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.


Profiteering in Books ?!

The well for blog post topics remains dry, but last night I encountered something (book related) that got the blood up. It has to do with drop shipping.

I've joked with friends about Abebooks searches that turn up dozens of copies of a book, all priced within the market's prevailing range, except for one seller who is charging a ridiculous amount, like by a factor of 10 or 20 times more. At first I thought this was a clueless amateur. But it isn't: it's always a drop shipper.

Last night I was doing some digging into specialists in modern photography, and this listing from Book Deals showed up. I collect books about printing, and probably know all of the 20th century titles that would be considered uncommon (i.e. expensive). I've never heard of this book or the author. At that price, this must be a pretty kool book. (To add intrigue, this is the only copy that shows up on Abebooks, but you'll see why in a minute...) An original copy of Lewis Allen's Printing With the Handpress lists around $2,000, and it may be the most desirable 20th century book about letterpress, so this First Steps... must be seven times more desirable!

I searched the author and found him in the UK, a semi-retired commercial printer. He wrote First Steps... with the goal of keeping letterpress alive & vital. You can buy a copy of the book from him for $15.

Again: you can buy a copy of the book for $15. The callous heels at Book Deals know that it only takes one person who's too busy or ditsy to shop around, for their $14,111 listing to make a killing. Especially when they apply the model to hundreds of titles (thousands? I couldn't stomach looking long enough to count...): this links to a list of their offered books in descending price. That first title - Stevens' How to Prepare a Feasibility Study - can be had (ex-library) for $179. The next copy online seems to be offered by another drop shipper, but they're only asking $1,700. Gold, Ghost Towns & Grizzlies can be quickly found for $45. And it goes on.

 The worst part is, Book Deals isn't even sitting on a stock of books. That's how drop shipping works: they get your order & then go purchase the cheapest copy they can find & send it to you, pocketing the difference ($15,027 in the case of Ghost Towns...). NPR's podcast Planet Money did an excellent episode on all this. Note the part where the selling platforms wash their hands of the whole question.

SO, if you're shopping for books online, beware of sellers who have multiple results with the same (usually brief) product description. Do a quick search of the bookseller: if nothing (besides Abebooks) comes up, they may well be a drop shipper. Deal with real booksellers who actually have books on shelves, even if it costs a few dollars more. We need book stores, the service will always be better, and you'll be fighting against evil.


On Land

About eight years ago I was invited by the proprietors of a new, small press to contribute a text for a series of broadsides they wanted to print. The subject was Your connection to the land. They were (are) sweet people and I was flattered to be asked, but the topic is exactly the kind of thing that does not resonate with me. The other contributors wrote earnest odes to dirt etc etc; above is what I came up with. It is, if nothing else, entirely honest & genuine. Dug out recently because someone around here is studying gravity & related forces.


I read this line in a recent magazine article about a guy who has begun picking up abandoned books from New York City sidewalks: "They no longer had any exchange value..." It's not news, but it is jarring to have it stated so clinically.


Another & another & another...

Sorry about the lack of posts lately, but there just isn't much to say about binding once you're into it, until you can say Done. And it's taking longer than I'd wanted, which means I don't have time to trawl around for interesting post content. Up there's a picture of how the bench looks today, and below are some recent experiments for the paper to be used binding the Collector's edition (which I hope to start next week, which means I have to finish the Deluxe ones this week...). Hope someone out there's having fun.

p.s. Harold, Jane & Brad will be performing Aurora Teardrops at Harrison House in Joshua Tree on October 29!



Churning through binding copies of Aurora Teardrops, despite constant distractions around here (the most recent, & most distracting of all, is shown at bottom; wasn't my idea). It's a little difficult to get a photo that shows off the interplay of the Deluxe binding's acrylic boards and the vellum prints beneath, but here are a couple of attempts.

Despite being a basic case binding, there are some fussy aspects that have made the first few copies slow work. It's all to do with how acrylic boards are attached to the Japanese paper spine, and then how the textblock is attached to the case (since there isn't a traditional pastedown). Everything hinges on the hinge.

Although I won't be doing the Collector's copies until after the Deluxe, I did one up just to ensure my plan was correct. The cover paper is Guarro laid decorated with a sort-of "direct marbling" technique: a sheet is soaked in water, and then oil paint is dripped on to the surface, diffusing above the water. The sheet is dried, soaked again, and a second application (different color) is added, and then again for a third color. Thus, each copy will be cased in a unique sheet.

