Start with ABCs, Finish with Some Moralls

We’re going to maintain the momentum (finally!) achieved in 2016 through the New Year, with three major publications for 2017.

First in the press, but probably the last of the three to be issued, will be Francesca Lohmann’s calligraphic ABC book, An Accumulated Alphabet. This was originally created in 2014 as three manuscript copies. Over 26 leaves (rectos only) Francesca renders the alphabet, nestled among leafy vines, each page adding the next letter to the sequence. For HM’s printed edition, the previous page will be printed (in black) from polymer plates, and the new letter will be added (in red) by Francesca. Thus, each copy will contain, over 26 leaves, a complete calligraphic alphabet. The title page and colophon will also feature her original embellishments.

The reason this book is first up & last out is all the work to be done by Francesca after the printing, then the binding by Claudia Cohen, who is still pondering the details but has been making vague comments about limp vellum structures. The book will be 28 printed leaves (approximately 5 x 7 inches), the paper being a combination of Crown & Sceptre, T. H. Saunders, and Whatman handmades. The edition will be 30 numbered copies and six A.P. Hopefully issued, through HM Editions, by the end of 2017.

The first book that will be issued in 2017, by HM Editions, is the latest collaboration between Barbara Hodgson and Claudia Cohen: Folding Paper: Technique, Design, Obsession. In a similar manner and format as Cutting Paper, the book explores the art of folded paper, and presents a collection of samples on the pages and laid into the accompanying box. Brief essays discuss approaches to folding techniques, the process of creating illustrated pieces, and paper choices. Interspersed will be over 150 tipped-in examples from pleating, education, computational geometry, toy making, origami and packaging (some examples will be presented shown in progress, as well as finished pieces, in a variety of papers).

Folding Paper (9.5 x 12.5 in., 80 pp.) was designed and set in Monotype Fournier by Barbara. It has been printed on 200 g Arches Wove by David Clifford at Black Stone Press. (For technical reasons, the title page - which will itself be a piece of folded art - was printed at HM on the handpress.) Copies will be uniformly bound by Claudia, with an accompanying two-piece box. The box that will also contain about 15 three-dimensional pieces and a separate Zhen Xian Bao (a magical Chinese thread box). All of the pieces will be created specifically for the book. The edition will be 30 numbered copies, signed by both contributors, plus six A.P. copies. Publication is planned for late spring/early summer. 

The long-promised book featuring original leaves from George Wither’s Collection of  Emblemes Ancient & Moderne (England, 1635) is finally going to hit the press. Details are still being finalized, but at this point we can report that the book will be approximately 8 x 12 inches, 50 pages (plus sample leaves), issued in two states from a total edition of 66 copies.

This is the start of the new publishing schedule, so this is it until he start of February, at which time I'll be posting more images & details about Folding Paper. Please note that if you have any interest in that book, contact one of the booksellers listed to the left for details and discuss reserving a copy.


Look Up

I’ve decided that starting in 2017 this blog will be updated monthly, at the start of each month (unless there's something that just can't wait). It’s takes too much time to come up with something each week, and that's time needed elsewhere (lots of projects planned for ’17!). Plus, the Internet has become unbearably toxic: I have resolved to visit it as infrequently as possible.

To wind up 2016, I thought I’d mention a few books that have made the year interesting. These are not necessarily new books, just new to me.

Dewi Lewis published (in 2015, I think) a beautiful collection of Nigel Grierson’s photographs. Signed copies were available from the publisher earlier this year; not sure about now. Fans of the 4AD label will recognize Grierson’s work. I hadn’t appreciated how much of Vaughan Oliver’s work was a collaboration with Grierson. Stunning images, most of them primarily abstract and textural, in a well-produced book.

Barbara Hodgson’s Mrs Delany Meets Herr Haeckel was a joy to print & publish. Smaller in scale and more intimate than her expansive collaborations with Claudia, she managed to conceive of & produce a book that simultaneously feels antiquarian and modern. Kool.

The emblem books of Gabriel Rollenhagen, with stunning engravings by Crispin de Passe, for reasons that will be explained early in the New Year.

The Universal History From the Earliest Account of Time, to the Present… (1744), part two of the seventh volume only; because it was found in a jumble of (much newer) books, in a full calf binding that had been expertly rebacked, and because the quality of the paper and printing was a salve to the atrocious printing and mediocre paper from a 17th century English book I’ve been spending some time with. Again, more details to follow. While this volume of The Universal History covers just a slice of the overall topic, and the middle third is an index, the final third is an abbreviated chronology of the world from Adam & Eve to Mahommed’s capture of Trabezond (1642). 

David Sylvian’s opus Hypergraphia, for all the reasons previously mentioned.

