After All This Time, WTF!

This week's blog is at best tangentially related to HM. A glimpse behind the curtain, & perhaps amusing for those who know the studio's work (avoision) habits...

For an edition of 50 copies, a single run (i.e. one side of a sheet) on a handpress takes me at least 10 hours, often 12. It's nothing like the exciting scene shown above; it gets really boring. There's nothing you can do to make it happen faster. (This is the main reason our editions are getting smaller: printing is boring, and a handpress is taxing on the muscles.) Distractions can lead to carelessness, so whatever accompaniment you allow cannot demand your ongoing full attention. That explains a lot of the music played here: glacial wall-of-sound, sustained rhythms. No singing. Luckily there's a lot of really interesting contemporary chamber-type music that does the trick.


While printing's solitary nature usually is part of its appeal, things can get a little lonely or dull during a long run, and the sound of people having an interesting conversation helps keep momentum. Back when all we had was radio, the pickings were awfully thin (NPR doesn't reach quite this far). Podcasts have helped, if only in freeing people from the tyranny of prescribed time limits, but like most things on the Web, there's a lot of content but little substance. One of the few that has been a staple at HM for several years now is Marc Maron's WTF. (There's a HM connection here; bear with.)

Maron is one of the best, most engaging interviewers working right now. I started listening around episode 150, when he was still working through his Rolodex of comedians. The show has trended away from its initial premise over the past year, with more musicians and actors being booked (and one President), usually ones who have a PR angle. It's become more mainstream and less unpredictable, but he still manages to have engaging conversations. Every book published by HM since 2011 has been produced with significant WTF support.

Today, while looking through project files for something, I found a folded sheet from a local weekly. Wondering why I'd kept it, I opened it out and scanned the articles, finding a short mention of HM's first publication with Barbara Hodgson, in 2004. Interestingly, on the other side, I saw a profile of Maron for his upcoming debut in Vancouver. I don't recall ever noticing it before, and his podcast was my first exposure to him anyway.

How's that for provocative headline writing? Sadly this weekly is nothing like The Stranger.

Just a weird story of coincidence. On his podcast Maron has discussed several times a long-running hassle he had with Canadian Immigration: he'd been blacklisted after being "caught" coming up for a gig without the proper work permits in place. I wonder if this was the gig? Boomer lives.


A Golden Hind Trove

Received 250 full & 200 quarter sheets of Golden Hind mouldmade paper, courtesy of Takao Tanabe. It's a beautiful text-weight laid sheet that prints beautifully. Perhaps the best surprise was that the paper retained its original wrapping, with the maker's label, thereby answering my long-standing question of who made Golden Hind.

I know of Golden Hind because it's what Robert Reid had Kuthan's Menagerie of Interesting Zoo Animals printed on in 1960. As Bob explained in the introduction for Kuthan's Menagerie Completed, he felt the paper was too translucent for George Kuthan's bold & colorful linocuts, so he printed on one side of the sheet only, and bound the book along the open edge.


When Tak called to tell me about the stash of Golden Hind he'd found in his studio, it got me wondering what mill it came from. Tak got into job printing in the '50s, initially being mentored by Bob. Tak's artistic talents quickly showed through in a series of typographically creative and playful broadsides and poetry chapbooks he designed and printed. In the early '60s he got a Canada Council grant to study in Japan, and his vocation as a printer was displaced by a career as one of Canada's most important painters.

Tak guessed that the Golden Hind he dropped off last week was purchased mid- to late-1950s, when he was printing. It was being distributed by a paper supplier in Toronto. I asked Bob Reid about how the paper came to his attention:

"Somebody in Toronto alerted me to the fact that a paper house there had this gorgeous mould-made British paper that was mouldering in their warehouse because nobody in Toronto wanted to use it. So we bought all they had. They must have kept stocking it for us, if Tak was buying more of it years later. You are so lucky to be able to get some of it now."

A search for "Golden Hind paper" yields surprisingly few results. The most useful is Papermaking at Tuckenhay Mill, a reasonably full account of the mill's history, which ended in 1970. I can't find any specific mentions of Golden Hind on the site.

