Potential Bibliomania Outbreak Threatens India

The author & journalist Pradeep Sebastian is based in his homeland of India, but has had several extended sojourns to the United States in recent years. It was during one of these visits, about three years ago, that he contracted what appears to be chronic bibliomania, specifically the strain privata torcular. India, as he’ll discuss in the Q&A below, does not really have a tradition of book collecting (much less bibliophilia), and the modern fine press movement never got a toe-hold. Being already bookishly inclined, he was primed for seduction by the materials, methods and aesthetics of private press books.

Pradeep used his new-found passion as the basis for his first novel, The Book Hunters of Katpadi. The book was published in hardcover in late 2017 by Hachette, but available in India only so far. The story centers around an antiquarian bookshop in Chennai (the capital of the Indian state Tamil Nadu), its owner Neela and her apprentice Kayal, and the discovery of an apocryphal manuscript by the English explorer Richard Burton (below). Events are populated with the kind of odd, colorful and scheming characters that anyone who’s spent time at book fairs or in shops will recognize (including the bookseller who tells you that, while everything in the shop is for sale, unfortunately the book you’re interested in isn’t, no matter which book it is; see here for an account of Pradeep's real-life encounter with one such wastrel).

Pradeep’s novel, like Neela, has an underlying activist agenda: to develop and promote a culture of book collecting in India. Pradeep’s strategy to achieve this in the novel is to liberally sprinkle bibliographic arcana & asides throughout the well-plotted and quickly paced book. (Mentions of HM in the novel brought it to my attention, but I wouldn’t be posting this interview with Pradeep if I hadn’t enjoyed the book. Plus, he just seems such an enthusiastic and joyful person, two adjectives – and possibly the noun too – that would never be used to describe HM.)

Pradeep is back in India at the moment, so we conducted this interview by email.

HM: Give us the short version of your life, particularly when, where & how books (or more specifically, book collecting) came into it. 

Pradeep Sebastian: I became a collector the day I happened on my first fine press book. I had no desire (or the financial resources) to be a collector, but the beauty and brilliance of press books compelled me to begin collecting them. It happened by chance. One day, using a university’s Interlibrary Loan service, I requested a copy of Joel Silver’s Dr. Rosenbach and Mr Lilly, and instead of sending me the trade edition, they sent me the letterpress Bird and Bull edition! I relished everything about it, and if I recall correctly, I held on to it as long as I could, using up my two renewals. I returned it reluctantly. I felt as if an exotic, strange and exciting creature had flown away from me. Could I get one for myself? No; even the lowest priced copy on the antiquarian market was beyond me. At that point the most expensive book I had bought couldn’t have been more than twenty dollars. I now have a copy of that B&B book, but the purchase would come only after nearly two years of dreaming about it.

HM: How did being in the U.S. change your collecting? Did your condition worsen? I know that the start of my collecting overlapped with a period of frequent travel to the U.S., and exposure to all the shops there (vs what we had in Canada) was too much to resist.

PS: It was the example and environment of collecting and dealing that exists in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. that fueled my collecting and bibliomania. It was here that I first encountered the world of the book arts: antiquarian bookshops and fairs, private press printers, rare book dealers and librarians, typographers, book artists, calligraphers, wood engravers, rare book schools and seminars, and several other practitioners of the arts of the book. I was really quite beside myself trying to take it all in. In India we don’t have such a lively, vibrant and ingrained tradition of the Book Arts. As a columnist in India for The Hindu’s Literary Review I had mainly focused on books about books. Time spent in the U.K. and U.S. exploring the rare book world has changed that focus to a column now on the book arts called ‘A Typophiles Notes.’ 

HM: One of the potential risks of writing anything that delves into a specific field of expertise, particularly one involving collecting, is getting some passing detail wrong. Your book deals with the antiquarian book trade, book collecting, one particular & long-established seam in book collecting, and fine & private-press printing. Presumably many of the potential readers of
Book Hunters will consider themselves knowledgeable, and ready to pounce at the first perceived mis-step. Did you find yourself having to consciously balance how much detail to include as the story progresses, i.e. did you find yourself having to pull back sometimes.

