John Henry Nash, What Were You Thinking?

Dipping into the oeuvre of San Francisco printer John Henry Nash this month. I’ve long been a fan of his work, although not necessarily all of his books. This post was sparked by a recent leaf book acquisition, purchased sight unseen, and in some aspects it is less than aspirational.

The book is Nicolas Jenson, Printer of Venice, published in 1926, with a leaf from Jenson’s 1478 edition of Plutarch’s Vitae Parallelae Illustrium Virorum (volume 2). Jenson, Nash, leaf book: these three things combined in one book make it aces for me, but turns out it isn’t one of Nash’s better productions. The first thing I noticed when the book - which is folio sized, to accommodate the Jenson leaf - arrived was the paper. Where many of his books featured European hand- or mouldmade paper, this appears to be a machine-made (it is not mentioned in the colophon, and Nell O’Day’s Catalogue of Books Printed by JHN lists it simply as “Strathmore”).

The Jenson leaf has a little foxing, and Nash’s paper is buff; the Strathmore may have been chosen because its cream hue approximates the Jenson leaf. But in 2017 it simply looks like cheap paper that has aged quickly and badly. Attention to this unlovely paper is heightened by it apparently having been used with the grain going the wrong way: pages buckle along the gutter when turned. The slim volume’s opening isn’t helped by the vellum spine - the thing just doesn’t really want to be opened.

The paper is the primary sticking point. Nash knew paper & most of his books were printed on lovely paper, often a laid Van Gelder mouldmade with his watermark. Why, then, did he choose such a charmless paper for the Jenson project? Let’s inquire by taking a quick tour through some of his work…

Starting with the best example at hand, Cobden-Sanderson and the Doves Press (1929) is another leaf book, one for which the materials and production do justice to the content. The paper for this book is the Van Gelder. The edition is 339 copies, all with an original leaf tipped in on tapes (allowing easy inspection of the verso; the too-common shortcut of gluing a leaf along one edge discourages turning it); 37 of the copies include a vellum leaf, and are bound in full vellum over boards (the rest of the edition in simple limp vellum). A beautiful production.

Nash employed the vellum over boards, with exposed tapes laced through the joint, on a number of his publications. One on my shelf is the folio-sized doorstop The Life and Personality of Phoebe Apperson Hearst, a hagiography of the mother of William Randall, who footed the bill for the 1,000 copies - all for private distribution - bound in vellum over boards (the binding was done in Germany). Nash was also commissioned to print a companion volume about Hearst’s old man, which is much more scarce than Phoebe’s volume. I found this copy in a second hand store, priced at $100 (which seems to be the going rate online). I cannot imagine how much the binding alone would cost now, assuming you could find someone who knew how to do it, but a lot more than a yard, so I bought the thing. Didn’t even pretend I might read it one day, I just admire the binding, paper and printing every now & then.

Back to paper: my claim that the paper used for the Jenson book is an aberration among Nash’s publications is bolstered by looking at some of his ephemera, all printed on the same beautiful papers he used for books (that’s what offcuts are for). I have two pieces that were printed on handmade H. Pannekoek paper, with a beautiful, big watermark. Apparently Pannekoek disappeared some time in the 19th century, so this must be stock Nash found in a warehouse somewhere. It’s a lovely sheet, a bit soft (possibly unsized).

Nell O’Day’s catalogue was printed by Nash in 1937. It’s not a rare title, but the only copy I’ve ever seen in a shop is the one I bought (it’s in an elegant case of waxed marbled paper over boards, inscribed by Nash and O’Day on the front pastedown). Skimming through it, Pannekoek paper makes its first appearance in 1926, for The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. He seems to have had the Le Fortuin sheet (above) and another, “laid finish” sheet.

Pannekoek is used for a few more projects, up to 1928, and then no more - me must have used up his stash. This large pamphlet (The End of a Quest: An Appreciation), issued in 1928, may have been the last of what he had.

The thing that is particularly irksome is that Nash had the Pannekoek paper on hand when he published the Jenson book. It would have been a perfect match, but instead we get the loathsome Strathmore - a sheet with no mention I could find in the Catalogue before or after the Jenson project; that tells you how much Nash liked it Worse yet, he had been using Kelmscott paper for projects immediately before the Jenson! Imagine what might have been.

