Harold's Guardian

The Guardian's promised profile of Harold Budd is out. Here's the online version. Interesting to learn that Liz Fraser gets the credit for all those koolly off-kilter Cocteau titles. 


Printing Books

New & recent books about letterpress printing have been a recurring topic over the past week. Foremost is Gabriel Rummonds' Fantasies & Hard Knocks: My Life as a Printer. Gabriel has been working on the book for at least a decade. Anyone familiar with his Printing With the Iron Handpress or Nineteenth Century Printing Practices knows how exhaustively he covers his subjects, and the new book seems no different. And as someone who has had the privilege of attending one his dinners, I can attest to the particular worthiness of the recipes included in the new book. Information about the book, and an offer to pre-order a (signed!) copy can be found here. Strongly recommended.

Paul Moxon (with a name like that, did he have any choice but to become a printer?) was in Vancouver recently, to give a two-day course on printing with the Vandercook press. By all accounts it was worth every penny. Moxon has made an extensive study of the history of the company, the various presses it made, similar presses by other manufacturers (including the Saroglia Canuck, available only in Canada!), and exactly how they should be used, adjusted and maintained. He apparently is working on a second edition of his book Vandercook Presses: Maintenance, History & Resources, due for issue this spring.

A quick word about books about printing: any good book about printing will contain information useful to any printer, regardless of the type of press being discussed or used. Many of the actual principles are independent from the manner in which the printing is achieved. This is why I recommend every printer have - and read - a copy of Rummonds' Printing With the Iron Handpress. Lewis Allen's book is perhaps a less daunting entry point, but you'll soon find its reference value wanes. General Printing is a good reference if you're using platen or Vandercook-style presses, but it must be read through the filter of a book written for apprentice trade printers in the mid-20th century. No one printing letterpress in the early 21st century should be taking the commercial materials, methods or results of the 1950s as their point of reference.

The notice for Fantasises & Hard Knocks enjoyed a number of overlapping distributions. One came from Paul Ritscher of the Devil's Tail Press. (Speaking of taking all the wrong examples as technical references, Paul posted a worthwhile review of the book Letterpress Now on his blog last year. The post's title sums the book - and review - up concisely: Letterpress printing meets scrapbooking.) Paul's note included this link to an interview with Harry Duncan (Cummington Press - greatest press device ever) posted on YouTube. Duncan's Doors of Perception, which has been mentioned on this site before, is another book any & all printers should have.


Another person sharing the notice of Gabriel's new book came from Patrick Goossens in Antwerp, Belgium. He included a link to an Indiegogo page raising funds for a book he will print next month about George Clymer’s Columbian hand press for the 200th anniversary of its invention. Copies in sheets can be reserved for $100 (postage included?). Not much detail offered on the site about the book itself: it will be set in Baskerville & printed on Zerkall mould made (damp? one would hope so since that's was Mr Clymer would have intended), but no info on size or pages. The edition will be limited to a maximum of 100 copies, determined by subscription.


2014 Reading List

A late and abbreviated post this week; in the middle of the Big Move. Slowly clearing out house & studio. Need to get everything out of the studio - type cabinets, paper, book presses etc etc - before we can tackle the Washington. That will be the subject of a post next month.

Just about all my books go into storage for the year. Turns out that's about 50 cubic feet, and about 1,000 pounds, of books. Here's what I kept aside for the one small shelf I have in the temporary digs; my reading list for 2014:

Christopher Scoates' Brian Eno - Visual Music. Haven't been that engaged with his music in recent years, but he's got a provocative mind and approach to creativity. The book is beautifully produced, with a silkscreened print over the boards. FYI sounds like its going into a second printing, so if you're interested hunt up a first while you can.

Three books from Neil Shaver's Yellow Barn Press: John Anderson & the Pickering Press, The Kelmscott Golden Legend (a leaf book & perhaps the most sought after Yellow Barn publication), & William Morris: Master Printer. I met Neil at Oak Knoll Fest in 2003. He was completely charming and interested in what others were doing (even those young, new & ignorant). He learned printing from Harry Duncan, which ain't bad. And he knew how to print damp, and why it's worth the effort.


Something to note about the Morris Master-Printer book: there are two different issues out there and booksellers seem to get them muddled in their cataloguing (& pricing). The true first is an edition of 155 copies printed on dampened Rives and bound in rough linen. There also was a facsimile version issued by Blackwell North America in an edition of 1400 copies, of which 200 were reserved for distribution by Yellow Barn Press. These are cased in blue paper over boards. Copies can be had for as little as $10 (a bargain), while the true limited edition retails for around $150. Don't be fooled.

