Wait, What's the Book's Title?

I promised some news about our old friend Francesco Griffo. There will be, just not this week. But, related, here's a recent acquisition: Giovanni Mardersteig's Piero Fransoso. Before you Mardersteig fans run to your shelves wondering how this title could have escaped your attention, it's because this book is better known as The Remarkable Story of a Book Made in Padua in 1477. That's what appears on the title page. I got a copy because Griffo makes an appearance and I've been reading up on him again.

The book isn't uncommon, but only one copy listed online mentioned having a jacket, so I got that one. You can see it above. The book is cased in paper vellum, with PIERO MAUFER on the spine (the name of the printer of the book in question), with a facsimile of the signature Peiro Fransoso stamped on the front board. All the same guy, Mardersteig just couldn't settle on using the Latin, Italian or a combined version of his name.

The book was published by Nattali & Maurice and distributed by Putnam. Never encountered the N&M imprint before. This copy contains a prospectus for the book (as do most copies currently on offer), listing on the verso some upcoming typographic titles.

That's the bottom corner of the rear flap above. In addition to the prospectus, tucked into this copy was a pre-publication notice to booksellers. Isn't "exposed for sale" a very odd phrasing? This must have been before the age of Big Marketing, whose boffins would have preferred  "offered" or "presented."

All I've been able to find about N&M is buried in this page at the Tate site: the imprint originated with one Armand Maurice, whose business was taken over by Putnam's 1931 and renamed Nattali & Maurice.  The Bodley Head acquired Putnam's and Nattali & Maurice in 1962. I can find no titles published by N&M after 1969 (Oliver's got a typo in the listing for his copy of P. Fransoso; I've written to tell him).

Seems unnecssary to add that the book is beautiful: 200 copies designed by Mardersteig and printed at Stamperia Valdonega. Probably one of the nicest books issued by N&M. And it's an interesting story for fans of publishing history: "The most complete bibliographic of any book made before 1500." Some interesting commentary on productivity rates of handpresses.

About Griffo: I need to get my hands on another of Mardersteig's books, the Officina Bodoni 1969 edition of Pietro Bembo's De Aetna (or the 1970 German version). Apparently there is an afterword by the printer in that discusses the original edition, Aldus, Griffo etc, and I need to read it. Thought I had a line on a copy but nyet. If anyone out there can forward scans/photos of these pages from the book, it would be much appreciated & perhaps even somehow rewarded. My email is over on the right side of the screen.

STICKING WITH PUBLISHING for this week's theme, a friend loaned me his copy of Drif Field's Not 84 Charing Cross Road. I was unaware of the antiquarian book thread in the story of Michael Milken's unravelling, and Field's account is entertaining and not at all unbiased. Field is (was? don't know) a legendary U.K. book scout whose other DIY publications are guides to used bookshops. His knowledge of the trade, from a scout's perspective, is deep, and he pulls back lots of curtains. Content aside, the book is an exercise in critical reading, as his spelling, setting and grammatical mistakes often confuse the exact meaning of a sentence. Less writing at or after the pub would have greatly increased clarity. Reading Is further challenged by "setting" the text with some first-generation word processing program, the auto-justifying creating some pages that are variously mesmerizing, distracting or ugly patterns. (I won't even start with the blank spreads between sections: don't ever have a blank recto in a book, unless you specifically mean to.) Check out the stacking on this page!

That pedantry aside, it was an entertaining read. As a piece of reportage it falls short - the exact basis for the trial that occupies the final third of the book isn't stated clearly until almost the end - but as a glimpse into an esoteric subculture it's full of insider information. (FYI, in the U.K. the preferred term is bookdealer, never bookseller.) Highly recommended to anyone considering becoming a bookseller (if that still happens), interested in starting to collect books, and those already afflicted with either condition. Also useful to anyone going into business of any kind.

A fun coda: the copy loaned to me had a photocopy sheet laid in with the text of a letter from bookseller Louis Weinstein, of L.A.'s Heritage Books. The letter was a published in 1994, shortly after Not 84... came out. Weinstein plays a tangential role in the story, and in his letter he questions the veracity of Field's account of events. But what's interesting is that this letter was published in the trade journal The Bookdealer, which also makes a cameo in Field's book, an appearance that puts any letters it might publish into a certain context:

"There is no trade magazine for Bookdealers [sic]. There is a magazine called the Bookdealer which is issued weekly which any sensible person would expect would keep the trade informed but its main interest in life is complaints about the postal rates to Zamboanga..."(p. 100).  He then goes on to makes comparisons between the journal and a fictional Mrs Whitehouse, which I'll let enjoy when you get your hands on a copy of the book.


Punches, Not Fishes


A lazy tour of the links for Easter Monday...

A 2011 article about the French punch-cutter Nelly Gable and L' Imprimerie Nationale's Cabinet des Poincons. It reads a bit like a high school senior's trip report, but the info is interesting. One thing it doesn't make clear is the connection between "her punch-cutting studio" and l'Imprimerie: that "her" makes it sound like a private enterprise when in fact it is the source and repository of the Imprimerie's punches dating back to Estienne and Garamont. (The author objects to this criticism; click over & decide for yourself.) In 1963 a specimen book (3rd ed.) from the Cabinet was published: several copies are listed on Abe at prices on either side of $100, or you can be a sucker and buy the one on eBay (above) for 400 euros.


