Augustine Mathewes, Printer (& Rascal)

This month’s post reprints a short preliminary chapter from HM’s recent publication, Labour Vertue Glorie. It’s a biographical sketch of Augustine Mathewes - aka Mathews, Matthews, & A.M. - the man who printed George Wither's A Collection of Emblemes (1635). I won’t be posting any other chapters, and have selected this one simply because it should be of general appeal to anyone interested in printing. Mathewes' printing in A Collection is not an example of the best work being done at the time, not even for England. It’s workmanlike. But the amount of setting and printing involved, with the conditions and equipment of the day (how did anyone see anything?), and his productivity make me feel feeble & lazy. But my printing is better.

The device included on the title page of Labour Vertue Glorie was adapted/appropriated from Mathewes’ own, as it appears on the title pages in A Collection’s four books (i.e. parts). The references included here have been renumbered from what they are in the book, just for simplicity.

AUGUSTINE MATHEWES took his freedom as a Stationer in 1615. The first book he entered to the Register, in 1619, was Thomas Decker’s O per se O, or the belman of London. By 1620 he was working in partnership with John White, who had inherited the printing house of his father, William. In 1624 Mathewes assumed control (“farmes his printing house of John White”) in exchange for an annuity.[1] Mathewes’ name made regular appearances in the Register for the next two decades, sometimes for printing unlicensed works (not an entirely unusual occurrence at the time).


Notable books that Mathewes printed include Lady Mary Wroath’s The Countesse of Mountgomeries Urania (1621), which featured a frontis engraved by Crispin de Passe’s son, Simon, and is considered the first published prose romance written by an English woman; an edition of The Troublesome Raigne of John, King of England (1622) with a title page that mis-attributes it to William Shakespeare; and the second quarto of Othello (1630). Mathewes also published two editions of William Haughton’s comedic play Englishmen for My Money, one in 1626 for John Norton (whose name appears as printer on the title page), and the second in 1631 for himself.[2] The original license lay with William White, and must have come to Mathewes when he assumed the business (and its licenses) from son John.

William White had printed George Wither’s fourth book, The Shepherds Hunting, in 1615; it may have been through his association with White that Wither met Mathewes. The printer’s first recorded work with Wither was in 1622, when he printed Cantica Sacra, the publication that prefaced Wither’s protracted patent dispute with the Stationers’ Company.


Things seem to have started going badly for Mathewes in 1636. In the Registers of the Stationers’ Company is a record of Sir John Lambe, who was then investigating London’s printing industry, referring to Mathewes as a “pauper,” followed by the ambiguous statement “(let them agree who shall be, they have now 3: presses:).” The same record states that Marmaduke Parsons “hath kept matthews printing house.”[3]

In 1637 a Star Chamber decree tightening controls on access to presses and printing of all kinds was passed, in part a response to Puritans’ challenges to the Church of England. One of the most notorious Puritan pamphlets inciting the decree was The Holy Table, written and published anonymously by John Williams, bishop of Lincoln. “Williams in essence challenged the policy of calling the holy table an altar and of insisting that parish communion tables must be placed altarwise, at the end of chancels…The revised Short-Title Catalogue lists seven separate editions of this work, all dated 1637, but none of them provide information about stationers in the imprint.”[4] One of the stationers was Mathewes, who was caught printing the tract.

A record in the Stationers’ Register dated July of that year includes a letter written by John Lambe, the Dean of the Arches, addressed to himself. He states that “the forbidden book which must forever be associated with this Decree was The Holy Table,” and lists those “worthy to be authorized printers under the increasing durance to which the Press was now to be subjected.” The letter includes a brief statement about Mathewes: “he was taken reprinting of ye Holy Table. Marmaduke Parsons hath long had his presse and priu[v]ledg[e] made over to him and is most fitt to be in his Roome.”[5] Mathewes was out and Parsons was in. 