The Book as a Work of Art: The Cranach Press 1913 to 1931, blogged about last year but still not read in its entirety. 

Leonard Baskin's Iconlogia, a collection of short essays about artists he admired.

Need to learn more about ink, so I kept aside two books on the topic: A History of Printing Ink by C.H. Bloy (Wynkyn De Worde Society, 1967) and Printing Ink by James A. Ullman, containing two lectures presented to the Course in the Technique of Printing at the Graduate School of Business Administration, Harvard University, 1911. Imagine how much better things would be today if a few more MBAs included printing in their syllabus.

Nothing else this week. Try to have more meat next time; see how the moving goes. Must mentally prepare for the challenge of that Washington.


As Close to Holy as HM Will Ever Get

Things are on the move around here so this'll be a quick post. The 15 deluxe copies of Metal Type were delivered to everyone over the past week. Here's how HM works with Claudia on these kinds of projects (and it's pretty much how HM works with any collaborators): I voice a few general thoughts and preferences around materials, structure, overall aesthetic and budget. She asks questions, plays with a dummy, then tells me what she's going to do. What's the point of working with someone whose work and skill you admire - a binder, an artist, a calligrapher, whomever - only to then limit their ability to do contribute to the project? I want to work with people like Claudia because they/she have skills & talents that exceed my own in their area. It makes projects much more engaging for your collaborators if you stay out of their way.

So, this is what Claudia came up with for the deluxe copies. It's a three-piece structure that opens easily and completely flat. The sections are long-stitched onto a stiff handmade paper support (almost like a chemise), around which the vellum binding is then constructed. The vellum used for these copies are offcuts from Claudia's work on the Moser Bible (which she worked on with Sarah Creighton: 400 two-volume folio sets plus 30 five-volume sets, all in limp vellum. No wonder there were a couple of pieces left over.

The cover, front & back, is tooled by hand around a stamped arrangement of the alphabet in 18-pt Centaur. The same arrangement is repeated, also in gold, on the pastedowns.

In addition to the two extra sections (16 pp.) of specimens, there are a couple of amusements included at the back of the book, after the colophon. DVD extras & commentaries.

The books are presented in a clamshell box lined with Dana Cromie's patterned paper. 


Last week's post about Wil Hudson caught the attention of the current studio manager/printer at Kinngait, William Ritchie, who knows more about Wil's work in Cape Dorset. We hope to post some of that story soon, as a guest contribution by Mr Ritchie.

Darla has just issued a special edition of Harold Budd's compositions Jane 1-11, accompanied by a DVD with the original short films by Jane Maru for which each piece was composed. This coming Friday 14 February, The Guardian will be running a profile of Harold.


Other than when it must be moved, has a printer ever said, "I wish my press was a bit smaller"?


Mash Notes

A few quick notes on some books & other things to read, but first: HM's hometown team rools. Go 'hawks.(Note to Vancouver: see how they didn't destroy their own city afterwards?)

David Clifford loaned me his copy of The Book of Books: 500 Years of Graphic Innovation (M. Lommen, ed., Thames & Hudson 2012). Drawing on the impressive collection at the University of Amsterdam, which goes back to the first days of the printed book, the 450-page book contains excellent reproductions of pages & spreads from several hundred books. There's very little text, which might be just as well: the book is primarily structured around specific printers, publishers and (for the last 100 years) designers, and the few paragraphs that accompany each subject offer nothing new to readers familiar with the subject, and are also too abbreviated to be useful to readers wanting an introduction. (Is it an accomplishment or aberration that Aldus Manutius is covered in three paragraphs?) Who that leaves as an audience is anyone's guess. Other reviewers have already noted the mistake of not including a glossary. What writing there is has the overall quality of a first-year term paper groping for some insight or conclusion:

"This book [Aldus' Hypnerotomachia Poliphili] has been highly influential in the arts, especially in iconography. Among book collectors, it is still a sought-after object."

"The Doves Press used handmade paper; the vellum binding is simple."

About Joan Blaeu's atlas: "No other printer was capable of such a monumental performance." I don't quibble with the statement, just its lack of elegance.

Part of the problem with the writing may be that this is a translation; maybe the text seems less abrupt and awkward in the original Dutch. The book's strength really is the number and quality of the reproductions. Including more detailed texts about the printers etc. would have made it unwieldy or cut into the number of illustrations. Those historical and biographical details can be found elsewhere easily enough. Maybe the better solution would have been to include only the bibliographic descriptions of the books shown, and eliminate the brief, subjective and awkwardly written contextual blurbs altogether.

The chapters covering books up to 1900 are mostly filled with the usual suspects; the ones covering the past 100 years offer more surprises. The focus is on design and innovation, with the books included covering a broad spectrum, from Tschichold's Penguin paperbacks to an atlas to corporate hagiography to Monty Python's Big Red Book.

