Handpress Library #4 - A Great Hoax

The book that may, for HM, surpass all others as an exemplar of what can be achieved when the full potential of a handpress is exploited, is Leonard Baskin's Jewish Artists of the Early and Late Renaissance. We like it all the more for being completely fictional - "a small phantasy, inventing and imagining early Jewish artists and their work which happily answer a number of exceedingly difficult art historical problems" (The Work of Fifty Years, p. 111).

The book combines type set in a variety of shapes and printed on different handmade papers, the setting and printing both accomplished by Leonard's son Hosea, who at the time was a recent university graduate. It is a remarkable technical achievement (it also convinced him that he didn't want to spend his life repeating the effort, and he has since become a well-known dealer in early printed books). The artist described the design as "typographic play in the working of a form-binding cohesion between the etched portraits & their permutations & the shape-related geometry of the text" (p. 111).

The book combines letterpress text with intaglio portraits, one artist featured on each recto, accompanied by a brief biography. The intaglio plates are of various geometric shapes, typically more than one per artist, and combined with the text set in sympathetic shapes.

It appears that the intaglio printing was done after the letterpress, given the heavy plate impressions remaining. Setting the text to achieve both acceptable spacing and line breaks, while still creating the spaces in which the etchings will fall, must have taken ages (Baskin describes the compositional task as "hand and back cracking" in his notes to The Work of Fifty Years). No wonder Hosea didn't feel the need to repeat himself.

Jewish Artists was a sequel of sorts to Unknown Dutch Artists, printed in 1983 under Baskin's Eremite Press imprint, in an edition of 17 copies. (The letterpress for that book was accomplished by D.R. Wakefield, who has since issued beautiful books exhibiting a strong Baskin influence under his own Chevington Press imprint.) In his notes to Unknown Dutch Artists in The Work of Fifty Years, Baskin explains:

"This delicious jeu d'esprit was a proving ground, the means by which we attained mastery over the hand-press. Its delicate assault on sensibility is vested in the unexpectedness of the book's mise-en-page...Thus, "Unknown Dutch Artists," although beset with whimsy & trimmed with irony, was of consequent importance in determining the appearance & attitude of many later Gehenna Press books." (p. 98)

Printing with a handpress is a slow process. People who use a handpress as a pre-industrial oddity, or some belief in its moral purity, are not interesting. Conversely, people who use a handpress because its pace and limited output create opportunities to use materials and techniques that enable them to achieve result that just aren't feasible (or possible) using automated presses, are interesting. This is what Leonard Baskin, Hosea and the others involved with Jewish Artists succeeded in doing. 

Jewish Artists probably will be the only title included in HM's handpress library in spirit only; it is an exceedingly rare Gehenna title, and when found, exceedingly expensive (a few more images & details about it and other GP items can be found here). But we have had the pleasure of being up close to the copy shown here several times, and have found much to be inspired by in its pages. 



Got away from the studio for a bit this month, though not from work - sadly, it came along, in a box, and demanded daily attention. Nonetheless, we found time to go foraging for things that would make interesting additions to the HM library. Like most addicts who've been at it for some time, we need increasingly obscure and extreme junk to fix, or it just isn't worth the bother. A few things turned up...

A copy of Roy Squires' diminutive first publication, the only copy we have ever seen or heard of being on offer. It's a series of poems in Spanish by Clark Ashton Smith.

A trial (& incomplete) setting of Cobden-Sanderson's "Credo," proofed on onion skin paper. Compositor and printer unknown (but surely American).

An invitation to the publication party for Arion Press' Moby-Dick (ours must have been lost in the post...). We're hoping to learn more about the production of this book one day, particularly how the paper was dampened and handled. (We've heard mention of machines used at places like the Riverside Press to dampen paper, but know no details.) During our work on Oddballs, Barry Moser mentioned in a note that the engravings and text were locked-up and printed at the same time. This bit of ephemera appeals because, presumably, it was printed the same way.

A little notice for the final Kelmscott publications, & requesting payment in advance "in order that the press may be closed without avoidable delay." How about that word spacing in the sixth line...

Coincidentally found on the same trip, a copy of Neil (Yellow Barn Press) Shaver's The Kelmscott Golden Legend, featuring an original leaf from that 1892 publication (with an engraved ornamental O on its verso). A lovely book, printed on handmade Batchelor & Son paper (dampened, needless to say) by a lovely & generous man.

A prospectus for the Allen Press' Printing with the Handpress (issue price, $68.50; see HM Handpress Library #2).

A 1930 prospectus & retrospectus from the Nonesuch Press. Most Nonesuch work has a commercial blandness, but this little piece exhibits some humanity.

A woodcut portrait by Leonard Baskin of Hendrick Goltzius (1558 – 1617), a Dutch printmaker and painter.

A folio-sized publication marking the purchase by the United States Government of Dr. Otto V. F. Vollbehr's collection of 3,000 incunables, including a Gutenberg Bible (shown below is the frontis, with the good doctor fondling his [soon to be the Library of Congress'] copy of the Bible). The text is the address by Frederick W. Ashley, Chief Assistant Librarian of the Library of Congress, to the Eleventh National Conference on Printing Education, marking the acquisition. For a few decades at the start of the last century, publishing this kind of thing was a matter of course among universities and institutions. "Designed and printed by George Henry Carter, B. Ph., L.L.B., Public Printer of the United States of America, at the Government Printing Office in the City of Washington to the number of four hundred and twenty copies bound in parchment, impressed on handmade paper with Cloister types in two columns of forty-two lines each and illuminated with handmade initial letters similar to the Gutenberg Bible in the Library of Congress of the United States of America MCMXXXII," reports the colophon.

Book Craft by Ruth H. Kemp, being Book Number Eight of the Library of the Seven Crafts of the Camp Fire Girls (Camp Fire Outfitting Co., NYC, 1935). Despite the name, the series actually stretched to 10 volumes. We also saw Block Printing & Stenciling (which included some paper decoration crafts, like marbling and paste) but the things were too expensive, so we stuck with just the "Book Craft" volume, which should help fill some of the many holes in our education.  



Ivy League Books

The Princeton University Library recently added one of the five miniature copies of The WunderCabinet to its collection. We like the way they post images and some notes about new acquisitions (although the 'Cabinet posting should be corrected: their copy is 1 of the 5 miniatures, not one of the 30 from the actual edition).


A Font of Reiner Script

During our recent travels, we were presented with a still-in-the-wrapper font of 24-pt Reiner Script capitals. Irme Reiner was a Hungarian artist and typographer who designed a number of faces, many of them brush based. We're going to think up some little broadside showing the face.


Glenn Goluska, Vandercooker

Been away for a bit. Came home to this bit of news:

He'd been ill for the past year, and this was not unexpected news. Glenn started his career in Toronto designing books at Coach House Press, and also printing typographically playful limited editions under his own imprint, Imprimerie Dromadaire. He moved to Montreal, where, among other things, he designed numerous books and posters for the Canadian Centre for Architecture, and book jackets for McGill-Queens Press. We never met Glenn in person, but he did call in Vancouver once and we had an enjoyable chat, swapping stories about mutual acquaintances. The Gaspereau Press blog recounts a trip to visit Glenn last spring with some good photos.

Sad news for Glenn's family and friends, but with time they can focus not on his passing but on all that is still with us. Like this little piece that he "translated, designed, composed and vandercooked" in 1983 titled The Topography of Typography by El Lissitzky, which we believe was issued as part of Bill Hoffer's TANKS series (three leaves printed on mulberry paper, in a printed yellow wrap).