States Papers Domestic for July, 1637 includes two entries mentioning Mathewes. The first summarizes Lambe’s letter of printers “worthy to be authorized.” The second summarizes Mathewes’ plea for clemency to the commissioners overseeing the printers of London, for his transgression with The Holy Table: “Understanding he has committed a great error, he prays the commissioners to be a means with Archbishop Laud that he may be admitted as a master printer.”[6]

His plea was unsuccessful, and Mathewes seems to have been made an example for the new decree: his name disappears from the Stationers’ Register for the next fifteen years. In 1653 he entered a copy of William Johnson’s book Vocabula Chimica, then oblivion.

1. Arber, E., ed. A Transcript of the Registers of the Company of Stationers of London, 1554-1640 A.D. vol 3. Privately printed, 1876. 700
2. Baugh, A. C. Introduction to Wm. Haughton’s Englishmen For My Money, or A Woman Will Have Her Will. Privately printed, 1917. 92
3. Arber. Registers of the Company of Stationers, vol 3. 704
4. Towers, S. M. Control of Religious Printing in Early Stuart England. Boydell Press, 2003. 241
5. Arber. Registers of the Company of Stationers, vol. 4. 1877. 528
6. Bruce, J., ed. Calendar of State Papers, Domestic Series, of the Reign of Charles I, 1637. Longmans, Green, Reader, & Dyer, 1868. 344 

Here's a P.S. found after publication of LVG...


Got No News, Here Are Some Pictures of Books

Labour Vertue Glorie has enjoyed some attention & kind words over the past month, but enough coasting, time to start the next one. I'll have more complete details by next month, but for now here is what I can commit to:

That's a quarto sheet from The Golden Legend (Kelmscott Press, 1892). The sheet measures approx. 16 x 22.5 inches, which folds down to a page approximately 8 x 11 inches.

That's a quarto sheet from the English Bible, vol. I (Doves Press, 1902). The sheet measures approx. 18.25 x 26.5 inches, which folds down to a page approx. 9 x 13 inches.

In both sheets, if you look hard & imagine, you can see the two registration-pin holes along the vertical fold (i.e. separating the opposing heads to create the top margin), roughly aligned with the outer edges of the text blocks. That's how you print with a handpress and ensure consistent registration (especially with dampened paper).

HM's next book is tentatively titled simply The Kelmscott & Doves Presses, and will reprint an article on those topics by Alfred Pollard (see above), accompanied by a leaf from the Kelmscott Golden Legend and the Doves English Bible. It will be a large book (10 x 15 inches, printed in folios), to accommodate the Bible leaf. The paper will be Arches, printed damp. Unless we scrap everything & start all over, the text will be set in Centaur, with a calligraphic title page, opening, and initial letters throughout. The calligraphy will be done by Martin Jackson, and we're currently at work finalizing how it will look and integrate with the typeset material.

HM has previously recruited Martin for a few small projects - most notably The Mouse & The Lizard and the special copies of El Autotubus Azul (2nd ed.) - and I've been wanting to undertake a proper collaboration with him for years, one that fully incorporates and displays his talents, and this will be the project.

The edition will be 50 copies, plus five HC. The book is scheduled to be printed in September and October. Each sheet will have a second color on both sides, which means three consecutive days of printing per sheet. Because the sheets will be bigger than my preferred maximum size  to date (13 x 18 inches, the size of Reg Lissel's foolscap sheets), I must acquire a complete new set of boards for damping and drying, and at least one more book press large enough to accommodate them. A few copies might leak out in time for Christmas, but I'll put 2019 on the title page.

Pollard's essay is primarily typographic in focus, and he had (and admits to) a preference for the Kelmscott books and types. Nash's original printing doesn't rank with his best work - Pollard's essay is set in italic Caslon (the dreaded Caslon...), sometimes in lines with almost no word spacing - but whaddaya want for a catalogue. It's an excellent bibliographic reference for the two presses. I found my copy with the kind help & indulgence of Carol Sandburg and Michael R. Thompson.

I don't have anything else interesting to report or axes to grind, so I'll pad the rest of this month's post with images of things from the HM shelves that might be of interest...

