Adagio's C-S , The Master Craftsman

I had a couple of days between projects last month so I attended to a few binding projects. I’d recently acquired a copy of Leonard Bahr’s C-S, The Master Craftsman (Adagio Press 1969) in sheets. I’d seen the book over the years but never felt the beed to own a copy. The copy in sheets was cheap, plus it included several proof and trial-setting sheets, including a completely different title page, which are always of interest to a printer. 

The two Doves leaves required were lacking, but there are enough Doves leaves kicking around HM from the Pollard project Ideal Book projects to easily fix that shortcoming. 

One of the two sheets included in the edition was from the Bible. I still have some of those and chose a bifolium (half a printed sheet; the Bible was printed four up) that showed some of the foxing for which Vol. 1 is infamous.  For the second I acquired a leaf from Paradise Regain
d from the excellent Kelmscott Bookshop.

It’s not an uncommon book, copies can be found. It seems to have been bankrolled by the bibliophile Norman Strouse, who provided the leaves and a brief essay about Cobden-Sanderson’s career. There’s nothing new in his essay but it’s engaging enough, and includes a paragraph on
the purpose and value of leaf books, for the boneheads who need it explained. John Dreyfus contributed a more penetrating essay, about the partnership between C-S and Emery Walker, with some speculation  – based on previously unpublished legal documents – on why it disintegrated and C-S later dumped all the Doves type and matrices in the Thames. It paints a sympathetic but not apologetic portrait of C-S. 

This was Bahr’s most ambitious project. The Adagio Press was a private endeavor, a break from the duller jobbing work that paid his bills. (See Will Rueter’s Pressing Matters for more about Bahr and Adagio.)

It’s all the more ambitious when one reads, in his colophon, that whatever he was printing with could only manage a single page at a time, which means each bilofium sheet had to go thru the press four times just for the black, and most sheets have one, sometimes two additional colors! He explains that printing each sheet took so long that dampening the handmade Tovil paper, although preferable, was impossible. At least he acknowledges this shortcoming, and his results were acceptable enough. 

One of the things I didn’t like about the book as issued was the inclusion of a sheet with a photo of C-S and Walker tipped on. (C-S always looks like an insufferable ponce.) This sheet was simply laid into the book. I suspect it might have been an afterthought. I really don’t like books with items laid in (unless there
s a box, and even then...), so I mounted the sheet in my copy opposite the title page. 

There were 10 copies  “retree” copies bound up at some time by Campbell-Logan. My copy includes the little slip inserted identifying these as such, so I guess my copy was part of that exercise (i.e. an extra set beyond the 10). I annotated it so as not to defame Campbell-Logan.


Before I got to the binding, I printed the seven sheets that make up the text for Byzantium’s upcoming book about marbling on different papers. For the title page Barbara marbled the sheet, leaving a blank area for the text. She used acrylics so I was able to dampen the sheets for printing (as I did with all the others) without everything running. Each copy will include original marbled samples on at least 51 different papers, grouped by type (handmade, mouldmade, machine-made) and source (Western or Eastern). I believe the edition of 17 copies, uniformly bound by Claudia, will be ready for issue in the fall. 

This month I start printing the next HM book, which also should be ready for publication in the fall. 

Last months Agrippa symposium in London has sparked some requests for copies of HMs About Agrippa. The edition was exhausted some years ago, but Im considering a second printing. If interested send an email please (address at right somewhere).

Next month Ive lined up another guest, Will Rueter, who will share some details and images about what will be The Aliquando Press final book, and an updated bibliography. 



Agrippa (A Book of the Dead) Lives!


A two-day symposium (actual & virtual) about the infamous disappearing Agrippa: A Book of the Dead will be held this month in London. The event addresses some of the many conceptual questions the project sparked, or at least brought into sharp relief: what is a book? What is a book in the digital age? 