A few other creatively-inspiring things from the year: Rag & Bone shirts, John Varvatos boots & jackets, Tomas Weiss’ el culto label, Pheonix York’s debut album & loscil's latest, Agave (handmade) jeans, and every year, Lamy pens & pencils. Pax omnis.


Aurora Borealis...

...appeared on the wall beside my bed last week.


David Sylvian kindly posted a note about Aurora Teardrops on his Facebook page last week, which prompted some action. Just to clarify/confirm: some copies a still available from Books Tell You Why and Vamp & Tramp, though not many. Probably better to go directly to their sites than work through something like Abebooks.



A copy of a great Allen Press (leaf) book is listed kinda cheap on ebay right now: The Great Polyglot Bibles Including A Leaf From The Complutensian Of Alcalá, 1514-17. Beautifully printed on a handpress (the book & the original leaf!) etc etc. Listed here for probably less than half the usual price, probably because the box looks like it has a few marks etc. But that's what boxes are for! This isn't something I have an interest in, other than aesthetic. (I already have a copy or I wouldn't be telling you about this one.) If you'd rather have the whole thing instead of just a page, here's a facsimile set (check out the raised bands on the deluxe binding - yikes!)...

Apologia (sort of)...

I scorned the recently published Godfather diary in the last post, especially the paperback version. I have since seen a copy, and must dial back my scorn - not fully, but some. It's not really a paperback: it's sewn and put into a case of laminated flexible boards. It still probably isn't skookum enough for the text block's weight, but it's not a "paperback." So all comments about the publisher still stand.


More of the Same

Continuing our examination of contemporary limited edition books from trade publishers, an example each of how to & how not to...

I recently found a copy of this catalogue of books published by the Kaldewey Press. Very attractive book, well designed & printed in Germany, bound in flexible boards. I confess to not having ever heard of Gunnar Kaldewey or his press, which is based in New York, and it's re-assuring to know there are still surprises out there for me in the world of contemporary presses. One reason I may not have known of his work is because it's more on the artist's book side of the spectrum, where I don't generally travel. A big part of my lack of interest for the over-there is that, too often the phrase "artist's book" is used as an excuse for a lack of understanding and poor execution. This is not the case with Kaldewey: the creativity and artistry are based on a strong technical foundation, and an appreciation for materials and how to work with them. But to the point: this is how you complement a trade edition with a limited version. (No copies can be found listed online.)

Next we have the how-not: heard an interview with Francis Ford Coppola on Fresh Air over the weekend. A (sort-of) facsimile of the bible (my word) he assembled while planning and shooting The Godfather has been published. I wondered if there was a limited edition - seems a likely candidate - so I searched. Sure enough, there is.

First off, the trade edition - which is almost 800 pages - is being issued only in paperback. That's ridiculous, especially for the page count. But what really makes this a head slapper is that the limited edition is "a faithful reproduction of Coppola’s three-ring binder..." This is a rare example of a publisher finding an even cheaper, shittier way to "bind" an edition than the paperback! Do you remember from high school what three-ring binders do to sheets? They get caught on the rings & torn up! Another warning sign that a publisher really doesn't know what they're doing is the complete lack of descriptive production details about the limited edition, starting with the number of copies.


Bed's Too Big...

Saw this in a local "emporium." Caught my eye because book presses aren't often seen around here, and also because the parts seems so out of proportion from each other: why is the base so much bigger than the platen?At first I wondered if it was a Frankenstein's monster, with maybe just the platen being original and the rest ginned up in a metal shop. But there's (faded) scrollwork on the frame, it all looks legit. Why two colors, and why is that base so big? It adds so much weight without apparent purpose. The platen can accommodate at best a small quarto. I'm wondering if it's a copy press, and the larger base is for spreading out (say) a folio document, to be copied one side at a time? Dunno. (But speaking of copy presses, check this out; what every well heeled gent needs...) If anyone wants more photos or info, don't panic: this will be in the shop for a long time, because they've priced it at C$1,295. Good luck with that.


Finally have another batch of Aurora Teardrops (Collector issue) ready to ship out. The cover paper is Guarro laid, from the huge c.1960s stash I've been working my way through. I've never had a use for this yellow sheet before, but it was perfect for Aurora. The paper is quite hard, which makes it ideal for covering boards. It also took the painting treatment well.

Each sheet was individually painted (I use that term loosely) in a two-stage process. First, a sheet was thoroughly soaked in water, and laid out on an acrylic board. As much surface water was retained/sustained as possible. Then metallic gold ink mixed with thinner was dripped on the sheet. Because oil and water don't mix, the gold ink flowed around in random patterns. Then the sheets were dried (that takes about a day), soaked a second time, and sprinkled with metallic bronze acrylic paint diluted in water. The area covered with gold ink repelled the water-based paint, resulting in a two-tone "marbled" effect.


The Point I Was Trying to Make...

