Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Closing Signature Press

 As many of you already know, Signature Press is closing at the end of this year. Throughout its life, Signature has been run by Bob Church and me as equal partners. Bob served as Business Manager as well as overseeing order fulfillment and shipping. I was Editor as well as managing design and print production. I also did layout for about half of our 49 titles, and on the titles I didn’t lay out, I managed layouts by freelance people, via style sheets. Decisions on titles submitted to us were made jointly. 

Very early on, the amount of work involved in doing shipping from homes became overwhelming, and we have used commercial “pick, pack and ship” companies to both store and ship our inventory. But the front end of shipping was order taking and preparing orders for the shipping company. Our long-time (and only) employee doing this work is Kim Stein, and she has done a great job.

Of course, an essentially home business like this involved the support of our wives. Shown below are, at rear, myself and Bob (the tall guy), with Bob’s wife Jeanne at left foreground, Kim in the center, and my wife Mary at right. This was taken at an SPH&TS convention where we had a table and were selling books. This photo has for some years been included on the Signature Press website ( www.signaturepress.com ).

From the very beginning, even before we had done a single book, Bob and I agreed that our primary goal was to publish high-quality books. That means attractive-looking, well-designed, authoritative, and not least, solidly produced by good printers. We knew that this would mean pricing that was not exactly at the bargain level, but we hoped that if quality was perceived, it would overcome any price resistance. And from the beginning, we intended that the business was not primarily to make money, but to do good books, hopefully without costing us money.

Maybe because both Bob and I are authors ourselves, we have always taken the position that “it’s the author’s book,” and though editorial details may need adjustment, the voice should be the author’s, and we tried always to do it that way.

From collaborating on the book Pacific Fruit Express before its publication in 1992, Bob and I learned that we could work together smoothly, and that remained true for our 30 years in business. In the course of those years, we published five additional books by Bob on Southern Pacific topics, and six by me (five of them about SP freight cars). 

In addition, we were proud to publish five of John Signor’s definitive books about SP divisions, to republish books by Richard Steinheimer, Chard Walker and G.M. Best, to publish Jack Burgess’s Trains to Yosemite, and to bring out Ed Kaminski’s fine books on AC&F, Magor, and Pullman-Standard (and his collaboration with Richard Hendrickson, Billboard Refrigerator Cars).

There were books we published despite serious doubt whether they would prove to be commercial, because we believed they deserved to be published. Two of those, Phil Kauke’s Visalia Electric and Bill Kaufman’s State Belt, surprised us by selling well, despite our doubts. This illustrates, of course, that book publishing, whether by small publishers like us or by the “New York giants,” remains hard to predict accurately.

It’s interesting that our first book, Pacific Fruit Express, was our best seller. It was reprinted twice and has sold over 5000 copies. A close second is John Signor’s book, Southern Pacific’s Coast Line. Like all publishers, we too have books that were our favorites, maybe because they came together so nicely, maybe because they just hit some kind of a spot. For me, these included Ed Kaminski’s American Car & Foundry, the two volumes we added to David Myrick’s Railroads of Arizona series, and Harre Demoro’s Sacramento Northern.

Shown below is a shelf of our first 32 titles (Pacific Fruit Express was revised and corrected for its second printing, so the second edition is shown). All but one are hardbound books.

The remaining 17 titles are shown below. Ordinarily I would refer readers to our website for more information about the individual titles, but as they have been selling out, the website is in flux. The intention is for all the book entries eventually to remain on the site as a helpful reference.

And speaking of selling, we are now disposing of the inventory in a sale, but if you want to order, please be patient, as the flood of orders has been hard for Kim to keep up with. 

Bob and I are both in our 80’s now, and though we still love railroad books, we feel like it’s time to call it a day. We’ve enjoyed the work and have been proud of our books. We know many readers have enjoyed them too, and that’s perhaps the best valediction we could have.

Tony Thompson


  1. Tony, you and Bob, the wives and Kim have done a magnificant publishing job and should be very proud of your efforts
    Enjoy retirement form the publishing business.

  2. Absolutely some of the finest railroad books ever published. The goal of "Bob and I agreed that our primary goal was to publish high-quality books." has been met time after time.

  3. Robert J. Miller CFAOctober 18, 2022 at 10:14 AM

    Tony, While I am sad to see your venture come to an end, I certainly understand why - I'm in my mid-70s and would do the same thing. I have several of your excellent publications and will now head to the website to see what I might need, but not yet have. Thanks for all the good books!

  4. All good things must come to an end, but I've enjoyed your books and relied on them as references

  5. Thank you for producing the core of my reference library.

  6. Tony you Bob I have many of your books and have always been pleased with their quality. As we hear now and then, “All good things come to an end.” In your case “excellent books.”
    Enjoy your retirement.
    Lester Breuer

  7. Thank you Tony - and Bob - for all of your efforts and all that you've produced. Truly some great works, even for a east coast modeler! Several have also been a great help on... work projects! Best of luck on your "retirement"!

    Bill Schneider

  8. Nothing is forever as it is said, but while you were at it, you did a mighty fine job. I have some of your books in my collection, and will try to do as well with my upcoming efforts.

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  10. Like Pat noted, I was looking forward to the revised Cab Forward book by Bob. I have every book SP published except the DM&IR book. That is an impressive run of publications to say the least. Cheers Gents!

  11. I still have your first PFE book and a few more. I never had any problem paying for your high quality books. Thanks for your hard work and terrific results. Sad day, but understandable. Best wishes for the future.

  12. A marvelous effort and we'll miss you. I purchased some of your titles that I wasn't that interested in the subject mattter but just knew they would be well done and a good read.

  13. Congratulations on a great and lasting career!

  14. Sorry to hear that you’re closing, but please know that you’ll have left a rich, fulfilling legacy! You and your compatriots have deserved a well earned rest. Bravo!

  15. You all should be very proud of bringing out such informative and high quality books over these years. Every one is cherished by many. Happy Retirement to you all.

  16. Tony, I am catching up on your blog, and the PFE Book is definitely worth it.