Calligraphy, Printing & Books


To end the Year of Wither, an update on the Kelmscott & Doves leaf book project, followed by some seasonal gift suggestions for the bibliophile in your life. Bibliophiles, if you’re lucky. If you don’t have one, much less several, feel free to purchase any of the items in this month’s post & have them shipped to HM….

Last month I spent a few hours on a rainy Sunday sorting the Kelmscott Golden Legend and Doves Bible leaves to be included in the next book. Looking at an unbound or broken book is different than flipping through a bound copy: some aspects of the printing and setting stand out in ways they wouldn’t otherwise. For example, the Kelmscott printing isn’t actually that great - the inking is inconsistent, tending toward too much. The Bible is much more consistent in its printing, but one thing that struck me is Cobden-Sanderson’s type doesn’t really suit a book the size of his Bible (large quarto). In the essay by Pollard included in the new book, he comments on the type’s readability: “…I must confess to being unable to read more than twenty or thirty pages in the Doves Press type without feeling perceptibly chilled.” The Bible pages are dense, the lines are long, and the text is already somewhat impenetrable. The type is perfect for the octavo format employed for most Doves books, but on a Bible page I started noticing qualities of the majuscules that looked odd. The H in particular sticks out, like a sort taken from the wrong type case.

The batch of Bible leaves I found were from volume I, infamous for the unspecified “paper flaw” that resulted in so many of those copies looking like they’d been dipped in tea. Luckily none of the leaves being used for this leaf book are afflicted: they’re all lovely examples of the Doves watermarked handmade paper.

Printing of the book was finished in mid-November. The 20 copies that will have all of Martin Jackson’s calligraphy actually written in are with him now. He did the colophon for the entire edition first, so I can get to work on the 30 (printed) copies that will be cased here while he’s working on the calligraphy. The image above shows (top) a sheet with the initial letter printed with (below) one added by Martin, both of them editioned by him. Claudia and I are still discussing design ideas for the copies (with Martin’s calligraphy) that she’ll bind. A printed copy of the book, along with one page of Martin’s original calligraphy (probably the title page) will be on display with Vamp & Tramp at Codex, next February. With luck Claudia could have her copies completed by March, so we’re on track for an early 2019 issue.


 Pollard’s essay in the new HM book starts with a brief discussion of why neither the Kelmscott nor Doves presses could be considered private. For many people the term “private press” has come to be synonymous with “fine press,” which gets me to my point: How is it that some people include the Folio Society in discussions of fine press publishers? For the past 100 years pedants have been tying themselves into all kinds of pretzels while crafting criteria that suit their agendas for what it & is not a fine or private press, but none of them could be looped & twisted enough to include the Folio Society. It’s a book club that issues hardcovers made with slightly better-than-average paper and cases, on par with Heritage or Easton! (And what’s the difference between Easton and Franklin Mint? The books look the same.) There’s nothing wrong with that, but don’t pretend it’s more than it is (I don’t believe the FS itself has every made claims to being a “fine press”). If you want a well-printed Shakespeare, check out the Nonesuch seven-volume set issued in 1929. Understated elegance in design and production, the books are a joy to hold and read. The Strand seems to have two sets on offer right now…

Will Rueter, over at The Aliquando Press, has just finished a new book that nicely overlaps with HM’s own current production: A Visit With William Morris is a “reconstructed interview taken from essays printed in the Pall Mall Gazette of 1891, the Daily Chronicle of 1893, the English Illustrated Magazine of 1895, and Bookselling of 1895.”

The edition of 40 copies (41 pp, approximately 12mo in size) was set in Jim Rimmer’s Nephi Medieval and Tell Text 5 (a copy of the Chaucer type), printed throughout in colour - the title page in seven colors. The four signatures are sewn on tapes and laced into a limp “saddle back” binding, covered in chiyogami paper, with a paper slipcase. An exuberant example of The Aliquando Press’s distinctive style in every way, and a bargain at C$150. To order contact Will directly (dovecotte@cogeco.ca).