This is a coda to last week’s mess of a blog about limited edition books by (or “by”) musicians. I was aware while writing the post that it was failing to address the fundamental questions, So what and Who cares? My task of casing the Collector’s edition of Aurora Teardrops seems to stretch on to oblivion (that's a stack of cases waiting for textblocks, above), so I had a lot of time while standing at the bench since last Monday to ponder exactly what point I was trying to make. It boils down to the concept of the limited edition book.

The editions published by HM are constrained by time and resources. The calculus for balancing edition size and issue price is determined by a number of factors, some quantitative (cost of materials & labor) and some qualitative (how eagerly, or not, the market is anticipated to welcome the publication). The best case is when you bet low and the edition gets snapped up. Too many presses moan about lost profits when this happens, & if only they’d priced the book higher. These people are fools. Too many bet high, & also moan; they too are fools. At HM, production (i.e. printing) is broken into day-sized chunks: each run must be completed in a day. To get an edition of 50 I probably would print 70; allowing for set-up and makeready, 70 impressions of hand-inked type, printed on a handpress, dealing with damp paper, takes me eight to ten hours. If a run takes more than a day, you may as well let it take up all of the second day; that would mean an edition of 100 copies. Now you have 100 copies to sell, instead of just 50. That means more up-front costs, more time, more sales work, more shipping, and a lower issue price because then it’s a larger edition.

(This matter of printing damp is not inconsequential to the production flow: when working off a sheet over four days instead of two, it’s much trickier to sustain the paper’s dampness. It already goes to three days when adding a second color, and by then the sheets are noticeably drier than the day before. A handpress can only accomplish so much in a day.)

By letting production be limited to how many impressions can be pulled in a day, HM’s editions fall into some natural number. The more complicated the printing, the smaller the edition. Aurora Teardrops, which totalled 100 impressions per day (to yield 26 Deluxe and 50 Collector’s copies) pushed things to a limit; there were some long days. The constraints are different for people using mechanized presses (Vandercooks, Heidelbergs, etc etc) because so much of the work is being done by the press - that’s the point of a machine. And this is how most letterpress publishers print these days - they can burn off hundreds of impressions in the time is takes me to get my 70. But they still have material costs, and that tricky calculus of the optimum number to produce. Just because you can easily print more copies doesn’t mean you should.

But none of the books mentioned last week were letter/private press-type books. They were all commercially-produced books printed by off-set litho, some of them from publishers for whom production costs are not a primary concern (ahem Simon & Schuster). The limiting of these editions really comes down to market demand. Except maybe the Dylan lyrics book: 50 signatures is maybe all the time & attention they could get out of Bob.

That book is a good example of my complaint about many of the publications: aside from a mostly arbitrary production limitation and a signature, the publisher doesn’t put any effort into making the book distinct from the usual trade books. There is no interest in making the book itself special or luxe, beyond the famous person’s signature. At its most egregious, it’s blatant profiteering, jacking the price for what essentially is the exact same book as the trade edition, but for the signature. Herb Yellin, the proprietor of Lord John Press, played around with this a bit in the '90s, arranging to buy a few hundred copies of a new trade book in sheets from the publisher, inserting a limitation sheet signed by the author at the front signed, putting it in a slightly better cloth case, and selling it for five or ten times the price of the trade issue (which often where the true firsts). He told me he got bored doing that pretty fast, like shooting fish in a barrel I think he maybe said.

(Yellin produced the greatest of all books that exist only to present the signatures of famous people. It literally is just a collection of original signatures by famous [mostly American] people. That was the last LJP book. I’ll let you ponder whether that’s cautionary or laudatory…)

I haven’t seen it, but that Dylan book looks like all people got for the extra $4,800 was his signature on one of the preliminary pages. Same binding (a flat-back case for a book that is much too big & heavy) and contents as the other 2,950 copies produced. People who’d pay $5,000 would have paid $7,500, and then they could have had their copy in a beautiful, rounded & backed leather binding, something suitable for the size and weight of the textblock (and that premium is way more than needed per copy for such a binding…).


Returning to last week’s examples, Kevin Haskins’ Bauhaus book at least is physically different than the cheaper trade edition, and seems to be doing creative things with graphics and format. Please just make sure the slipcase is big enough. You don’t even really need one: cloth-bound books get worn from the slipcase. If the book is really so precious, it should be in a box. Slipcases are best suited for something like books in limp vellum. No cloth-bound hardcover really needs one. Put the money into a kool jacket instead.

I shaded Genesis Publications a bit last week, but at least they are doing what I’m asking for here: creating books with special, unique content, only part of which is the famous person’s signature. And it looks like they care about things like printing & binding. There may be a little reverse engineering happening - working back from access to the signature to book conception - but they have produced some books that look like fun.

