The Origin & Progression of Printing...

I found several cool presents under the Xmas tree last week. One both was & wasn't a surprise: a copy of Pellegrino Orlandi's Origine e progressi della stampa o sia dell'arte impressoria e notizie dell'opere stampate dall'anno M.CCCC.LVV sino all'anno M.D. (Bologna, 1722). It wasn't a surprise because I'd ordered it, from an Italian dealer, in September. It was a surprise because getting the export license took so long that it arrived just days before the 25th, so I delayed opening it & called it a present (even though it's for work). 

(In Italy, all books published more than 50 years ago require an export license. Other countries have similar restrictions, but typically applying only once a fairly high minimum value is exceeded. Not so in Italy. Some booksellers charge a fee for acquiring this license, some don't, some won't even make the effort. Italy not being known for an efficient bureaucracy, securing this license seems to involve repeated visits to a regional office, i.e. badgering whoever has control of the stamp. I was lucky that the bookseller who had this copy of Orlandi was willing to do the legwork.)

I had encountered the book's title in various sources while doing research for this year's Francesco Griffo project. I found a scanned copy online, and despite the poor reproduction, the book intrigued. To the best of my knowledge, it is the first Italian history of printing during the incunable period, attempting to list all of the printers of books active up to 1500 in Europe (i.e. modern Italy, Spain, Holland, Belgium, Germany, France and England). The first half lists printers by city, and the titles they published (shown above is the first page for Jenson's listing). A short middle section provides some information about printing, the casting and use of type, and five pages collecting a total of 94 printer's marks (#5, in the image below, is Aldus's). The second half of the book seems to be a list of all incunable editions, alphabetized by author's name, e.g. all known editions of Ovid's Metamorphoses published before 1500. 

I have not been able to find much information about Orlandi, beyond him being a Carmelite brother who is perhaps best known for Abecedario pittorico, an encyclopedia of 4,000 painters, sculptors and architects. I can also find little information about the printer of Origine e progressi, Constantine Pisarri. I don't know why his imprint does not appear on the title page of part 1 or 2 (he is mentioned on the penultimate page, in the publication privilege, and his mark CPB appears on the final page). His relationship with Orlandi seems to date back to at least 1704, when he printed the first edition of Abecedario pittorico. He printed other books by Orlandi in 1714 and 1719. 

The Neue Zeitungen von gelehrten Sachen from 1724 includes a brief description of the book (in an impenetrable fraktur), including the comment that Orlandi "found more old books in the Italian libraries than Maittaire found in the English and others." Maittaire was Michel Maittaire, who undertook a similar project, written in Latin and published in London in 1719 (subsequent volumes followed). 

The book is not terribly well printed - probably about average for the time and period - but the setting, variety of types used, format (a wide quarto), and quality of paper make up for the presswork. I particularly like the face used to set the city names...

My Italian could not even be generously called basic, so I will be making my way through Orlandi very slowly. While that can become frustrating, I also find it enhances my enjoyment of the book: because I'm forced to proceed slowly, I see each page more thoroughly. Despite the wealth of information it contains, and its appeal in purely typographic and bibliophilic terms, the book does not seem to command high prices. A copy in what sounds like reasonable condition is currently listed online for about €400. So that's it, merry Xmas to me from HM. I got another cool book, but you'll have to wait a few months to see that one...


Graphic designer Vaughan Oliver died last month. I've written about his work and influence before - it was his inner sleeve for the compilation Lonely As An Eyesore (4AD 1987, shown below) that first opened my eyes to graphic potential of type. He tended to lose his footing when he strayed into book forms, primarily because he didn't understand do's and don'ts of binding, but his album covers were brilliant. 



Busy printing today. Come back in a day or two and I'll have this month's post up...


Francesco Griffo Lives!

A year-end round-up…

The next book will be in the press in January. Francesco Griffo da Bologna - Fragments & Glimpses is a second, expanded edition of the "biography" I published in 1999. I use quotes because his story was assembled using quotations from a wide variety of sources, organized into chapters (e.g. The Roman Type, The Greek Types, etc) – similar in concept to oral history, which I like because it removes the authors and all the noise they introduce. Many of the sources quoted in the 1999 edition actually were secondary or tertiary sources, drawing on original work by other authors; for the new edition, I have tracked down (and translated, as necessary) the original sources of fact and opinion wherever possible, so while the book's structure follows the original, more than three-quarters of the content has been replaced with new material.  