PS: I’m afraid I didn’t pull back at all. I wanted to introduce the Indian bibliophile to this world of antiquarian book culture that I had become so intoxicated with, and since it has myriad aspects or levels to it – wealthy collectors, scholar-book dealers, fine press printers, auction houses, and bibliophile societies – I tried to get them all in. So, it’s quite possible mis-steps and some details could be wrong because of this rather overwrought scheme I stuck with.

HM: One of the book’s protagonists is an Indian antiquarian bookseller who wants to promote and develop a culture and tradition of book collecting in her country. I suspect that might be a mission you share with her. What is the current state of book collecting and the antiquarian trade in India?

PS: Yes, yes, I do share that mission with her! Presently, there is a growing interest in rare books among Indian readers and booksellers. There are even a couple of book auction houses. While we do have serious collectors, there is frustratingly no established antiquarian trade or market in the country. Our collectors largely depend on online dealers to fulfill their wants or areas of specialization and focus.

HM: I liked that your book included a few illustrations. It struck me as appropriately anachronistic for the type of story it is. Did you have any input to that, or was it down to the publisher?

PS: My publisher felt illustrations in a book that revolved around the art of the printed book would be a nice addition. The publisher and I offered the illustrator a few references for the kind of bookish images we wanted; however, the credit for the illustrations goes fully to the illustrator [Sonali Zohra].

HM: Would you like to write more adventures for Neela and Kayal? Is there any possibility of your book being published in the U.S.?

PS: It would be nice to imagine up another bibliophilic adventure for Kayal and Neela, though there are no plans for a sequel. I haven’t yet looked into the possibility of a U.S. edition, though bibliophiles in the U.S. and U.K. who’ve read the book are encouraging me to think of one. It would depend on a publisher there being interested enough in the book to acquire it.

HM: Have you heard from any of the English or American booksellers – including Bromers, the Veatchs, Claude Cox, and Vamp & Tramp – you mention in the book? It’s pretty cool being woven into a work of fiction – it probably will be HM’s best hope for posterity, for which I thank you.

PS: No, I haven’t – though that’s probably because none of them know they are in the book! Not only that, I’m sure they don’t even know of my book, there being only an Indian edition. As for HM’s hope for posterity resting with my book – ha-ha.

HM: You clearly are a bibliophile, and possibly a bibliomaniac. I know you’re interested in fine press books, but just how widely beyond that do your acquisitive tendencies range? And is that something you, as a collector, wrestle with – the question of how focused or cohesive your collection should be? 

PS: Yes, I do have it bad for press books, and you are spot on in sensing this. I’m still in the throes of discovery, so I tend to gush and sound breathless in talking about them, having encountered fine press books only some three years ago (you’ve recalled how it was for you in the early years). The discernment that helped me not buy anything and everything that was or is finely printed is deciding on my focus early: collecting fine press books on the books arts, and my collection has largely stuck to this, though in the first year I bought some fiction and poetry.

My bibliomania is unleashed only where fine press book and original leaves or fragments of early printed books and medieval illuminated manuscripts are concerned. I have no interest in modern first editions. If I were to accidentally stumble on some very high spot in that line of collecting, I would in a second trade the damm thing for a bunch of fine press books. Thirty to fifty thousand for one edition makes me only shake my head and think of how many lovely press books one could buy instead for that money. I am by sensibility not a completist collector, so that spares me from having to get the entire output of an author or a press. My focus from the start has been limited to fine press books on the book arts. Fine books on fine bookmaking. And I’ve tried within my collecting budget to acquire the best press books in this field, from modest productions to sumptuous ones. The illuminated and incunabula leaves are a recent interest and more a passing fancy than a focus. Once you get to chasing quires of illuminated manuscript leaves you are in the full grip of bibliomania. These days I’ve learnt to say, ‘Enough’. There is something enticing and promising about contemplating and toying with buying some highly desirable press book and then holding back - the idea of some unseen typographic beauty sitting there waiting to be plucked is more fun than actually getting hold of it.


HM: Early in the book you describe Biblio, the book shop where much of the story unfolds. The description starts with something another bookseller had once said to Neela, Biblio’s owner: “ 'The moment I shelve everything, customers stop coming. Now I leave everything lying around and they’re happy.’ As charming and welcoming as that might seem to casual browsers, Neela knew that an antiquarian bookshop that served the serious book collector couldn’t afford to have books lying around in joyful chaos.” That resonated for me because Vancouver’s last remaining downtown used bookshop (image above) is infamous for often being impenetrable due to towers of books and boxes clogging the aisles. Of those two extremes, which do you find more fun to explore?

