Booksellers Flourish

Been a while since there's been a headline like that, so we're taking the opportunity. Two bits of retail news...

Collinge & Clark of London has (finally) got a Web site up and running, featuring both items from its extensive inventory (fine press, book arts & the like) and the opportunity for the sometimes withering, always entertaining comments from Oliver Clark. (Those of you who've seen the store front may recognize it from the exterior shots of Black Books, a show that never fully mined the potential for absurd humor in the world of book collecting).

Meanwhile, a third of the world away in Los Angeles, Jesse Rossa has opened the doors of Triolet Rare Books, specializing in primarily 20th century literature but promising also a focus on photo books, contemporary art, "and other areas of interest" (which probably means anything cool that comes his way). The site includes a blog that promises to feature interesting finds and generally interesting items. Swimming against the constant tide of obituaries for the book, Rossa writes that "I would like to think that no matter how much of a niche it becomes (and those who value the book as an object have always been, as Leonard Baskin said, 'the tiniest lunatic fringe in the nation'), there will always be those who want to own a beautiful book, whether for its typographic qualities, the binding and paper, a signature or inscription, the illustrations, or just for its sheer physicality."


The Boundless Variety of Letters

Spent the weekend printing a pair of broadsides displaying the font of 24-pt Reiner Script majuscules given to us last month. Found a couple of quotes from designer Imre Reiner that suited our need. There wasn't enough type to set everything (particularly the story of how the type came to us, included in the colophon), and so the text portions were printed from polymer.

Initially we couldn't decide which of the two quotes we'd found to use; the sentiments are very different (one being cheerful, the other existential). After much pondering, we decided to print both simultaneously, two up, on a single foolscap sheet of Reg Lissel's paper (seconds and extras left over from previous projects). Trimmed down, the final broadsides are 8.5 by 12.5 inches.

The red was printed on Saturday, the black on Sunday. Setting Imre's name in all caps would have been too heavy for the page, so that line is polymer. We had to trick up a base for these single lines, which we did by turning a piece of aluminum furniture on its side and raising it to the appropriate height with one 2-pt lead, one 1-pt lead, and a slip of tissue paper.

This was the first printing we've done since the joyous arrival of our newest piece of equipment, a second folio-sized press for use in the dampening and drying of paper. Up till now we'd had just the one on the left, and this sometimes became the bottleneck during printing: after being dampened, sheets are pressed over night. Once printed, sheets are pressed (between drying boards) to dry (those are the completed Reiner broadsides in the photo). Thus, on the day a sheet is completed, it needs to go into a press. But that's also the day paper is being prepared for the next run. You can see the problem. With the second press, we now have one dedicated to dampening, and one to drying.

Most of the copies of the broadsides will be issued by Wessel & Lieberman, Booksellers (through whom the Reiner font came to us). HM will be issuing ten set of the two broadsides (which are titled "Reiner Script at Heavenly Monkey #1" and "Reiner Script at Heavenly Monkey #2") in a printed paper portfolio. The image below shows the limitation statement printed inside the portfolio, not yet numbered as we have to get some new red ink for our pen.


Pasted Again

This fall Kat Ran Press will be issuing an interesting little book reproducing samples of paste papers made by 19 bookbinders, collected and presented by binder David Bourbeau.

"In his introduction to [Paste Papers of the Pioneer Valley], the late David P. Bourbeau gives a fascinating history of fine printing and binding in the Pioneer Valley of western Massachusetts, with special attention paid to decorated and paste papers. This precedes full-page reproductions of nineteen paste papers with short biographies of their makers—many of whom are the unsung hero-binders of books from fine press publishers such as Gehenna Press, Pennyroyal Press, Cheloniidae Press, Warwick Press, ELM Press, The Lone Oak Press, and Double Elephant Press."

The book (48 pp, 6 x 8.25 inches, $30) reproduces one paper by each binder (including HM's friends Claudia Cohen and Sarah Creighton). It is published in collaboration with Catawba Press, which a quick Google search suggests is the imprint of binder Barbara Blumenthal (a handful of titles were issued in the first half of the 1980s, but it seems to have been in abeyance since). This would make sense since she is making the boxes for the deluxe edition of 20 copies, issued with large, matted samples of each paper reproduced in the book ($950). 