When I acquired the Golden Legend leaves, a few years ago, I knew I'd be stumped for how to use them, given that Neil Shaver had already done an excellent & beautifully-produced leaf book on the subject (printed damp on Batchelor & Son laid paper c.1940; Neil was the last printer in North America I can think of who regularly dampened his paper for printing). Why there are so many loose leaves from the Golden Legend floating around I don't know. The fact that it's a three-volume tome probably has something to do with it. But I was even more potentially snookered than I'd realized: I'd forgotten that, tucked beside my copy of Neil's book, was a pamphlet printed by Grabhorn-Hoyem for a Roxburghe dinner in 1966, with a Golden Legend leaf! It also reprints an extract from Chapter Six of Thorstein Veblen's 1899 essay "The Theory of the Leisure Class" in which he expresses a dim view, from economic and sociological perspectives, of the kind of books Morris produced. The pamphlet consists of four sheets (16 pp) of English handmade wove paper. Beautiful initial letter (engraved, I'm guessing). Edition of 116 copies, self-wraps, quarto, 16 pp.

I plan on publishing an illustrated, expanded & larger-format second edition of my Francesco Griffo bibliography-in-quotations, possibly as soon as next year. I've started poking around for sources I couldn't get or didn't know about when I did the first edition. This is one little item that's cropped up (& is one of the sources responsible for Griffo's work being credited to the wrong person for some time).

Found this on the shelves of Serendipity Books during one of Peter Howard's famous pre-ILAB fair pig roasts, the year of the first Codex fair (2007?). Lazy pressman was being a bit cavalier when putting the paper in the press, but a cool book nonetheless. I love even the most commercial of French printing right up to the mid-20th century, and I miss Peter & Serendipity.

Let's end with a bouquet, Printer's Flowers - Whimsicalities from The Windsor Press (1933, 150 copies). Quite small (24mo?), charming patterned paper over boards, a lively typographic frolic. Exactly the kind of book I don't have the talent, mind or patience to create.


Labour Vertue Glorie

This month's post is a few days late but with good reason: we've been shipping out the Series 1 and Series 2 copies of Labour Vertue Glorie. Then I was taking photos of Claudia Cohen's beautiful bindings, which I saw for myself the first time (in person) just this week. All of these copies were subscribed before publication, with most of them going to HM's established booksellers. So, we don't have any copies, but there should still be some available from the booksellers (links at right).

The Series 1 and 2 copies were bound in quarter vellum, with Karli Frigge's marbled papers over boards. The books were sewn on five vellum slips, which were then laced through the joints.Claudia relinquished the last of her stock of Karli's beautiful papers, so every copy is unique in the edition (four of them shown below).

By advance order, Series 1 copies could be extra-bound, although we hadn't settled on a clear plan for what the binding would be when we took the orders. I wanted something that included some of the elements of the quarter-bound copies, and we settled on a three-piece structure with a vellum spine and boards covered in black leather, tooled in gilt and blind. These copies (of which there were seven, numbers 1 - 7) included a second Wither emblem leaf, opposite the colophon.

The Series 1 copies also included a leaf from the preliminaries of Wither's emblem book, as a frontis. The image above is my own copy, so naturally I got the coolest leaf, the portrait of Wither by John Payne.

The Series 1 copies were distinguished by matching the two Crispin Van de Passe engravings on the Wither leaf, with the same plates from the Rollenhagen book (for which the engravings were originally commissioned). This allows for comparison of the two images printed at different times, in different places, on different papers, and presented in very different ways.

Again, being the printer, I had the pick of the litter, so my copy includes a conjugate leaf from Rollenhagen, with the duplicate image having been printed upside down!

So the long-promised Wither leaf book is finally & fully finished. We're into the fiddly details of the Kelmscott/Doves leaf book, which is going to be alarmingly large to accommodate the Bible leaf. More to follow...


A Stack of Books

Down to the last strokes of finishing off Labour Vertue Glorie. Just have to attach the spinners to the volvelles in these copies (has to be done after casing-in & pressing or the spinners will deboss the facing sheet, even with the spacer leaf). It's fiddly work but mostly mindless: I can let my mind ponder elements of the upcoming Kelmscott/Doves leaf book....