That’s one for Morris, now one for C-S: John Howell for Books had this beauty on offer at the Seattle book fair. Remarkably it remains available…

COBDEN-SANDERSON, Thomas James (1840-1922). The Book Beautiful. [San Francisco: Printed by John J. Johnck, Lawton R Kennedy, Samuel T. Farquhar for the Roxburghe Club, 1930. 8vo. 7 3/4 x 5 1/2 inches. 14 pp. Beautifully printed on vellum; text clean, unmarked. Bound in full gilt-stamped vellum; binding square and tight, light soiling and tanning to the covers, rear paste-down coming up on the fore-edge. With the bookplate of Carl I. Wheat on the front paste-down. Very Good.
LIMITED EDITION, this is copy number 6 of 85 copies, being 1 of 10 printed on vellum. This volume was prepared as a keepsake for the October 29th 1930 dinner honoring William Edwin Rudge and George W. Jones held at the Fairmont Hotel. T. J. Cobden-Sanderson’s text regarding the elements that go into creating an ideal book was an inspiration to many American fine printers in the first half of the twentieth century. It received many treatments over the years, but few can rival this lovely setting printed on vellum. Samuel Farquhar’s copy, Number 1, on vellum, is at the Clark Library in Los Angeles. PROVENANCE: Carl Irving Wheat (1892-1966) was a California lawyer and historian and a historical cartographer of the American West. Wheat was a member of San Francisco’s Bohemian Club and participated in the resurrection of E Clampus Vitus. It was Henry R. Wagner who introduced Wheat to California history. Wheat moved to Los Angeles in 1893; it was in Los Angeles that Wheat issued most of his work on California history and the cartography of the American West, including Mapping the Transmississippi West, 1540-1861, which appeared in 5 volumes between 1957 and 1963.

John has lots of cool books, and this one is a STEAL at $1,500. I seriously considered stealing it myself, but I’m saving up for the new 2019 all-black Vespa. If you have one Vespa, you may as well have two…

I stumbled across a recent (2016) publication of a HP Lovecraft short story, by an American press I wasn’t familiar with, Amy Borezo’s Shelter Bookworks. So many of the people who publish (and purchase) Lovecraft default to the lurid aesthetic of EC Comics circa 1955. Borezo demonstrates the writer offers the potential for more subtle and abstract interpretation. Based on her site’s description and images, this looks like a well-produced and engaging book. My only quibble is typographic: I don’t like the line spaces between paragraphs, especially for fiction. But overall the book, and especially its binding, looks lovely. This mention is, however, a bit of a tease, as no copies seem to be available. I think the issue price was $350, which seems like a bargain for this book. Lux Mentis had a copy listed at $500 as recently as a month ago, but it’s gone now. Keep your eyes peeled (but not in the lurid, EC sense)..

Here’s an early Christmas present to myself (because who’s going to even know I want it?): Antoine Renouard’s history of the books published by Aldus and his sons. This is the second edition of 1825, which added some wonderful facsimile plates of types and manuscripts in the third volume. Of particular interest with this set is a note added to the front flyleaf of volume two, stating the set was “hand bound by John H. Nash for Mr. W.R.K. Young.”

According to the transcript of an oral history with Oscar Lewis (a great read, BTW), Young was an executive with the C&H Sugar Company in the 1920s (and probably before then), and an early president of the Book Club of California. He seems to have been an active collector and bibliophile, based on the material included in the Online Archive of California. He was married to Belle McMurtry, who Lewis describes as a “very able bookbinder,” which makes one wonder why she didn’t bind this set; maybe they predate her binding work. So Young and Nash were in the same orbit, which lends some credence to this set’s claim. Plus I bought it from a San Francisco bookseller. It’s interesting to me because I have not previously seen any mention of Nash doing any binding work. The books are providing some helpful material for next year’s Francesco Griffo project…

