Legacy of Letters 2023— Il Buon Tempo

The new home of Il Buon Tempo in Casteggio. Lucio Passerini (center) is chatting with James Clough (left) and Peter Kruty (right). Photograph by Paul Shaw (2022).

On Day 5 Legacy of Letters 2023 will visit Il Buon Tempo, the letterpress studio of Lucio Passerini, in its new home in Casteggio, a small town in the Oltrèpo region of Lombardia.

Legacy of Letters has had a long history with Lucio Passerini and Il Buon Tempo. Alta Price and I were introduced to him in 2010 when Sandro Berra recommended him as our printer for a 1-day letterpress workshop at the Tipoteca. Lucio was wonderful and we gladly hired him again as our Tipoteca printer in 2012 and 2013. The group also visited Il Buon Tempo in its original Milano location in 2012 and 2015.

Members of Legacy of Letters 2015 visiting Il Buon Tempo in Milano. From left to right: John Risseeuw, Alan Kitching, Pam Galvani, Lucio Passerini, and Naomi Games. Lucio is showing a spread from L’Abbecedario sonoro di Pinocchio (2014). Photograph by Diane Tomasso (2015).

A view of the interior of Il Buon Tempo in Milano looking from the back room into the front room. Photograph by Alexander Trubin (2012).

A view of the interior of Il Buon Tempo in Casteggio. Against the far wall there is an etching press on the left and a Vandercook proofing press on the right. Photograph by Paul Shaw (2022).

Last year Lucio moved Il Buon Tempo to Casteggio, located a 75-minute’s drive south of Milano in a hilly region known for its Oltrèpo Pavese wines. A few months later I had a chance to see his new shop on a jaunt with Peter Kruty, Sayre Gaydos, and Patricia Childers prior to the start of Legacy of Letters 2022.

The Casteggio studio is several times larger than the one in Milano. It is located on a busy road outside of the city center. The visit was not only an opportunity to see the new studio and to introduce Peter, Sayre and Patricia to Lucio, but it was also a chance to see what he had been up to printing-wise since I last saw him five years ago.* Since then he has made a number of small books exploring his collection of type, especially wood type. He showed us these as well as his earlier work, including collaboration with artists and other printers. Lucio exhibits a range in his work that goes from the cerebral and austere to the playful and witty. All of it is fascinating—some of it is breathtaking.

Lucio Passerini showing his work during our 2022 visit to Il Buon Tempo in Casteggio. Photograph by Paul Shaw (2022).

A fold-out page from Alfabeti (2019), one of Lucio’s recent books exploring the typefaces in his collection. Photograph by Paul Shaw (2022).

A spread from Alfabeti (2019). Photograph by Paul Shaw (2022).

I interviewed Lucio recently via email. Here is an edited version of our conversation.

Paul: When did you start Il Buon Tempo?

Lucio: I used the imprint Il Buon Tempo for the first time in December 1982.

Paul: How did it get its name?

Lucio: Time is our primary treasure. What is better than devoting your time to books and printing? That is “the good time”.

Page from Duccio il pittore elettrodomestico by Valeria Brancaforte (Milano: Il Buon Tempo, 1996). Photograph by Alexander Trubin (2012).

Paul: What kinds of things do you print?

Lucio: From relief prints and letterpress posters to simple book structures combining typography and relief printing from linocuts and wood-blocks.

Paul: Are there any jobs or projects that you are especially proud of?

Lucio: Among my favorites: La Passeggiata, a “futurist” poem by Aldo Palazzeschi, (1913) set by hand combining a large array of different typefaces in the archives of  Tipoteca Italiana in Cornuda in 2006; and l’Alfabeto sonoro di Pinocchio (2015), based on the words that imitate sounds found in Collodi’s masterpiece paired to a set of 12 linocuts by Jeanette Poletti.

Spread from La Passeggiata by Aldo Palazzeschi as typeset and printed by Lucio Passerini (2006).

Paul: Do you illustrate books as well as design them typographically?

Lucio: Sometimes I do. But I tend not do not define my images as illustrations, better a visual text that in my recent work often stands alone, without a verbal counterpart.

Paul: Do you do your own binding?

Lucio: That’s one of my goals: picking book structures that are easy to manage myself.

Otto (2013). A project of “otto mani” (eight hands) by Valentina Bianchi, Federico Boriani, Lucio Passerini, and Dario Zeruto using the modular typeface Fregio Mecano (Nebiolo). Photograph by Paul Shaw (2022).

Paul: How do you decide what kind of structure a book needs?

Lucio: This is exactly the core of the problem and the most interesting part of the work. Each project is a one-off.

Paul: Do you print from polymer or photoengraved plates or only from wood and linoleum cuts?

Lucio: When the selected text is too long, I prefer Monotype composition for classic typefaces and polymer plates for digital fonts. A recent title, Nicole e la casetta dei libri by James M. Bradburne, is typeset in a new face designed by Antonio Cavedoni. It is used here for the first time.

A drawer of Semplicità (Alessandro Butti [Fonderie Nebiolo 1930]) at Il Buon Tempo. Photograph by Paul Shaw (2011).

A script wood type owned by Lucio Passerini. Note the kerned letters. Photograph by Paul Shaw (2012).

Paul: What kinds of type do you have?

Lucio: I have a pretty good selection of wood type, collected from different shops in Northern Italy and just a small choice of Italian metal type, mostly cast by Nebiolo

Paul: What is your favorite typeface that you own?

Lucio: For text matter, in big sizes on large format pages, it is Semplicità by Alessandro Butti.

Paul: Are your presses cylinder presses or platen presses?

Lucio: I print on a gorgeous Albion press manufactured by Norberto Arbizzoni in Monza, circa 1870, and a Vandercook T4 proof press.

Albion hand press at Il Buon Tempo in Milano. Photograph by Paul Shaw (2012).

* The last time I visited Lucio and Il Buon Tempo before 2022 was in 2018 with Gloria Kondrup of Archetype Press. Prior to that I visited him with Alta Price in 2011. I wrote about the latter experience for Print magazine.

Legacy of Letters 2023 will take place from June 29 to July 12, 2023. It will include stops in Milano, Torino (to visit the Archivio Tipografico), Alpignano, Casteggio, Parma, Modena, Predappio, Venice, and Cornuda. We will visit five libraries/museums, five letterpress shops, one silkscreen shop, and the Tipoteca where we will have a multi-day letterpress workshop.