Griffo's story is interesting for reasons beyond the quality and influence of the Latin, Greek and Hebrew types he cut for Aldus. The story of the italic type overlaps with the history of intellectual copyright, and the question of authorship. His career after breaking with Aldus included cutting types for books considered equal to anything Aldus published, in form and content, including the six small volumes he published himself in 1516–17. Plus, there's the matter of bashing in his son-in-law's head, for which he was tried and presumably hanged; the following three centuries, during which his types were remembered but he was not; his mis-identification in the 19th century as the celebrated artist Francesco Raibolini; the subsequent debate among Italian bibliophiles over why this could or could not be the case; and ultimately, discovery of proof that he was his own man. You can't make this stuff up.  

This new edition is expanded by the introduction of facsimiles of Griffo's types, and four appendices recounting the 19th-century debate between Antonio Panizzi, Giacomo Manzoni, Adamo Rossi and Eraldo Orioli over exactly which Francesco had been Aldus's punchcutter. These texts were originally published in Italian, and to the best of my knowledge, have not previously been published in English. The originals were translated for this project in England by Emma Mandley. 

Finally, each copy will contain a leaf from the second (of three) volumes of Ovid's writing, issued by Aldus in 1502, set in Griffo's famous italic type. Most of these leaves come from the "Heroidvm," the balance from "Ad Liviam". I found a total of 56 leaves, separated from the rest of the book who knows when, and so that will be the number of copies in the edition. At this point it looks like the book will be issued in three states: extravagant full leather, boxed (available by advance subscription only); quarter leather; and laced into a handmade paper case. The first two states will include an intaglio reproduction of an engraving from the title page of Domenico Manni's Vita di Aldo (Venice, 1759; shown above). The full-leather state will also include proofs on Japanese paper of several illustrations in the book. 

The book will be 6 x 9 inches, 104 pages (+/-), set in Bembo. It will be printed on dampened Arches wove paper, two-up, on the handpress. At two sheets a week, that's about four months of printing. Then there's the binding, so copies should be ready for issue in the fall of 2020. Over the past two years I've had fun assembling some of the key sources for this project, and making my way through them with rudimentary Italian and only slightly better French. I'll post images of some of the more interesting pages next year. 


Will Rueter continues work on the calligraphy for his Books Are My Utopia. Claudia should start the binding early in the new year. Copies out by April? 

Copies of PatternPattern started traveling far & wide last month. The deluxe copies will be the last ones out, hopefully by the end of the year. 

Finally, I want to note the life, and loss, of HM's valued bookseller and friend, Bill Stewart, of Vamp & Tramp Books. He was one of the few booksellers to show any interest in the first edition of Fragments & Glimpses, 20 years ago. Since then, he and his partner Vicky have been wonderful supporters, and also just decent people who are fun to hang out with, passionate about books and the people making them. I'll miss knowing Bill is in the world. 

Thanks to everyone else who has supported HM this past year (many in ways they don't even realize). It's always appreciated & never taken for granted.


The Geometry of Motion

Copies of Barbara Hodgson & Claudia Cohen's newest collaboration, PatternPattern: The Geometry of Motion, will begin shipping this month. The book adds another branch to their ongoing adventures in decoration, materials and processes previously explored in the four-part color series as well as Cutting Paper, Decorating Paper and Folding Paper. 

PatternPattern focuses on traditional and modern systems of analyzing repeating decorative patterns. These systems - grid, proportion, tessellation, symmetry, motif, and style & culture - are each discussed in a brief overview, and extensively illustrated, primarily with examples hand-drawn by the authors in each copy. Each section starts with a drawing done on translucent drafting vellum, to overlay the accompanying text. The focus throughout is on design development, progression, and variety, emphasizing the possibilities for infinite interpretations of basic styles. The book also includes an extensive bibliography.

In addition to the original drawings in each copy, the book will be issued with an accompanying portfolio of sample textile grid design ‎leaves from Franz Donat's Grosses Bindungs Lexicon (The Large Book of Textile Design, 1908; see sample above). 

