30.3.17

No to Cannibals, Yes to Leaf Books



Leaf books are going to be a topic around here for the next few years, so I thought I’d do a short introduction to the genre because many people, even those who are interested in printing and press books, don’t know what they are. We’re in the early stages of producing a book that will present leaves from both Gabriel Rollenhagen’s book of emblems (1611) with copperplate engravings by Crispin de Passe, and George Wither’s A Collection of Emblemes (1635), which used the same de Passe plates. Emblem books are a field unto themselves - a black hole if you’re not careful - and Wither’s book in particular is notable for several reasons. For reasons that will become clear below, I’ll start by saying that the leaves we’ll be including with our publication came from broken, incomplete and poorly-treated copies.


A leaf book is a book about another book, one usually published sufficiently long ago that copies are now rare, or at least scarce. Rarity alone, however, isn’t really justification enough for a leaf book: the source book must also be remarkable for some specific reason. The defining feature of a leaf book is that it contains a leaf from the source book. Ideally these are bound in, attached to a hinge to make viewing both sides convenient. Many publishers get lazy and tip the leaf to a page, making it awkward to view the verso. Some books include the leaf in a pouch at the back board (ugly and untidy - too easy for the leaf to become separated from the book), or in a companion folder (better than a pouch, but being bound into the book is always the best course). The content generally consists of some bibliographic details and a discussion of why the book is noteworthy. For example, the spread at top is from a recent score, the first edition of Nicolas Barker's Aldus Manutius and the Development of Greek Script & Type in the 15th Century, which includes leaves from four Aldine books.

Many people, particularly those who are not book collectors or students of printing history, immediately react with horror at the idea of cutting up one book to make another. My usual response to comments like this is, You just don’t understand, it's never about cutting up a complete copy, go away. That, however, isn’t a useful response, especially in the case of leaf books because the criticism is a fair one, and the genre must be approached with sensitivity to its fundamental dichotomy: celebrating printing history while at the same time pulling a piece of it apart.


The first thing to understand is that leaf books typically are a solution to a problem, the problem being what to do when one is presented with an already broken & incomplete copy of an important book. While I’m sure there have been some exceptions, the vast majority of leaf books get their leaves from an already broken copy. That’s one reason why leaf books typically are issued as a limited edition, and the editions are some strange number - the quantity is determined by the number of leaves available.

The Caxton Club mounted an exhibition of leaf books in 2005, and published the excellent catalogue Disbound and Disbursed. It includes an introduction by Christopher de Hamel, which addresses the tricky status of leaf books, and also the fact that “leaf books, for the most part, have themselves been limited edition productions of private presses.” There’s a reason most leaf books have been published by private presses, beyond the fact that private presses typically have a fundamental interest in printing and its history: the edition of a leaf book is limited by the number of leaves available, and private presses exist to publish small (i.e. limited) editions of specialized interest, and in a manner that compliments the leaf being celebrated.


Some of the ethical discomfort with leaf books is discussed in two blog posts by Adam Hooks, an associate professor at the University of Iowa’s Center for the Book. The posts, which are worth reading, have an underlying tone of disapproval, but they also suggest some subtle misunderstandings about book production, publishing, and collecting that are not uncommon among people for whom “book” primarily signifies the content, not the form.

His lead for a post about the 1640 edition of Ben Jonson’s Works includes a comment about the owners of rare books “keen to sell off their copy bit by bit.” This kind of comment comes from  someone who is not a collector of books, and does not understand people who are. No collector who owns a complete book is going to break it apart in the hope of selling the bits for more than the whole is worth. It is true that this detestable practise has happened, but usually by nefarious dealers cutting prints or maps out of books, not pages of text. Starting around the middle of the last century, the print and bookselling trades, along with private and institutional collectors, began to actively discourage the practise. Unfortunately, it went on for long enough that in some cases, complete copies of a title are now more valuable than the sum of the parts because so many have been cannibalized.