Gutenberg's Children (Good & Bad)


Random notes of a bookish nature…

I’m currently reading Alix Christie’s 2014 novel, Gutenberg’s Apprentice. Just like lawyers can’t read most legal novels and cops can’t read cop novels, because they almost always ring false, my initial reaction to books about printing & etc. is extreme skepticism. So far Christie’s novel – which revolves around Gutenberg’s relationship with Johann Fust and his adopted son Peter Schoeffer – is entertaining & seems well researched, which isn’t surprising given her background in printing: she apprenticed at the Yolla Bolly Press, which produced some beautiful books in the 1980s and '90s. Christie still owns a Chandler & Price, although she now lives in London & it’s on loan to someone in San Francisco. Her publisher created a good Web site for the book, with some historical and technical background for readers who want to know more. Apparently the novel's English publisher issued a handful of a special "large paper" copies with an original leaf from the 42-line Bible tipped in, but I haven't been able to find any listings or info.*

Christie’s book sits on a shelf at home beside another Gutenberg novel, Blake Morrison’s The Justification of Johann Gutenberg (2000). Christie’s Gutenberg is a less immediately sympathetic character than Morrison’s, if I remember his book accurately. Both are enjoyable historical yarns.

I recently encountered a non-fiction book about letterpress and the associated crafts, which I will not name. It was so wretched that I couldn’t just toss it aside, I actually had to skim the entire thing to see if the banality & ignorance were sustained to the end. (They were.) It’s an example of a book that exactly does not understand the world of historical or contemporary letterpress. The narrative is built around the author’s collaboration with a local letterpress printer whose quirky personality is reflected in his publications. It is yet another case of someone stumbling on to an enthusiastic but not very skilled hobby printer; thinking they’ve discovered a forgotten world full of esoteric histories and occult practises; and deciding they’re the person to tell everyone about it. For readers with absolutely no knowledge of the history of printing or publishing, the book might be an entertainingly vicarious excursion, but there are many better choices if that’s an excursion you want to make. Readers already interested in the topics will find its naiveté and shallowness depressing – is this really what the traditional crafts associated with printing have come to, light fare for an unremarkable meditation on print culture? This book – probably like the one chronicled in its text – did not need to be published.

Bad letterpress printing (ahem you above) irks me, especially when the person doing it also presents her/himself as a representative for the medium. This is why I have only ever considered myself someone who knows what good letterpress should be, rather than someone capable of achieving it, much less teaching others. I’m all for introducing people to letterpress and fine-press publishing, but let’s lead with our best efforts so those people will also develop an appreciation for quality, in materials and execution. Just smashing type into paper only diminishes the work of people dedicated to mastering – and sustaining – the vocations and techniques that combine to produce a book.

Let’s end on a cheerier note: Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s The Ninth Gate was a fun read involving slippery antiquarian booksellers & clever forging of early printed books. Try the book but ignore the film…


The next book is underway & might even appear before the end of the year. It’s another leaf book: an essay by Alfred Pollard about the Kelmscott & Doves presses, accompanied by a leaf from The Golden Legend and the Doves Bible (!). I have enough leaves to issue a total of 55 copies. Details to follow…

* for details see date of this post...


A New Leaf Book from HM

Time for an update on Labour Vertue Glorie: that’s the trial binding for the 25 copies (Series 3, numbers 24—48 from the edition of 48) being cased at HM. It’s similar in appearance (but not execution, alas) to the quarter-vellum copies being bound by Claudia Cohen. She’s progressed farther with her work, but we’ll both be wrapping things up over the month of March, and copies will be shipping in April.

To recap the project, George Wither’s A Collection of Emblemes Ancient & Moderne shares the milestone for first emblem book printed in England with his contemporary Francis Quarles. Wither’s book, however, is distinguished by, among other features, its more lavish format and the quality of its copper-plate engravings, the same plates commissioned from Crispin van de Passe for Rollenhagen’s Nucleus Emblematum Selectissimorum.  

L-V-G presents leaves from both books, side by side, illustrating the technical, physical, and conceptual similarities and differences. Although the history and elements of emblems pre-date the Renaissance, the most commonly recognized form — an image, a motto, and an epigram, which combined make the emblem — appeared in Andrea Alciato’s Emblematum Liber (1531). The form flourished through the 16th century, but was already considered somewhat old-fashioned by the time Wither and Quarles wrote their books. Enough time had passed by the late 19th century for emblems to be rediscovered, and they have since become a field of lively academic study.