PatternPattern (50 pp. + inserted drawings, 9 x 9 inches) was designed and set by Barbara in Fournier type. It was inked & printed by hand at Heavenly Monkey, on dampened Arches wove paper. As with all their books to date, the edition is 30 numbered, and six AP, copies. All of the copies have been bound & boxed by Claudia. Copies 1-10 are extra-bound in leather (with onlays; see image below) over boards, and include additional original pattern samples. Copies 11-30 are quarter-bound in vellum with original stencilled papers (by Claudia) over boards. 

The edition is fully subscribed, but some copies are available through HM's regular booksellers (see list at right). 

As with past publications, Barbara agreed to answer a few questions about the new book...

HM: What was the one thing that proved to be much more complicated/painstaking/time-consuming than you'd expected?

BH: There were two especially difficult aspects to this book. The first one is probably the most obvious: how to narrow down the infinite number of patterns to a reasonable number that is also representative and interesting. The solution was to try drawing many different ones and choose from those that worked best as drawings. The second was less obvious at the beginning: how to organize the book. I had expected that this would be relatively simple. After all, there are thousands of books on pattern, each of them based on some sort of organizational system. It turns out that one reason there are so many books on pattern is because patterns are difficult to organize.

After several false starts and after rearranging the contents many times, I finally settled on a review of historical systems of pattern organization from simplest to most complicated: by grid, geometrical proportion, tessellation (also known as tiling), symmetry, motif, and style and culture. I’ll elaborate on the last two of these systems here.

Organizing pattern by style or culture was popular in the 19th century, as seen in books by Albert Auguste Racinet, Alexander Speltz, Heinrich Dolmetsch, and Owen Jones. What strikes the modern observer (and surely it struck observers in the 19th century), is the appearance of similar patterns throughout different cultures. Jones, the author of The Grammar of Ornament,” 1856, wrote about similarities to be found in the decorative arts in different cultures, specifically between Arab, Roman, Byzantine and Moorish patterns. He noted that similar patterns were reinterpreted by each culture the same way “an idea [is] expressed in four different languages. The mind receives from each the same modified conception, by the sounds so widely differing.” This thought expresses the difficulty of assigning any one pattern to a specific time, place, culture or person.

Organizing by motif was a tempting approach, as everyone can recognize such elements as stars, pinstripes, polka dots, foliage, zigzags, and the idea of presenting such pleasing shapes together on pages was hard to resist. But motif proved to be as complex a system of organization as style and culture and was doomed for us as soon as I reviewed Flinders Petrie’s valiant efforts in his 1930 book, Decorative Patterns of the Ancient World. His categories were wide-ranging but inadequate, and he expressed the hope that future design scholars would continue his work.

Because the others—grid, proportion, tessellation and symmetry—are structural systems and are most easily analyzed across cultures and regardless of motif, they proved most successful, especially in combination.

The two difficulties described above might seem secondary to the decision to draw most of the patterns rather than to print them. For me, there wasn’t a choice. Drawn patterns relate to the principles of design by showing, at least in part, the rationale or basis of the pattern and the sequence of its development. Here, the human hand and mind is visibly at work.

What do you think is the coolest part/aspect of the book?

BH: As a maker of and collector of process—notes, sketches, diagrams, and so on—the aspect of this book that I am most drawn to is the process laid bare. More than 40 of the 50-some patterns included in the book are hand-drawn and show their bones in the form of structural pencil or pen work. Some of the patterns are presented in step form with each step adding detail. Others show variations of a single fundamental pattern. Of course, with handwork comes the inevitable error (or two), and these we fix as best we can but leave the evidence of erasures unapologetically.

How does this book fit with your previous ones?

BH: The most obvious tie would be with Decorated Paper (2015), as much of what we included there were repeating patterns. But Folding Paper (2017) and Cutting Paper (2013) are also related. The processes of both folding and cutting paper to produce decorative work often produce repetitive patterns. Tessellations made by folding paper are complex patterns of repeating polygons. Paper folded multiple times and then cut into can also result in repeating patterns. Working on all three of these books motivated us to exploring pattern in more depth.


Books Are Will Rueter's Utopia

Printing for HM's next calligraphic book starts today: Books Are My Utopia features 18 full-page (three of them fold-out) quotes on the theme of books, each one rendered by HM's longtime friend and confidant, Will Rueter. The concept and format are similar to 2017's An Alphabetical Accumulation, wherein the calligraphy is reproduced from polymer plates, but a portion of each page is then added by Will's pen (for example, in the mock-up below, the red and blue will be added by him). 