In a subsequent post that is more specifically about leaf books, Hooks’ unfamiliarity with the genre, and private press publishing in general, are reflected in comments about the book Original Leaves from the First Four Folios of William Shakespeare (1935) like “Why did the Grabhorn Press decide to publish such a book?” and “There is also, alas, more work to do in order to explain how and why The Grabhorn Press got into the business of Breaking Shakespeare Apart.” To begin, the Grabhorn brothers did not decide to print such a book: they were commissioned to produce it by David Magee, a San Francisco bookseller with whom they had a long and interesting collaborative relationship. Just like the Second Folio was printed by Thomas Cotes for Robert Allot, a senior member of the Stationers’ Guild at the time (and one of the five publishers of Wither’s Collection of Emblemes - more on that in coming posts). It seems likely that Magee was the source of the leaves, and that he would have encountered them through his ongoing business. (Likewise the Grabhorns didn’t publish Leaves of Grass; they designed and printed the edition for Random House, and making 1930 the culmination of their careers is premature. I would argue that their magnum opus was the three-volume bibliography of their work, with many sample pages included - an extensive and glorious leaf book!) The fact that the edition consists of only 73 copies (not a nice round number, like 70 or 75) tells us that no books were broken for the leaves, but that Magee (or someone) saved the fragments of a copy from the scrap bin (look through the scrap paper box of any binder who specializes in restoration, you’ll be amazed what you’ll find).


All of which is quibbling and not entirely on point. Hooks’ concern for protecting books from cannibalizing is right and just. But publishers of leaf books are not cannibals, they’re preservationists and geeks for printing history. Leaf books are a solution for what to do when you are presented with a damaged, incomplete copy of a rare book. If it’s in the category of an early Shakespeare folio, or just about any incunable, you probably have a box made and be happy for the parts you have. Depending how much is missing, you could potentially have facsimiles of the missing pages made, and have the book reconstituted. On one hand, digital printing makes this easier than ever, but on the other good facsimiles should be (relief) printed, like the original sheets, and on similar paper. Just having a leather spine rebacked will cost a few hundred dollars. If you start getting into complete rebinds, with paper repairs, by a binder knowledgeable of the period materials and techniques, you’ll be over a grand fast. There’s the rub: the cost of conservation or restoration (not the same things), versus the market value of the book. If a complete copy could be sourced for (say) $10,000, and any restoration work would cost even a quarter of that, you’re better off buying the original; a reconstituted copy will always be a distant second in terms of both reference and monetary values.


So, what to do with a book like George Wither’s Collection of Emblemes, when the copy lacks the title page, frontis engraving and numerous other pages, is badly stained and edge-worn in places, with most of the remaining pages detached at the center fold? Strictly speaking it isn’t a rare book: at least one copy usually can be found on the market, probably in the range of $5,000 - $10,000 if complete. Even without replacing the lost pages with facsimiles, just repairing the pages remaining and having them put into some kind of appropriate binding would cost a few thousand dollars. Isn’t worth the outlay. But you can’t just bin the pages! Using them as the basis for a leaf book is much more interesting than selling them off piecemeal. It’s also more respectful to the work, especially when the pages offer an opportunity to explore aspects of the book beyond its content, such as when, how & why it was produced, and by whom. These are the kinds of details that appeal to people interested in printing history generally, plus all the others who will be interested in whatever specific topic the book discusses. It’s not about collecting relics, it’s about using the fragments to sustain a connection with the original work.

In the next month or so I’ll post some of my favorite leaf books.

AND ANOTHER THING!


Speaking of leaf books and Whitman and grass leaves, I remembered this was tucked on one of my shelves. It's not really a leaf book, because the contents were printed specifically for this, but the contents also are pages from the Grabhorn's edition of Leaves of Grass. Does that pencil mark on the lower right corner look like it might be Valenti Angelo's signature?



20.3.17

ABCDone



Finished printing the sheets for An Alphabetical Accumulation, no dramas. Now the sheets go off to Francesca to have the next letter added to each page, which will take at least a few weeks for the edition of 36 copies. I'll post some shots of her work when she gets into it. 

13.3.17

Printing Leafy Letters



Back at the press this month, printing a calligraphic ABC by Seattle artist Francesca Lohmann. (She did the calligraphy for 2015’s Bromer bibliography, XI LXIVmos.) The inspiration for the book was a manuscript copy she created a few years ago (pages shown above). Titled An Alphabetical Accumulation, it presented 26 rectos, each adding the next letter of the alphabet, call done in red ink on a very thin, blue-tinged J. Whatman handmade paper. When I first saw it, the potential to make it a printed book was obvious: I would print (in black) the previous page’s accumulation, and Francesca could add the new letter to each page (in red) by hand, thus presenting the complete alphabet done by hand in each copy. 


While we kept the basic size (approx. 4 by 6 inches, 28 printed rectos) and format, Francesca decided to redo all of the calligraphy for this edition. The  presentation for each page changes to best present the letters included, and allow space for the letter to be added by hand. The book is entirely calligraphic - there is no type used. The reproductions of her calligraphy are done with polymer plates, printed on three different papers - T.H. Saunders, J. Whatman, and Crown & Sceptre - all printed damp.


The pictures above and below are proof sheets. I like overprinting different pages on the same sheet, a different kind of accumulation.