Each of the Deluxe copies includes an original watercolor frontis by Jane Maru (with a sewn-in tissue guard). The frontis in the Collector's copies will be one of the two cover prints used in the Deluxe copies (i.e. either the front or rear print, it'll be a coin toss which you get).

The copies shown here haven't had their spine labels added yet. Also, the Deluxe copy will be protected in a slipcase covered in a lovely green Guarro sheet. The first batch should be going out by the end of this week. 


HM's new VP Security & Assoc. Dir. Fun. (Nothing's worse than when you have to hire family...)


Aurora Teardrops A Thru Z

Today I picked up what I'm calling the limitation page for the deluxe copies of Aurora Teardrops, from calligrapher Martin Jackson. (This page appears at the front of the book, stating the edition size & the copy's letter within the edition, above the signatures of Harold Budd, Jane Maru & David Sylvian. There also is a colophon, at the back of the book, with the usual details about printing, materials, etc.) Martin is THE calligrapher in western Canada, has been for ages. He previously helped HM on the deluxe copies of Good & Evil in the Garden (he did the titles on the spines of the 10 vellum-bound deluxe copies), and also on Charles van Sandwyk's The Mouse & The Lizard (titles and initial letters). The scope and depth of his talent are incredible, plus he's a prince of a guy. Having him edition the deluxe copies of Aurora Teardrops is just the finishing touch they needed.


Take It Easy

It's Labor Day, I shouldn't have to be posting. But here are two things...

The HM studio isn't the only magical place in this neighborhood: a sign found on a new building a few blocks down the street...

Went for a walk in a nearby (non-magical) neighborhood, found this outside someone's house. A perfectly good, working rock, just being given away.

Come back tomorrow, I'll have something kool from Aurora Teardrops to show.


Bronze is OK

Been experimenting with decorated papers for binding the Collector's issue of Aurora Teardrops. The one below is getting close (this is image is not very accurate, colorwise). Made with the same bronze ink used in the book. I like the one above but can't recreate it. No clue what was going on there.

Some other experiments below. The Deluxe issue of Aurora Teardrops is now fully subscribed, and about two-thirds of the Collector's is taken up. That doesn't mean you can't get a copy: HM distributes its books through professional booksellers, and that's where most copies are going. If you want a copy of either version, contact one of these booksellers: Books Tell You Why, Vamp & Tramp, or Bromer Booksellers.

Pretty much into the grind of binding copies now. Still have hundreds of prints to trim down; I do them in batches, to preserve fingers & sanity. Not much to say about binding once you're into it: just like printing, grinding out sausages.


Couple of interesting book stories this past week. The planned publication of a facsimile of the Voynich Manuscript got lots of press. The "English" option on the site of the publisher (Siloe) isn't terribly useful, and the link to information about the facsimile just throws up a low-rez PDF, so I couldn't find the kind of production and material information I was looking for. Many of the mainstream reports parroted this line about the book being printed on a paper developed by Siloe: "Made from a thick paste, the paper will be treated so that the final product has the stiff feel of the Voynich vellum." I guess pulp could be described as a thick paste, and Reg Lissel made beautiful "vellum" paper by over-beating abaca fiber. Maybe they're referring to the surface size being applied to sheets? Dunno.

Other bit of news that got lots of coverage in these parts: Special Collections at the University of British Columbia acquired a copy of the Kelmscott Chaucer. That, plus the large Morris/Kelmscott collection (sans Chaucer) acquired by Simon Fraser University a few years ago, should keep students of Morris et al happy & busy. Just don't feel the need to revive his revival (neither the Chaucer nor any Kelmscott book is the most beautiful book ever printed). Congrats to Rare Books head Katherine Kalsbeek. She's kool (and not just because she's been a supporter of HM).

In case you haven't already heard, Jason Dewinetz is working on a book showing/playing with the various types he has at Greenboathouse Press, including many that he's been casting himself with Jim Rimmer's old equipment. I confess that this is the first new "press" book I've encountered in some long time that's caught my interest, and I look forward to getting my copy. The deluxe issue is sold out, but he still has some of the regulars unreserved. Due before the end of the year. Recommended.