A Genuinely Unique Aldine Enchiridion

Binding of the three different issues of Francesco Griffo da Bologna – Fragments & Glimpses will proceed through October. Clarity, and copies of the book, will arrive in November. Meanwhile, a short story related to the project...

I had been pondering a second crack at Griffo almost since the first was completed, in 1999. I wanted to include the primary sources all the others were simply repeating, and samples of the types being discussed. I have always been interested in leaf books, I knew an Aldine leaf would be the best sample possible, but one doesn't find a pile of Aldine leaves often. When I did stumble across a broken, incomplete copy of Aldus's second Ovid volume (Heroidum epistolae), the Griffo project finally gained momentum. 

I found the leaves a few years ago, and just lived with them for some time. No part of the binding remained. A significant portion of them were intact bifolia and sections - it's a shame (if not a crime) to split them just for the sake of making a leaf book. Besides, there were enough separated leaves in the collection for whatever edition I would publish. Unfortunately these were somewhat stained, where the complete sections tended to be cleaner. 

The complete volume (the title page, shown above, was absent from the pile I found) included the Heroidum poems, plus seven other books. As I tucked into my collection of leaves, sorting them into their proper order, I realized that I had three of the volume's books complete - De arte amandi, De remedio amoris, and In ibin. (The remaining leaves were from parts of Heroidum.) 

The original F&G was issued in an edition of 26 lettered and six numbered copies, the former bound in full calf by Natasha Herman, the latter in limp vellum by Hélène Francoeur. Natasha lived on Vancouver Island at the time, and had apprenticed with the binder Courtland Benson. In the mid-1990s Simon Fraser University was given a collection of 16th century Aldines, and Benson was commissioned to restore some of the volumes' bindings, a project Natasha helped with. She went on to apprentice at Barbarian Press for a year or so in the early aughts, before marrying and relocating to the Netherlands, where she established Redbone Bindery and a reputation for skillful and well-informed restoration and conservation binding. We stayed in touch and occasionally discussed the idea of working together again. Her feeling was it needed to be a project that fit with her historical binding skills and knowledge (and probably not an entire edition, just a few copies). Voilà Griffo. 

When I was working on the George Wither emblem project a few years ago, I came into possession of several early emblem books. One was a 1663 edition of Quarles' Emblems bound in full calf, in very good condition save for the fact that the boards were no longer attached. I sent that to Natasha and she very neatly put things back together (given the materials and age, her solution was to use a strong Japanese paper, suitably colored, to make the join at the spine). 
Once I had fully realized exactly what I had in the pile of Aldine leaves I'd acquired, I sent the three complete books to Natasha and suggested maybe a simple limp vellum binding would be suitable. Just to give it some context, I printed a facsimile of the volume's title page (on some suitably matched 17th century paper), but with the absent books deleted. Natasha sent back the lovely little volume, with sewn endbands laced into a limp case and a simple spine label. It is the closest thing I have to an early Aldine, and probably always will be. 
I am slowly making my way through the 30 copies being cased in quarter cloth here. It takes forever to sew the 17 sections. Claudia is likewise into the 15 limp vellum copies, with each of the spines titled in a calligraphic hand by HM's old friend & collaborator, Francesca Lohmann. The five "Dutch" copies are with Natasha, and will be the focus of a future blog post.


Have you seen the new book from David R. Godine, A Grammar of Typography by Mark Argetsinger? I got my hands on a copy just yesterday, and have spent only a few minutes with it, but it looks fantastic in content and execution. 

 Watched How Writing Changed the World last night, it was fun. 


The Printer at Work

Continuing the handpress theme from last month, that's basically a portrait of me at work. Except they added the apron, I don't like those things.

News: all 50 copies of the Griffo book (+ 8 hors commerce*) have been collated, with an Aldine leaf laid into each. The five Dutch copies have been sent to Natasha Herman's Redbone Bindery, the 15 vellum copies sent to Claudia Cohen's, and the rest are piled around here waiting to be sewn up. This fall seems particularly uncertain for making commitments about what will happen when, but outside factors aside, publication remains slated for November. I'm hoping to include a post illustrating the binding of the Dutch copies, and also one about the vellum copies. Watch this space.