Printing will be completed within the week, and then Francesca will begin adding the calligraphy. The edition is 36 copies, so it will take her a while. Once that work is completed, the sheets will go to Claudia Cohen for binding. She is still pondering options, but we expect it to be a vellum structure of some sort.

With all the work still to be done after printing is completed, we don’t expect to have copies ready for issue before the end of the year - just in time for Christmas!

Folding Paper Update

An incomplete copy was assembled in time for display at the Codex book fair, in February, thanks to our friends Vamp & Tramp. I wasn’t there but I heard it received an enthusiastic response, which is partially responsible for it now being fully subscribed. We expect to ship copies in early summer.

5.2.17

Folded Like a Piece of Paper



HM isn't at Codex this year, but an almost-complete test binding of the new book from Barbara Hodgson & Claudia Cohen is; drop by Vamp & Tramp's table at the fair to see Folding Paper: Technique, Design, Obsession.

Check out HM's facebook page for a short video.

The book is the latest in their ongoing exploration of art forms related to paper. Similar to Cutting Paper in format and approach, the new book explores the art of folded paper, and presents a collection of samples on the pages and laid into the accompanying box. Brief essays discuss folding techniques, the process of creating illustrated pieces, and paper choices. Interspersed will be over 150 tipped-in examples from pleating, education, computational geometry, toy making, origami and packaging (some examples will be presented shown in progress, as well as finished pieces, in a variety of papers).


The book's prospectus alone is a work of art & engineering, and an example of the obsessive attention to detail throughout the book. Inside a "self-folding" wrap (some of which are made with waste sheets from old HM projects)...



...is a folded, printed sheet bearing the book's title...




...which opens, following an intricate series of folds, to reveal the book's production details...




Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the piece - which illustrates part of the craft & ingenuity required for the art form - is how easily the sheet & wrap want to resume their folded state. A few dozen copies have been prepared, for customers & friends of the studio (i.e. if you ask for one, we probably won't have any left).


Folding Paper (9.5 x 12.5 in., 80 pp.) was designed and set in Monotype Fournier by Barbara. It has been printed on 200 g Arches Wove by David Clifford at Black Stone Press. (For technical reasons, the title page - which will itself be a piece of folded art - was printed at HM on the handpress.) Copies will be uniformly bound by Claudia, with an accompanying two-piece box. The box that will also contain about 15 three-dimensional pieces (shown above) and a separate Zhen Xian Bao (a magical Chinese thread box). All of the pieces will be created specifically for the book. The edition will be 30 numbered copies, signed by both contributors, plus six A.P. copies.

As with all HM publications, copies are available only through our regular booksellers (listed at right). If you would like more details, or want to reserve a copy, please contact one of them. Publication is planned for summer 2017.

2.1.17

Start with ABCs, Finish with Some Moralls



We’re going to maintain the momentum (finally!) achieved in 2016 through the New Year, with three major publications for 2017.

First in the press, but probably the last of the three to be issued, will be Francesca Lohmann’s calligraphic ABC book, An Accumulated Alphabet. This was originally created in 2014 as three manuscript copies. Over 26 leaves (rectos only) Francesca renders the alphabet, nestled among leafy vines, each page adding the next letter to the sequence. For HM’s printed edition, the previous page will be printed (in black) from polymer plates, and the new letter will be added (in red) by Francesca. Thus, each copy will contain, over 26 leaves, a complete calligraphic alphabet. The title page and colophon will also feature her original embellishments.


The reason this book is first up & last out is all the work to be done by Francesca after the printing, then the binding by Claudia Cohen, who is still pondering the details but has been making vague comments about limp vellum structures. The book will be 28 printed leaves (approximately 5 x 7 inches), the paper being a combination of Crown & Sceptre, T. H. Saunders, and Whatman handmades. The edition will be 30 numbered copies and six A.P. Hopefully issued, through HM Editions, by the end of 2017.


The first book that will be issued in 2017, by HM Editions, is the latest collaboration between Barbara Hodgson and Claudia Cohen: Folding Paper: Technique, Design, Obsession. In a similar manner and format as Cutting Paper, the book explores the art of folded paper, and presents a collection of samples on the pages and laid into the accompanying box. Brief essays discuss approaches to folding techniques, the process of creating illustrated pieces, and paper choices. Interspersed will be over 150 tipped-in examples from pleating, education, computational geometry, toy making, origami and packaging (some examples will be presented shown in progress, as well as finished pieces, in a variety of papers).