It's a big book, physically. (And like just about every trade book published now, the money went into the printing and they cheaped-out on the binding: the heavy coated-paper text block is already pulling itself out of the case & tipped-on endsheets.) If you're like me, real estate on your shelves carries a premium, so any new additions must be worth the space. If you need a detailed visual reference for books printed since 1450, this is a good candidate. If you're already a student of printing history, this probably won't be much use.


There have been a few excited posts on this blog about Martin Aston's recently published history of the British label 4AD, Facing the Other Way, specifically the deluxe edition of 1,000 copies signed by Aston Vaughan Oliver, the graphic artist for creating the label's distinctive esthetic. Well, the copy we ordered last summer (pre-publication) finally pitched up (I was massively overcharged for shipping), all the way from Germany, in the flimsiest of boxes. Amazing the thing wasn't mashed; I would have been screwed if it had been, as there is absolutely no customer service contact info for HarperCollins. It's always better to buy from a professional bookseller, someone who understands how to ship, talk to customers, etc. but it wasn't an option with these deluxe copies; they seem to have sold out.

Since I've found no comments or reviews about the deluxe issue online yet, I'll offer up a few immediate thoughts about the design and presentation. Eh. I was expecting more. With so much of the label's mystique tied to its visual esthetic, there's a paucity of examples. Each of the two volumes gets one 8-page section of photographs. Granted, this is a book about the label, not Oliver and the other visual artists, and their work has been well recorded in several other publications, but still: the distinctive 4AD album covers were a big part of the label.

The slipcase is one of only two parts of the publication actually designed by Oliver. It's attractive, but the lopped-off top corner looks cutesy and diminishes the case's ability to serve its sole function - protect the contents.

The printing is disconcertingly inconsistent, the text's black ranging from strong to washed out. The paper looks cheap.

The limitation sheet, signed by Aston and Oliver, is tipped into the front of the first volume. It's a screen one-color (black) reproduction of the cover art. Looks like a bad photocopy. You'd think they could have paid for some color and asked Oliver to come up with something interesting.

The deluxe issue comes with a folder containing two compact discs with music by 4AD bands, with a pamphlet listing the artists and contents laid in. The music offers nothing new to the geeks who would have bought this set (they picked "Tony's Theme" for the Pixes cut?!) - why didn't they look in the vaults for live tracks or out-takes? The pamphlet is the other piece of original Oliver/23Envelope design, and it's immediately recognizable as such. The text is printed in metallic colors on semi-opaque paper, one side only, the sheets folded and sewn along the open edge.

I've only dipped into the actual content, so I'll reserve judgment on that. It seems Aston managed to interview the many key names associated with the label, and at least a few seemed willing to speak candidly.


Received a note from Robert Reid about a recent study published in Scientific American:

"The November 2013 issue of Scientific American has an article by Ferris Jabr entitled 'Why Brains Prefer Paper' and is a summation on research in various parts of the world on reading information on paper and reading it in digitized form on line. They say, 'Books and magazines may be old fashioned, but they have one big advantage over text that appears in digital media - the mind can more easily grasp the concepts they convey.'

"I'm inclined to extend this finding to oral information as well, because I have just finished reading the reprint of Scott McIntyre's speech given to members of the Alcuin Society last May of 2013. I was at the meeting, looking forward to hearing him talk about the publishing business because Douglas & McIntyre had just gone bankrupt, to the consternation of all of us. Besides I knew him personally through his publication of a book I did on World War II. BUT WHEN I READ THE ALCUIN ARTICLE I REALIZED THAT I HAD RETAINED NOTHING OF HIS SPEECH. IT WAS ALL NEW TO ME, AS IF I'D NEVER BEEN THERE. 

"Then, recalling the Scientific American article, I realized how difficult it is to retain anything that isn't written or printed on paper, when all the factors that contribute to memory are present. We have five senses, all of which the mind brings to bear on memory through the relationships of one to another. Holding a book or booklet or sheaf of papers, there is 'heft' or weight to remember, The pages make a sound when turned or shuffled. The 'feel' of the paper is also a factor (smooth, rough, hard, soft, limp, stiff). With books there is even the "smell" of the glue, the book cloth, the paper. About the only sense that isn't involved is 'taste.' This is how we remember: by relationships. Einstein was right: it's relativity all the way down. So, sitting in a room listening to someone talk has its inherent pitfalls too, as the set of relationships one retains in one's memory is not the single intellectual content of the talk, but all the other things going on in the room at the same time which do not add to ones retention."

So, if you found anything of this post interesting, go print it out now.