Nice Things (2013 ed.)

This year's Christmas was a continuation & expansion of last: books about the design work of Vaughan Oliver and v23. Longtime readers will remember that last year Santa found a deluxe copy of This Rimy River, the catalogue for a 1994 exhibition of Oliver's work in Los Angeles. It's a stunning piece of design, but one of the details that distinguishes it from the trade edition is over-printing on the pages in bronze and gold, of a poem set in very large letters. Visually captivating, but the overprinting makes actually reading some of the text portions difficult (as the book's distributor accurately described it, "more painting than book"). So, we needed a copy of the trade edition as well. Not only did Santa find a copy in good nick (pun!), but one signed by Oliver and collaborators Chris Bigg and Paul McMenamin.

It came with a copy of Vaughan Oliver and v23 Poster Designs, a smaller softcover issued in an edition of 1,000 copies (this one also signed) in 2005.

And just to round things out, a copy of Rick Poynor's Vaughan Oliver - Visceral Pleasures, a well researched & beautifully designed account of Oliver's career. Lots of details about working with the various 4AD bands.

Flipping through these three books, and starting to read Poynor's, brings attention to the importance of Oliver's collaborations with photographers. His work alerted many (young) people for the first time to the creative opportunities & power of typography, but all of his designs also incorporated (& often started with) strong imagery. Several of the photographers he worked with commented on Oliver's creative struggle in being presented with an image (i.e. photo) that was sufficiently complete in itself that there was little room for him to work typographically.

One thing that didn't arrive before the 25th: the deluxe issue of Facing the Wrong Way, Martin Aston's recently published history of 4AD. Oliver and Bigg were responsible for creating the label's distinct aestehtic, and 4AD invested heavily in artwork, packaging and promotional items, beyond any strict business case for such expenditure: the art was as central to the label's vision as was the music.

The trade edition of Facing the Wrong Way (600 pages!) came out last fall, but the deluxe was delayed, presumably due to the additional production requirements: expanded to 800 pages, the publisher wisely decided to split it into two volumes, issued in a slipcase. Apparently it's en route, so we'll post some details & images when it's in hand.

Holiday's over, out to the studio to finish binding Metal Type..


A Heavenly Monkey Miracle

Some kool books found under the tree, as foretold. Details next week, after there's been time to soak them up. Till then, something to admire: the cover of Claudia's test binding for the deluxe copies of Metal Type. Vellum, and all that tooling is by hand. Stunning.

And there's this too, an Xmas present from HM2, found in a "vintage" (i.e. second-hand) shop: a blanket made in Japan (doesn't look terribly old), 100% wool and incredibly soft, bearing a familar ligature...

A Christmas miracle?


The Things You Find

Been scouting the used book shelves. The item above initially made the sense tingle, thinking we'd scored another choice item for the Hodgson-Cohen Books on Color Collection. Alas, there was no actual color included in the book. As useless as a book about letterpress or etching that includes not even one example of the technique under discussion. Also this copy was the common third printing, not the notorious (& therefore highly desirable) second.

If publishing really is financially perilous, look for opportunities to publish books about making money in other endeavors, like candle making! Get a papermaker and a letterpress printer, and you can start a Renaissance fair! But then you might end up back in publishing, so be careful.

Happy happy, merry merry to all. There are some flat rectangles under the HM tree that look promising; hope you have some as well.


It's A Wrap

Some hasty snaps of the test binding for the copies of Metal Type being cased at HM (vs the ones being bound in vellum by Claudia). The design that Dana Cromie created for the cover paper was printed in blackest black by David Clifford at Black Stone Press, and looks fantastic. Completely unlike any previous HM book.

We printed it on the same Guarro laid used in the book. It's a very hard paper that prints beautifully when damp, but can be difficult to print dry (which is how David had to print it). But this is the same quality that makes it good for casing in: it's tough paper.

Couple of small adjustments to make, dimensions and figuring a way to place the labels on the boards exactly beneath the placement on the jacket. Speaking of the jacket, it's masa, a semi-transparent machine-made sheet. Smooth on the printed side, rough on the inside, so it won't slide off the boards when being handled. Dana's design is so brilliant that giving it a sheer wrap hinted at the riot beneath, emphasizing its impact when the jacket is lifted away.

So that's the book. The edition is fully subscribed, but that just means most copies will soon be in booksellers' hands. Please contact any of HM's regular dealers listed at right to inquire about availability.