Joseph Fauntleroy’s reminiscence about working with and for Nash (JHN Printer, above) is beautifully produced in the printer’s style, on his watermarked Van Gelder paper, but may be of interest only to hardcore printing nerds. It includes an intriguing mention of Nash’s fondness for bicycle racing during his early apprentice years in Toronto, a fondness that apparently cost him his apprenticeship & sparked the travels that eventually took him to San Francisco. Fauntleroy also mentions several times the care and attention that went into choosing the right paper for specific projects, a point that underscores the uncharacteristic choice for the Jenson book’s.

Having taken that brief tour, perhaps you can understand my puzzlement at, and disappointment with the paper he used in the Jenson book. None of the reference books I have at hand offers any insight to the decision. Regardless, I justified purchasing the book as a raw material for the second edition of the Francesco Griffo “biography” we’ll be printing one day (thought it might be next year, but now looks like 2019 earliest): I’m thinking of including letterpress facsimiles of pages from books mentioned in the biography, including one showing Jenson’s roman, so I need an original leaf to reproduce. Same with that Hypnerotomachia leaf I mentioned last month.

So that’s a lot of moaning about a book I just bought. Even if I’d seen it first, I probably would have bought it anyway, because of Nash and Jenson. At least it sparked me to pull out my Nash ephemera and play with it again. I think I’m going to offer up Mrs Hearst, in her stunning vellum clothing, The End of the Quest (large folio, printed on Le Fortuin), the Aeropagitica quote (single folded sheet, JHN Van Gelder, with unicorn), If It Were Today (folio pamphlet, JHN Van Gelder laid), and Americana Vetustissima (single folded sheet, JHN Van Gelder laid) as a collection, for $250. Send me a note if you want more details & etc.

We have something special for the first post of 2018, with a number of printer friends contributing. Until then, happy happy, merry merry, be well. HM


The End is Near

This month's post is about John Henry Nash, Nicolas Jenson, leaf books, and related matters. It needs a bit more work before posting, and I have to get down to printing that last - and trickiest - sheet for Labour Vertue Glorie: it includes the title and contents pages, two colors on both sides, which means a three-day run (instead of the usual two). I'll get the new post up by the weekend. Meanwhile, go have a look at a short video I made last weekend (instead of working on the Nash post); it was filmed through the studio's east windows. Has nothing to do with printing or books, but I like to think it catches the spirit of HM.

After the title page run, I have just the volvelles to print. Everything remains on schedule for a late winter/early spring publication.


Pictures, Mostly

More pictures, less words this month. Francesca Lohmann's An Alphabetical Accumulation was published in October, copies sent out. See the usual suspects listed at right if interested in acquiring. The edition is 36 copies, but only 30 were for sale.


The calligraphy on book and box is original, not printed. The book was printed on three different, intermingled papers, the sections then sewn by Claudia Cohen onto a chemise made from old parchment documents. Vellum slips were attached to the chemise, and the sewn block laced into a limp vellum case.


The image above shows the "doublures," with the vellum slips laces through the case and the parchment chemise becoming the equivalent of front and rear pastedowns (though no adhesive is used, just the vellum slips).


Look close & maybe you'll see the embellishments Francesca added to the printed title page.


The first letter. Francesca's calligraphy throughout is in red, the printed facsimiles in black.


And a lovely little coda added by her to the last page of each copy...


A publisher couldn't ask for two more inspiring and easy collaborators than Francesca & Claudia. Preliminary work on another book with a calligrapher, whose identity will be revealed soon, is underway. Possible publication in late 2018; depends how ambitious he gets with the original calligraphy to be added to each copy. 


HM is all about leaf books these days. Progress is being made with Labour Vertue Glorie. Here's a sheet pulled on Halloween, right off the tympan & added to the stack, interleaved with boards for drying:

A couple of leaf books came my way recently. I'm keeping the acquisitions down by focusing primarily on incunabla, and there probably aren't a dozen leaf books with incunables. And of those, some include the leaf in a pocke, or some similar scheme: if they aren't tipped in - preferably to a tab, to make turning the leaf easy - I'm not interested. Anyway, an early Book Club of California title with a leaf from Aldus' Hypnerotomachia Poliphili came my way!