The focus of L-V-G (the title is taken from Wither, Book 1, emblem V), however, is not the content or interpretations of the two authors’ emblems, but the production and form of the books from which these sample leaves come. To that end, the book reprints three of Wither’s prefatory notes from A Collection: one about William Marshall’s engraved frontispiece (a reproduction of which is included), one about the “game of lots” included in the book, and “To The Reader” in which he discusses at length the book’s intent and creation. Each of these is appended with comments from a variety of sources, discussing and sometimes disputing the author’s words. L-V-G’s own prefatory material includes brief biographies of Rollenhagen and Wither; some bibliographic details about the two books; a history of Augustine Mathewes, the printer of A Collection; and the story of Wither’s protracted patent dispute with the Stationers’ Company, and how it relates to the publication of A Collection of Emblemes. Engraved portraits of both authors are reproduced, along with facsimile settings of an emblem (i.e. page) each from Alciato’s Emblematum Liber and Quarles’ Emblemes.

In addition to de Passe’s elegant engravings, Wither’s book was noteworthy for including a game at the back: two volvelles with spinners that would direct players to a specific emblem in the book for their personal consideration. Most existing copies of the book lack this final leaf with the volvelles. L-V-G will reproduce both, with working spinners, and the volvelle from an earlier work, by the Jesuit Jan David, which is thought to have been the model for Wither’s lotterie.

Like any leaf book, the format of L-V-G was determined by the size of the largest leaf. The text was set in Monotype Garamond (several sizes) on a page that measures slightly larger (8 x 12 inches) than Wither’s quarto. Like the books from which the leaves came, the type was inked and printed by hand, with a handpress, on dampened paper (Arches Text wove for the introductory material, Golden Hind laid for Wither’s commentaries). A number of decorative initial letters from A Collection were incorporated to the setting, along with various patterns made up from the single printer’s flower used in that book. In Series 1 and 2 copies, the initial letters (a total of nine per copy) have been illuminated with metallic bronze paint.

Aside from brief preliminary material, Rollenhagen’s book is entirely intaglio, printed rectos only. Wither’s book combines the intaglio plates with extensive letterpress on each page, and is printed on both sides; thus, one Wither leaf presents two emblems (recto and verso), while one Rollenhagen leaf presents one emblem (recto only). With these different formats in mind, L-V-G is being issued in three states:

SERIES 1: Copies 1—16 with leaves containing the same emblems from Rollenhagen and Wither (i.e. two Rollenhagen leaves bookending a Wither leaf, presenting the same plate from each book side by side, as shown above), to allow for comparing the state and printing of the same plates. Also included will be a text leaf, from the preliminary notes and dedications in Wither’s book, as a frontis. These copies will be bound by Claudia Cohen in quarter vellum with Karli Frigge marbled paper over boards.

(* By advance subscription, copies 1—7 are being extra-bound by Claudia, with a vellum spine and gilt- & blind-tooled black leather over boards. These copies also include a second leaf of emblems from Wither’s book, opposite the colophon.)

SERIES 2: Copies 17—23 with a leaf from Rollenhagen paired with the same plate on a Wither leaf (recto or verso, as the case may be). Bound in quarter vellum by Claudia Cohen with Karli Frigge marbled papers.

SERIES 3: Copies 24—48 with a leaf from both Rollenhagen and Wither (but no duplication of plates). Cased in decorated paper over boards at the HM studio.

I’ve been telling people the papers used for the Series 3 copies was recently discovered at an Old Montreal customs house, in a basement room that had been walled off & forgotten sometime before WW I. That's a bit fat porky pie, but a fun story. They actually were made up at the studio, with acrylic paints and a grid of butcher’s string glued to a sheet of plexi.

As usual, contact any of HM’s booksellers (listed at right) if you’re interested in acquiring a copy.  