(* H.C. copies: I finally got around to questioning whether hors commerce or hors de commerce is the correct term. The latter sounds more correct grammatically. Turns out they have different meanings. Hors commerce means not offered for sale; hors de commerce means must not be sold. The eight H.C. copies of Griffo are hors commerce, because the people to whom they will be given are certainly free to sell their copy.)

Some of the copies include a set of the book's illustrations proofed on F.J. Head handmade paper. Although it doesn't appear in the book, I included the original A Lone Press device (“The printer's devil is a snake”) cut for me by Shinsuke Minegishi, for the colophon of the original (1999) Fragments & Glimpses. That was our first collaboration. 


The Librarything.com site has a “fine press” group which occasionally floats news of a press or person new to me. (I emphasize occasionally; many people in the group seem to include things like the Folio Society and Easton Press under the umbrella of fine press, but there's no point in having that discussion.) This past month there was a mention of Tara Press, which focuses on translating poetry in Arabic, Syriac and English (not clear if that means translating the first two languages into English, or translating original works from all three languages). The Tara site mentions Jericho Press, which is particularly interested in Hebrew and Greek metal types (sample books of their holdings in each language look cool). Somewhere in all this I also saw reference to John Grice's Evergreen Press, which has only been publishing and job-printing for a few decades by now. His book Ornata is one of the first things I've seen in ages that I'd be tempted to buy, but luckily no copies are available. It's good to know there are always people out there doing interesting work to be discovered, especially in the cloistered world of letterpress publishers.


Steel Wheels

My friend Adrian Robertshaw lives on Vancouver Island. He's a man of many artistic and practical talents. About 15 years ago he caught the printing bug, and acquired a few presses. He had a Vandercook Universal II and a C&P which he rebuilt; the pair took up a large portion of his Vancouver loft when I first knew him. Life and family intervened for a while, but in recent years his presses have started clacking again. He has a lovely studio garage near Nanaimo that is open on summer Sundays for drop-ins (socially distanced). His earliest works were done under the imprint Strathcona Press, but he has rechristened his studio Introvert. In 2019 he published the pamphlet Poorly Printed, in an edition of 50 copies (* see below for some details). 

Despite its size, word gets around Vancouver Island, and last fall someone called Adrian and asked if he would be interested in adopting a handpress, like, tomorrow. Being Adrian he said, Sure! I heard about all this via email, and his initial description made no sense: he'd acquired a large Hoe Washington-style handpress with a bed that ran back & forth on wheels. I couldn't really imagine what he was talking about. Turns out, I needed to see it with my own eyes. 

Which I did this past month, while responsibly passing through the area, and happily seeing Adrian from two meters away. He really does have a lovely situation, the bright & airy studio garage next to his house on a rural acreage shared with goats, cherry trees, a large greenhouse, two dogs with seven legs, and everything else you wish you had, especially during lockdown. 

The press is bloody massive. It's huge. Makes HM's look compact. The platen is 26 by 40 inches twice the area of HM's! The crane operator who delivered the press estimated the total weight around 3,000 pounds. It also looks quite new. 

Maybe because of its size, it takes a few minutes for the differences to register. There is no rounce. And the bed has a weird tail. Most alarming of all are the wheels attached to the bottom of the bed. 

Here's the story of the press, as far as we know it: it came from Cott Systems of Columbus, Ohio. Cott (est. 1888) specializes in record management. These days that means databases, but for most of the last century it meant printing & binding the large ledger books used for land records etc. So at some point in distant time, Adrian's press might have been used to actually print the sheets for ledgers. The only explanation I can think of for the modifications was to adapt the press for proofing – someone thought using the rounce to move the bed was too much hassle, so they put it on wheels. 

