Henry Roth & the Second Oldest Profession

Received a broadcast notice from NYC bookselller Abby Schoolman last week with a list of books from the library of Henry Roth being sold on behalf of the author's Trust. Included is one of the titles William Targ published from his private press. He also published a short piece by Roth - Nature's First Green - which probably was the first time I encountered his writing. It caught my eye because of the cheeky inscription Targ had added to the colophon (above) - "the second oldest profession."

Targ was an interesting guy, with a long career in publishing. The books he published under Targ Editions varied widely in format and content, from Roth to Issac Asimov. And he commissioned many of the day's best "fine press" printers to produce his books. Worth having a look if you don't know his imprint.

I acquired my copy of Nature's First Green around the same time (1994) the literary world was abuzz with the news of Roth's return to writing, with the first volume of Mercy of a Rude Stream. He'd produced nothing since his acclaimed debut in 1934 with Call It Sleep. I remember very clearly a statement from the publisher that it was part of a six-volume series, all of which had been completed. Mercy did not enjoy strong reviews, and publication of the second volume (A Diving Rock on the Hudson) didn't make things better. Roth died before the third volume's publication, and some time after that the publisher (quietly) revised the publishing program from six to four volumes. The only (easily found) online reference to this change I can find is on Roth's Wikipedia page:

"Before his death, Roth commented numerous times that Mercy of a Rude Stream comprised six volumes. In fact, Roth did write six separate books. He called the first four “Batch One,” and the last two, “Batch Two.” Roth's editor at St. Martin's, Robert Weil, along with Felicia Steele, Larry Fox, and Roth's agent, Roslyn Targ, found the epic would be best served in four volumes, as the four books of "Batch One" contained a stylistic and thematic unity inconsistent with the remaining two books."


That smells a bit: why didn't people make this argument before the presses started running? Maybe it was a convenient way for the publisher to cut losses on a project that was trending down. The two "Batch Two" books were eventually edited and published in 2010 under the title An American Type.


Speaking of Call It Sleep and Targ, above is a first edition inscribed to him, currently on offer at $48,500. I read the novel back around the time that Targ book landed on my shelf. Eh. Arion published an edition, signed by Roth, in 1995. Not one of their hottest titles, despite the usual Arion attention to detail and production. Roth's not an easy read, and he didn't publish enough stuff to keep the modern first collectors engaged. But have a look at Abby's list, maybe you'll find some common ground with Roth in his library.



Not a Huge Goudy Fan, But...

By coincidence two Frederic Goudy items landed on my shelves this past week, which prompted me to look about for what they were joining. He's never been my guy when it comes to types, but that doesn't mean I don't enjoy reading about him and his work.

The primo of the two new items is all the more primo for being a gift. It's a copy of Goudy Greek, issued from Barry Moser's Pennyroyal Press in 1976. Not a terribly common book; I've never seen a copy before. The spread above describes all that follows: four spreads set in Goudy Greek (24- and 30-point, looks like), with the photo-enlarged logotypes printed in shades of gold and copper. Beautiful presswork by Harold McGrath, with a characteristically sublime binding by Gray Parrot (leather or vellum tips are not seen nearly enough in contemporary edition bindings). Seems there may be a slight typo in the colophon, where Gray is identified as E.G. Parrot III, unless his kid did the binding. I like the way the book is padded with blanks at the back, so it would be thick enough to provide a nicely rounded spine. I have no problem with blanks when the paper's nice (this is Nideggen, which is nice enough).

The other new Goudy title is A Goudy Memoir - Essays By & About America's Great Type Designer, published by Neil Shaver's Yellow Barn Press in 1987. The edition of consists of 75 copies printed on Mohawk (yawn) and 75 printed on dampened Rives (yum). Neil was one of the few printers of his time and place who made the effort to print damp. I met him once and he was a prince. I'll devote a post to his press some time soon.

As I said already, Goudy's types have never excited me, and this collection doesn't change that opinion. I do like the Deepdene italic used for the section that includes John DePol's two-color wood engraving.