Will would object to being called a calligrapher, but calligraphy has been an important part of his 50+ year career as a designer and printer. All of The Aliquando Press's publications reflect his passion for variations in, & combinations of letterforms, and he's too modest about his skills. Books Are My Utopia  will be the first publication that focuses exclusively on his calligraphy - everything in the book is by his hand.

Most of the printing will be done at HM, on four different papers: F.J. Head, Barcham Green and Twinrocker (all handmades); and a mouldmade that I'm saying is Saunders c.1950s, but that might be a lie. Either way, it's a lovely laid sheet. The three fold-out sheets will be printed on Japanese papers, by Will in Ontario. Below is the original calligraphy (i.e. art from which plates were made) for the list of authors from whom the quotes were taken.

Printing will be finished this month, and then the sheets go to Will for the embellishments. He hopes to have everything ready for binding by the start of 2020. Like An Alphabetical Accumulation, Claudia Cohen will be binding the edition of 36 copies uniformly; the exact structure and design are still being pondered. We'll put up some progress photos once Will starts laying hands on printed sheets, along with some of his thoughts on the importance of learning to make letterforms with a pen for typographers and designers.

HM participated in the Fisher Rare Books Library's bi-annual small press fair last month. The Fisher is a beautiful space, and the University of Toronto campus is a fun place to be in September. I had a table beside Will, so we spent most of the day kibbutzing and finalizing details for the calligraphy book. I also caught up with the excellent Shanty Bay Press duo, and met a few Toronto people whose names I knew but had never encountered in person. I even printed a freebie that (sort of) illustrates how books are printed at HM. Best of all, the day before the fair I spent at the Fisher playing with books for the Griffo project, including a couple of early Aldine octavos, and the library's copy of the stunning Paulina de Recta Pasche (1513, with types cut by Griffo). More about Griffo after Will's book is out of the press...


A Tour of the Shelves

No news to start the new school year. I’ll start printing Will Rueter’s calligraphy book soon, and will post some images and details next month. The Griffo project is getting serious: the manuscript is in the fine-tuning and illustration-selection stages. I am going to Toronto to participate in the Thomas Fisher Rare Books Library’s bi-annual small press fair (Saturday 7 September), and will be taking advantage of the Fisher’s collection to look at a few Aldines and related materials. I printed what I’m calling a "thing” for the fair, so if you come by you can see it in person.

I was rambling through my bookshelves recently, looking for a couple of books I knew I had somewhere. Along they way I rediscovered others I’d forgotten I had, or not looked at in a long time. Lacking actual news this month, thought I’d show a couple of the less common ones…

The Vollbehr Incunabula and the Book of Books 
Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C, 1932
It’s set in black-letter, but at least it’s set (and printed) well, in the style of a rubricated Gutenberg Bible, a copy of which landed at the U.S.’s Library of Congress with the purchase of Otto Vollbehr’s book collection in 1930. Two copies of this book are currently listed online, and even the more expensive is reasonably priced for the quality of materials and execution.

First Report of a Book-Collector. Followed By an Account of Book-Worms
William Harris Arnold
One of the most exuberant leaf books ever published. Nothing better than a book collector with extra money and a desire to share their passion. An early publication from Frank Hopkins’ Marion Press, an edition of 89 copies (presumably dictated by their most scarce leaf included?) bound in limp vellum. A second edition of 220 copies, without all the leaves, was issued the following year (less luxe but still printed on handmade paper). Typographically it’s a little anemic and very much of its time, but the printing and materials are good. There’s one copy of the first issue online, for a little less than I think I paid for my copy…

The Introduction of Printing into Canada; A Brief History
Aegidius Fauteux (Rolland Paper Company, 1930)
Not at all scarce, even in this binding. (There seems to have been a plainer leather-bound issue, without any decoration, and most copies were issued as a set of 6 pamphlets.) These “extra-bound” copies have remarkable endpapers. I think they are painted, as the gold parts are definitely raised from the paper’s surface, like a blob of paint. This copy is also notable for the laid-in printed vellum leaf - imagine a big commercial print shop doing a thing like that today! The book itself isn’t a gripping read.