The bed of a handpress is supposed to travel along two parallel tracks that consist of raised ribs. The tracks should be filled with oil just to the height of these ribs (see above; note also the complicated floor-mounted system to collect the oil that drips from the rails of a well-adjusted press). Properly adjusted, the bed travels smoothly by turning the rounce. If you replace this arrangement with wheels running on a smooth steel track, you're basically playing Hot Wheels.  

The press was sold to Howard Iron Works and restored by them in 2013. We inquired but they have no record or notes regarding the bed's modification when they acquired the press. Adrian thinks Howard replaced the original rails with the current ones, and upgraded whatever the original wheels/runners were with the current "spherical roller bearings" (what we think that type of wheel is called). 

Howard sold the press to a Vancouver Island artist who moved it across the country but then left it in storage, unused. It was offered to Adrian by his estate. Moving it into Adrian's garage required an unplanned enlargement of the door frame, but who said moving presses was simple. 

Aside from some surface rust on the bed, the press remains in its restored condition. Adrian has had a tympan and frisket made (have fun finding suitable paper large enough to cover those, buddy), and a handle attached to the back of the bed. He's also had some platen bearers made up. As long as he never lets the bed get too much momentum, he'll be able to use it like any handpress. The bed of HM's press weighs about 400 pounds. Adrian's bed is twice the size; just looking at it, I'm not sure it's twice the weight, but it's at least 500 pounds, probably more. Putting 500 pounds on spherical roller bearings running on rails three feet above ground seems like all kinds of potential for crushing disasters. Luckily it's in Adrian's capable hands. Always good to add another number to our ranks. 

(* Poorly Printed is exactly the kind of book about printing I enjoy, and an excellent idea for a new printer/publisher to undertake. Using the lyrics from Radiohead's ‘Fitter Happier,’ repeated over seven sequential rectos, Adrian illustrates the kinds issues a printer will encounter, and must correct [e.g. with makeready], to achieve clear, consistent letterpress printing. Very useful for people who haven't had the opportunity to actually try printing, to understand the challenges.)

Finished printing the Griffo book. About a month behind schedule, but that's partly because I ended up reprinting five sheets, having decided my first attempt was off-color. Below are the sheets printed on Golden Hind for the five copies to be bound in the Netherlands by Natasha Herman, what I'm calling the "Dutch" copies. I think we're still on track to issue the book in November; we'll see how it goes. 



Bill Stewart Was Cool...

A festchrift for the excellent & much-missed bookseller Bill Stewart, the tramp of Vamp & Tramp Booksellers, was distributed last month. It contains small broadside contributions from 42 presses and artists who enjoyed Bill's support and encouragement. 

Last fall Bill Stewart, the Tramp of Vamp & Tramp Booksellers, died suddenly and much too young. It left many in the book arts community unmoored, but none so much as Vicky, his partner in life and business. Bookselling was a second career for both of them, and they spent months every year driving across America in a van stuffed with treasures, stopping at libraries and book fairs along the way. Bill was (& Vicky is) a tireless promoter of the book arts. A significant portion of the HM books in institutional collections are there because of Bill and Vicky, and I know the same is true for many others.

Toward the end of 2019, Marnie Powers-Torrey, of the University of Utah's Book Arts Program at the J. Willard Marriott Library, took the lead in organizing a festschrift celebrating Bill's life and work. A total of 42 presses and artists contributed a broadside (8 x 10 inches). Marnie and the students in her program printed a title sheet and list of contributors, and designed an attractive folder to contain the sheets. Bonnie Thompson Norman's piece is shown below.

The collection captures how broad Bill's tastes and enthusiasms ranged. We first met at Oak Knoll Fest, in 1999. I was attending on the coat-tails of Barbarian Press, and had just published the original Fragments & Glimpses. Bill was just getting established as a bookseller. He may have been the first bookseller to buy a copy of Fragments, and he remained a valued source of interest and correspondence.

Contributors were asked to send 75 copies. Some sets are being distributed among Bill and Vicky's families, and the rest will be given to institutions that benefited from V&T's visits. My portfolio is number 6 of 75. I'd forgotten that I'd played silly bugger when numbering my broadsides: most of them are some kind of mathematical function (e.g. 1 x 2 x 3 = copy 6, ∛27 = copy 3, etc). It seemed appropriate for the Newton connection.