PS: I still like the sight of bookshops (and rooms in houses) with overflowing shelves, packed aisles and shelving up to the rafters, but purely for aesthetic reasons and the browsing pleasures they seem to offer – but as a collector I know exactly what I am looking for and would like to be shown straightaway to the shelf where the kind of books I am hunting for are kept. Thus, now I prefer the ordered and finely appointed antiquarian bookshop where I am more likely to find what I have come in search of, rather than having to rummage through piles of books to unearth something desirable. The first time I looked at photographs of British antiquarian stores in the two-volumed pictorial record of The London Bookshop, I remember saying to myself, ‘Good God, they more resemble a tidy office! Featuring a couple of desks, some furniture, glass cabinets, and a large but empty (except perhaps for a table) floorspace, and not at all the storybook or Dickensian version of a cosy, dusty, overcrowded bookshop we’ve assumed they must be.’

HM: Who in India is currently making or publishing books that you find interesting in what we’d call a book-arts way? I understand there hasn’t been a fine/private press tradition in the country – your book touches on that – but is that changing? If not fine press, then maybe more in the artists’ book realm?

PS: No one I know, at least in the way I like my book arts printed. There are perhaps one or two small presses or publishing collectives that make handmade books, but their work has not interested me. It’s possible that in the artists book realm there could be more potential because of a long interest and tradition in handcrafted things. But letterpress book arts, no. 

HM: Have you ever been tempted to buy a press and some type…?

PS: More than a temptation it is a fantasy, and will probably remain one because I’m sure I’ll have no talent or eye for it, even though there would be the passion. And then there is the wild goose chase aspect of going round and round in search of a suitable working hand-press, not to mention cases of fine hot metal type in India…..

HM: Your book also touches on the history of type and typography in Indian publishing. Could you recommend one or two titles for people interested in knowing more about that history?

PS: Three essays by Fiona Ross on Indian type in various Matrix issues and her book The Printed Bengali Character and its Evolution would be a good place to start, and for related aspects of Indian book history, a handful of notable books would be: Moveable Type, The Province of the Book, The History of the Book In South Asia, An Empire of Books, and Founts of Knowledge. There could be other more recent titles, but I am forgetting.

HM: What is your greatest find from India? (I mean a book found in India, not necessarily an Indian book.)

PS: My answer will best illustrate the vacuum we have in rare book dealing and collecting here in India – alas, not one interesting find, let alone a great find. Of course, one could turn up rare or interesting antiquarian editions printed in India or about India in India, but they are bound to be mostly in poor condition. All the best Indian manuscripts and books are with dealers abroad or rare book institutions there. What I’ve never found – and likely to never find – is a fine press book here. In the novel, Kayal’s evangelical zeal in trying to stock the bookshop with press books is Biblio’s desperate attempt to help fellow Indian bibliophiles discover the world of fine printing.

Copies of The Book Hunters of Katpadi can be purchased from booksellers in India through Abebooks. But maybe one of the American booksellers mentioned in the novel should bring over a few dozen, and have Pradeep sign them the next time he’s over. If you enjoyed John Dunnings' books, Book Hunters is much much much much much much much better, in the details & plot. Just thinking about all Dunning got wrong in Bookman’s Wake still pisses me off…


Some binding production details & photos for Labour Vertue Glorie will going up over the next 6–8 weeks. Claudia's about to attack the Series 1 and 2 copies. I just have to attach all the spinners (below) to the volvelles first...


The Book Hunters of Katpadi

Come back Friday to see what it's all about...


Printing Music

Printing for Labour Vertue Glorie is now completed & we’re in the (early) binding stage (vellum spine of Claudia's first dummy for Series 1 and 2 copies above). The printing took a little more than 300 hours, spread over four months. It’s a lot of time standing at the press, rolling out the ink and cranking the bed back & forth. None of that time was spent in silence: there were some podcasts, but most of the time was spent listening to music. Once makeready is done and the ink adjusted for a form, printing is pretty dull: you have to pay attention, but not really do much thinking, so one’s mind tends to wander. One day I found mine playing the Desert Island Discs game: what ten albums would I choose if I were to be marooned on an island with no expectation of rescue?

