of the tooth fairy.

Goines is very interested in how technology and discovery can change culture and tradition, an understanding that can be applied to his own craft. He has taken machines that quickly became obsolete from their originally intended use in the commercial world — letterpresses were discontinued after 1975 — and found new meaning for them. Many of his machines collected decades worth of dust in garages and storage units until they began new lives in the shops of fine-artists.

David Goines Photo: Melati Citrawireja
The long cylinder press. Photo: Melati Citrawireja

Goines’ shift to fine-art printing was a tactic to stay afloat during a time when letterpresses and lithography machines were losing their competitiveness in their commercial use, but was also a positive change that allowed him more creativity with his craft. This type of fine-art printing gained popularity in the 1980s when the commercial letterpress went extinct.

“I just fell right into that tradition that was already here,” says Goines. Seeing his meticulous patience as he reviews his prints and adjusts the machines, I can tell the excitement he held for graphic design as a child is still present in his work today.

When asked what sets him apart from the rest of the Bay Area fine-art community, Goines humbly replies: “There is a lot going on here of tremendous interest. But, as far as I know, there aren’t many shops where the designer and the printer are the same person. And there also aren’t many shops that are both litho and letterpress.” Then he looks up from inspecting a draft of his birth announcements. “But now all of this stuff is starting to be replaced by digital.”

David Goines Photo: Melati Citrawireja
A Heidelberg lithography machine. Photo: Melati Citrawireja
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Nuts and bolts of the classic Heidelberg lithography machine. Photo: Melati Citrawireja
David Goines Photo: Melati Citrawireja
A wall at St. Hieronymus Press. Photo: Melati Citrawireja
David Goines Photo: Melati Citrawireja
Paint splatters on a cabinet at St. Hieronymus Press. Photo: Melati Citrawireja
David Goines Photo: Melati Citrawireja
Mannequin at St. Hieronymus. Photo: Melati Citrawireja
David Goines Photo: Melati Citrawireja
Where the magic begins: Goines’ drafting table. Photo: Melati Citrawireja

St. Hieronymous Press is at 1703 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Berkeley. Visit David Lance Goines’ website for more information.

Melati Citrawireja, a development studies undergraduate at UC Berkeley, is currently pursuing a career in visual journalism. She was a summer 2015 photo intern at Berkeleyside. More of her work can be found online at Melati Photography.

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