Graphic Designers: Don't Push So Hard

So a friend sent a link to an article in The Daily Mail that included a large photo of a menu for the wedding of two people who just got married (who they are really, really doesn't matter). The friend sent the link because the photo was an example of an affliction all letterpress printers must battle when doing jobs for graphic designers: the demand for "deep" impression, often on paper as thick & soft as coaster board.

Note how lousy this printing looks. The letters are pushed so deep into the paper that the impression actually distracts from reading. It's so deep that, from this image, you can't even be sure if the darker outer edges of long lines are shadows caused by the depth of the impression, or the tell-tale over-inking of a printer who didn't bother with, or know about, basic makeready.

Graphic designers: do not demand deep impression from your printers. If they're any good, it will break their hearts to print that way. The result simply tells the world you don't know anything about letterpress printing. The right amount of impression is a function of the type, the paper and the form. (No impression also is BS, a remnant from letterpress' later commercial days when offset was in its ascendancy.) Letterpress requires some impression, but not so much that it qualifies as debossing.


Around The World on Tour

Copies of Around the World in Colour are being shipped out. More still to come, with the eight deluxe copies issued last (due to the additional work).

While Claudia was putting the finishing touches on the bindings , Barbara completed a series of dye-sample swatch sheets to be inserted into the eight deluxe copies. The swatches were originally created because of the need to organize the dyes, mordants and modifiers.

For this book they ultimately dyed 1,060 sheets of various kinds of paper in 53 distinct dyebaths. Some papers were pre-soaked (mordanted) in alum, or tannin or both; others went straight into the dye. Some underwent multiple dips in the same dye, others were dipped in two or more dyes. Although most of the dyed papers used in the book were unmodified, we also experimented with traditional modifiers, such as cream of tartar, calcium carbonate and iron.
Keeping the swatches up to date ended up being a project in itself, threatening to overtake the production of the book. Categories of dyes became overwhelming, splitting into ever more precise subcategories, including kinds of paper, timing and combinations of dyes.

A new project has arisen from the spare sheets: Barbara will be returning to the scissors and knife to continue her cut-paper exploration of the fabulous world of microscopic organisms so captivatingly presented by Ernst Haeckel and in the style of the cut-paper botanicals of Mary Delany. Tentatively entitled Mrs Delaney Meets Herr Haeckel, it will be bound by Claudia  Cohen. More details to follow.


Elusive Books

Working on an article about a book published not too long ago, the subject of much attention and discussion at the time, and now almost unknown among collectors, and accused of being a hoax by some who have heard of it. Along those lines, a few other elusive (but definitely real) publications...

This being a blog dedicated above all to handpress printing, the first on the list will be the Novum Psalterium Pii XII printed by Brother Antonius (aka William Everson).

"It was Brother Antoninus' intention, in honor of the five hundredth anniversary of the publication of the first printed Psalter, to print a folio edition of the new translation published by the Vatican in 1945. He began work on the project in 1951, anticipating six years of work to complete 48 copies of the 300-page work, which he hoped to issue in 1957. By 1954, only 76 pages had been completed on a hand-press set up in the College of St. Albert the Great in Oakland, California, when Antoninus decided the project must be abandoned to allow him to devote himself to the priesthood. The press was closed..."


The page from which that quote is taken completes the story. It's also told, in greater detail by Everson himself and others involved, in the Book Club of California's collection of Everson's writings, On Printing. In addition to the 48 Doheny copies, there also are 17 "baby psalters" with fewer pages. Used to be at least one of each listed on Abe, but not lately. Peter Howard had Everson's own copy for sale at Serendipity in 2011, priced at $25,000. That auction page excerpted above simply was the first decent result Google threw up; there's lots of info about the Psalter out there.

Bookseller Timothy Hawley's Contrecoup Press has been publishing since 1980. Perhaps his most elusive title is a pirated reprinting a talk by Ray Bradbury, titled How Not To Burn A Book; Or, 1984 Will Not Arrive (2002). The edition was just 27 copies, issued at $45. Recently offered by the Veatchs at ten times that price. As a bookseller, Timothy specializes in books about books and has an excellent inventory and reasonable prices. But he seems to have disappeared from Abe; maybe he got fed up with the ever increasing tithes.