It’s been my experience that many printers place particular importance on music, and that music often crosses into their projects, whether overtly or tangentially. Both scores and pages are composed, and both grapple with decisions around balance, color, harmony and space. While playing my game, I got to wondering what 10 albums printers I know, or at least whose work I know, would choose. So I invited some of them to play the game, and here present their lists.


The rules were simply ten albums, and album is defined as a single cohesive work. The three discs in Einstein in the Beach would count as one choice, but Sony’s 24-CD collection of Philip Glass would not. (I admit to considering the complete eight-hour recording of Max Richter’s Sleep, but decided it was a stretch; also, I won’t need help nodding off while lost on a desert island.) No explanations or justifications were required.

Readers familiar with this blog will know it does not invite comments, since people have proven they can’t act decently on the Internet. However, if anyone would like to add their own list to this collection, it can be emailed to me (see address lower right) and I will append it (or at least a few interesting ones). Please include your full name, location, and press name/affiliation if any. Don’t bother sending comments or critiques on any of the posted lists, we’re not getting into a debate over choices.

This turned out to be a lot of fun, since several of the lists included choices that were all unknown to me. The game also underscored the wide range of tastes at work, and the place music holds in the lives of the responding printers. (Jason Dewinetz, who prints on a Vandercook, raised a point I had not considered: a mechanized press makes noise, which could impede listening, or at least limit choices. My handpress makes no noise, and I’d go loopy without music while printing.)

Will Rueter (The Aliquando Press)
  1. J. Bach - Goldberg Variations. A dead heat among three interpretations: Simone Dinnerstein, Glenn Gould’s 1959 Salzburg recital, and Pieter-Jan Belder’s most recent recording. At the moment, Belder’s harpsichord version wins by a micro-hair.
  2. J. Bach - Mass in B minor. My current favourite version is by the Netherlands Bach Society.
  3. F. Schubert - String Quintet in C (Emerson Quartet, Rostropovich).
  4. M. Haydn - Requiem. Solosits, King’s Consort. An unknown gem.
  5. L. Janáček - The Cunning Little Vixen. Vienna Philharmonic, Mackerras. A comic strip about animals made into a profound opera. If there was a CD of Weinberg’s The Passenger, it would have absolute first place.
  6. M. Ravel. Anything, but especially Daphnis et Chloe, with choir.
  7. C. Monteverdi - Vespers of 1610, with Gardiner. Or any opera. Or madrigal.
  8. Leonard Cohen - Probably Ten New Songs
  9. D. Shostakovich - My musical hero for so many years. Impossible to choose, but probably Symphony #7 ‘Leningrad’ or any of the quartets.
  10. Jacques Loussier - Any record of his riffs on Bach; he’s beyond brilliant.

Crispin & Jan Elsted (Barbarian Press)
Before you put the question, neither of us had really thought very much in any systematic way about what we play when working. The daily programming runs fairly true to a pattern. We often begin the day with an opera, these days tending towards the bel canto (we're particularly fond of Donizetti, Bellini, and Rossini) but we're also devoted to Verdi, Puccini, Massenet, and Mozart. Then we'll usually segue into orchestral music, usually late romantic or modernist - let's say from Tchaikovsky through to Shostakovich, Janacek, or Walton. (20th century English music is a shared pleasure, and ballet scores are too.) Towards the end of the day, when energy is flagging more than somewhat, we often switch from classical to jazz (some of which we've mentioned), rock (the Stones, CCR, Beatles), old rock 'n' roll (pre-1960 Elvis, the Everly Bros., or mixes I've put together), or electric blues (Tommy Castro, Muddy Waters, Studebaker John, Junior Wells and the like), just to keep the blood flowing.

Jan and I both made lists, and it was interesting for each of us to look at the other's once they were done. Our tastes coincide about 90% of the time. Jan’s choices reflect more of the later afternoon repertoire, which is probably due to her requests for the bouncy stuff dominating the playlists from about 3 p.m. on. The Mozart, Bellini, and Netrebko recital she's chosen are all music we know well, and except for the recits in the Mozart they are all pretty energetic and audible even over a Vandercook, I guess.