De Vinne's essay was originally published in 1881, and it is one of the first sources that perpetuated the Anthony Panizzi's incorrect assertion that Aldus' types were cut by a goldsmith named Francesco Raibolini. (De Vinne's essay was also published in 1983 by Targ Editions.) The text is set in Poliphilus (natch), and printed (and/or inked) rather heavily on Barcham Green Hammer & Anvil paper. I suspect they didn't dampen the paper, which is a waste, and accounts for the muddy result. (For some good handpress printing, see the Allen Press item mentioned further down this post..)

I justified the purchase as a necessary reference for the expanded second edition of Fragments & Glimpses, which is starting to take form. Here's the leaf:

Vancouver had an antiquarian book fair last month, and it didn't suck! It was a modest affair but included maybe 20 dealers including several from central Canada. For printing nerds, the best stuff was found at Bill Matthews' table. I got a hors commerce Allen Press sheet, printed for a Roxburghers dinner; a copy of the prospectus for volume 2 of the Grabhorn Bibliography, to be tucked into my copy of said volume; and another BCC leaf book, A leaf from the 1583 Rembert Dodoens herbal, printed by Christopher Plantin. Yes, it's outside my preferred timeframe, and its printed on awful, smooth white machine-made paper, but it's Christopher Plantin. And it was cheap.


Finally, remember I mentioned the Florin Press' book of wood engravings by Monica Poole recently, and that there was a deluxe issue with a section about printing the engravings that I wanted to get my hands on? Well, I didn't, but I did get a copy of the text from that section, which is what I'm really interested in anyway. It seems to be some kind of offprint that the printer probably gave away. So, I graingered it right into my copy of the book.


"In Original Binding"

Similar to last month’s post, this one’s about a book, The Allen Press Bibliography (1981). It’s also about a specific copy of that book, one I found in sheets and took the opportunity to grainger. That isn’t a proper verb, but it’ll become clear.

I don’t remember how the Allen Press first became an interest for my collecting pursuits, in the early 1990s. It probably was a result of my education being confined to dealers down the West Coast, especially in California, where Lewis & Dorothy had been at the center of the fine printing clique since the 1950s. I likewise don’t exactly remember why, when I decided to start printing in earnest, it had to be with a handpress, but the Allens’ books certainly must have influenced that prejudice.

In the early aughts, while my collecting muscles were still in regular use, I set my sights on what I considered to be, for me, three foundational contemporary handpress books (i.e. books displaying the excellence that can be achieved only with a handpress, hand inking and dampened paper): Everson’s Psalter, Baskin’s Jewish Artists, and Allen’s Printing with the Handpress. A facsimile of that last book was published shortly after the Allen’s original, but a book about printing on the handpress really needs to be printed on a handpress. I eventually (actually, pretty quickly) got copies of all three, and found myself looking around and wondering, what now?

Press bibliographies are a particular interest to me, especially if they include sample leaves of the books listed. It’s like having a mini-exhibition of the press’s work in your hands. (This is why I still have not acquired a copy of Neil Shaver's Yellow Barn Press bibliography, despite my regard for his work - no sample leaves!!) The model for most press bibliographies has been that of the Ashendene Press (below), although the samples in that book are facsimiles (resettings) of pages, not actual leaves from the original printing. It contains brief comments from Hornby about each title, along with the bibliographic specifics. The Allen’s bibliography received much praise when it was published, enough that the Book Club of California produced a facsimile (which also had sample leaves!) worthy of the original, in execution and materials, just four years later, in a much larger edition (750 copies; see last image below) than was usual for that group.


Binding was the role of Dorothy in the Allen partnership, and she was competent at making flat-spined case bindings. The material or paper used to cover the boards seems to have been the source of greatest interest; the cases are perfectly fine but not quite on par with the printing. Nonetheless, the bindings became part of the Allens’ overall aesthetic, and their books often are immediately identifiable among a row of spines on a shelf. Which makes the matter of my copy of the bibliography, found in sheets, tricky.

The sheets came with 6 original leaves - I think that’s how many each copy contained (more on that in a minute). One of the sheets in my copy was a Picasso lithograph from Goll’s Four Poems of the Occult (1962, shown at top of this page), which is pretty kool. To these I added six more samples, all prospectuses. The technical term for this is “to grainger,” - adding additional (related) content to a book. Originally this generally implied additional copies of prints in the book, e.g. state proofs or colored copies. But it has since been applied more widely, to any additional content that makes a copy unique. 

