Gerald Giampa RIP

John Hudson's picture

Gerald Giampa, letterpress printer extraordinaire, former owner of the Lanston Type Co., pioneer in the conversion of metal to digital type, and contributor to Typophile, has died in Vancouver following a massive stroke. An obituary is expected in the Vancouver newspapers, and a wake is being planned for 31 July (location to be announced).

Gerald had many friends and colleagues who knew him better than I and for longer, so I'll restrict my comments to a few personal recollections and acknowledgements. In recent years, we had some heated disagreements and at times he expressed opinions that I found repellent, but the sense of gratitude I feel toward him remains. It was in large part due to his generosity and encouragement that I started down the path that led to my career as a type designer. When Ross and I met Gerald, in the early 1990s, the Lanston Type Co. was based in Vancouver and he operated an open-door policy to anyone with a genuine interest in type, even neophytes like us. Gerald had a strong sense of historical continuity in his chosen crafts of printing and type founding. His office space at Lanston, with its memorabilia of Frederic Goudy and other former Lanston associates, embodied this continuity even as it sat next to the room where the Ikarus tablets were used to convert metal type designs into digital fonts. But digitisation was only part of the work going on. New designs were also being developed, notably Jim Rimmer's Albertan. Even then, the Monotype matrix punching and finishing machines were in occasional use, and sometimes one was greeted at the door by the sound of the Heidelberg presses running. By that time though, the customers for hot metal type and for the kind of quality letterpress printing that Gerald offered were few and far between. There was a sense that the kind of work he wanted to do was increasingly difficult to find and to justify financially. A lot of time was available for talking about type and printing, for looking through drawers and specimens, for making plans and, it must be said, for drinking. Gerald made no bones about his alcoholism and, as he explained, treated the wine glass as one more lever on the press, to be pulled in sequence.

Colleagues came to visit. Sumner Stone came, and Gerald cut metal patterns of Stone Serif, perhaps the first type designed for a digital medium to be back-engineered for hot metal setting. Dave Farey came to draw new weights for Lanson's Bodoni. It was on the back porch, under the grape vines from which Gerald made his own wine, that I first met Mike Parker, drawn to Vancouver by certain rumours regarding Times New Roman. When Ross and I attended our first ATypI conference, in San Francisco in 1994, it was with introductions to Matthew Carter and Dave Farey, courtesy of Gerald.

In 1986, John Dreyfus visited Vancouver and paid tribute to Gerald's skill in the arrangement and printing of printer's flowers and ornaments. I believe Gerald cherished this tribute more than any other:

Gerald Giampa is especially original in his choice and combination of various coloured inks, and also in the skill with which he eliminates parts of a flower in order to obtain a simpler and more striking effect. He super-imposes colours with great subtlety, so that they blend in the most harmonious way. He succeeds because he plans his effects with meticulous care. His handling of printers' flowers combines knowledge and skill with taste and judgement. So my final typographical bouquet goes to the printer of these lines, to whom the words of the prophet Ezekiel (8:20) can be aptly applied: ‘As for the beauty of his ornament, he set it in majesty.’

blank's picture

Contributions from people like Gerald, who have been so deeply involved with type and typography for so long, are one of the things that make Typophile so great. He will be missed.

And John, thank you for writing such an excellent eulogy.

dezcom's picture

Bless you, Gerald. May you sail your ship straight on calm seas. I will always remember you.


aaronbell's picture

I knew Gerald all of two hours.

I'd walked into the antique shop looking for metal type and wanting to see if I could gather complete alphabets from the little bins they had there. As I searched amongst the letters, Gerald came over and, upon discovering I was interested in letterpress and typography, talked with me about his work in letterpress and the old days. I had no idea who he was at the time, but his eyes lit up while telling me his stories and sharing his knowledge. Those two hours I spent gathering bits of metal and learning about the ins & outs of letterpress and making typefaces from such a great man in the industry were simply marvelous. Indeed I was sad to leave and hoped to return to talk to him again; to learn from him again. Sadly, I will never have the chance.

Thank you Gerald, for your kindness and passion to share your knowledge. It was an honor to meet you, even briefly, and I felt inspired by your words. Safe journeys, and be at peace.

bieler's picture

God speed, mate.

dberlow's picture

I am very saddened to hear of such a loss and will move around slowly today with Gerald on my mind. Gerald was so far beyond one-of-a-kind he made the whole idea of individuality seem puny. He will be missed...and Thank You John, for taking the time to write such an elegant piece.


kentlew's picture

John -- Thanks from me also for sharing this sad news and for the eloquent eulogy.

I never knew Gerald personally, only on-line. But I think back fondly on some of those long, tangled, peregrine discussions from the early days of Typophile, and I miss his alternately wise, funny, and confounding contributions.

I guess his ship has finally sailed. Godspeed.

will powers's picture

Thanks from here also, John. I'm sorry to hear this.

I worked with Gerald about 1990 in bringing Pabst out in digital form. I used to keep the 1923 ATF book by my desk at the ad agency where I was type director. Art directors would thumb through it, looking for something "new." When a guy insisted Pabst was the "only" face that would work for a new Dow product, he was in luck, for I knew Gerald had the metal patterns.

Gerald offered me a ridiculously low price to digitize the roman, but at that date he did not know if he had the patterns for the italic (so we just slanted the roman in Quark; looked like hell). It was quite a trip. We had lots of back-and-forth about letterfit, where in the character set to place the special logotypes, etc.