As for my final choices, they are largely representative of groups of possibilities. For instance, while Der Rosenkavalier is certainly one of my top ten favourite operas, and I might have chosen another in that slot - Die Walküre, Aïda, or Il barbiere di Siviglia spring to mind -- Rosenkavalier is more complex and would probably have more staying power once it had been plugged into the nearest palm tree on that island of yours. Ask me next year, and the list would probably alter in particulars, but in the main would remain as it is.


Crispin’s list:
  1. I. Stravinsky - Firebird and Petroushka (Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Stravinsky con.)
  2. W. Walton - Symphony #1 (London Symphony Orchestra, A. Previn con.)
  3. P. Tchaikovsky - Symphony #3 (London Symphony Orchestra,  V. Gergiev con.)
  4. Shelley Manne & His Men - Live at the Blackhawk
  5. Gerry Mulligan - The Concert Jazz Band Complete Recordings
  6. M. Weinberg - Symphony #2 & Chamber Symphony #2 (Umeå Symphony Orchestra, T. Svedlund con.) 
  7. A. Bruckner - Symphony #4 (Münchner Philharmoniker, S. Celibidache con.)
  8. M. Ravel - Daphnis et Chloe (Berlin Philharmonic, P. Boulez con.)
  9. L. Janáček - Opera suites incl. The Cunning Little Vixen; From the House of the Dead; The Excursions of Mr Broucek (Prague Symphony Orchestra, J. Bělohlávek con.)
  10. R. Strauss - Der Rosenkavalier (Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, G. Solti con.)

Jan’s list:
  1. W.A. Mozart - Le Nozze di Figaro (Philharmonia Chorus & Orchestra, C. M. Giulini con.)
  2. Gilbert & Sullivan - The Gondoliers (Glyndebourne Festival Chorus & Pro Arte Orchestra, M. Sargent con.)
  3. Ella Fitzgerald - The George & Ira Gershwin Songbook
  4. Benny Goodman - Carnegie Hall Concert
  5. V. Bellini - I Capuleti e i Montecchi (A. Netrebko, E. Garanča, et al., F. Luisi con.)
  6. A. Netrebko -  Opera Arias (Vienna Philharmonic, G. Noseda con.)
  7. The Rolling Stones - Hot Rocks
  8. various - Forrest Gump (film soundtrack) 
  9. Paul Simon - The Essential Paul Simon
  10. S. Rachmaninov - Dances (Philharmonia, N. Järvi con.)

Sarah Horowitz (Wiesedruck)
I thought I’d have to think about my list, but I didn’t once I looked at what I had. It’s all over the map. I grew up as a teenager with the Beatles, Stones, Jefferson Airplane, Morrison, Hendrix and Janice (yes, in the ‘80s, so I didn’t exactly fit in). Over the last 10 years I have tended towards dark, depressing classical music, but I can’t just listen to that so bits and pieces of all the phases I went through in between have stuck with me - klezmer, latin, old time…
  1. W.A. Mozart - Requiem
  2. Hilliard Ensemble - Motets of Guillaume de Machaut
  3. O. Golijov - Yiddiishbbuk
  4. A. Pärt - Tabula Rasa 
  5. Portland Cello Project - (anything)
  6. Regina Spektor - Regina Spekor and Soviet Kitch
  7. Paul Cantelon with Gogol Bordello - Everything is Illuminated (movie soundtrack)
  8. Orishas - A Lo Cubano
  9. Golden Delicious - Old School
  10. Shakira - Laundry Service by Shakira. Because everyone needs to tango a little while printing, especially when it’s been a long day…

Bob McCamant (Sherwin Beach Press & emeritus editor of Parenthesis NA.)
  1. Darlingside - Birds Say
  2. Tarkan - Dudu
  3. fun. - Aim & Ignite
  4. Nick Lowe - Labour of Lust 
  5. John Grant - Pale Green Ghosts
  6. Jane Siberry - Bound by the Beauty
  7. Graham Parker - Howling Wind
  8. The Beautiful South - Quench
  9. L. van Beethoven - Symphony #7 (Tbilisi Symphony Orchestra)
  10. G. Handel - Judas Maccabaeus (Philharmonia Baroque)

