Like Father

Working away on the Rollenhagen/Wither project, getting close to the press.

The Dutch artist Crispin van de Passe, who is credited with doing the copperplate engravings for Gabriel Rollenhagen's two emblem books, fathered four children, all of whom went on to establish their own reputations as engravers (Simon and William being the best known of the group). They learned working in their father's studios, first in Cologne and later in Utrecht. Crispin's influence on their work was such that scholars and print aficionados have questioned whether prints attributed to the father - like some of the engravings in Rollenhagen's books - were actually done by his children. Perhaps one clue to different hands could be found in the variation of calligraphy for the epigrams. The majority employ a lovely hand like the one shown above. But there are a few that exhibit a different, and less polished, hand. Three like this:

 And then, for something completely different, this one:

Even if slightly wonky compared to the majority of the plates, the calligraphy is a wonderful component of the graphic; shame on whoever decided to cut them out of Wither's book. 


Labour Virtue Glorie

Progress on the Rollenhagen/Wither leaf book continues, and we’re in the final editing and setting stages. This much I can report with confidence: the title is Labour Virtue Glorie, taken from Emblem 5, Book I (shown above, superfluous u and all). The text will be set in Monotype Garamond (several sizes) on a page that measures 8 x 12 inches (slightly larger than the Wither page). It will contain reproductions of portraits of both authors; facsimile settings of an emblem (i.e. page) each from Andrea Alciato’s Emblematum Liber (1531)and Charles Quarles’ Emblems (1635); the two volvelles from Wither’s book and the lottery volvelle from the book that inspired Wither, all with working spinners; and brief essays about the books and their production. The edition will be 50 copies, mas o menos, issued in two states: About 20 copies will be issued with leaves containing the same emblems from Rollenhagen and Wither, to allow for comparing the state and printing of the same plates. A mocked-up example is shown below. These copies will be bound in quarter leather by Claudia Cohen. The remaining copies will contain a single leaf from each book, with different emblems, and be cased in decorated paper over boards at HM.

Last month I promised to highlight of few of my favorite leaf books, so we’ll start with the Ashendene Bibliography. Technically this may not be considered a leaf book, since the samples included actually are resettings, but it provides a wonderful overview of the press’s work all in a single volume. It should be the model for anyone doing a press bibliography. Neil Shaver, whose Yellow Barn Press I admired very much, did not include samples in his bibliography, I know not why, but that is the main reason I have never purchased one.

By the way, a leaf is not a page; a page is one side of a leaf. This I was reminded of when consulting John Carter’s ABC for Book Collectors for another matter. 

One point about any leaf book, but press bibliographies in particular (they are among the worst offenders in this matter): sample leaves should be attached to a hinge, so that they can be turned like any leaf in the book, and both sides easily viewed. Too many presses opt for the fast and easy alternative of tipping the samples down, making it very difficult to view the verso without creating a new fold or crease.

The Officina Bodoni issued two kool leaf books. The first, in 1929, is the Operation of a Handpress at the Officina Bodoni. Copies are not impossible to find. It was issued in a simple case binding with dustjacket. I found one in busted & bruised boards, and had it rebound by Claudia: beautiful. The other O.P. leaf book is the 1980 bibliography, which is pretty common in the single-volume issue, but there also was a two-volume version in quarter leather, the second volume containing about a dozen sample leaves. That is the version you want.

Jim Rimmer’s Leaves from the Pie Tree is as fun as the man who made it - printed by him in types he designed and cast, and bound by him as well. About the only thing he didn’t do is make the paper. A trade edition was published but, rather than being a facsimile, it was completely redesigned, losing the charm of the original along the way. Jim asked me to proofread the copy for his original; I thought he meant the setting copy, but it turned out that he composed the book while he composed the book, if you follow my meaning. I found a number of niggly style and setting things, and when I took my photocopied sheets over to run through them with Jim, he became increasingly agitated. He finally - in his quiet way - exclaimed that he wasn’t going to reset the whole damn book, and I assured him that many of my red marks were “just personal preferences,” and that the typos were the most easily fixed. I had a box made for my copy of Leaves, to include all the ephemera I’d collected from him over the years.

Henry Morris’s Bird & Bull Press issued a number of leaf books over the years. My favorite probably is Dard Hunter & Son, with leaves from various Mountain House/Hunter publications, all presented in Morris’ characteristic clean style, excellent printing on decent paper (alas, no longer his handmade, but still). His series of press bibliographies also include many samples, although much of the material is issued loose, which I generally do not like. The most recent leaf book of his I purchased was his own emblem project, about Alciato’s Emblematum. This book was first published in 1531 and is considered the first emblem book. Unfortunately, Morris’s project included a leaf from a later (1589) edition, which makes it less interesting as a leaf book. Worst yet, he appended eight of his own “emblems” (which, technically, they weren’t) with modern wood engravings. At their best emblems are enigmatic, the fun being in puzzling out one’s own conclusions based on the various elements. Morris’s “emblems” are just an old man shouting at clouds.

One of HM’s first projects was Reid’s Leaves, with samples from the private press of Robert R. Reid. If I’d known then how much I did not know, I’d never have undertaken a project of that scope. The large format was dictated by the largest sample leaf, from Kuthan’s Menagerie. After publication, a commercial book designer who was looking through it asked, critically, why the book had to be so big? Which raises another criteria: do not fold a sample unless there is no other option, up to & including not using it. A more satisfactory leaf book from HM, in terms of execution, was Elements in Correlation (above), where the leaves were used to illustrate different physical aspects of printing (specifically handpress printing).

A few years ago I found in a bookseller’s odds & ends bin a yellow card-stock folder, printed in red, A Leaf from the Aldine Press 1535. A keepsake issued by the Friends of the Library at Southern Oregon State College, 1986. Laid loose inside the triptych folder was a leaf from L. Coelii Lactantii Firmiani Divinarum Institutionum…, the collected writings of one Mr Lactantius. The yellow folder is roughly printed letterpress (why in red?!), and a short bibliographic note is laid in, a photocopy reduction from a typed (i.e. typewriter) original. Aldus spun. 

This illustrates the point that, if entering the disputed waters of leaf books, one must present the samples with the respect due the publication, printer & author from which they come. An excellent overview of the issues surrounding the ethics and practises of leaf books can be found in Disbound & Dispersed, the catalogue from the Caxton’s Club’s 2005 exhibition. Aldus deserves a better ending than that little yellow folder, so here’s this: Nicolas Barker’s study of the Aldine Greek types, the first edition of which included leaves from four books. The book was well produced at Stinehour - not letterpress, not flashy, but solid in all aspects. Barker himself admits he is not a fan of leaf books, but recognized the value of actual samples appended to his essay. My one criticism: the leaves are tipped to pages instead of hinged. Alas.

Propitius esto scripturam errata.