Looks like next in the press will be another double leaf book, this one featuring the Kelmscott & Doves presses and an essay by Alfred Pollard. Like to have copies of that out by the end of the year; see how we go. And then - in 2019? — the long-promised expanded, illustrated second edition of Fragments & Glimpses


Potential Bibliomania Outbreak Threatens India

The author & journalist Pradeep Sebastian is based in his homeland of India, but has had several extended sojourns to the United States in recent years. It was during one of these visits, about three years ago, that he contracted what appears to be chronic bibliomania, specifically the strain privata torcular. India, as he’ll discuss in the Q&A below, does not really have a tradition of book collecting (much less bibliophilia), and the modern fine press movement never got a toe-hold. Being already bookishly inclined, he was primed for seduction by the materials, methods and aesthetics of private press books.

Pradeep used his new-found passion as the basis for his first novel, The Book Hunters of Katpadi. The book was published in hardcover in late 2017 by Hachette, but available in India only so far. The story centers around an antiquarian bookshop in Chennai (the capital of the Indian state Tamil Nadu), its owner Neela and her apprentice Kayal, and the discovery of an apocryphal manuscript by the English explorer Richard Burton (below). Events are populated with the kind of odd, colorful and scheming characters that anyone who’s spent time at book fairs or in shops will recognize (including the bookseller who tells you that, while everything in the shop is for sale, unfortunately the book you’re interested in isn’t, no matter which book it is; see here for an account of Pradeep's real-life encounter with one such wastrel).

Pradeep’s novel, like Neela, has an underlying activist agenda: to develop and promote a culture of book collecting in India. Pradeep’s strategy to achieve this in the novel is to liberally sprinkle bibliographic arcana & asides throughout the well-plotted and quickly paced book. (Mentions of HM in the novel brought it to my attention, but I wouldn’t be posting this interview with Pradeep if I hadn’t enjoyed the book. Plus, he just seems such an enthusiastic and joyful person, two adjectives – and possibly the noun too – that would never be used to describe HM.)

Pradeep is back in India at the moment, so we conducted this interview by email.

HM: Give us the short version of your life, particularly when, where & how books (or more specifically, book collecting) came into it. 

Pradeep Sebastian: I became a collector the day I happened on my first fine press book. I had no desire (or the financial resources) to be a collector, but the beauty and brilliance of press books compelled me to begin collecting them. It happened by chance. One day, using a university’s Interlibrary Loan service, I requested a copy of Joel Silver’s Dr. Rosenbach and Mr Lilly, and instead of sending me the trade edition, they sent me the letterpress Bird and Bull edition! I relished everything about it, and if I recall correctly, I held on to it as long as I could, using up my two renewals. I returned it reluctantly. I felt as if an exotic, strange and exciting creature had flown away from me. Could I get one for myself? No; even the lowest priced copy on the antiquarian market was beyond me. At that point the most expensive book I had bought couldn’t have been more than twenty dollars. I now have a copy of that B&B book, but the purchase would come only after nearly two years of dreaming about it.

HM: How did being in the U.S. change your collecting? Did your condition worsen? I know that the start of my collecting overlapped with a period of frequent travel to the U.S., and exposure to all the shops there (vs what we had in Canada) was too much to resist.

PS: It was the example and environment of collecting and dealing that exists in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. that fueled my collecting and bibliomania. It was here that I first encountered the world of the book arts: antiquarian bookshops and fairs, private press printers, rare book dealers and librarians, typographers, book artists, calligraphers, wood engravers, rare book schools and seminars, and several other practitioners of the arts of the book. I was really quite beside myself trying to take it all in. In India we don’t have such a lively, vibrant and ingrained tradition of the Book Arts. As a columnist in India for The Hindu’s Literary Review I had mainly focused on books about books. Time spent in the U.K. and U.S. exploring the rare book world has changed that focus to a column now on the book arts called ‘A Typophiles Notes.’ 

HM: One of the potential risks of writing anything that delves into a specific field of expertise, particularly one involving collecting, is getting some passing detail wrong. Your book deals with the antiquarian book trade, book collecting, one particular & long-established seam in book collecting, and fine & private-press printing. Presumably many of the potential readers of
Book Hunters will consider themselves knowledgeable, and ready to pounce at the first perceived mis-step. Did you find yourself having to consciously balance how much detail to include as the story progresses, i.e. did you find yourself having to pull back sometimes.