Griffo's almost printed. Two more sections to go, the first & last. I'm looking forward to getting into the binding work. Remind me I said that...


Dressing Griffo

That's a spread from Fragments & Glimpses I printed last month. Getting close, but printing will probably continue into July. Still on track for publication before Xmas. I'm pleased to report that all five copies to be extra-bound by Natasha Herman have been subscribed. That will make for an interesting post. 
For the 30 or so copies to be cased here at the studio, I'm thinking of doing two, maybe three different styles/structures. My original plan had been to do them all in a quarter-binding similar to that of Labour Vertue Glorie, but I think I'll also do a few in a limp structure, using Reg Lissel's abaca (paper)-vellum, which feels remarkably like actual vellum, and is just about as tough. It also has a lovely semi-translucent quality, and can be lined with a colored or patterned sheet (example below). These copies will be issued in a slipcase. 

The third style I might try, and probably with only a few copies, is copied from two books (below) I purchased while doing the research for the project: Domenico Manni's Vita di Aldo, and Serie dell'edizioni aldine per ordine cronologico ed alfabetico (1803 ed.). Both are covered simply, in plain handmade paper, the (sewn) endbands laced through the covers. There do not seem to be any boards per se: the covers are very thin, their stiffness seeming to come just the adhesion of the pastedowns to the inside of the paper case. There might be a lining sheet, but it would be no thicker than the cover. The bindings have survived remarkably well, as a decent handmade paper would. I have some sheets made by Reg Lissel that would be perfect. 

HM's recent Collected Lovecraft publication is sold out. Had some inquiries from people who were new to HM and professed an interest in letterpress/fine printing and Lovecraft, which means there's not a lot out there to be had. Roy Squires did some smaller works, in his characteristic retrained and clean style. Shelter Bookworks published a small edition of The Color Out of Space that I haven't seen but heard is appealing and well-produced (good luck finding a copy). I wonder why Hoyem never did a Lovecraft collection at Arion. Probably because he knew most of his regulars would be aghast. Related, Arion announced the installation of a new director, Hoyem's replacement, but I don't see how that's going to work out. Hoyem was Arion. In the middle of the last century the Limited Editions Club tried focusing on less luxe (& therefore cheaper) publications, and used book stores are awash in titles from that era. Then, in its final 10-15 years it tried going in the opposite direction – high-end livres d'artiste – and ended up disappearing in the stratosphere. I suspect the new Arion will try the former strategy, with the same disappointing result.

Printed copies of Pradeep Sebastian's entertaining bibliomystery, The Book Hunters of Katpadi, were hard to find outside of India, but now you can get the ebook for just a buck. And I'm not plugging it just because HM gets a few passing mentions, it's a fun read.

Speaking of what a dollar gets these days, all 27 releases from a Montreal musician who records under the name Le Berger can be had for less than a buck each (more if you have the means). I've had all 27 on repeat while printing Griffo in recent weeks. Up there's what the studio looked like while the music was playing. I just wish s/he/they would release an actual CD, maybe a four- or five-volume Selected Works; buying digital files is not very satisfying.

Virtual book fairs are becoming a thing. I cruised through one last weekend and saw some cool things.

Can you believe this clever bit of advertising & tricky setting did not yield a single order for the book? It took a year to sell all 32 copies of the original Griffo book, and only once they were gone did I start getting inquiries from keen strangers. Probably happen all over again with the new edition. So it goes. But I'll try to come up with some better promotional material.


In a Time of Plague, Visit Innsmouth

Random bits of studio news...

Book score! More than a year ago I asked if anyone out there had a copy of Peter Burnhill's Type Spaces that needed a new home, with no joy. A couple of times I thought a copy might have appeared on Abe, but each time I was suspicious, and sure enough the listings were just blood-sucking drop shippers. When a copy appeared in March I didn't get too excited, but Half Moon Books, in New York, proved to be decent & honest. I've never paid so much for a (slightly) dog-eared paperback (their price was very fair, and well below the ridiculous numbers the drop shippers post), and I'm very pleased to have it. It's interesting that such a specific book became so hard to find within a decade of publication - UBC keeps its copy in special collections! The publisher, Hyphen Press, made a free PDF version of the book available, but I wanted the printed thing. It's a book that requires close and repeated reading.  

