New Limits Imposed

Sorry kids, I don't have time for much this week. Well into XI LXIVmos. That's the first run above, stacked beside the pulp boards used to dry the sheets. I'm pulling 160 impressions a day, which is outrageous by HM standards. Takes 12 hours, without any hassles thrown in. New top limit forever & always: 100 pulls. Even that's too much. Scheduled to be finished by this time next week, or die trying.


Damping & Drying Paper at HM


This week's post (below) mentions some difficulty getting the F.J. Head to dampen without cockling. As I suspected, increasing the number of sheets in the stack helped eliminate the problem. I also used thicker pulp boards, and really let the water soak in so there was almost no surface moisture. I then put the stack into the press immediately. The result was perfectly smooth & evenly dampened sheets (that's one below, on the tympan) that print beautifully. 

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HM hasn't previously used either of the two papers we'll be printing on for XI LXIVmos - Somerset Book 115g (the white sheet above), and a very light (80 g?) F. J. Head laid (the cream sheet) that looks & feels like it was calendared. I didn't know how either paper would react when dampened, so I did a small test last week.

The book will be printed 16-up, four sections on each sheet (each section is eight pages). The sheets we'll be printing on are approximately 10 x 12 inches, and they'll be trimmed down.

I use the classic method for damping described in Gabriel Rummonds' book: paper interleaved in groups between damp pulp boards. Damping and drying takes a lot of boards. I have a few hundred on hand. Treated well, they can last you a long time (at least four projects). I've standardized sizes as much as possible, to simplify handling. The boards are all 13 x 18 inches (big enough to accommodate Reg Lissel's standard foolscap sheet). I also have sheets of quarter-inch Plexiglass to aid in handling & bookend paper stacks while being pressed.

(I have a larger set of boards and plexi for the very odd project that exceeds these dimensions.)

The "tub" is simply a plastic storage box a bit bigger than the boards, filled with clean water. Each board is immersed in the water for a few seconds, removed & the surface water allowed to run back into the tub, and then stacked on a sheet of plexi.

One of the tricks to damping is figuring out how many printing sheets to stack between each pair of boards. With Reg's paper, which was heavily sized, I settled on three sheets. I suspected the Somerset and Head papers would want more sheets per group, or they'd end up too damp. I settled on four sheets per group, just to see.

The boards are left in a stack, placed in a humidor (i.e. a thick plastic bag), and left under some weights. You need all the water to be absorbed into the boards. If any remains on the surface, you'll get cockling problems with your paper. I usually leave the boards for about an hour.

Damping: have your paper counted out into groups of appropriate number. Lay down one of your damp boards, place a group of paper on it (centered), lay another board on top, & repeat until all paper is in the stack. Place a sheet of plexi on top, put the whole thing in your humidor, place some medium weight on it, walk away.

About two hours later, put the whole lot in a press & screw the platen down quite hard. Leave it overnight.

Before putting the test batch in the press, I had a peak: as I suspected, the Head was cockling a bit. There wasn't enough paper in the stack to accommodate the amount of hydration from the boards, and cockling is the result. I'll increase the stacks to six sheets and see how that helps.

I used some raking light to show the cockling in this photo. It isn't actually as bad as it looks. Putting the sheets in the press overnight helped reduce it somewhat - nothing I'd have trouble printing on. And the cockles can be removed when the sheet is dried.

The Somerset, on the other hand, dampens like a dream, easy & flat. It'll be like printing on butter.

A properly dampened sheet isn't wet; it's cool to the touch & completely relaxed. You can see in this photo how the Head sheet drapes over my hand when held. The point of damping is to relax the paper's fibers, making it more receptive to impression and ink (i.e. less impression and ink is required compared to printing dry, giving you a crisper result).

Drying is almost the same process in reverse. The sheets must be kept damp while being printed (in this case, over a period of two days). After the last run, each sheet is placed on a dry pulp board, and a stack is built up. When finished, the whole thing is put in the press, screwed down very tight, and left overnight. The next day the sheets are dry and perfectly flat (below). Then you have to all those boards before they can be used again...

With that test completed, and the entire book set & ready, printing starts. Come back next week to see how we go. If there's no post, you'll know it wasn't good.