Jason Dewinetz (Greenboathouse Press)
I rarely listen to music while working; I like quiet, and I also like to hear and feel what the machine is doing: the hiss of the ink, the rumble of the cylinder rolling over type, the click and clank of the casting machine. All of these sounds tell me things about how the work is going, and often I make adjustments (to ink, to the speed of the casting machine, etc.) based on these sounds. That said, occasionally I do put some music on, although I tend to turn it off again after half an hour because it starts to get on my nerves.
  1. The Smiths - The Queen is Dead
  2. SNFU - And No One Else Wanted to Play
  3. Liz Phair - Whip-Smart
  4. Violent Femmes - Violent Femmes
  5. Tom Waits - Frank’s Wild Years
  6. Pixies - Doolittle
  7. Skip James - Blues from the Delta
  8. Metallica - Master of Puppets
  9. The Cramps - Bad Music for Bad People
  10. PJ Harvey - Rid of Me


HM’s List
I have found four streaming “radio” stations that have effectively made my own music collection excess to requirement. Like the Elsteds, my listening during a day of printing has an arc, which these four stations neatly span: Ambient Sleeping Pill and/or Drone Zone for the first few hours, while getting a form set up and printing right; Deep Space One mid-day; and Space Station Soma for the final push. But with no Internet on the island, my playlist is comprised of albums that aren’t necessarily favorites, but ones I know would withstand repeated listenings over the years.
  1. Kyle Bobby Dunn - Kyle Bobby Dunn & The Infinite Sadness
  2. Harold Budd & Brian Eno - The Pearl 
  3. Stars of the Lid - The Ballasted Orchestra. Hard to choose one SOTL album, but the song titles alone make this a fun choice…
  4. loscil - Plume
  5. Bill Laswell & Style Scott - Dub Meltdown
  6. Harold Budd & Eraldo Bernocchi - Music for “Fragments from the Inside”
  7. Miles Davis - Sketches of Spain
  8. The Rolling Stones - Some Girls
  9. Aphex Twin - Selected Ambient Works 2. Despite a couple of clunker tracks…
  10. Fatboy Slim vs HM - The Mix Tape. This was never released, exists only as a lathe-cut test pressing, and is impossible to find. The only known copy will be with me, thereby assuring people will come looking, rescue me, and I won’t be stuck on an island with just ten albums for eternity.
Next up: news of this fun new, fine-press fixated bibliomystery


John Henry Nash, What Were You Thinking?

Dipping into the oeuvre of San Francisco printer John Henry Nash this month. I’ve long been a fan of his work, although not necessarily all of his books. This post was sparked by a recent leaf book acquisition, purchased sight unseen, and in some aspects it is less than aspirational.

The book is Nicolas Jenson, Printer of Venice, published in 1926, with a leaf from Jenson’s 1478 edition of Plutarch’s Vitae Parallelae Illustrium Virorum (volume 2). Jenson, Nash, leaf book: these three things combined in one book make it aces for me, but turns out it isn’t one of Nash’s better productions. The first thing I noticed when the book - which is folio sized, to accommodate the Jenson leaf - arrived was the paper. Where many of his books featured European hand- or mouldmade paper, this appears to be a machine-made (it is not mentioned in the colophon, and Nell O’Day’s Catalogue of Books Printed by JHN lists it simply as “Strathmore”).

The Jenson leaf has a little foxing, and Nash’s paper is buff; the Strathmore may have been chosen because its cream hue approximates the Jenson leaf. But in 2017 it simply looks like cheap paper that has aged quickly and badly. Attention to this unlovely paper is heightened by it apparently having been used with the grain going the wrong way: pages buckle along the gutter when turned. The slim volume’s opening isn’t helped by the vellum spine - the thing just doesn’t really want to be opened.