Petrarch Press, 1989
More vellum! The first incarnation of the Petrarch Press issued only a handful of titles, all of them carefully planned and well printed (on a handpress). This copy is one of 8 printed on vellum, and I may have paid less than the issue price for it, which is ridiculous. I’m less beguiled by printing on vellum than I was in the early days, but it’s fun to have a sample or two on the shelves.


Artist's Kitchen
Sybil Andrews
A bizarre publication. Andrews was a British artist whose work first gained attention in the 1920s, as part of the Grosvenor School. She made wonderful modern linocuts, all angles and full of motion (Speedway, above, is among her best). She moved to a remote town on Canada's west coast after WWII, which pretty much removed her & her work from the public eye. In 1985 Artist's Kitchen - "a meditation on the When, the How, the Where and the Why of Art and Artists" - was published. Considering the topic, and her background in printmaking, the book is a turd. I think it was printed by mimeograph. Despite that, it's impossible to find a copy. I was searching for several years before this one copy appeared, and it was priced cheap because the cover had been stuck on upside down. Which might be the most graphically interesting part of the book. All of the chapters are very short, and some offer interesting suggestions for sparking creativity.

An Experiment in Printing
Minne Jane deThomas
Here's a much better book by someone interested in printmaking. It's one of the student publications that came out of the Wesleyan College Art Lab during the 1950s and '60s (most of them printed on a handpress). This single-signature pamphlet prints two original Bewick wood engravings on two different papers, to compare the pros and cons for each. Brilliant, and an elegant publication.

The Technology of Handpress Printing
Harry Duncan (Abattoir Editions, 1980)
This essay was included in The Doors of Perception, but this first publication was set and printed, on a handpress, by Duncan. It’s a good essay. The colophon says it was printed on (damp) Barcham Green paper. I have two copies: one is a tan sheet with faint speckles and a BG1977 watermark, about 100 - 120 g. The other copy is printed on heavier (approx 200 g) white wove paper with no watermark; I have no idea why it exists or how it connects to the edition. I think the type shows better on the white sheet. An uncommon book.

Speaking of significant books about printing with a handpress, printed on a handpress, I had to wait for a decade before a copy of Lewis Allen's Printing With the Handpress came on the market back when I got mine. Now there are three, and one is being offered at basically half price!? Someone grab it…


German Incunable Influences on William Morris's Chaucer Type

Oregon-based bookseller Philip J. Pirages is known for the range and quality of antiquarian books he stocks. If you’re looking for a book printed between 1450 and (say) 1800 that is significant for its content, production or presentation - a book that could legitimately be considered rare - he may not only have a copy, but a copy in the best possible condition. Pirages describes his focus generally as “historical artifacts that are physically attractive in some way - illuminated material, fine bindings, books printed on vellum, fore-edge paintings, beautiful typography and paper, impressive illustration.” An inevitable byproduct of a focus on antiquarian printing is encountering books that have lost leaves over the centuries (and leaves that have lost their books). Because he’s not a barbarian, he gathers these orphans as they come his way, and offers an extensive collection of printed and manuscript leaves.

Incomplete copies of even the most rare and valuable book cannot be “restored” or made whole again. If only a few leaves are missing, it might be possible and worthwhile to have facsimiles made, but that’s tricky and expensive, plus you’re still left with what technically is an incomplete copy. If you found another broken copy that had the leaves you need, you could “make up” a copy, but that also isn’t ideal. And if you’re presented with a copy of a book that is really incomplete (for example, when HM was offered about 70 leaves cut from a Doves Bible, used in the recent Kelmscott & Doves Presses publication), what are your options? That toothpaste cannot be put back in its tube. 

One option in such circumstances is a leaf book - a book about the book, each copy with a leaf from the original included. For students of printing, history, design, etc etc, even the best reproduction does not compare to seeing the actual type on the actual paper. Some people have dismissed leaf books as ghoulish, but these people generally don’t appreciate the reference value they offer, and they typically assume a complete copy was broken up just for the leaves, i.e. these people don’t know anything about antiquarian books: any book worth being the subject of a leaf book, would be more valuable as a complete copy vs what a printer could hope to net from publishing a leaf book. Hence, on Pirages' Web site, is the statement in bold text, “Leaves are acquired individually or as part of a fragment of a book only. WE DO NOT TAKE APART COMPLETE BOOKS IN ORDER TO SELL INDIVIDUAL LEAVES.