Skewed Patterns

That's David Clifford's Vandercook with one of the plates used to print the patterned paper we'll be covering the boards of the Press copies of Metal Type. The pattern is called "Fonts" and was designed by artist & HM friend Dana Cromie. (Dana has a big show opening in January, and he's also working with David Clifford/Black Stone Press to print a series of multiples that are being assembled into huge repeating images.) Think it's the first time HM has resorted the private press cliché of patterned paper over boards, but in our typically skewed way. If all goes well, we'll have snaps of the test binding next week.


Metallic North

Folding & sorting. Collating copies of Metal Types. Those are the Deluxe copies above. A sheet of millboard laid over the bed of the Washington makes a good table. Let's make today's topic technical: here's one of the additional pages included in the Deluxe copies.

It features Robert Reid's font of Columbus (displayed, with a brief history, in HM's Codex Miscellany), a face offered for only about 10 years on either side of 1900. As you can see, all of the Q sorts from Bob's case were lost over the years (it has travelled across Canada twice in its lifetime). This kind of thing - one letter completely missing - happened with several of the faces displayed in the book.

The Columbus is printed over an old & very worn map of what appears to be central Canada, as it includes Hudson's Bay. Old because there's a lot of "these parts unknown." The map (a zinc plate) was split across two separate blocks, each about 6 x 10 inches. Printing it as a bleed on the Washington would have required completely changing the form lock-up, which was not an option (half the book still to be printed), so it was printed with one of our large book (i.e. copy) presses.

The blocks were secured (taped) to a plexiglass base, and inked with a hand brayer. The paper was simply laid over the blocks, then the base was slipped into the press & the platen screwed down (tight). Voila. The map was so eroded that getting a good & even impression wasn't really an issue, and the slight variations between pulls (screws?) were interesting.


Keeping Books Warm & Stylish

Printed the colophon for Metal Type. Set it in Gill Sans, simply because it hadn't been used anywhere else and we have some the right size (12 pt). Used De Roos italic to press-number the edition. The text for the Deluxe copies is slightly different than the text for the Press copies. Also printed the publisher's and binder's names for their (hors de commerce) copies.

Should be getting the patterned paper for covering the cases this week. Playing with ideas for a printed dust jacket too. People don't play with dust jackets enough.

The screen-printed jacket for Girl With the Mask of a Crow, and the (massive) etched jacket for Iskandariya were brilliant (and both entirely the work of the artist, so we're not boasting).


Eli Was A Book


The term "artist['s] book" has come up several times recently in reference to HM publications. One instance was a course at Smith College in which The WunderCabinet was one of several books examined by students for "how they either align or go against [Janet?] Zweig and [Joanna] Drucker’s criteria" for what constitutes an artist's book. The term could be applied to  any & all of the images shown on this post. How could a phrase that sounds so benign have become be so treacherous?


Let's start by acknowledging that it's always nice to to be included in a discussion like this. Thanks. It might, however, be interesting for the participants to know that neither Barbara nor Claudia would ever call The WunderCabinet - or any of their books - an artist's book. (To begin with, it would have to be an artists' book. This lack of clarity around the apostrophe's place in the term is the first sign that a dark, bottomless pit lies ahead.)


At least one of the Smith essays used the terms livres d'artiste and artist books interchangably (the kid actually wrote "livres d'artiste books"), which Drucker & Zweig probably would be the first to correct. The terms might be analogous, but they're definitely not synonymous. HM would (proudly) admit to some kinship with the French tradition of éditions de luxe in the early part of the last century, if only for attention to production and materials. But never artist books.


A lot of writing has been done about artist books, especially what they are, almost as if they were more thought experiment than actual book. There is an interesting blog by a prof at U Dub (what they call the University of Washington) focusing on applications of digital & social media. This page on a Matisse site has images & info about books created by an artist who had a understanding of & appreciation for the form. And here's an interesting article about the spectrum covered by using the word "artist" as an adjective modifying "book."

In the Smith postings, it was heartening to see several of the students call BS on the whole "what is an artist's book" distraction; here's one and here's another one. Just to put it on the record, HM does not publish artist/artist's/artists' books. We simply publish books. The only adjectives we acknowledge are "good" (aspirationally) and "elusive" (practically). The book is already one of the koolest, endlessly versatile & practical things ever invented. We're happy to do our best to continue the tradition; we don't need to try to make the book something other than it is.