And I’d lined up a binder worthy of the book: Hélène Francoeur, of Quebec. She and I had both attended the first week-long printing course offered at Barbarian Press (1996?), and she did (does) beautiful work. My budget stretched to a full-goat binding, but with minimal tooling & certainly no inlays etc. I came up with the stylized AP to be debossed in the boards. Dealing with all the salted-in samples was a bit of a challenge, especially the folded prospectuses which added that much more bulk to an opening. And I wanted everything sewn in (i.e. tipped to hinges), at the appropriate place, by the book’s listing, not stuffed in a pouch at the back. She got it all done, lots of shims & guards, and a few months later a beautiful, sober, solid volume arrived.

I can’t remember if it was before or after, but I also got a copy of the BCC facsimile edition. It was never a rare book, given its large edition. I probably thought it would be useful to have a reference copy, to save my graingered copy the wear & tear. A few years ago the price on these facsimiles bottomed out and copies seemed to be everywhere; I see several copies listed online today under $100, which makes them a steal: the book is beautifully produced, and an engaging read for anyone interested in printing & fine-press publishing.

Sometime later, and again I don’t remember when or why, I encountered a bound copy of the original edition, and bought it. It must have been priced cheaply, or come from someone who had an outstanding invoice. It is bound in quarter-cloth, with block-stamped cloth over boards. Dorothy liked block-stamped fabrics. It’s quite plain next to the copy bound by Hélène, but it also is more obviously & genuinely an Allen Press book.

(Taking photos for this post, I discovered this funkiness in Dorothy's sewing of the first signature - what's going on here?! It looks like she was using doubled thread - which I've never encountered - and one has broken but the other is still intact. I dunno.)

Over the past few years I’ve been shedding as much stuff as possible, trying to pare down to just what’s regularly useful or necessary, as opposed to nice to have around. I’ve long had a general rule for non-reference books: if they haven’t been taken off the shelf in over a year, then maybe they can move on to a new home. (And if a book isn’t going to a be useful reference in one way or another, it doesn’t even get into the house now.) All of which brought my attention to the three copies of The Allen Press Bibliography taking up shelf space.

Culling the facsimile would be the easiest decision, but with cheap copies abundant, no one needs mine. Which of the two originals to let go? The one to which I added all the extra samples and had bound in full goat would seem the likely candidate to keep, but there’s something about a press book in the publisher’s original binding. I pretty quickly decided that was the copy to keep. If you disagree with this line of thinking, and are interested in a unique copy of The Allen Press Bibliography, with an original Picasso litho & six extra sample sheets added, in an austere bespoke binding by one of the best binders working in Canada today, it’s yours for US$1000. Lemme know. You didn’t realize this was one long advertisement, did you. The book has moved along to a new home.


Come back next week, I'll have a cool type thing to share...


The Man in the Window...

…and other stories.

This post might atone for the lightweight stuff that’s been going up over the summer.

Sometimes while at work, particularly when doing detailed, picky stuff, my brain needs a break. If I’m at the computer, one distraction I occasionally indulge is surfing the local craigslist for “letterpress,” or “book press,” or my favorite, “etching.”

I happened to have heard recently an interview on Fresh Air with Robert Wright. He’s a visiting professor of science and theology at Union Theological Seminary, and the author of a recent book (Why Buddhism Is True) that examines connections between Buddhism and Darwin’s theory of evolution, to explain why we seek pleasure but are never satisfied. Speaking to Terry Gross he said:

“The problem of paying attention is a problem of controlling your feelings. If I’m working on a piece of writing, and it’s getting to this problematic stage where I don’t know what to do next, that starts feeling unpleasant. Then suddenly it pops into my mind that there’s this smartphone I want to research because I need a new smartphone. And I enjoy that, I like researching smartphones, and that’s a good feeling. If you really pay attention to what’s going on, when you get distracted and fire up your browser, it’s just a contest of feelings. There’s a kind of thirst you’re surrendering to.”

So that explains the craigslist surfing. But just for printing equipment and prints, nothing else. 

I got distracted from the point of this post, which is a print I found: Scrolling through the dreck posted for sale, I spotted one print unlike the others, most immediately because of the shape of the image area: the top was arched. I’d seen prints like this years ago, the shape and the style, at the home of Jan and Crispin Elsted, aka Barbarian Press. I recognized the artist’s name from their prints: Graham Clarke. I’m not a particular fan of his work, it’s too folksy in content and execution for me. (Folk, as an adjective, is a word I pronounce with a sustained short U substituted for the ol: uuuuu…) It reminds me of Rigby Graham, and I never understood his appeal either.