All of which is a long-winded introduction to how Pirages has come to publish a fascinating multi-leaf book, Letters From The 15th Century: On The Origins of the Kelmscott Chaucer Typeface - A Study, with Specimen Leaves, of the Influence of the Early German Printers on William Morris’ Masterpiece. Each copy in the edition of 165 includes a leaf from the Chaucer, plus leaves from four German incunables. The text, by Pirages, is a study of Morris’s Chaucer type and how its design was influenced by the types used in the 1470s by the German printers. The book was printed by Art Larson (printer formerly of books for Leonard Baskin, and recently of books for HM’s friend Sarah Horowitz), and bound in three (i.e. four) states by Amy Borezo (who, incidentally, published a really interesting Lovecraft book a few years ago…).

Some of the best leaf books of the 20th century were published by booksellers (the people who end up with the books other people don’t take care of), especially in the first half of the century. But there aren’t a lot of leaf books being published these days, by anyone, so I was interested to ask Pirages some how & why questions about his project. But first, here is a brief summary of the project's genesis from Pirages' Web site:

"The story of the production is heavy on serendipity: in the winter of 2012, after purchasing a very incomplete copy of the Kelmscott Chaucer at auction, we considered the possibility of producing a leaf book, but because the Chaucer--universally considered to be one of the most beautiful books ever printed--had been written about by so many different people in so many different ways, we didn't know what aspect was left for us to explore. The one topic we fastened on as thus far inadequately examined is the origin of the work's typeface. We soon learned that Morris, who is known to have owned more than 500 incunables, most admired--and was, consequently, most likely to have been influenced in his typographic design by--Peter Schoeffer of Mainz, Johann Mentelin of Strassburg, G√ľnther Zainer of Augsburg, and Anton Koberger of Nuremberg. Over the course of the years succeeding the purchase of the defective Chaucer, we were fortunate beyond all expectation to acquire incomplete books from each of these four eminent printers. As a result, the present leaf book will allow the reader not only to read in the accompanying essay about the influence on Morris of his typographic forebears, but also to compare with his or her own eyes the resemblances between the Kelmscott leaf and the leaves from four centuries earlier."

 * * *

HM: The first question you’re faced with when publishing a leaf book is, what text would be appropriate for the presentation of the leaf? It can be especially challenging if the leaf is from a book about which much has already been written - what can you add that is new and of value? For your project you focused on the development of Morris’ Chaucer type, which you felt had been inadequately examined. How did you zero in on that as a topic, and what was involved in telling the story? 

PP: Not enough has been said, and, apart from the commentary of William S. Peterson and John Dreyfus, most of the remarks have been of little value and even bogus. I spent a considerable amount of enjoyable time researching and hypothesizing about the connections between the Chaucer type and the early German printers, specifically those working in the 1470s, and more specifically Peter Schoeffer, Johann Mentelin, Gunter Zainer, and Anton Koberger, who I believe are shown in the text of the leaf book to have been Morris’ gothic All-Stars. The leaf book text includes a chart that quantifies the resemblances between each of the Chaucer letter forms and each of the characters in each of the typecases of the four early printers. It might be mathematical overkill, but I was trying to escape subjectivity and introduce some degree of objectivity.

Without scooping your own book, can you give me a summary the main thesis? 

PP: The design of the Chaucer typeface can clearly be seen as directly linked to the type used by Schoeffer, Mentelin, Gunter Zainer, and Koberger. And the five leaves that are the special part of the leaf book (the Kelmscott Chaucer leaf and a leaf from each of the four early German printers) show this pretty well.

What is your opinion of the Kelmscott Chaucer, as a book? 

PP: It is magnificent, the outstanding achievement of the Arts & Crafts movement and one of the most beautiful and important books ever printed.
Your book also includes four German incunable leaves, illustrating exemplars or influences Morris presumably drew from when conceiving the Chaucer type. The benefit of seeing and touching actual printed leaves, even against the best reproductions, cannot be overstated. A project like this essentially becomes a self-contained course in printing and history - which is what a good leaf book should be. There were some fantastic leaf books issued in the first half of the 20th century, especially by booksellers (presumably because they’re the ones who find/save the broken books). But as a genre, if it can be called one, it seems to have waned in recent decades. What’s your perspective as a bookseller on the role or place of leaf books in the current market, versus (say) 50 years ago?  

