15.12.14

Old Family Letters



Sorry about no post last week: nothing to say but lots to do. Besides, that Eno/Mills post seemed to attract lots of interest. This week still not much to say, but some interesting images to share from a disbound late-19th century book about the art of illumination. It bubbled up from the unpacking. Been in the family since around 1859 (see below).


The Art of Illumination as Practised in Europe From the Earliest Times, Illustrated with Borders, Initial Letters and Alphabets Selected & Chromolithographed by W.R. Tymms With An Essay and Instructions by M.D. Wyatt, Arch., London, Published April 2nd 1860 by Day & Son, Lithographers to the Queen.


A phantasmagoria of chromolithography. Over 100 vibrant pages reproducing letters and illuminations, arranged chronologically from the 6th to the 19th centuries. Printed rectos only.


At the back is a long two-part essay by Wyatt about the art. The second part is particularly interesting, with detailed instructions and discussions of colors, materials and techniques.


He also includes several pages of useful inscriptions categorized by the room or setting for which they are suited...


This copy is accompanied by a second volume, also disbound & lacking a title page or any identifying information. It consists of bifoliums each producing a decorative alphabet (none of them very interesting), printed in one color (not always black, & generally not very well printed).


The most interesting part of this collection is the signature on the front flyleaf of its first owner - Emma Stebbins, the noted American sculptor (and HM relative, much to her probable chagrin).


So there's something to look at this week.

1.12.14

A Frank Look at More Dark



From its very start in 1929, the English publisher Faber & Faber has issued the occasional title it deems sufficiently important in a deluxe, limited edition format: James Joyce, T.S. Eliot and Siegfried Sassoon were the authors at the top of the roster whose work received special publishing attention. (There were a lot of other authors during the firm’s first decade, whose work hasn’t necessarily aged so well: several pages of pre-1940 Faber limited editions for under $25 on Abe. The boon for limited editions, and book collecting in general, started to decline right around the time Faber went into business.) It’s a tradition the firm continues to this day, albeit in a more select fashion. The limited edition page on Faber’s site currently includes a series of broadsides by four contemporary poets, specially commissioned by Faber and printed at Hand & Eye Letterpress in London. Today’s topic, in general, is limited editions issued by trade publishers; specifically, it’s about More Dark Than Shark, a book published by Faber in 1986.


More Dark Than Shark reproduces works of art by Russell Mills inspired by Brian Eno songs, along with detailed notes by Mills and five insightful essays by Rick Poynor. It is perhaps the definitive study of the work that is the foundation for Eno’s ongoing influence in music, art and culture to this day. (The book was issued concurrent with an Eno compilation album, titled More Blank Than Frank; "Blank Frank" is the title of a song from his 1973 debut album Here Comes The Warm Jets.) The book is beautifully designed, by Malcolm Garrett (interesting to note that he’s credited on title page) and his team at assorted iMaGes, in a square format slightly smaller than an LP. Conzett & Huber of Zurich printed the book on a white coated paper. (Interesting factoid: the book was commissioned by Pete Townsend, who at the time was on sabbatical from The Who and working as an editor at Faber.)


I found a copy of the book the year it came out, in Montreal at Cheap Thrills. It basically was a shop in the second-floor sitting/dining room of a brownstone walk-up near the gates to McGill. (Think it's still in the same location.) Sold used CDs, records and books, and lots of new imports, mostly from the UK. The copy of More Dark Than Shark I found there was wrapped like a package in a coated blue paper with the title and some rules printed letterpress, in darker blue. I was smart enough to keep the paper: I’ve not seen another copy with it, nor met anyone who’s seen it.


Inside the wrapping was a Smythe-sewn softcover of 144 pages. This isn’t a review of the contents or design, but suffice to say it’s a joy to look at and a trove for Eno fans to read. But paperbacks can be a pain: you’re always having to cradle the spine while reading, to prevent it from opening so much that the spine cracks, followed soon after by a book that falls apart. I wished I could find a hardcover, to have something both more readable and permanent. The publishing info indicated there was a hardcover, but all pre-1990 inquiries turned up nothing.


Some years later, post-World Wide Web, I learned that the hardcover actually was a limited edition of just 150 copies, signed by Eno and Mills, and issued with a print. Huh. No idea what the issue price was, but twenty years later it hovered around $2,000, if you found a copy.