PS: I’m afraid I didn’t pull back at all. I wanted to introduce the Indian bibliophile to this world of antiquarian book culture that I had become so intoxicated with, and since it has myriad aspects or levels to it – wealthy collectors, scholar-book dealers, fine press printers, auction houses, and bibliophile societies – I tried to get them all in. So, it’s quite possible mis-steps and some details could be wrong because of this rather overwrought scheme I stuck with.

HM: One of the book’s protagonists is an Indian antiquarian bookseller who wants to promote and develop a culture and tradition of book collecting in her country. I suspect that might be a mission you share with her. What is the current state of book collecting and the antiquarian trade in India?

PS: Yes, yes, I do share that mission with her! Presently, there is a growing interest in rare books among Indian readers and booksellers. There are even a couple of book auction houses. While we do have serious collectors, there is frustratingly no established antiquarian trade or market in the country. Our collectors largely depend on online dealers to fulfill their wants or areas of specialization and focus.

HM: I liked that your book included a few illustrations. It struck me as appropriately anachronistic for the type of story it is. Did you have any input to that, or was it down to the publisher?

PS: My publisher felt illustrations in a book that revolved around the art of the printed book would be a nice addition. The publisher and I offered the illustrator a few references for the kind of bookish images we wanted; however, the credit for the illustrations goes fully to the illustrator [Sonali Zohra].

HM: Would you like to write more adventures for Neela and Kayal? Is there any possibility of your book being published in the U.S.?

PS: It would be nice to imagine up another bibliophilic adventure for Kayal and Neela, though there are no plans for a sequel. I haven’t yet looked into the possibility of a U.S. edition, though bibliophiles in the U.S. and U.K. who’ve read the book are encouraging me to think of one. It would depend on a publisher there being interested enough in the book to acquire it.

HM: Have you heard from any of the English or American booksellers – including Bromers, the Veatchs, Claude Cox, and Vamp & Tramp – you mention in the book? It’s pretty cool being woven into a work of fiction – it probably will be HM’s best hope for posterity, for which I thank you.

PS: No, I haven’t – though that’s probably because none of them know they are in the book! Not only that, I’m sure they don’t even know of my book, there being only an Indian edition. As for HM’s hope for posterity resting with my book – ha-ha.

HM: You clearly are a bibliophile, and possibly a bibliomaniac. I know you’re interested in fine press books, but just how widely beyond that do your acquisitive tendencies range? And is that something you, as a collector, wrestle with – the question of how focused or cohesive your collection should be? 

PS: Yes, I do have it bad for press books, and you are spot on in sensing this. I’m still in the throes of discovery, so I tend to gush and sound breathless in talking about them, having encountered fine press books only some three years ago (you’ve recalled how it was for you in the early years). The discernment that helped me not buy anything and everything that was or is finely printed is deciding on my focus early: collecting fine press books on the books arts, and my collection has largely stuck to this, though in the first year I bought some fiction and poetry.

My bibliomania is unleashed only where fine press book and original leaves or fragments of early printed books and medieval illuminated manuscripts are concerned. I have no interest in modern first editions. If I were to accidentally stumble on some very high spot in that line of collecting, I would in a second trade the damm thing for a bunch of fine press books. Thirty to fifty thousand for one edition makes me only shake my head and think of how many lovely press books one could buy instead for that money. I am by sensibility not a completist collector, so that spares me from having to get the entire output of an author or a press. My focus from the start has been limited to fine press books on the book arts. Fine books on fine bookmaking. And I’ve tried within my collecting budget to acquire the best press books in this field, from modest productions to sumptuous ones. The illuminated and incunabula leaves are a recent interest and more a passing fancy than a focus. Once you get to chasing quires of illuminated manuscript leaves you are in the full grip of bibliomania. These days I’ve learnt to say, ‘Enough’. There is something enticing and promising about contemplating and toying with buying some highly desirable press book and then holding back - the idea of some unseen typographic beauty sitting there waiting to be plucked is more fun than actually getting hold of it.