The paper is the primary sticking point. Nash knew paper & most of his books were printed on lovely paper, often a laid Van Gelder mouldmade with his watermark. Why, then, did he choose such a charmless paper for the Jenson project? Let’s inquire by taking a quick tour through some of his work…

Starting with the best example at hand, Cobden-Sanderson and the Doves Press (1929) is another leaf book, one for which the materials and production do justice to the content. The paper for this book is the Van Gelder. The edition is 339 copies, all with an original leaf tipped in on tapes (allowing easy inspection of the verso; the too-common shortcut of gluing a leaf along one edge discourages turning it); 37 of the copies include a vellum leaf, and are bound in full vellum over boards (the rest of the edition in simple limp vellum). A beautiful production.

Nash employed the vellum over boards, with exposed tapes laced through the joint, on a number of his publications. One on my shelf is the folio-sized doorstop The Life and Personality of Phoebe Apperson Hearst, a hagiography of the mother of William Randall, who footed the bill for the 1,000 copies - all for private distribution - bound in vellum over boards (the binding was done in Germany). Nash was also commissioned to print a companion volume about Hearst’s old man, which is much more scarce than Phoebe’s volume. I found this copy in a second hand store, priced at $100 (which seems to be the going rate online). I cannot imagine how much the binding alone would cost now, assuming you could find someone who knew how to do it, but a lot more than a yard, so I bought the thing. Didn’t even pretend I might read it one day, I just admire the binding, paper and printing every now & then.

Back to paper: my claim that the paper used for the Jenson book is an aberration among Nash’s publications is bolstered by looking at some of his ephemera, all printed on the same beautiful papers he used for books (that’s what offcuts are for). I have two pieces that were printed on handmade H. Pannekoek paper, with a beautiful, big watermark. Apparently Pannekoek disappeared some time in the 19th century, so this must be stock Nash found in a warehouse somewhere. It’s a lovely sheet, a bit soft (possibly unsized).

Nell O’Day’s catalogue was printed by Nash in 1937. It’s not a rare title, but the only copy I’ve ever seen in a shop is the one I bought (it’s in an elegant case of waxed marbled paper over boards, inscribed by Nash and O’Day on the front pastedown). Skimming through it, Pannekoek paper makes its first appearance in 1926, for The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. He seems to have had the Le Fortuin sheet (above) and another, “laid finish” sheet.

Pannekoek is used for a few more projects, up to 1928, and then no more - me must have used up his stash. This large pamphlet (The End of a Quest: An Appreciation), issued in 1928, may have been the last of what he had.

The thing that is particularly irksome is that Nash had the Pannekoek paper on hand when he published the Jenson book. It would have been a perfect match, but instead we get the loathsome Strathmore - a sheet with no mention I could find in the Catalogue before or after the Jenson project; that tells you how much Nash liked it Worse yet, he had been using Kelmscott paper for projects immediately before the Jenson! Imagine what might have been.

Joseph Fauntleroy’s reminiscence about working with and for Nash (JHN Printer, above) is beautifully produced in the printer’s style, on his watermarked Van Gelder paper, but may be of interest only to hardcore printing nerds. It includes an intriguing mention of Nash’s fondness for bicycle racing during his early apprentice years in Toronto, a fondness that apparently cost him his apprenticeship & sparked the travels that eventually took him to San Francisco. Fauntleroy also mentions several times the care and attention that went into choosing the right paper for specific projects, a point that underscores the uncharacteristic choice for the Jenson book’s.

Having taken that brief tour, perhaps you can understand my puzzlement at, and disappointment with the paper he used in the Jenson book. None of the reference books I have at hand offers any insight to the decision. Regardless, I justified purchasing the book as a raw material for the second edition of the Francesco Griffo “biography” we’ll be printing one day (thought it might be next year, but now looks like 2019 earliest): I’m thinking of including letterpress facsimiles of pages from books mentioned in the biography, including one showing Jenson’s roman, so I need an original leaf to reproduce. Same with that Hypnerotomachia leaf I mentioned last month.

So that’s a lot of moaning about a book I just bought. Even if I’d seen it first, I probably would have bought it anyway, because of Nash and Jenson. At least it sparked me to pull out my Nash ephemera and play with it again. I think I’m going to offer up Mrs Hearst, in her stunning vellum clothing, The End of the Quest (large folio, printed on Le Fortuin), the Aeropagitica quote (single folded sheet, JHN Van Gelder, with unicorn), If It Were Today (folio pamphlet, JHN Van Gelder laid), and Americana Vetustissima (single folded sheet, JHN Van Gelder laid) as a collection, for $250. Send me a note if you want more details & etc.