A New LXIVmo from HM

New book announcement. First publication from the new studio*. A collaboration with Bromer Booksellers of Boston.

[* First publication au commerce; there was a hors, which I'll talk about next week.]

 A descriptive bibliography of the 11 miniature books published by Anne & David Bromer from 1977 - 1989. The book will, of course, be a miniature itself. So much for swearing to never print another miniature after last summer’s Suminagashi. As Henry Morris previously observed in regard to the miniature he printed for the Bromers, it’s hard to say no to Anne.

We’ve been going back and forth with the manuscript and galleys for a few months now. Printing will start next week. The page measures 2.25 inches wide, 2.75 inches tall - that’s about the maximum dimension for a miniature in Anne’s opinion. I tried a variety of faces, testing legibility at such a small size. I didn’t want to go below eight point, and I needed a good roman and italic to differentiate the commentaries from the bibliographic descriptions. Ultimately I settled on Centaur and Arrighi, the same pair (and size) I used for my first publication, El Autobus Azul.

In addition to the 11 printed books the Bromers published, they also issued three calligraphic books in editions of between 30 and 40 copies: each copy was completely rendered by hand, no printing. (These are also described in the bibliography.) This appreciation for the calligraphic arts gave me the idea of including some in the bibliography. By happy coincidence, I learned that Claudia Cohen’s current studio assistant, artist Francesca Lohmann is a fantastic calligrapher. (More about that later this summer.) She was recruited to create a number of drawings of vines to be used as interstials in the text, as well as a large pattern that will appear on the book’s cover. She will also be rendering the name on the title page by hand in each of the deluxe copies, and numbering the colophons.

We chose vines because the Bromers did two books with Edward Gorey, and he liked vines.

The edition size was a point of much discussion with Anne: she wanted more copies than HM usually prints, and being lazy, I wanted to do even less. We compromised: I’m printing more than I would if left to my own devices, and she’s not getting as many copies as she’d ideally like.

I’ll be splitting the edition with the Bromers (the bulk of the copies going with them). HM’s regular booksellers will be able to get copies from me; collectors, institutions and anyone else will be able to reserve or order copies from Bromers.

As alluded to above, there will be two states, regular and deluxe. The regular issue (85 copies) will be printed on Somerset Book, and cased in Francesca’s vine pattern (printed in gold on vintage green Guarro laid) over boards. Issue price $150.

The deluxe issue (35 copies) will be printed on F.J. Head handmade paper, and include original samples from four of the books bound in. The title page and colophon will feature original calligraphy by Francesca. The binding will be full leather with the vine pattern stamped in gilt on both boards. Signed by the author and issued in a folding box. Issue price $950.

Both states will be bound by the excellent Sarah Creighton, with whom HM has been wanting to work for years. Printing of this little 72-page book will be done (16 up!) with the huge Ostrander-Seymour handpress, on dampened papers. Publication is scheduled for mid-autumn. A printed prospectus will be available later this summer. I’ll post some production photos when we get into it.


It's the plural for 64mo, the format of a miniature.


Covering Up

Gearing up to start a new project. The Washington is still settling into its new home & seems a little stiff - the bed doesn't slide the way it used to. Hopefully that's just a matter of getting things moving again.

One of the aspects of handpress maintenance that I try to keep to a minimum is recovering the tympan, and to a lesser extent, the frisket. Both need to be covered with a sheet of thin, strong paper that is taut as a drum skin and flat as a board. Sometimes a new sheet dries funny & you have to start all over.

(Please note that the following basically is the method described in Gabriel Rummonds' excellent Printing on the Iron Handpress. Any discrepancies are my fault. His book should always be your first & best resource for information about printing.)


The tympan is the sheet on which a sheet to be printed rests. The frisket folds over the tympan and has windows cut into it, just big enough to allow the text area to print onto the sheet, while covering the non-printing margins and holding the sheet in place. The frisket & tympan also are the parts most likely to be missing if/when from a handpress.

You start with removing the old sheet. Right now, the tympan on the press is still good. The frisket, however, was old and many times patched, so it had to go. Both tympan and frisket basically are just metal rectangles (or wood & metal in the case of the tympan). The sheet is adhered with white glue, so replacing one begins with scraping away all the paper & glue around both sides of the frame. It's messy.