PP: I really can’t say why leaf books may be going out of fashion. Perhaps because the emphasis in the marketplace on modern first editions doesn’t really encourage their production?

Some people have a reflexive dislike, or even disdain, for leaf books. In my experience this seems to come from assumptions that something was destroyed - broken - because the bits will be worth more than the whole. Maybe that’s been done, but I suspect the vast majority of leaf books were a response to having a fragment of something with significance to the history of printing, and wanting to make the best use of it. The cost of conserving, or even restoring, a book can quickly exceed its market value, and that’s for a complete copy. What to do when you have just pieces of the book? That’s a long preamble to my questions, which are (1) do you agree with any of that; and (2) how do you explain the value of book like the one you’re publishing to people who are suspicious of the format/concept? 

PP: In 41 years of bookselling I have never taken apart a complete book to sell single leaves.  But we do sell single leaves when we buy fragments or groups of leaves (almost always at auction). I can understand why some persons may say that simply selling such leaves encourages the breaking of complete books, and this may possibly be true. I have no defense to that accusation except to say that the individual leaves we have sold over the years have come from books that, in complete (or even incomplete) form, would be far beyond the ability of the vast majority of buyers to acquire, whereas single leaves offer a very large number of customers the pleasure of ownership of beautiful and at the same time affordable printed or manuscript artifacts.

You published a book in 1991, with a Sweynheym & Pannartz leaf, printed by Henry Morris. Do you have any particular memories or stories of working with him? 

PP: He was always striving for perfection, and he had a vision of what our book should look like. The author, Edwin Hall, and I did not always agree with him, but his way was pretty much the way we did things in the end. His reputation speaks loudly for him.

One challenge when publishing a book about another book, or work by a specific printer, is how much to reflect the aesthetics of that work in the new design. It’s very easy to fall into pastiche. At the same time, one cannot simply ignore the original’s aesthetic. I’ve always thought a complimentary design should be the goal. Your book encompasses Morris’s style and the German incunables, which is some visually heavy company for your design to integrate with in its own distinct way. What were some of the things you considered when designing the book (by “book” I include the entire presentation - binding, box, leaves etc)? 

PP: This is a very good question. I thought about using a typeface that somehow resembled the Chaucer, and it was hopeless. I actually chose something closer to Italian Renaissance (Bembo) than anything else, so little connection there. Where there is a connection is in three of the four bindings used.  The edition has four versions: for the least costly, we use a linen-backed blue paper boards binding that is very like bindings used by Kelmscott; we used flexible vellum with ties (again, echoing Kelmscott bindings) for the next-to-most costly version, and we used a specially designed pigskin binding (echoing those done at the Doves Bindery for the Chaucer) to go with the two super deluxe copies (which sold before we even had a chance to advertise the book). The fourth binding (for the medium-priced version) is cloth over boards, the cloth being the Ebony Cray pattern created by William Morris. (The various prices of the versions are directly related to the degree of decoration on the Kelmscott leaf that is included with each copy.)

The Chaucer is a very large book. Your book is a smaller format, nestled in a clamshell box along with the leaves (loose). At any point did you ponder designing the book in a size that would allow the Chaucer to be tipped in? I confess that my preference is not to have the leaves separate from the book, but I understand the argument for having them separate. The basic question here is one of merging the book design with the leaf, and how much they are integrated or kept separate. 

PP: I had originally thought about the text being bound to a format matching the size of the Chaucer leaf, but there were too many design and logistical issues militating against this. It just didn’t work.

Were there any particular challenges during the design or production stages of the book? 

PP: Where shall I begin? I knew when we started that there would be inevitable problems with something as complex as this production, especially with work being done at different locations. But, fortunately, we had flexible deadlines. The main thing to be said here is that the project succeeded—and was enjoyable—because my main collaborators, Jill Mann, Art Larson, and Amy Borezo, were not only highly skilled, but very patient.

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I enjoyed this correspondence with Phil about his new book (but I didn't enjoy having to remove all the extra spaces he put in after a period! Period space, people, not period space space.)

Letters From The 15th Century
has just been issued, and copies of all three states remain available (see here).

And p.s., a note about terminology: a leaf is what you turn when reading a book. A leaf has two pages, one on each side.