This particular print of Clarke's also reminds me of the newspaper cartoonist Giles, for the level of activity crammed in. Every anglo kid who grew up in Canada in the ‘70s had at least one, often many, copies of the Giles annuals published at Christmas. They often ended up in the bathroom, and with nothing else to do, kids looked through them. We were oblivious to the specific political or social topics, but his cartoons were great for being packed with all kinds of visual gags and details. There was a shaggy little doughboy with a jacket that was held closed with a safety pin. He didn’t seem to be part of the “Giles” family, but he was always in the background. A proto-Bart Simpson without any speaking lines. I liked him.

Anyway, what really caught my attention about this Clarke print on offer was a sheet attached to the back of the frame. I append it here; see if you can spot what caught my attention…

Pip is what Crispin’s family and friends call him. I knew he and Jan were in the UK in 1978, that’s when they first got into printing. And they were introduced to it by Graham Williams, of the Florin Press. Now we’re getting to what really interested me about this print: not so much the etching, but this sheet on the back, printed by Williams.

One of the first press books I bought, and to this day one of the best I’ve ever bought, was a copy of Monica Poole, Wood Engraver, beautifully printed by Williams on not just one but three handpresses - a Columbian and two Albions. Poole’s work was stunning in detail and execution, and not dull pastoral studies seen in too much wood engraving. Even when her images do stray to the countryside, there’s a sense of menace, and often details that almost seem surreal. Very kool.

The book was set in Optima, which might seem an incongruous choice but it works. Fantastic book, immaculate printing. A cornerstone of the HM Handpress Library. I’d love to get my hands on a deluxe copy, which includes an extra section by Williams about printing the blocks. He was actively printing and publishing through the 1980s, but seems to have devoted himself primarily to sculpting.

I sent Crispin a photo of the print and sheet, and asked specifically about the plans for Clarke & Elsted. My inquiry generated one of his charming notes in reply, part of which I share here (with his blessing): 

"I remember the print. In fact we have one inscribed to us by Graham with its original title, which was "Restoration Comedy", but his dealer in Cranbrook, Kent, thought that it was a bit too lofty, so Graham changed it. We were staying with Graham and Wendy when he made the etching (we were looking in the area for a place to live) and I guess he thought the two names sounded euphonius! The job in question was in fact some restoration work on the front of their cottage, which dates from the 15th century (there’s a date carved in the mantel) in which they still live.

Graham Clarke continues to issue prints, and prices for earlier ones (his career seems to date from around 1971) start at a few hundred pounds. The print on craigslist was just a few pounds, so I bought the thing. I’d thought of laying the text sheet into my copy of the Poole book, a kool piece of (unrelated) Florin ephemera, but it’s slightly too big for that. The print I extracted from its acidic matting. I’ve wondered if finding someone who can cut the arched window in a mat would be difficult, but it’s moot for now.


Francesca's An Alphabetical Accumulation is being sewn & stuffed into limp vellum covers as this is being posted. Copies should be on display at next month's book fair in Seattle. I've added a page on the HM site, under books, with some photos.

I have likewise added a pre-publication page for the Rollenhagen/Wither leaf book, Labour Vertue Glorie, with some production and edition details. I'll be posting images of the book as work progresses, illustrating some of the specific parts, like the working lotterie volvelles.

Anyone interested in either book should get in touch with one of HM's booksellers; they'll have all the details and can assist in reserving a copy.


Paper Post

Got my first chance to actually spend time with a complete copy of Folding Paper this past week. It's hot in July, half of B.C. is on fire, and the smoke has started to blow west, giving Vancouver a martian-orange haze (surely the end of times...), so let's be lazy & just look at some shots of the book...

The book was printed by David Clifford at Black Stone Press. The title page, however, was printed at HM (on the handpress) because the sheet, which gets folded down to book size, was too large for David's Vandercook.

The book's text is interspersed and illustrated with dozens of tipped or inserted samples of the structures and techniques discussed...

The colophon employs the same folding technique used for the book's prospectus (hint: open & close by holding from the top right edge, and the sheet will open and close as required).