Long story short, I recently found a copy, or it found me. (A few seem to have turned up in the last two months.) It was very interesting to compare it to the softcover. (No idea if Garrett was involved in designing the hardcover, but for reasons that follow I suspect he was not, and that its format was ultimately determined by someone more like a production manager.)


The softcover features a stunning wrap incorporating images by Mills; this wasn’t used anywhere in the hardcover, and it’s a shame and a loss. (If nothing else, it could have been used for the endpapers. The book was simply cased in black cloth, with the title stamped on the front board in white (a different design than that used for the paper wrap on my softcover copy.) It’s a perfectly serviceable trade case binding, but nothing special. The book comes in a heavy kraft paper slipcase, with the title stamp repeated on the front.


The signatures of Eno and Mills appear on the half title page, but there is no colophon, limitation statement, or other indication that the book is a limited edition. There is a slip of paper laid in, identifying the book as a Faber limited edition, and the spine of the slipcase has the number matching that of the print (i.e. from the edition of 150) pencilled in lightly at the top.

Perhaps most inexplicable is how Mill’s print was treated: The book is wrapped in a clear acetate jacket, and the print was simply sandwiched between the back board and the acetate! Worse even, it has to be turned sideways to fit, because its dimensions don’t match the book’s!


The intaglio print is titled “Warm Jets.” A bookseller’s description (for a copy no longer available) describes the print: “ 'Warm Jets' was printed at Curwen Studio, London from three plates on Curwen Special mould-made paper with additional hand coloring in amber wash ground watercolor, nail varnish overpainting, and rubber stamp by Harriet Hill and Russell Mills.” It has been torn right to the four edges of the image, leaving no plate mark or border. I wondered if it was a piece of a larger print, torn down to make smaller ones; the abstract nature of the image, plus the addition of elements by hand to each print, would lend itself to subdivision, but this probably was not the case. Nonetheless, the print should have been done on a sheet of appropriate dimensions for the book, and been bound in (e.g. as a frontis).


Unlike the softcover issue, which benefited from a cohesive design and direction from cover to cover, the limited edition hardcover seems to have been the result of a series of decisions that did not take each other into account. This is usually what happens when trade publisher’s issue a limited edition: it’s an afterthought, & generally just a slightly more elaborate package for the author’s signature, nothing more. But it can be more, without a lot of extra work or expense - just some creative thought.


Reaching for the nearest example, take the deluxe issue of The Gehenna Press - The Work of Fifty Years. This invaluable bibliography of Leonard Baskin’s imprint was published in collaboration with the Bridwell Library for a 1992 exhibition, in an edition of 2000 copies. Most of those were issued in wraps, but some were cased in black cloth. There also was a deluxe issue of 50 copies, signed & numbered by Baskin, but that’s the least interesting difference.


The deluxe copies were bound by David Bourbeau in a rough handmade paper, with simple gilt tooling on the front board and spine. The text block was sewn in a long-stitch format on a paper support, and opens beautifully flat. The pages were left untrimmed.


The book was expertly printed (offset*) by Oxbow Press, but these 50 copies include at the back an extra section of 14 pressmarks printed from the original blocks (i.e. letterpress) by Art Larson. Their absence from the main edition does not weaken its reference value; but their addition in the deluxe copies, especially being printed by long-time Baskin printer Larson, is an appropriate and pleasing extra for the collector.


* Oxbow printed a number of projects for Baskin through the 1980s and '90s, including Hermaika (1986), featuring photo-litho reproductions of drawings. In The Work of Fifty Years, Baskin’s note about the project begins with the statement “…The prejudiced cognoscenti pronounce the gospel that no typographic excellence can be achieved by photo-lithographic means. This is utter nonsense…” and goes on to make a case for the process, particularly when it is the most appropriate for the job at hand (as it was for Hermaika) and performed by a skilled printer (as was Oxbow).

So, a plea to publishers who want to piggyback a “deluxe” issue on to a trade publication: make it more than a slightly better case binding with a signature inside. Take advantage of the additional design opportunities offered by the form. And don’t make it a Frankenstein’s monster, a collection of extra parts that don’t add up to a cohesive whole. All that aside, still happy to have the hardcover, if only so it can lie flat on the desk while being read. 


None of that has anything to do with HM, at least not directly. I’m gonna go put on The Pearl (cover art by Mills)...