A result of my recent pokings around related to odd & limited-edition vinyl releases: I discovered (very late to the game) the beautiful binding work of Amy Borezo and her studio Shelter Bookworks. Her blog shows stacks of clamshell boxes, covered in linen that's been relief printed, for a new release from Sedimental Records. Poking around Sedimental's site, I see a roster of artists whose names are entirely new to me, plus an early release from a HM favorite, Stars of the Lid. The Sedimental news page is pretty out of date, so Amy's post seems to be the most current update on the label's activities.

HM friend & collaborator Jim Westergard finally got a toehold in the music industry: his crazy eight ball has been adopted (legitimately) as the logo by UK-based label Oddball Music.


Record Store Day was a diversion for a few hours, but not a source of great temptation. I got the Bowie single (he's standing beside Burroughs; how could I not get it?) but that's all.  This side of the Atlantic got "1984" while the UK got stuck with "Rock n' Roll Suicide."

Speaking of Burroughs, remember last week's tangential rant about real prints vs reproductions? Around 1989 Burroughs had a show at a gallery in Montreal. For the launch the  gallery issued silkscreen reproductions of two of his "stencil" paintings (he laid stuff down on a canvas or piece of wood, like leaves in the piece above, and just spray painted over them) in editions of 99 copies. Yes, it's a reproduction, but the silkscreen method perfectly suits the look & feel of the original, but also creates something distinct and different. The one above is my favorite of the two, which is why it's hanging (hence the reflecty photo) and the other is in storage.

I still want to publish a photoplay edition of "The Junky's Christmas" featuring Bob Reid as Danny and Reg Lissel (role TBD). Maybe David Clifford can play the disbelieving doctor.

Next week: some new news on Francesco Griffo!


Playable Musical Artifacts


A post in anticipation of Record Store Day next weekend. Discuss: similarities and differences between the kinds of books HM publishes, and the resurrection of vinyl.

A long time ago, when I first started printing books, I was asked the dreary future-of-the-book question given the digital blah blah blah. My answer (see here for the short version, under Why? at the bottom) was, this could be the best possible situation for people interested in books published with attention to craft & materials. In a world where any book could theoretically be available in an easily searched format that takes up no physical space in our life, people will rediscover the pleasures of a well-made book. By way of example, the resurgence of vinyl and its focus on the quality of manufacture. I don't have a turntable anymore, but I'm finding the current vinyl releases much more engaging - for design, production, innovation and content - than whatever contemporary letterpress book publishing scene HM is part of.

In the 1970s and '80s, Canada probably produced the worst-quality vinyl in the world. You'd have to open 10 copies of any new pressing to find one that wasn't warped. They were so light & flimsy, they felt like flexidiscs. Recognizing its own [word censored by HM Legal], A&M Canada started the Audiophile Series to issue high-quality pressings of  top-selling pop albums (except for The Police, not much you'd want touching your ears now or then). They sold for about three times the price of a regular LP.

The return of vinyl has come with an attention to the quality of pressings that I don't recall in my youth. The standard today is 180 g, and some even come as a high as 350 g. If that's handmade paper, the Canadian vinyl of my youth was recycled tissue. The point being, the people buying these records have an appreciation for the quality that goes into the manufacturing that people didn't have 30 years ago.

It's the discovery by record labels and artists of the "limited edition" I want to discuss. They realize there's a limited market for what they're making: the geeks and scenesters who make  weekly rounds of the local record shops. Most bands issuing vinyl now probably would be doing well to sell a couple of thousand copies - peanuts. So, just like publishers of small-run books, they limit supply in the hope of boosting demand. Wu-Tang Clan gets credit for extrapolating this approach to its extreme with the recently announced Once Upon A Time In Shaolin.

This is partly a reflection of the changes that have swept over the music industry since the dawn of the iPod, the decline of labels & the resulting rise of the DIY artist. Everything has gotten smaller, contemporary music keeps fracturing into narrower subcategories, and music geeks always want the thing no one else knows about. These people are willing to pay a premium for the content in a physical (vs digital) form, but that physical form has to be esthetically engaging and well crafted.

[A sidebar: Though presented as limited editions, the limitation often isn't stated, which makes it somewhat moot: everything's limited, it's just a question of how big the final number is. Many of these limited edition records also claim to include an original print. In most cases, this is not accurate: they include a reproduction. Very few include actual prints. The "collector's edition" of Brian Eno's Small Craft on a Milk Sea does come with a legitimate screenprint, while the "limited edition" comes with a reproduction. Legitimate prints vs reproductions, and when & why certain methods of production genuinely limit the quantity produced vs arbitrary or cost-per-unit-based runs presented as limited editions, will be topics for a post in the near future.]

Here's a very quick tour of just a few labels & artists issuing limited-edition vinyl that have come to my attention; there's a lot more out there...