All this Goudying got me to thinking of Jim Rimmer, for whom Goudy was an inspiration and icon. He designed and printed several pieces celebrating Goudy's work. One was this broadside printed for "the Seattle Book Arts Guild and the Typochondriacs" (?) in 1993.

Jim had used a smaller version of the same image for a three-color (near as I can tell) linocut cover for the Alcuin Society's journal, Amphora in 1989.

In 1987 Jim also produced this broadside. That was more than a decade before I first visited the shop at the back of his home in New Westminster.

Every time you'd visit him, you'd come away with "scraps" of things that he'd take off a bench or pick up from the floor and offer.

This proof (above) of the Goudy linocut from the broadside was found on the floor & still bears the marks of dirty shoes - it may have been on the floor those years. But more likely he'd just reprinted it.

To wrap things up, a cautionary tale for those embarking on their education in collecting books. The first significant Goudy-related book I purchased was Typologia, in a quarter-leather binding with paper vellum over boards. Found in a shop while on vacation in the U.S. This was around 1995, the earliest days of my interest in printing and books about books. It wasn't cheap, especially for someone still getting used to books with triple-digit prices. But it was lovely and of interest. Only when I got home did I realize that a leaf following the last printed page of the book appeared to have been cut out - the remnants of a stub were just discernible. I dug around in my collection of booksellers' catalogues (this was before the Internet obliterated the need & fun of building your own reference library), and discovered that what I had was the limited edition of Typologia, but with the colophon removed!

Calls to the bookseller - who was not a member of the AABA, but sadly remains in business while his betters have moved on - to inquire brought no joy. He did not return calls. When finally run to ground, he expressed surprise, then postulated that the copy must have come from another famous California printer who was famous for excising colophons (??), and finally simply said it was no longer his problem. I guess I could have travelled all the way back there and made him blah blah blah, but I still liked the book - it's a great account of how a typeface was created - and I decided to chalk it up as a learning experience: if you're going to buy expensive books, know what you're buying, or at least buy from a professional who stands by (& accurately describes) what they sell. Like all the good folks listed at right under Find Our Books!


Holiday Photos

Took off to Seattle for a short break from it all. Major scores at the many excellent music shops down there - a trove of Bill Laswell discs. And a few other finds...

...Hopefully this isn't referring to Barbara...

...One Claudia's all I can keep up with...

Spent an evening looking through a copy of the Pennyroyal Caxton Bible, primarily at the text printing. It was done by Bradley Hutchinson and is a model of consistency and clarity. The printing took 30 months, which makes my recent whinings about long days particularly lame. I believe the sheets were printed damp: the edition was 400 copies, plus 30 deluxe on different paper, so to allow for wastage etc he probably was running at least 500 sheets. I'd be interested to know what it's like printing damp sheets on a mechanized press, and just how he managed the logistics of damping & drying that many sheets.

Got the title pages for the deluxe copies of XI LXVImos to Francesca, who will begin the calligraphy on each.


The image at the top looks like a marbled paper, but it ain't. At least, not yet.


Didn't Die Trying

XI LXIVmos is done. At least all the heavy lifting (for me: Francesca Lohmann has a month of calligraphy now, and then Sarah Creighton has a few months of binding, but that's all their problem). That's a collated deluxe copy above. Today I'm getting these deluxe sheets ready to send to Francesca, who will add the title calligraphically to each copy, and number the edition (I-XXXV).

Luckily I remembered not to print the (second color) title on the deluxe sheets, after finishing the regulars. That's exactly the kind of stoopid thing I would do. Was a little concerned that getting the XI between the vines would be wonky, but no worries.

Spent some time thinking about how we'll include the sample pages to the deluxe copies. They'll appear in their appropriate sections, i.e. not loose, in a sleeve at the back of the book of some such inelegant tactic. The folded strips in the photo are sections from Edward Gorey's The Eclectic Abecedarium. Most samples are just a little smaller than the bibliography's page, and can simply be sewn in with the signatures, but the Gorey pages are quite small. I'll probably insert a blank leaf to the section, and have the sample mounted (i.e. hinged) to it. Stay tuned.