Finally, here's a pretty obscure one that doubles down: it relates to handpresses and Baskin.

The Embers Press is a Welsh imprint that has been publishing since 1974 (with a 15-year gap from 1990-2005)...

The Rainbow Press was the imprint of poet Ted Hughes and his sister, Olwyn. It operated from 1971 to 1981. A number of its titles included illustrations by Leonard Baskin, and bore the mark of his typographic influence...

The Morrigu Press was started by poet Hughes' son, Nicholas, in 1979, with the gift of an Albion handpress from Olwyn. It published a number of Hughes broadsides and pamphlets over the next four year...

In 2007 all the equipment of Morrigu Press, including the Albion, was purchased by Embers Press, and it is on the Embers Web site that you can find the following elusive title:

TAPIRS' SAGA, poem printed in red and black on hand-made paper. Only 15 copies were signed and numbered, making this the most scarce of any Hughes publication. The copies were never issued because of a fault in the typeface (Centaur). The type has been examined, and the fault is clear - the foundry caste a 16 point face onto a 14 point body, thus making it impossible to set the type solid. It is the same fount that was used for the First Publications, but they were set with well-leaded lines. Tapirs' Saga was set solid. Keith Sagar writes: "The copies still exist, and some have been given away.' It is a curious, mysterious, and witty poem (perhaps even an hermetic one) written in six three-line rhyming stanzas.


Shakey Hand

Once again I'm boosting my blog topic from a recent issue of The New Yorker, specifically Adam Gopnick's article "The Poet's Hand." It's about "an early Elizabethan dictionary with contemporary annotations" that two New York booksellers have concluded were made by William Shakespeare. The pair - George Koppelman of Cultured Oyster Books, and Daniel Wechsler of Sanctuary Books - have recently published a book presenting their  case.

Beyond the obvious appeal of being able to claim ownership of a book with extensive marginalia in Shakespeare's hand, such an assertion has deeper implications (which the article explores). In brief, Shakespeare was self-educated - "he got himself educated in modern languages and modern literature by buying or borrowing books." If some of the phrases in this "polyglot helper" (it's a compilation of English words with translation for French, Latin and Greek) can be directly tied to his plays or poems (which Koppelman & Wechsler believe they have demonstrated), the book becomes a direct source into his methods.

Gopnick refers to the Koppelman and Wechsler book as "self-published," a phrase that still carries a discrediting taint. It's always struck me as odd that we celebrate film makers or musicians who take the DIY route to making and distributing their work, but we still sneer at people who self-publish. Then again, have you seen most of what gets self-published?

But in this case, the publishers seem to have at least invested in producing an attractive book. I'll leave the bun fight over their claim's validity to others. Titled Shakespeare's Beehive: An Annotated Elizabethan Dictionary Comes to Light, the book was designed by Jerry Kelly (well known for his work with David Godine, the Grolier Club, and numerous East Coast booksellers). It's available in hardcover (a limited edition of 2,000; come on guys, that's adjective abuse) or as an e-book. The actual imprint is Axletree Press, which probably is a one-off for this project. Through his imprint Sanctuary Publications Wechsler has issued three previous books, all of which appear to be designed and produced with attention to detail - well-made trade books, and that's not such a common thing. Those books were printed by Meridian Printing, so it might be safe to assume Beehive was too.

Interesting sidebar to the story: the book was purchased on eBay from "an established Canadian dealer." Wonder who that was. Canada can't have more than a handful of established booksellers who deal in this type of item. Also wonder what said bookseller will think if the academy gets behind the current owners' claims. Nothing a bookseller hates more than thinking they sold a book for less than they could have, especially by a factor of a thousand or more.

Anyway, check out Gopnick's article. You'll also learn about the real & true (?) portrait of Shakespeare painted in his lifetime, which spent much of the 20th century stuffed under a bed in Montreal. Now it's out from under the bed, but it's in Guelph; not sure which is the better option.


Still waiting on any copies of Mardersteig's edition of De Aetna to come in the mail. Not holding my breath. Lucky for me the kool kids at UBC found me a copy. I also tracked down a copy of Mardersteig's mammoth 1966 essay about Griffo's life and work. But it's in Italian, so gimme a couple of weeks to get through it.