The text of Agrippa, published in 1992, was a long free-verse poem by cyberpunk author William Gibson. It was to have been issued in two versions, both limited in number, presenting the same concept: a physical book whose printed text was essentially gibberish, with accompanying etchings by David Ashbaugh. Gibson’s poem was included on a 3.5 computer disc that would auto-encrypt itself after being read once. Similarly, the prints were supposed to have been photo-sensitive, so just opening the book would initiate a change the art. So, Agrippa would present a “reader” with a conundrum: opening the book would change its printed pages irrevocably. Booting the disc to see if Gibson’s text could be read would result in permanently encrypting the text (if it hadn’t already been).  

The symposium is being organized by a PhD candidate, Justine Provino, and most of the participants are scholars who have thought & written deeply about the broad questions Agrippa posed. I’ve been included  because (I think) I’m one of few people interested strictly in the physical aspects of its production, i.e. the most traditional and perhaps mundane aspects. But these mundane aspects posed a number of technical problems to the publisher, and I’m fascinated by the stories about the making of a book, particularly when things go wrong. (See here for a long post about Agrippa and an account of its production I wrote in 2015). 

How much of what was promised in Agrippa’s prospectus ended up happening was long a matter of debate, and answering some of these questions was the focus of my monograph. They couldn’t get the photo-sensitive concept to work, but someone came up with a clever alternative that achieved much the same result. I’ve never been clear on whether the self-encrypting program worked; the copies of Agrippa I’ve seen were issued without a disc. The whole endeavor became somewhat shambolic in the end, but its ambition and provocation inspired many broader discussions (and graduate degrees). 

wouldn’t be classified as fine press by the people who made it or people for whom that phrase means something specific: the production was not the finest. It’s more firmly in the artist’s book realm. Copies rarely come to market. When I wrote my monograph, I found two listed in recent years. One sold on Abebooks for about $5,000, from a bookseller who had it on commission and didn’t really know what it was. The other sold in a modern art auction, for a paltry $800, once again showing that books aren’t really considered art by the market.

If you’re interested in discussions around artists books, what constitutes a book, what is the role of physical books in the 21st century etc etc, this free symposium might be worth dialing in. 

ll print Barbara Hodgson’s Marbling Paper: Experiments to Show That Paper Really Does Matter this month. That’s the title page above: she’ll marble the sheet, then I'll print the text in the white areas. We’ll see how that goes...


HM, World Celebrate 500th Anniversary

Welcome to the quincentenary post from the HM blog. I didn’t realize it was due until I noticed that last months guest post from Barbara Hodgson was #499. Her post enjoyed loadsatraffic, so Ill ask her back when the books issued. The guest blogger dodge worked well  – lots of views & no work for me – so I have a few more lined up for later in the year. 

Thats the binding for my copy of the Stockton book above. The spine is a strip of blue vellum thats been kicking around for years, the paper is a blotter from when I was painting the actual cover sheets & I just liked how it ended up looking, one side with an orange splotch and the other with a blue splotch. 

Thats a tray full of 14-pt Trajanus roman. When the great Will Rueter wound down his studio last year, he very kindly let me take over conservatorship of his entire Trajanus family, sizes 12 to 54, roman & italic. Its a beautiful face and not often encountered in press books. I have a plan for a get-to-know-you project with it; you never really know a type until youve set & printed it.

Thats some of the original material that will be included with copies of an upcoming book about Jim Rimmers Pie Tree Press & Type Foundry. Each copy will include an original, multi-color  linocut, initialed by Jim, from one of his books, plus a few additional items. That might be the next project in the press, or it could be Barbara Hs marbling book (see last month's post). Either way, both should be issued sometime in the fall. 