HM: Early in the book you describe Biblio, the book shop where much of the story unfolds. The description starts with something another bookseller had once said to Neela, Biblio’s owner: “ 'The moment I shelve everything, customers stop coming. Now I leave everything lying around and they’re happy.’ As charming and welcoming as that might seem to casual browsers, Neela knew that an antiquarian bookshop that served the serious book collector couldn’t afford to have books lying around in joyful chaos.” That resonated for me because Vancouver’s last remaining downtown used bookshop (image above) is infamous for often being impenetrable due to towers of books and boxes clogging the aisles. Of those two extremes, which do you find more fun to explore?

PS: I still like the sight of bookshops (and rooms in houses) with overflowing shelves, packed aisles and shelving up to the rafters, but purely for aesthetic reasons and the browsing pleasures they seem to offer – but as a collector I know exactly what I am looking for and would like to be shown straightaway to the shelf where the kind of books I am hunting for are kept. Thus, now I prefer the ordered and finely appointed antiquarian bookshop where I am more likely to find what I have come in search of, rather than having to rummage through piles of books to unearth something desirable. The first time I looked at photographs of British antiquarian stores in the two-volumed pictorial record of The London Bookshop, I remember saying to myself, ‘Good God, they more resemble a tidy office! Featuring a couple of desks, some furniture, glass cabinets, and a large but empty (except perhaps for a table) floorspace, and not at all the storybook or Dickensian version of a cosy, dusty, overcrowded bookshop we’ve assumed they must be.’

HM: Who in India is currently making or publishing books that you find interesting in what we’d call a book-arts way? I understand there hasn’t been a fine/private press tradition in the country – your book touches on that – but is that changing? If not fine press, then maybe more in the artists’ book realm?

PS: No one I know, at least in the way I like my book arts printed. There are perhaps one or two small presses or publishing collectives that make handmade books, but their work has not interested me. It’s possible that in the artists book realm there could be more potential because of a long interest and tradition in handcrafted things. But letterpress book arts, no. 

HM: Have you ever been tempted to buy a press and some type…?

PS: More than a temptation it is a fantasy, and will probably remain one because I’m sure I’ll have no talent or eye for it, even though there would be the passion. And then there is the wild goose chase aspect of going round and round in search of a suitable working hand-press, not to mention cases of fine hot metal type in India…..

HM: Your book also touches on the history of type and typography in Indian publishing. Could you recommend one or two titles for people interested in knowing more about that history?

PS: Three essays by Fiona Ross on Indian type in various Matrix issues and her book The Printed Bengali Character and its Evolution would be a good place to start, and for related aspects of Indian book history, a handful of notable books would be: Moveable Type, The Province of the Book, The History of the Book In South Asia, An Empire of Books, and Founts of Knowledge. There could be other more recent titles, but I am forgetting.

HM: What is your greatest find from India? (I mean a book found in India, not necessarily an Indian book.)

PS: My answer will best illustrate the vacuum we have in rare book dealing and collecting here in India – alas, not one interesting find, let alone a great find. Of course, one could turn up rare or interesting antiquarian editions printed in India or about India in India, but they are bound to be mostly in poor condition. All the best Indian manuscripts and books are with dealers abroad or rare book institutions there. What I’ve never found – and likely to never find – is a fine press book here. In the novel, Kayal’s evangelical zeal in trying to stock the bookshop with press books is Biblio’s desperate attempt to help fellow Indian bibliophiles discover the world of fine printing.

Copies of The Book Hunters of Katpadi can be purchased from booksellers in India through Abebooks. But maybe one of the American booksellers mentioned in the novel should bring over a few dozen, and have Pradeep sign them the next time he’s over. If you enjoyed John Dunnings' books, Book Hunters is much much much much much much much better, in the details & plot. Just thinking about all Dunning got wrong in Bookman’s Wake still pisses me off…


Some binding production details & photos for Labour Vertue Glorie will going up over the next 6–8 weeks. Claudia's about to attack the Series 1 and 2 copies. I just have to attach all the spinners (below) to the volvelles first...