Folding Paper (9.5 x 12.5 in., 80 pp.) was designed and set in Monotype Fournier by Barbara. It has been printed on 200 g Arches Wove by David Clifford at Black Stone Press. (For technical reasons, the title page - which will itself be a piece of folded art - was printed at HM on the handpress.) Copies will be uniformly bound by Claudia, with an accompanying two-piece box. The box that will also contain about 15 three-dimensional pieces and a separate Zhen Xian Bao (a magical Chinese thread box). All of the pieces will be created specifically for the book. The edition will be 30 numbered copies, signed by both contributors, plus six A.P. copies. Publication is planned for late spring/early summer. 


The long-promised book featuring original leaves from George Wither’s Collection of  Emblemes Ancient & Moderne (England, 1635) is finally going to hit the press. Details are still being finalized, but at this point we can report that the book will be approximately 8 x 12 inches, 50 pages (plus sample leaves), issued in two states from a total edition of 66 copies.

This is the start of the new publishing schedule, so this is it until he start of February, at which time I'll be posting more images & details about Folding Paper. Please note that if you have any interest in that book, contact one of the booksellers listed to the left for details and discuss reserving a copy.

26.12.16

Look Up



I’ve decided that starting in 2017 this blog will be updated monthly, at the start of each month (unless there's something that just can't wait). It’s takes too much time to come up with something each week, and that's time needed elsewhere (lots of projects planned for ’17!). Plus, the Internet has become unbearably toxic: I have resolved to visit it as infrequently as possible.

To wind up 2016, I thought I’d mention a few books that have made the year interesting. These are not necessarily new books, just new to me.


Dewi Lewis published (in 2015, I think) a beautiful collection of Nigel Grierson’s photographs. Signed copies were available from the publisher earlier this year; not sure about now. Fans of the 4AD label will recognize Grierson’s work. I hadn’t appreciated how much of Vaughan Oliver’s work was a collaboration with Grierson. Stunning images, most of them primarily abstract and textural, in a well-produced book.


Barbara Hodgson’s Mrs Delany Meets Herr Haeckel was a joy to print & publish. Smaller in scale and more intimate than her expansive collaborations with Claudia, she managed to conceive of & produce a book that simultaneously feels antiquarian and modern. Kool.


The emblem books of Gabriel Rollenhagen, with stunning engravings by Crispin de Passe, for reasons that will be explained early in the New Year.


The Universal History From the Earliest Account of Time, to the Present… (1744), part two of the seventh volume only; because it was found in a jumble of (much newer) books, in a full calf binding that had been expertly rebacked, and because the quality of the paper and printing was a salve to the atrocious printing and mediocre paper from a 17th century English book I’ve been spending some time with. Again, more details to follow. While this volume of The Universal History covers just a slice of the overall topic, and the middle third is an index, the final third is an abbreviated chronology of the world from Adam & Eve to Mahommed’s capture of Trabezond (1642). 


David Sylvian’s opus Hypergraphia, for all the reasons previously mentioned.


A few other creatively-inspiring things from the year: Rag & Bone shirts, John Varvatos boots & jackets, Tomas Weiss’ el culto label, Pheonix York’s debut album & loscil's latest, Agave (handmade) jeans, and every year, Lamy pens & pencils. Pax omnis.

6.12.16

Aurora Borealis...



...appeared on the wall beside my bed last week.

Quickly...

David Sylvian kindly posted a note about Aurora Teardrops on his Facebook page last week, which prompted some action. Just to clarify/confirm: some copies a still available from Books Tell You Why and Vamp & Tramp, though not many. Probably better to go directly to their sites than work through something like Abebooks.

https://www.abebooks.co.uk/great-polyglot-Bibles-including-leaf-Complutensian/17009913329/bd

Alert!

A copy of a great Allen Press (leaf) book is listed kinda cheap on ebay right now: The Great Polyglot Bibles Including A Leaf From The Complutensian Of Alcalá, 1514-17. Beautifully printed on a handpress (the book & the original leaf!) etc etc. Listed here for probably less than half the usual price, probably because the box looks like it has a few marks etc. But that's what boxes are for! This isn't something I have an interest in, other than aesthetic. (I already have a copy or I wouldn't be telling you about this one.) If you'd rather have the whole thing instead of just a page, here's a facsimile set (check out the raised bands on the deluxe binding - yikes!)...

Apologia (sort of)...

I scorned the recently published Godfather diary in the last post, especially the paperback version. I have since seen a copy, and must dial back my scorn - not fully, but some. It's not really a paperback: it's sewn and put into a case of laminated flexible boards. It still probably isn't skookum enough for the text block's weight, but it's not a "paperback." So all comments about the publisher still stand.