Cameron Treleaven, of Calgary
s Aquila Books, has been helping with the Rimmer project, and sent along the above keepsake with a collection of the ornament cards recently. The keepsake was printed by Brian Queen, on paper he made. The particularly interesting aspect of this sample is the laid screen on which the paper was cast was created using 3D printing technology, which allowed Brian to incorporate the watermark. I havent seen 3D being used to make screens like this before. Apparently papermaking is Brians avocation; I hope to connect with him for a future blog post. 

s a bunch of Reg Lissels HM Text, all vat-dyed for BHs Around the World in Colour book. She personally “imported” the pigments from Sennelier, in the 7th arrondissment of Paris. Each jar glass jar weighed almost a kilo, and she bought six and then had to get them home without any colorful disasters in an airport. Well be including samples in the book about Regs adventures in papermaking, which – after years of attempts – is finally coalescing. I once saw a copy of it in 2024, so maybe itll be there when we pass through. 

I had cause to be rooting through my Doves shelf this past week, and rediscovered these two slips of tissue with what looks like a trial setting/proof of Cobden-Sanderson
s Credo. I found them in a booksellers ephemera bin, years ago. No idea who was responsible or if the text ever got properly printed. Will R. thought the type looks like Zapfs Aldus. Could be – the & looks particularly right – but the e leaves me wondering...


Byzantine Marbling in Miniature

I recently realized that inviting other people to write this blog would make my life a lot easier. The first installment of this exciting new strategy goes to Barbara Hodgson, long-time HM collaborator and now master of her own imprint, Byzantium. Her debut publication, Paper Botanists, was issued last year, continuing her long partnership with binder Claudia Cohen. They currently are at work on another major work, but during the interim will be issuing a book collecting Barbara’s recent experiments marbling in miniature...

In 1853, English marbler and author of The Whole Art of Marbling, Charles Woolnough, wrote of marbling as a kind of “dark” art. The process was kept so secret that apprentices were taught only one style, in order to keep them from opening up their own workshops. (The image above is French, or Shell, marble pattern, fig. 28a from his book.)  Woolnough declared that manuals published in the years before his own were so “utterly ridiculous” they must be “treat[ed] with contempt.” After the first edition of his book appeared, Woolnough was lambasted by master marblers, convinced that his clear instructions would bankrupt them.
Marbling is no longer held to be such an alchemical wonder. Esoteric ingredients such as ox gall—a product produced in the bladder of animals, which is bought from butchers and which is “none the worse for stinking,” as Woolnough claimed—has been replaced with commercial wetting agents to aid dispersal of the colours. Grinding colours is now a job only for purists, as modern prepared paints are as fine as any marbler could ask for. Collecting Scotch or Iceland moss and boiling and straining it to make the mucilaginous carrageenan for the marbling bath needs only a trip to an art store where it is found in powder form.
As a decorative book art, marbled papers are reserved for occasional use in limited edition publications; as a craft, they are found as wrapping for boxes and frames. But marbling continues to fascinate, partly because each piece produced is unique, and partly because of its inherent unpredictability. 
The following three images show a 5-1/2 x 3-1/2 inch marbling bath in three stages of preparation, with Prussian blue, burnt sienna, raw sienna, quinacridone red, chrome green and titanium white combined and drawn through. The fourth image shows the result on St Armand Old Master’s drawing paper.

It is the element of surprise that drew me to the idea of marbling a series of miniature samples on different papers (the image at top of this post shows a piece of Reg Lissel’s gampi, before & after marbling). I had already experimented with ebru, Turkish marbling, and suminagashi, Japanese marbling with ink, after finishing my part of Decorating Paper, a collaboration with Claudia Cohen, in 2014. Following a kind of tradition that began with a three-copy miniature version of our book, The Temperamental Rose, and continued with the more ambitious eight-copy mini WunderCabinet, it seemed fitting to make the suminagashi experiments in miniature form. The resulting book, in an edition of 12 copies, measured just 2-1/4 x 2-7/8 inches.

I planned to make Marbling: Paper & Colour, as it is tentatively titled, to be a same-sized companion to Suminagashi, with some 20 samples on a variety of papers, some single page; others double width for spreads or foldouts. The text would be a (very) brief description of the papers and colours used. This plan remained firmly in place until I made a mockup, at which time the idea fell apart. At the miniature size, the pages—which range from 1920s Airmail flimsies to Hahnemühle Ingres—are awkward to turn, the foldouts difficult to fold out and impossible to fold back in. 