Handpress Library #5 - Ward Ritchie's Laguna Verde

"I was sixty-seven years old in 1972 when I decided I would retire from the responsibilities of the firm I had started so modestly in a nook in the back of my family home forty years before...I had a dream of recovering those early pleasant experiences I had had in printing."

This is how Ward Ritchie recounted the genesis of Laguna Verde Imprenta, which culminated 16 years later with the publication of an eponymous bibliography tracing his work with an Albion handpress between 1975 and 1987. Anyone who has made the commitment to printing with a handpress will sympathize with his account in the book's foreword of the challenges he faced first in finding a press that he could afford, and then its precarious installation to his beach-side house.

The foreword also briefly repeats the well-known story of how Ritchie travelled to Paris in 1930 to learn the craft of printing at the atelier of Francois-Louis Schmied, where his apprenticeship included pulling proofs on a Stanhope-type press. When he returned to California in 1931, intent on establishing his own printing business, "my first purchase of equipment was a Washington hand press. I printed on it only one small book, John J. Slocum's schoolboy poem, "The Youth of Hamlet," before conceding that I'd have to have a more productive mechanical press if I hoped to survive as a printer." The Washington remained his tool for creating, through "trial and error" the title pages of books he designed. But it was another four decades years before he could return to the handpress, where he could be both "creator and designer" of what he printed, rather than just "a mere station on the assembly line."

Laguna Verde Imprenta is set in Goudy Thirty type, with various other types used in the display pages. The edition is 50 signed copies, uniformly bound in quarter red morocco with printed Nideggen papers over boards. Rather than sample pages, a brief bibliographic description and some comments for each project are accompanied by a resetting (i.e. reprinted) page from the book, usually on the spread's facing recto. 

As a sample of handpress printing, it's not great: the inking in much of the body text is weak and inconsistent. It appears Ritchie was not damping his paper, which is a shame since it's a lovely Barcham Green handmade that would have yielded wonderful results if dampened. In this matter Ritchie seems to have committed the common mistake of not fully appreciating the differences between printing with a handpress and commercial printing with a mechanized press. He writes in the foreword that his initial intent had been to use the handpress for "experimental printing," but that soon "the text became more important to me than the experimentations." Thus, the title and interior pages reproduced in the bibliography are immediately recognizable for the style that characterized Ritchie's justifiably renowned commercial career. They enjoy the additional benefit, however, of being like those trial title pages he pinned to his shop walls, the immediate expression of designs created by his hands on the bed of a press. 

Like Pepler's book, Ritchie's challenges with inking and impression don't lessen the joy of book. (Nor do the many inky thumbprints on the corners of leaves.) As Ritchie himself notes, his "fingers are not quite as agile now as they were when I was crowding only seventy and began this bizarre venture into hand press printing." Most of the Laguna Verde projects were on the scale of single-signature pamphlets; the bibliography is one of only two books issued in boards. His editions never topped 50 copies, "because longer runs on a hand press get wearisome and tedious and I choose to print only for fun." To that sentiment, we echo the "Halleluja!" with which Ritchie ended his bibliography.

More detailed accounts of Ritchie's introduction to printing, and his subsequent career as one of California's most influential printers, can be found in The Ward Ritchie Press and Anderson Ritchie & Simon (1961) and in Fine Printing - The Los Angeles Tradition (1987). Next installment, if all goes as hoped, will be Everson's Psalter.


Uncommon Deities at Punkt

The Punkt Festival kicks off tonight in Norway with the a performance (if that's the correct word) of David Sylvian's "Uncommon Deities" audiovisual installation, featuring artwork by Atsushi Fukui. A description of the installation can be found here. David has also curated an evening of music (Saturday) by a variety of artists, and will perform "Plight & Premonition" with John Tilbury, Philip Jeck, Eivind Aarset, Jan Bang and Erik HonorĂ©. The Punkt festival program sounds extremely cool in its breadth & depth; we especially like the idea of the Alpha Room, wherein "the concerts on the main stage are remixed, and the audience may listen to the remixes immediately after each concert." In case you happen to be in Norway this weekend. Meanwhile, our last two copies of the Uncommon Deities broadside are available from Wessel & Lieberman Booksellers, in Seattle.