Speaking of Aldus, printing Griffo grinds along. I was supposed to be stuck in the studio all spring with it anyway so I didn't expect lockdown to affect progress, but it has had an energy-sapping effect. If that's the worst thing I can complain about, I'm doing pretty well. A page with details for this project has been added to the HM site. Issue prices, and the final details for different states, will be posted later in the summer. 

A few other new pages have been added to the Books section of the HM site. Copies of Will Rueter's Books Are My Utopia are being shipped out this month. While getting those out of her studio, Claudia is simultaneously binding a special Lovecraft project for HM, something that ties up a few loose ends that have been hanging around the studio. 

HM's usual booksellers are all in limbo until the economy gets back to something like normal, so these books will be available for purchase directly from HM (with a 10% discount to the issue price for orders received in May, 2020).

Be well, stay 2 meters apart, support your favorite booksellers.


Nothing Else to Do But Print...

Last month's post turned out to be a little optimistic, in terms of how quickly the production wheels would start to turn. Sharing HM's publishing plans for 2020 would be based on the assumption that six months from now, there will be people (as there have been in the past) sufficiently interested & liquid to order the new books. Obviously everything in our near- and medium-future has changed, and in ways we don't even know. But since we don't know, and there's really nothing else to be done right now, I am going to continue with work as planned. Unlike 99% of people, my working life and routine have not been affected. For the next three months, that means printing Francesco Griffo da Bologna - Fragments & Glimpses.

It will be HM's longest book ever, 114 pages; 14 sections, 28 folios printed two up, 56 sides, each taking a day. I keep trying to do the math differently, hoping to come up with a small number for how long the printing will take, but it always comes back around three months. Self-isolation actually may help me make up for some lost time: my original plan had been two print Monday/Tuesday and Thursday/Friday (i.e. it takes two days to print both sides of a sheet, so two folios per week), but since every day is the same now, I'm just working two on, one off. Today (Wednesday 1 April, no fooling) is off.

I have drafted several iterations of the colophon in recent months, but will not actually set it until the rest of the book has been printed. My plan had been to issue the book's 58 numbered copies in three states: a few in a special binding, available only by advance subscription; 15 bound by Claudia in limp vellum; and the balance cased in decorated paper over boards. There would be some additional ephemeral material included in the first two states. I hadn't finalized issue prices when the crisis hit, but basically it was looking like the pricing ratios between the three states (in reverse order) would be x, 2x and >3x.

That was all fine a month ago, but I realize none of us are in a position to be making financial commitments like this for six months hence. I've already spent a year full-time on Griffo, plus prep work in the previous years; purchased all the materials (including the collection of Aldine leaves); and I'm locked in the house anyway, so I am simply going to proceed with printing the book as planned. When that work is done, hopefully before the end of June, we will see where things are at in the world, and I'll decide how to proceed with the binding(s). And so, printing Fragments & Glimpses is now underway. I started by doing a test sheet, two pairs of non-contiguous pages, just to set the color and get a feel for things. That was a good idea because I got overly complicated with the platen balance and makeready. The printing ended up looking like shite. So I put everything back to zero and proceeded, with much better results.

Meanwhile, I have just made an exciting addition to the Aldine reference library, which I hope will have arrived in time to share in next month's post...Steve Heaver's Hill Press has issued its first new book in several years, and I likewise look forward to sharing some images & details when my copy gets this far west and north...An odd (not catalogued anywhere) Lovecraft pamphlet has landed on my desk; I'll tell you what I'm able to find out about it later in the spring...Claudia & Barbara are working on their next book (which I have signed on to print - late fall 2020?), and it is going to be amazing, on par with The WunderCabinet...

Be well.