Now Marbling has been resized to 7 x 9 inches, with two to four safely anchored samples per page. Multiple examples of some 25 to 30 different paper types will be included in each copy. There will be a short foreword and descriptions of the papers and colours, with all text to be printed at Heavenly Monkey. The edition will be a maximum of 20 copies, probably fewer, all uniformly bound in leather by Claudia Cohen. Publication is planned for late 2023.


A Lady, a Tiger, a Sword: What To Do?

Copies of what I’m calling the Stockton book will ship out this month. It includes two linked short stories, ‘The Lady, or the Tiger?’ and ‘The Discourager of Hesitancy’ by Frank L. Stockton. Although the latter story was ostensibly written as a sequel, they can be read in either order and the book is designed to encourage that choice: it has two fronts and no back. Like those paperback Ace doubles from the 1960s (the proper term is tête-bêche, not to be confused with dos-a-dos, an ungainly structure that has two spines). But in this case each story leads to the other, like a kind of ouroboros.
I was introduced to the stories in the mid-’80s by a recording (vinyl) with Toyah reading the text while Robert Fripp (her spouse; they were having fun together long before the covid kitchen sessions) noodled away in the backgroud. Unfortunately the flip side, with ‘The Discourager,’ was less aurally interesting, but the stories lodged in me somewhere. Here’s a link to the recording, but the stories are more fun to read first. 

The stories were published in The Century Magazine in the 1880s, and the first one’s unresolved ending made Stockton famous. Like Doyle killing off Holmes, however, he was constantly pestered by readers wanting to know “what happened?” Eventually he provided a sort-of answer with ‘The Discourager,’ and people realized he wasn’t going to give the kind of answer they wanted.
These two stories were the high points of Stockton’s writing career: they remained widely known and anthologized well into the first half of the 20th century. I was surprised to discover while working on this project that the author and these two stories are now barely known among American librarians, booksellers or readers.
When I started making books, I had the idea of printing the stories as two separate pieces that meet in a middle. I also had the idea for frontispieces that echoed this invertible presentation, like playing cards.
Over the years I approached one or two artists but the stories didn’t grab them, and the project remained at the bottom of the pile. I pulled it out again a few years ago and started poking around with the idea of maybe using early playing cards as the illustrations. That led me on a distracting but fun tour through the history of playing cards. I didn’t surface with any art I could pilfer, but I did have some examples that caught the spirit I was after. One of them in particular reminded me of someone, and after much head pounding, I realized it was Walter Bachinski.   
In June of 1997 I attended the first week-long letterpress intensive offered by Jan & Crispin Elsted, at their Barbarian Press. Janis Butler was one of the three other students. She and her partner Walter had come out from Ontario, and while she learned the basics of letterpress, Walter, a professional artist and teacher, roamed the area with a sketch pad. During that week he made a linocut, possibly his first, and the Elsteds pulled a proof. It was very cool.

Janis and Walter went home & began publishing books under the imprint Shanty Bay Press, which from the start enjoyed wide acclaim, particularly for Walter’s vibrant pochoir and relief prints. (Janis does the setting, printing & binding.) We weren’t really in touch during the intervening years, but it was always good to see them when our paths crossed.
So when out of the blue I sent Walter a note, with the stories attached and an outline of my concept, I tempered any hope that he might want to get involved – he doesn’t need HM if he wants to do a book project. But the stories did resonate, and better still, so did my idea for their presentation.

Initially the plan was for him to create and print just the two frontispieces, but as I got into the design I wanted to incorporate more Walter (and thus more color) to the text, and asked if he could do some simple drawings that I could play with. Again he happily (and promptly) agreed, sending 12 pieces that played with elements in the frontispieces. By coincidence the drawings could be ordered to reflect aspects of the stories ­– not illustrations but perhaps evocations?