I initially wondered if the paper had any connection to Arthur Rushmore's press, but apparently not. An Abe keyword search for the paper turns up just one other book printed on the paper: Philip Levine's On The Edge, printed by Kim Merker in 1963. Interesting that it's around the same time that Bob and Tak were using it. Perhaps the paper was a new sheet introduced by the mill in the '50s to complement (or as an alternative to) its handmade products. Will Rueter printed 10 special copies of Ten Songs (The Aliquando Press, 1987) on Golden Hind; he may have gotten it from Gus Rueter, whose private press was active in the late '50s and early '60s.

I've printed on Golden Hind twice so far. The first time was Kuthan's Menagerie Completed, which included a two-page intro by Bob printed on blank sheets that had been stored with the unbound copies we were releasing. Some printed sheets had been balled up and used as packing in the box; these we used for the colophon. They were dampened for printing, and dried in the usual manner, under pressure, which helped smooth out the wrinkles.

The second time I printed on Golden Hind was for Metal Type. For some reason, one page of text (set in Perpetua) from Kuthan's Menagerie had been overprinted; I guess they didn't like something about it. So I had all these copies of the same page of text on one side and blank on the other (They'd been stuffed in with the unbound copies I had in 2003). Metal Type combined a number of different papers, so it provided an opportunity to use up the Menagerie waste sheets: I used the blank side to print a Muhammad Ali quote I've always liked. On the printed side I displayed my own 18-pt Perpetua, intermingled with Bob's original.

The paper prints beautifully. It's relatively soft, but not too much. Like most papers, it prints better damp, but it doesn't require a lot of damping.

So, huge thanks to Tak for thinking of HM. I've promised him a copy of whatever I print on the paper. The problem is, when you get a stash like this, once it's used you'll never get more so you never use it! We'll see...


Lankes, Hunter & A Redemption Aversion

Received an announcement for a book to be published by the Tampa Book Arts Studio: an unpublished short story by artist J. J. Lankes. "The Rich Mouse [is an] allegorical fable emphasizing the snares of materialism versus the redeeming strength of love and forgiveness, written in 1950, but set aside and never published."

The studio is running a Kickstarter campaign for the project, with details of the publication here. It will be set in Goudy's Village type (see previous post regarding Goudy types...) and printed on the studio's Washington press, which happens to have previously belonged to Lankes. It's also oblong in format, but I guess they have their reasons.

Poking around, I found this 1931 profile of Lankes written by Sherwood Anderson. The Tampa project caught my eye primarily because I'd recently acquired a book that included several Lankes engravings: Dard Hunter's Papermaking in Japan, China & Korea (1935). At least, the illustrations were attributed to him in the catalogue's bibliographic description, but looking through the book I can find no mention of the artist. Lankes and Hunter certainly knew each other and were in contact during the period of the book's publication, so it's possible.

(One of my favorite parts of the book is the addendum inserted loose, regarding the paper upon which the text was printed. Imagine overlooking that detail in a book about paper!)

Papermaking in Japan... is one of two Hunter limited editions that were published by Pynson Printers. As momentous as Hunter's Mountain House Press book were, in terms of all the work being done under his own roof, the quality of production is better in the Pynson book. The type he designed, and his sun cut & cast, can get difficult to read, the presswork wasn't always great, and he sometimes used ruinous adhesives to mount paper samples. Nonetheless, I covet my copies of Papermaking by Hand in America and The Literature of Papermaking as much for their shortcoming as for their achievements. If Hunter could get a few things wrong, there's hope for HM yet.

Redemption stories aren't really my thing - I naturally gravitate more to things that go in the other direction - but the Tampa Book Arts Studio is doing valuable outreach work. Consider showing your support by ordering a copy of the Lankes book.


Labor Day: Blackout

Not working on Labor Day seems in congruous. Here's the story of an experiment conducted at the studio earlier this summer...

For several years I have been thinking about the many pre-1800 broken books that can be found in the back rooms of bookshops, that they're rarely worth the cost of restoring (if it's even possible), but also that they can't just be put in the recycling bin. So they pile up.