So that’s my point: contemporary commercial publishers should explore opportunities to issue some books in a special, “limited” and luxe format, when the content warrants and the market is interested. I like signed books, especially commercially published ones because it may be the only time a human touched the thing. But don’t be lazy: don’t just stick in a signature. Get a designer with some thoughts - and preferably some knowledge about book binding - involved. Make it worthy of the limitation (however arbitrary that may be) and the signature.


Books of Note

That title is clever because this post is about recent books by musicians, specifically "limited edition" publications. Bit of a follow on from this post of last summer. At a time when recorded music seems to be free, this could be group for whom the printed book offers a more financially remunerative outlet.

Maybe the most widely promoted recent book is Bruce Springsteen's autobio, Born To Run. A signed edition was available for pre-order. The book's site states it's numbered, but not what the edition is; limited to the number of orders they get? Not sure what the US issue price was; in Canada it was C$450, in the UK it was £250; that makes it about US$300. Needless to say, it sold out before publication. A few copies are available from resellers, including one on eBay (US$1,725) that reports the edition to be 1,500 copies. Whether it's worth 4x the issue price, at least the publishers put some effort into making it more than just a signed copy of the trade edition.

Simon & Schuster gave special treatment to recent Nobel Prize winner (& maybe rejecter) Bob Dylan's collected lyrics, in 2014. That book was limited to 3,000 copies, including 50 signed by Bob, issued at $5,000. Not a peep of one online now.

Ex-New Order bassist Peter Hook has just published another memoir. The last volume focused on the few years that Joy Division existed, and took it's title from the band's first album, Unknown Pleasures. The new volume, Substance, focuses on his much longer tenure in New Order. Both are published by Simon & Schuster UK. A signed edition of Unknown Pleasures was issued (£40), limited to 1,000 copies. It's basically just the hardcover in a slipcase that is too small, and will assuredly ruin the dust jacket. Despite this flaw, no copies can be found online. The publisher doesn't seem to have given the new book the same attention. Hook's books are entertaining for readers interested in the band & the time, if only for the vitriol he sprays.

Shortly after Unknown Pleasures was published, Hook's New Order nemesis Bernard Sumner issued his own memoir, Chapter & Verse. Sumner managed to cover in one volume all the history that Hook's dragging out across three. It was published by St Martin's, no limited edition, and the hardcover isn't even sewn. Yawn.

Faber did a nice job publishing lyrics by JD's Ian Curtis, titled So This is Permanence. The regular trade hardcover is well produced. The limited edition of 200 copies sold out before publication & cannot be found. The real pearl may be a copy of the facsimile lyric sheet, issued with the limited edition: a handful of extras were issued, in a printed sleeve, after publication.

It's not surprising that Nick Cave has a few interesting books to his name. He seems to have collaborated most extensively with Black Spring Press. His 2007 novel And the Ass Saw the Angel was issued in at least  two states; see here. He also contributed to Bunny, a collection of photographs by Polly Borland. It doesn't look terribly engaging, as a book. Not sure if there's any connection to Cave's novel The Death of Bunny Monro.

The Cave search happened to turn up a sort-of photo memoir by Genesis P-Orridge that looks worthwhile, if you're a fan of theirs. Appears well designed & printed, and issued with kool stuff like the vinyl, all for a very reasonable price.

Kevin Haskins is poised to release a monster of a book chronicling the relatively short life & long tail/tale of Bauhaus. Titled Undead (which is rich for a band that supposedly rejected the Goth label), it will be limited to 500 signed copies ($195), each weighing over 13 pounds. A smaller version ("for those of you with smaller coffee tables") is also being issued. Based on the site's pictures, the signed edition probably is worth the price, if you have a bookshelf with enough height to accommodate it.

(I could swear his brother, David J, had a book of his photographs published in Japan a few years ago, but can't find any mention of it...)

I thought I'd heard Charnel House was doing a book with Iggy Pop, but there's no mention on the Web site. There is mention of a letterpress "archival print" (i.e. broadside) printing the lyrics to Whiter Shade of Pale, with a grainy photo of the thing. Charnel publisher Joe Stefco has never been shy about confessing his fondness for Procol Harem, but how can that coexist with Iggy? I guess we all contain multitudes. Anyway, it looks like whoever was behind this hadn't seen a lot of broadsides. It's one color, kind of small (looks like 12-pt type), no imprint of any kind, seems to have been printed with lots of impression on soft, thick paper. Not very special, especially for $600.

Finally, for people whose nostalgia works back from around 1975 (ugh), check out all titles at Genesis Publications. The books look like attention is paid to design and production, but really, aren't they just wrapping around a rock star's signature?

Interesting that Brian Eno hasn't really ever done a limited edition book. There was More Dark Than Shark, previously posted, but that was more Russell Mills' book than Eno's.
Signed & numbered (500?) copies of David Sylvian's Hypergraphia were issued, but I think the books were the same as the unsigned issue. Good luck finding one of the signed copies.