We have something special for the first post of 2018, with a number of printer friends contributing. Until then, happy happy, merry merry, be well. HM


The End is Near

This month's post is about John Henry Nash, Nicolas Jenson, leaf books, and related matters. It needs a bit more work before posting, and I have to get down to printing that last - and trickiest - sheet for Labour Vertue Glorie: it includes the title and contents pages, two colors on both sides, which means a three-day run (instead of the usual two). I'll get the new post up by the weekend. Meanwhile, go have a look at a short video I made last weekend (instead of working on the Nash post); it was filmed through the studio's east windows. Has nothing to do with printing or books, but I like to think it catches the spirit of HM.

After the title page run, I have just the volvelles to print. Everything remains on schedule for a late winter/early spring publication.


Pictures, Mostly

More pictures, less words this month. Francesca Lohmann's An Alphabetical Accumulation was published in October, copies sent out. See the usual suspects listed at right if interested in acquiring. The edition is 36 copies, but only 30 were for sale.


The calligraphy on book and box is original, not printed. The book was printed on three different, intermingled papers, the sections then sewn by Claudia Cohen onto a chemise made from old parchment documents. Vellum slips were attached to the chemise, and the sewn block laced into a limp vellum case.


The image above shows the "doublures," with the vellum slips laces through the case and the parchment chemise becoming the equivalent of front and rear pastedowns (though no adhesive is used, just the vellum slips).


Look close & maybe you'll see the embellishments Francesca added to the printed title page.


The first letter. Francesca's calligraphy throughout is in red, the printed facsimiles in black.


And a lovely little coda added by her to the last page of each copy...


A publisher couldn't ask for two more inspiring and easy collaborators than Francesca & Claudia. Preliminary work on another book with a calligrapher, whose identity will be revealed soon, is underway. Possible publication in late 2018; depends how ambitious he gets with the original calligraphy to be added to each copy. 


HM is all about leaf books these days. Progress is being made with Labour Vertue Glorie. Here's a sheet pulled on Halloween, right off the tympan & added to the stack, interleaved with boards for drying:

A couple of leaf books came my way recently. I'm keeping the acquisitions down by focusing primarily on incunabla, and there probably aren't a dozen leaf books with incunables. And of those, some include the leaf in a pocke, or some similar scheme: if they aren't tipped in - preferably to a tab, to make turning the leaf easy - I'm not interested. Anyway, an early Book Club of California title with a leaf from Aldus' Hypnerotomachia Poliphili came my way!


De Vinne's essay was originally published in 1881, and it is one of the first sources that perpetuated the Anthony Panizzi's incorrect assertion that Aldus' types were cut by a goldsmith named Francesco Raibolini. (De Vinne's essay was also published in 1983 by Targ Editions.) The text is set in Poliphilus (natch), and printed (and/or inked) rather heavily on Barcham Green Hammer & Anvil paper. I suspect they didn't dampen the paper, which is a waste, and accounts for the muddy result. (For some good handpress printing, see the Allen Press item mentioned further down this post..)

I justified the purchase as a necessary reference for the expanded second edition of Fragments & Glimpses, which is starting to take form. Here's the leaf:

Vancouver had an antiquarian book fair last month, and it didn't suck! It was a modest affair but included maybe 20 dealers including several from central Canada. For printing nerds, the best stuff was found at Bill Matthews' table. I got a hors commerce Allen Press sheet, printed for a Roxburghers dinner; a copy of the prospectus for volume 2 of the Grabhorn Bibliography, to be tucked into my copy of said volume; and another BCC leaf book, A leaf from the 1583 Rembert Dodoens herbal, printed by Christopher Plantin. Yes, it's outside my preferred timeframe, and its printed on awful, smooth white machine-made paper, but it's Christopher Plantin. And it was cheap.


Finally, remember I mentioned the Florin Press' book of wood engravings by Monica Poole recently, and that there was a deluxe issue with a section about printing the engravings that I wanted to get my hands on? Well, I didn't, but I did get a copy of the text from that section, which is what I'm really interested in anyway. It seems to be some kind of offprint that the printer probably gave away. So, I graingered it right into my copy of the book.