25.11.14

Gazing Down, Listening to Sea Island



Crazy week. Got a good topic for next week's post, but meanwhile, a few placeholders...

Found that image above on a neighborhood sidewalk.


Heard about this place in, of all place, Ontario. Need to find out more. (The presses look a bit too pretty...)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=laEBitncPrU

loscil's new album is out & it's brilliant. Another high for existing fans, a great point of entry for new ones. Everyone buy a copy.

Coming up next week:

http://www.leninimports.com/brian_eno2.html

17.11.14

So Sumi



Some actual publishing news from HM, thanks to the ongoing work of Barbara & Claudia.


Copies of Suminagashi have been shipped out. Claudia's binding is lovely, especially considering she's not a fan of the miniature format. The blue leather is tooled in gilt and - the real testament to her skill - the thinnest blind rule just at the edges of boards.


Inside, following Barbara's brief text on technique, we find her suminagashi experiments on different kinds of gampi, alternating between leafs [really? not leaves? is this a technical distinction?] of Whatman handmade paper (the same as used for the text) from which a letter has been cut out - S U M I N A G A S H I .


 
Going out this week is the prospectus for their next major collaboration, Decorating Paper. It was printed by David Clifford at Black Stone Press, who will also be printing the bulk of the book (some pages with simple specimen borders will be printed at HM). The cover of the four-page prospectus features 12 different examples of decorated papers tipped on. The book is described as follows:


Decorated papers are the focus of the next book from the creators of The WunderCabinet, Cutting Paper and the four-volume colour series: The Temperamental Rose, After Image, Occupied By Colour and Around the World in Colour.Decorating Paper: Pattern & Technique will feature more than 600 examples of patterned papers from Europe, Asia and North America.

Original samples of marbling, paste decoration, embossing, pulp manipulation, lithography, block and linocut printing, stencilling and airbrushing from the 19th and 20th centuries will be found, along with contemporary examples (some made specially for this book). A sampling of Dutch gilt and block-printed papers from the late 1700s to early 1800s will also be included. The text (approximately 80 pages) spans two volumes, interspersed with the many samples, and includes descriptions of techniques and history, along with an extensive bibliography.
Decorating Paper will be designed by Barbara Hodgson. The text, set in Bembo, will be printed letterpress by David Clifford at Black Stone Press on Arches mouldmade paper.

The two volumes (9.5 x 12.5 inches, each approximately 120 pages, including full-page samples and multi-sample specimen sheets) will be bound by Claudia in decorated paper over leather-edged boards with a leather spine and housed in a clamshell box. The edition, issued in one state only, will number 30 copies signed by Barbara and Claudia.

Decorating Paper will be available in late spring 2015. Please write for details or to reserve a copy.


Copies of the prospectus are going out to HM's regular customers and patrons. With the project's scope, the cost of materials and samples being assembled for inclusion, and the time and resources being invested, this will be Barbara and Claudia's most substantial publication to date, even if compared to the monumental Cutting Paper and multi-faceted The WunderCabinet. Reports and images of the book's (books' ? Is a two-volume publication singular or plural?) progress will be posted here as & when.

AND ANOTHER THING

The annual East Vancouver Culture Crawl is happening this coming weekend. A new event added this year is the outdoor screening of six short videos by participating artists, one of whom is HM friend & former collaborator Andrea Taylor. Very kool.

11.11.14

Printing dough



You'll get that title after the next paragraph...

In last week's annual food issue of The New Yorker, Adam Gopnik wrote an article about the transition of pastry cuisine from a tradition-based craft, successfully repeating the same result from a few simple ingredients, to the current fad for innovation and personal creativity. (He focuses on the pretzel croissant and Cronut to tell the story.) It struck me while reading the article that it could just as easily be about the role and place of letterpress printing in contemporary society, simply told using baking as a metaphor. It's the difference between an exercise in typographic & printing austerity versus a form-bending "book object." Cobden-Sanderson vs Keith Smith. Croissant vs cupcake.

http://www.komonews.com/news/offbeat/New-Yorkers-going-crazy-for-Cronuts-210401961.html

The article discusses apprenticeships, the slim profit margins on a labor-intensive endeavor with expensive material costs, and the marketing of a non-essential, luxury item. Sound familiar? Gopnik mentions the three designations the French use to distinguish between someone who bakes bread, someone who has a pastry shop, and a pastry chef in a restaurant. In letterpress printing, especially among those who are working as private press publishers, people usually start from a specific perspective: someone who likes working with types; someone who likes printing & working with old machines; a writer; a bookbinder. For these people, the other activities involved in publishing a book are always secondary to the one that attracted them in the first place.