Last year William Basinski, whose compositions are not for the impatient, issued his seminal Disintegration Loops in a massive box (9 LPs, 5 CDs, a DVD & a book) limited to 2,000 copies, which sold out at an issue price of $225. He continues to release new and back list titles in limited editions through his site. If you know his music, you won't be surprised that he's also having some fun with the limited edition concept, like rereleasing an old composition recorded onto recycled quarter-inch tape ("101 handmade copies").

Sly Vinyl, a record shop & label based in Denver. Look under the Format link on its home page: you can choose picture, flexidisc or even lathe-cut ("playable musical artifact") discs!


Brooklyn's Sacred Bones Records has an esoteric roster that includes David Lynch. They've released limited edition pressings of his recent recordings and also soundtracks from some of his films (Eraserhead !). Lynch has really taken to the deluxe/limited-edition vinyl format: he has a new multi-disc album available from his site, & last year I got a copy of his single Good Day Today, released by the UK label Vinyl Factory, primarily because it was designed by Vaughn Oliver. That's another one that boasted an original print that wasn't a print.

The Vinyl Factory boasts its own pressing facility, and it also publishes music-related books, often combined with a vinyl release. Last year's release of a book of art by Massive Attack's Robert del Naja is a good example of how these limited editions typically are described (i.e. marketed):
  • 400-page 12" x 12" hardback book with black glitter and pink screen printed cover artwork unique to this edition
  • Exclusive art print, signed by 3D, screen printed by Lazarides
  • 12-inch vinyl featuring previously unreleased track on A-side, with an etching on side B
  • Housed in a bespoke heavyweight cardboard box with cover artwork by 3D
  • Limited to 350 copies worldwide, each individually hand-signed and numbered 

Format, materials (although is there really such a thing as a bespoke cardboard box?), limitation; not much different than what everyone in the Fine Press Book Association is doing. Except that young people today are actively engaged with and by vinyl, but very few are interested in books produced with the same attention to quality, detail, and esoteric appeal. I remain confident, however, that a renaissance similar to what happened for vinyl will happen for books. As I wrote 15 years ago, people won't necessarily want a lot of books taking up space in their life, but the ones they will want are going to have to be produced in a manner that justifies their physical presence. And that isn't most trade editions.


The one thing I'll be looking for on Record Store Day is the "limited edition" reissue of Joy Division's first EP, An Ideal for Living. A sleazy record shop dude tried to sell me an obviously bootlegged copy for $100 in Montreal 30 years ago; now's my chance to finally get a legitimate limited edition! Even if the actual edition number isn't stated...


Leaves from Wither's Book of Emblemes

Finally digging into the project about George Wither's 1635 A Collection of Emblemes, Ancient & Moderne. Whole sections of libraries are filled with books about the history, tradition, iconography etc etc of Renaissance emblem books; the focus of HM's project will be Wither's book itself, the story of its production, with each copy containing one (possibly two) leaves from a broken copy that was presented to HM by a longtime patron who knows of my interest in printing history & leaf books.

There have been several facsimile editions of Wither's book, notably from the Scolar Press and the University of South Carolina, but the reproductions really don't do the book justice. The original's letterpress is a bit rough, but the engravings by Crispin van de Passe are stunning in execution & printing. The original leaves included in the HM project will give readers the opportunity to admire them first-hand, as well as scrutinize the 17th-century combination of letterpress and intaglio printing, the paper, the type and ornaments.

Part of the process for planning this publication entails deciding what parts of the book are worth reprinting. The original frontis, by William Marshall, is a likely candidate, if only to juxtapose the (historically well regarded) image with Wither's passive-aggressive full-page Preposition on this Frontispiece, in which he explains that he didn't actually like the image Marshall created, but included it anyway. Nice guy.

Other parts of Wither's preliminaries offer interesting insights to the book's conception and production, and those also are candidates for reprinting (not in facsimile; newly set). It might be fun to reproduce all of the initial letters used in the mottoes, together on a spread. And the various head- and tailpieces could be incorporated to any newly set text. As for original content, I plan on including a survey & discussion of what various academic and bibliophilic sources have written about Wither's book of emblems since its publication.

One of the unique elements of Wither's book is the inclusion, at the back, of a "lottery" - a parlour game people could play, spinning pointers on two volvelles included at the back of the book, the results sending them to a particular "lot," or emblem, in the collection. Most existing copies of Wither's book lack the volvelle page, or have it in facsimile - proof of its popularity with readers. The HM book will include our own facsimile of the volvelles (reproduced from a complete copy kindly made available to HM by the staff at the University of British Columbia's Special Collections & Rare Books Library), along with the two-line mottos that serve as titles for each of the 200 emblems, so people can at least play an abbreviated version of the game.

The page size will be slightly larger than that of the broken copy providing sample leaves, about 7 x 11 inches. Some of the leaves are in rough shape (like the pair above, which even include some old casting repairs), and may require washing and resizing before being attached to a tab & sewn into the HM book (they will not be tipped in, which is the laziest & least useful way to insert sample sheets to a book.) The edition size will be determined by how many leaves can be salvaged from the pile we have, but I expect it to be 50 copies, with a portion of these forming a deluxe issue containing additional leaves and a more elaborate binding. Ready for early 2015?