Heres a brief description from Walter about the process for editioning pochoirs (printing isnt quite the right word) & an image of him at work:
“I have worked out a master drawing before I begin any pochoir. When I lay out the image on the page I first establish the rectangle with a light pencil outline. I then trace on mylar the different colours that make up the image. In this case there is a stencil cut for each colour. I print the colours using acrylic ink (Heavy Body Golden Acrylic Paint). The key block for each of your  frontispieces was a type high maple block that I cut out to establish the black border. I printed that at the end with an oil based relief ink.

“I use a variety of stencil brushes and it is a dabbing motion of strokes. Even though the areas are flat they are subtle irregularities  that reflect the brushstrokes. This makes it different from the  mechanical flatness of a silkscreen surface.

“Pochoir appeals to me because there are no limitations as to what you can do with the image. In my books the pochoirs have areas of flatness, areas of blending colour into colour, wash effects and much freehand drawing.  I prefer pochoir to lino for an image with multiple colours because I can control the overall effect of the image much better and in finer detail.”

I’ve wanted to use Weiss in a project for years but the right one hadn’t come along until now. It’s legible and has the kind of strong body I like to print, but it’s also just unusual enough to limit its use. The text was printed damp, on handmade Barcham Green Canterbury paper. The frontispiece pochoirs were done by the artist on Arches wove. The edition is 30 press-numbered copies (+ six hors commerce I – VI), all signed by the artist on a colophon found in the middle of the book
(6 x 9 inches, 15 leaves).

The edition was uniformly sewn and cased in quarter cloth, the boards covered in a sheet painted black. One side has a pattern printed in black, the other has two paper inlays. (The size & placement of the inlays will be consistent, but there will be a few variations of the inlays themselves, just for fun.) The slipcase is the same painted paper. To emphasize the where’s the front? design, only the slipcase has a spine label. (NOTE: when a book has a slipcase, shelve it with the book’s spine in, to prevent fading.)
Simple as the binding may seem, it’s taking me ages to get it done. Lots of fiddly bits. But this month...
p.s. Walter & Janis have recently finished a new Shanty Bay Press publication, My Landscape; see here for details.
Pradeep Sebastian, author of the bibliomystery The Book Hunters of Katpadi, has a new book out. The Book Beautiful (Hachette 2023) recounts some of his adventures with fine press & rare book collecting. More on that to come... 


Will, Might & Could Happen 2023


Not only is it the first of a month again, it’s the start of another year. Come back in December to see how much of the following happened...

Will Happen: In about a month HM will issue two short stories by Frank L. Stockton, each featuring an original color frontispiece by Walter Bachinski, plus illustrations by him throughout the text. Image above intentionally vague; I’ll post picture of a bound copy next month. 

Will Happen
: I’ve been invited to participate (virtually) in a panel discussion about Agrippa: A Book of the Dead, part of a two-day conference about the book/project/concept/thing being organized by a Cambridge PhD student in May. Four scholars and me; think I’ll mostly keep my mouth shut. I believe it’s being streamed, details to follow. 

Will Probably Happen:
Shortly after Jim Rimmer’s death, in 2010, I purchased a small collection of color linocuts from two of his publications, all initialed by Jim. I also acquired multiple copies from a set of 13 cards displaying the various rules and fleurons he could cast on order (date of issue unclear, possibly early 1980s). I’ve spent the years since pondering what to do with it all and have settled on a plan: a short book (about 24 pages) reprinting an article about Jim and his metal types by Will Rueter originally published in DA in 2003, plus a checklist of the books (only) issued by Jim’s Pie Tree Press, and samples of his metal and digital type designs. Each copy will include one of the initialed linocuts and several of the cards. 

Could Happen: I want to publish a short history on the above topic but need to find a German translator & it’s been proving difficult...

Might Happen (but probably not in ’23): I’m working on a chronological history of recorded (written or printed) references to printing with moveable type up to 1550. There’s a lot of Latin to cope with. 

The device at the top was used by the Wesleyan Art Laboratory in the 1940s. Students issued some interesting works on printing history & techniques. 

Happy 2023, let’s all try to do better.