I have tried using wheat paste instead of glue, since it would be much easier to remove. But it doesn't dry fast enough to hold the paper in place while securing it all round the frame.

Linson paper is the best material for covering friskets. It's basically a commercial binding paper. There's one place in Canada, a few thousand miles from HM HQ, that wholesales it, but you must buy it in lifetime supplies and I don't want to store rolls of paper. So, I have been using good printmaking papers to cover friskets & tympans: Arches wove has worked well. I have a large stack of 115 g Somerset Book for the new project, so I tried that. It worked well.

Once the frame is as clean as possible, you cut a piece of paper that is 1 inch bigger all round. The surface you'll work on affects how things turn out: it must be solid but also somewhat absorbent (you'll see why). I cover the counter in a sheet of mill board.

I use a spray bottle to dampen one side of the sheet, & then leave it for a few minutes to expand and relax. Then I slip it and spray the other side. Depending on the paper I repeat this sequence - you need to judge how much moisture the sheet needs. You want it to fully relax, and hold that condition for enough time to secure the edges (5 minutes?).

Once the sheet is completely relaxed, brush a fairly wet glue around the edges in a perimeter to cover the bottom of the frisket and top (i.e. when the outer edge of the paper is folded back & over). Work fast. Make sure you have scrap paper beneath to catch any stray glue so it doesn't mess up the other side of the sheet.

Place the frisket on it so that the border edges are all (roughly) equal. Using very sharp scissors, make perpendicular cuts into the paper, up to the frisket's edge. These should be made every 3-4 inches.(In these photos you'll see I cut the strips first; I've done this enough on this frisket to know where things need to be.)

Now start folding these section over the frisket. Start in the middle of one side. Then do the opposite side, gently pulling the sheet as taut as possible (this is why you don't want any surface tension between the damp sheet & the surface it's lying on).

Then do the other two sides. With these four center pieces in place, work from the center of one side to either corner. Then do the opposite on the far side. Then the other two ends. Then repeat, working to the remaining corners. Keep pulling the paper (gently) as taut as possible. Fitting the paper around the hinges takes a bit of tailoring with scissors; you'll figure it out.

Once all the edges are secured, I cover then with a clear plastic packing tape that's wide enough to fold and cover both sides of the frame.

Hopefully the sheet looks pretty flat as this point. If you see a few wrinkles (if they appear it's usually near a corner), cross you fingers and hope they'll disappear when the sheet dries. In this case, mine did.

I leave the covered frisket standing vertical, resting on its hinges, to dry. Takes a couple of hours. Should sound like a bass drum when fully dry.

Things that can go wrong:
  • The paper tears when drying. Probably isn't strong enough to use; try something different.
  • The frame warps! That would take some seriously strong paper that expands a tremendous amount. Try something different. 
  • There are wrinkles/cockles. With a tympan this will ruin your printing; try again. With a frisket, depending how bad & where they are, you might be able to still use it. Probably save yourself grief to do it over. 
In all cases, doing it over means going back to step one: scraping all the paper & glue off. You can see why one avoids the process altogether whenever possible.

The worst part about covering a frisket is that, as soon as it's back on the press, you have to cut holes in it! 


Kickstart Your Paper Collection

For all you decorated paper enthusiasts, item #1 from bookseller Barry McKay's latest catalogue:


"This collection of 161 examples of Franco-German paper decoration was salvaged by a German bookbinder in the 1990s from a collection of slender volumes of birth, marriage and death certificates from the Rhineland Palatinate in present- day Germany. The compilation of such volumes was introduced by French authorities after their occupation of the region in 1790. The French headquarters was the garrison town of Landau in der Pfalz, which is still the main town of the area. The region was an arrondissement of France between 1792 and 1813; thereafter it passed variously to Austria, Bavaria, and Prussia during the nineteenth century.

"The papers in this collection were salvaged by a German bookbinder in the 1990s. The papers are from covers of registers that were made to order in Kaiserlautern between the 1790s and the third quarter of the 19th century. The paper used for decoration during the region’s French occupation was manufactured in France. Thereafter the paper was manufactured at two mills by Roedter, and Gossler, in the village of Frankeneck near Neustadt and der Weinstrasse.