Last year this blog posted some Desert Island all-time top-ten album lists from fellow printers and publishers. Because printing and music go hand-in-hand, this year I’ll simply list a few people who were new & notable on the HM playlist in 2018. Thanks to all the regular visitors of this blog - there’s some interesting project news planned for early next year, so keep checking in. Pax fucus
Sarah Davachi

Jannick Schou

Olan Mill

Listening Mirror



Some Truths About Publishing

I’m reading a fantastic book. It’s been on a shelf here for a few years, but I hadn’t looked at it until a recent series of duds from the library left me casting about for something engaging. The Truth About Publishing, by Sir Stanley Unwin, was first published in 1926. The book is written from the publisher’s perspective, which is the one with the most expansive view of everything it means to publish books, from the intangible, to the practical, to the unsustainable. It was reprinted many times; I’m reading a revised edition from 1960. Despite the changes in technologies and commerce over the past century, it remains the most comprehensive primer for people interested in any aspect of publishing I’ve encountered. I’d particularly recommend it to authors, for its insights to production (costs), contracts and all the other non-creative parts of publishing a book. Much of it could also be easily extrapolated for any kind of business that involves agreements and partnerships with artists for the distribution or presentation of their creations, e.g. music, games, performance. Here are a few of the pearls to be found:

“It is probably true that anyone who could make money at book publishing could make more in other business…it is possible that the better work you do [at publishing], the less monetary reward you will receive.”

“…the one time practise of throwing in the Canadian market with the American rights is unjustified. The rule is for the Canadian market to be retained by the publisher in the country of origin.”
Damn straight!

“It is one thing to produce a book, quite another to sell it, though some authors one meets regard the two as synonymous.” Some publishers too, but they tend to disappear after a book or two.

I managed to get down to the annual Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair this weekend. For once it wasn’t held on the Thanksgiving weekend, which is never a time one wants to have to cross the border. The absence of two long-time regulars - Michael R. Thompson and Louis Collins - was felt by everyone, but not morosely so. Saw lots of cool books. Eastons Books, of Mt Vernon, had a number of books from the estate of a Washington-state binder named Derek Lowe. Many were books about binding that he had rebound in quarter or full leather; some were books he’d purchased in sheets and bound. I got John Ryder’s Intimate Leaves from a Designer’s Notebook (Gregynog, 1993) in a lovely leather binding with inlay to the front board. I’ve only dipped into the book so far (one problem with books bound like this is you can’t just leave them lying on the floor by the bed…); Ryder may be a little pedantic and humorless for my taste, but we’ll see.

Speaking of nice bindings, here’s a surprise that came my way recently: a copy of Gill’s Hamlet, printed by him for the Limited Editions Club (1933), rebound by Claudia Cohen. For years she’d been sitting on three copies (mine + 2 more) in busted bindings, and I’d long ago given up pestering her to bind one up for me, so when she said she had a surprise for me this was the last thing on my radar. Subsequent to acquiring my busted copy, I came to learn about, and grapple with, Gill’s complete failure as a human. I didn't have to grapple much: he was, and should be remembered (if at all) primarily as an evil narcissist. I confess to finding Perpetua a masterpiece that cannot be denied, and that his book Typography contains many opinions that resonate and inspire. His art, compared to what else was going on during his lifetime, never particularly interested me. But I admire this Hamlet for its production, and Claudia's binding is much more elegant than the original. Told you I’d find something to set me off for this month’s post!

One of the aforementioned library duds I tried reading this past month defeated me on purely typographic grounds: its 400+ pages were set in Optima, very generously leaded. I could not get past the second page. I like Optima very much, but the combination of the face, the leading, and the content (magic realism, to use the easiest label) proved unbearable. It wasn’t ugly, just not conducive to extended reading.

Work on the Kelmscott & Doves leaf book proceeds on schedule. Not much more to be said about it right now.