I hate that typeface, and I cringe when I see it, recalling that I had a hand in making it newly available (even though eventually it would come to life again, I suppose). But the phone calls and faxes (no e-mail then) with Gerald made it all worthwhile.

I just re-read this good thread, to which Gerald made many posts (it is one of those to which Kent alludes above, I'm sure):

Re-read it all. The last post is a fitting self-eulogy for Gerald.

I will raise a glass to him this evening (or sooner if I get lucky).


kentlew's picture

Will, that's a good thread. But I was actually thinking further back to 2003. In fact almost exactly 6 years ago. Discussions like the Caslon Challenge, Optical Scaling, or Ink Traps.

Hard to find these because the archives have broken up the threads. Here are some fragments:


> I will raise a glass to him this evening (or sooner if I get lucky).

Heh. In the true spirit of Gerald, make it sooner ;-)

dezcom's picture

There are few true characters on this Earth. Gerald was one of them. Thanks for being you, Gerald!


Nick Shinn's picture

I never met Gerald, but it was always a pleasure to jest/joust with him on Typophile.

I licensed some of his fonts, and had a lot of fun with his Granjon Ornaments, although I could never use them as expertly as he did!

rs_donsata's picture

I always had the impression that he was a man who lived in an intense and authentic way. The world needs more man like him.


William Berkson's picture

I also only knew Gerald on Typophile. Pasternak said something like "Writers are the last individualists in a mass age." Some type people too. Rest in peace, Gerald.

Sharon Van Lieu's picture

My condolences to his friends and family.


WType's picture


gln's picture

Gerald was never far from the sea he loved.
He was a very talented and unique man that I had the privilege to know over the years. He will be missed.


One of the last photos I took of Gerald at Jim Rimmer's studio in May 2005

John Hudson's picture

Thanks for posting that photograph, Gerry. It's a lovely image of Gerald and Jim in their typographical element.

Speaking of elements, I think the period when I saw a lot of Gerald in the mid-90s must have been the only time in his life when he didn't have a boat in the water. He felt the lack keenly.

Two nautical (mis)adventures of which you have reminded me:

Gerald recounted sailing up to Deep Cove and spending a long lunch in the pub there before rowing back out to his boat, hoisting canvas and heading back down the Sound. Don't drink and sail. He forgot to haul in his anchor, and it dragged along behind him, catching the lines of several other boats and pulling them after him while their owners shouted from the shore in alarm.

Gerald and his then wife, Mary Jane, were living aboard a boat moored at Granville Island. They'd gone to bed for the night, but were alerted by a cry and a loud splash. A drunk staggering out of the Arts Club Lounge had tripped and fallen into False Creek. Gerald and Mary Jane rushed on deck to rescue him, and other drinkers emerging from the bar were greeted by the sight of Gerald, stark naked, hanging over the edge of the boat trying to keep the waterlogged man above water.

It seems to be a characteristic of Gerald's stories that they end at the funny bit, and I never found out how the situations were resolved.

P22 Foundry, who purchased Lanston from Gerald, still host the eccentric website he made including the biographical pages. These end before his return to Vancouver from Finland.

‘I started with nothing, and still have most of it left.’

inferno's picture

Some of you may be interested to know that Robert Bringhurst has written an obituary of Gerald that will appear in the Fall issue of "Parenthesis: The Journal of the Fine Press Book Association." To subscribe, please see

John Hudson's picture

Gerald's wake will be held at the Cambrian Hall, 215 East 17th Avenue in Vancouver, at 7:00 pm on Friday 31 July. I hope Vancouver-area Typophiles will be able to attend, and perhaps from further afield?

fredo's picture

This is all truly sad.

I've been going through some e-mail correspondence I had with Gerald in 2004 (a first: reading e-mail from a deceased person). We had felt a sudden kinship during some rage at Typophile and I wanted him to come to Stockholm (this was during the period he was living in the Finnish archipelago, not too far away) and give a lecture at the Typographic Guild.
And as bold as some of his statements were on this site (and his own), as humble – or dare I say shy – was his response. He would love to, but admitted he wasn't much of a speaker(!) It could be one of those weeding speech intros; "I'm not much of a speaker, but..." and then go on forever, but I actually believe he was sincere. Not much of an ego there. Unfortunately for the Guild he soon left Finland for Canada. And now, onwards, upwards. Oh, well...


fonthausen's picture

In the past we had some heated discussions on typophile. Afterwards we got more acquainted and had some nice conversations and many laughter.

Thank you Gerald.

With the utmost regards,
Jacques Le Bailly


Thomas Phinney's picture

One of the funny things about Gerald was how different his online persona seemed from his in-person demeanor. Or so is my impression: I only ever really hung out with him once, at TypeCon 2002 in Toronto I think it was. I ended up sitting next to him at dinner and enjoying some good conversation. He was hoping to get Adobe (my then-employer) to buy Lanston's assets, but we weren't all that interested (and perhaps the price was still a bit high).

Unless I have this confused with a different Toronto type conference a few years earlier, the Indian food we were eating was fabulous. I had a tandoori cauliflower that was to die for... I had always hated cauliflower before that night.



gln's picture

Just a reminder that Gerald’s wake will be held this Friday at the Cambrian Hall, 215 East 17th Avenue in Vancouver, at 7:00 pm.


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