One of the two bakers featured in the article is a traditionalist who thinks the focus on innovation has eclipsed a foundational appreciation for the basics of the craft. How many of the printers who want to ride a retro fad for letterpress are simply aping modern offset and digital aesthetics in deep relief?

http://creamandsugar.ca/city-bakery-pretzel-croissant-new-york-city/

The article's other baker discusses the question of supply: just because you can make more (e.g. once the press is running, why not just run off a bunch more copies?) doesn't mean you should. What he calls constancy - a consistency of quality - must be an overarching criterion. Limiting production is not simply a tactic for creating a sense of scarcity. As he explains, "Would it make money? Yes. Would it be good? No. Would I be proud of it? No. I would kill my own creation."

(The article's printing metaphor even extends to the first baker's disdain for the latter's work. Or perhaps more accurately, his discontent with the attention being paid?)

http://www.lakeland.co.uk/17749/Alphabet-Cutter-Set

I liked Gopnik's explanation for the role comparatively expensive versions of everyday foods (bread, croissant) have come to play in people's lives. "The huge rise in the cost of raw materials...mean that either you lower quality or you keep it high and present the results as a special, once a week, wait-in-line treat." A similar thread to the one pulled a few blogs back, about the potential for the well-made book to enjoy a renaissance along side the e-book. We just have to get to the same place the pastry chefs have: "...to make the pastry so essential that its market becomes fairly price-insensitive."

Even if this premise is whiffle, Gopnik's article is a good read. Have a look.

AND ANOTHER THING...


...from the ongoing unpacking process (not exactly as shown above): a mid-'90s era typographic bookmark from Wessel & Lieberman.


The printer was Martin Wolf, aka Nemo Press, on Vancouver Island. (Don't think the address below is current, so don't bother writing.) I bought my first press, the Kelsey 5 x 8 from Marty. A few years later I heard he was divesting all his printing equipment, which included a huge Hoe Washington handpress. That supposedly was sold to a Japanese printing firm, which wanted it for a display in their foyer or some such. I'll find out if there were more in the promised series. 


3.11.14

Invertebrate surprises



Unpacking books, especially ones you haven't seen in some time, is like Christmas: there are always surprises, things you forgot you had. Lots of surprises this past week as things slowly settle in the new digs. How's this for a blast-proof bookcase?


Empehera and single-signature pamphlets have provided most of the surprises so far. Being spineless they tend to become invisible once shelved. This pamphlet printed by Dard Hunter, Jr probably is as close to the Mountain House as I'll get.



It was printed with his handpress on Lime Rock mill paper. Published in 1950, the edition is 100 signed & press-numbered copies.


Frank McCaffrey's Dogwood Press did a number of interesting ephemeral items. This is the text from a very tall but slim single sheet (i.e. bifolium) pamphlet that explains his imprint's name.


Reg Lissel gave me this piece done by him on one of his papers. He's a very mathy guy, the kind who does calculus problems to relax.



I got the etching hanging above the Albion a few years ago during Vancouver's annual Culture Crawl. Our neighborhood has a tremendous concentration of artists' studios, and one weekend every November they're open to the public. My favorite place is 1000 Parker, which has dozens of studios jammed into a warren of floors in an old (firetrap) factory. (Andrea Taylor has a studio there.) I cannot make out the artist's name from her signature, but I remember she was a young woman who'd made the print in Montreal. It was in a pile of old work for sale. I don't think she was doing much printmaking any longer. It's called "The Printer" and shows the titular figure printing a block with a burnisher. I can feel the soreness in the hunched back, the weariness of repetition but there's work to be done. It will be inspirational during long days of printing.


Have to cull a few pieces of furniture from the shop. Want to keep it as open as possible, so a little-used galley cabinet, a funky old type cabinet and some other pieces will be moving on to new homes this month. Here's the one addition to the studio: very kool, compact & wireless...

http://nadelectronics.com/products/digital-music/D-3020-Hybrid-Digital-Amplifier