"Until about 1800 the boards consisted on of two pieces of thick paper laminated together, generally a coloured wrapping (usually blue) was used with a white lining paper. Thereafter a low-grade laminate cardboard was used. Some of the binding covers consist of a single sheet of coloured paste paper while others are formed of two pieces pasted together to form a whole.

"In the earlier period the volumes appear to have had manuscript labels pasted down on the front cover, perhaps with a distinctive shape for each year. ‘shadows’ of these labels are clearly visible on a number of the examples. From the early-mid 1820s, printed labels with the title and date set within ornamental borders were used in place of the earlier manuscript ones.

"The patterns found on these papers fall into four, very broadly classified, types: a sprinkled pattern, a simple dabbed- brush pattern, a paste & pull pattern, and a paste & pull pattern further ornamented with a circular patter thereon. The latter pattern is one that, based on our own experience, is achieved by dabbing a dry binders’ brush vertically down onto the coloured paste while it is still wet.

"Blue (of several shades) is the predominant colour used although there are also examples using black, green, red, purple, and sepia pigments."

The link to Barry's site (barrymckayrarebooks.org) doesn't seem to be working; if interested write to him (mail [at] barrymckay1.plus.com). The collection is yours for £3,950. Better hurry before Claudia finds out about it...


A Secret Stack

Day late & a dollar short; here's what I got. Having trouble with the news feed for Decorating Paper, so those Q&As are on hold. Maybe one more to come, we'll see. I've spent the past week working on a secret project. Just finished the binding today. Can't say much about it for now. It's a surprise for the authors, who will be receiving the entire edition of 10 copies to distribute however they see fit. If they don't hate it, I'll come clean with some details in a few weeks. If they do hate it, maybe your local Dumpster diver will find a copy.


Just found out that a Web site for the Limited Editions Club has appeared. I've been wondering what was up with LEC. Sidney Schiff's death in 2010 probably put was the cause for an interruption in its activities. The new site shows titles still available, all from Schiff's tenure. By the time he bought the LEC, it had gone through some pretty grim years in the '60s and '70s, producing a lot of indifferent and banal titles. Schiff's plan was to focus on the other end of the market, reducing edition sizes and recruiting established contemporary artists to create original works for the texts. He really turned things around, and made the LEC into a very different (& in my opinion, much more interesting) kind of publisher.

(An aside for readers who followed the Agrippa post & project from earlier this year: the Paz/Motherwell project that Agrippa publisher Kevin Begos spoke about can be seen on the LEC site.)

Not much information on the site beyond the titles in print. Nothing about new projects. The bookseller Carol Grossman has been working on a history of the LEC for some time, to be published by Oak Knoll. Publication seems to keep getting pushed back. An article she wrote for Biblio in 1999 can be found here. This is another good summary of the LEC's history.


Decorating Paper Interview 4a: Patria

Someone who shall remain nameless isn't being very helpful when it comes to doing her writing assignments, so this installment of the Decorating Paper interviews features just Barbara (who probably has never missed a deadline in her life) telling the story about one of the more uncommon papers included in the compendium...

BH: Decorating Paper includes an especially lovely set of papers from Patria, a French manufacturer.

We didn't know much about these papers, but we knew from the labelling that they were sold in 1920, and we knew the names of the pattern designers. However, we could not track down information about the process used to make them and suspected that they were block printed. Then, through a chance discovery of an article called “New French Colored Papers,” by V. Fauchier-Magnan, in a magazine called La France, An American Magazine (volume 2, 1920) we found out that they were made by stencilling, a process known as “pochoir.” This detail was found too late to include in the book, but we were at least able to place the papers in the correct section.

Patria, a Paris studio, created bookbinding papers to make up for the shortfall caused by World War I, when the papers normally purchased from Germany were no longer available due to importation bans.

Patria was the operation of Emile Greningaire, who came from a long line of Parisian “colorists.” The designs were created by numerous well-known pattern designers of the day and were executed in delicate stencilling by war victims. In numerous instances, patterns were produced by two processes: stencilling and block printing. With the aid of sample books, we are able to attribute the different patterns to their designers.

Next week we'll have part 4b, about contemporary decorated papers being made on 18th-century papers...