At the same time I've watched the supply of good (handmade) paper dwindle. Reg is retired now, and every time a package of Barcham Green turns up it causes a frenzy. And so, I wondered how the beautiful papers in broken books could be recycled.

Simply pulping the pages to make new sheets could be done, but the fibers would be quite short by the time they went through a beater a second time, plus the ink would still be there, so pure white sheets wouldn't happen, plus there's the potential for impurities to cause degradation. All in all, not worth the effort.

Instead of pulping the sheets, I wondered about just printing on them. It could be possible to print over existing text blocks, perhaps using larger type printed in a vibrant color that stands out from the printed background. But there's still be a lot of visual interference that would work against extended reading.

Then I wondered about obscuring the existing text, creating a new (blank) field to print on. The easiest solution would be to make the white parts of the paper match the black (printed) parts - i.e. to create a black sheet - and then use metallic inks for printing.

This past summer I finally got around to conducting a few experiments. I found an incomplete copy of Ancient Ballads and Songs of the North of Scotland (volume 2 only), printed in Edinburgh in 1828. Half of the remaining text block was badly foxed, but I harvested the cleanest pages. The paper is a laid sheet of approximately 90 g weight.

My first thought was to try dyeing the sheets. I got two 1-oz jars of Procion MX dye, one jet black and one navy (the shop had only one jar of black, so I went with the next dark color on hand; I doubted one jar would be enough, and assumed the black would overpower the blue).

I dyed the sheets in the same plastic tub I use for damping paper. The sheets were submerged, left soaking for about 10 minutes, then removed & stacked between sheets of waste paper to absorb the excess water.

Drying the sheets down took several days and was very messy. I probably should have pressed them, but didn't have a way to deal with the run-off. When dry, the sheets had a distinctly blue hue, and the text remained unobscured (above).

Even if I could get a dye solution that was intense enough to make the sheets a pure, deep black (and I doubted I could), it would be a messy and time-consuming process. So I turned to my second idea, using HM's new etching press.
A sheet of Plexiglass larger than the book pages was inked with black relief ink.* A page was laid over the inked plate, followed by a piece of Mylar (covering all of the inked portions of the plate, beyond the edges of the page), and then the press blanket. The bed was run through the press, and the page peeled off the Plexiglass. After one side of all the pages was printed, the same was done to the verso.

(* I used rubber-based ink, because I knew the experiment would consume a lot of ink and I didn't want to waste my good (oil-based) ink. I should have, however, thought that miserly idea through: rubber ink dries by absorption, oil by oxidation. Since a dense layer of ink was applied across the entire surface of a 200-year-old sheet of relatively thin paper, it took a long time to dry. Oxidation would have been a more efficient process. Plus rubber ink stinks, while oil has a lovely aroma. Remember: ink should be sticky, not bouncy.)

With enough ink applied to the plate, the text was completely occluded, although the impression remained. However, once the sheets had fully dried, they no longer had the feel of paper: they felt like a thin sheets of rubber. So, from the perspective of processing the paper in a way that retained its essential qualities, the method was a failure.

Nonetheless, to test how these sheets printed, I printed four haiku from an ongoing exchange between two authors of my acquaintance (they were copying me on their exchange, for archiving if nothing else). The text was set in 12-, 18- & 36-pt Perpetua.

There seemed no point in damping the pages for printing: the paper was as floppy and soft as waterleaf. One author's parts were printed in silver, the other's in gold. A few lines were printed in black. Adjusting the inking for the processed paper took some doing: the gold is a much looser ink than the silver and it was easy to over-ink.

I bound up 10 press-numbered copies, having found some lovely Japanese papers in gold and silver versions, and sent the entire edition to the authors. (There also were four A.P. copies, which I used for trial bindings.) That's where the experimenting has stalled to date.

Screen printing might be a faster method for laying down fields of obliterating color, but I think it would still eliminate the paper's fundamental tactile qualities. I'm inclined to think the answer lies with dye: I just have to find the right kind and intensity. Once dyed, the paper could even be re-sized. I'll keep playing and let you know.