Monday, December 31, 2007

The First Contre Coup Press Hardbound Book - 1984

I thought that I'd do some postings showing the work of the Contre Coup Press from its beginning, at least as far as the hardbound books are concerned. So here's the first hardbound book produced at the Contre Coup Press. It is entitled Mrs. Ira Gale Tompkins' Journal and Record of Events Dec., 1874 - April, 1877. The book was printed when I lived in the section of St. Louis called University City - my house was just about two blocks outside the St. Louis city limit, and was near Washington University where I had attended graduate school.
I debated the title of the book. It was my great-grandmother's journal, and her name was Demaris Ide Tompkins. It seemed as though I should have used her name instead of calling it "Mrs. Tompkins'" journal. However, the actual journal had a hand-lettered title page that she had created, so I decided that it would be most faithful to the original to use the title that she had chosen, even though it wasn't politically correct. C'est la vie.
The book was printed using my first press, a Chandler and Price 8 by 12 platen press. I had removed the motor and belt and had obtained a treadle. I didn't get the treadle because I wanted to be more authentic or anything; I got the treadle because I didn't like racing with the motor. I could kick the treadle at a very slow speed, which is what I wanted to do because I liked going slow and also because I usually interleaved the printed sheets, having suffered some unfortunate offsetting problems previously.
I set the text in the Van Dijck typeface, which is still one of my very favorites. I think that I obtained the type from Harold Berliner, although it's possible that I got it from MacKenzie and Harris - I really don't remember.
The book is 7 inches tall by 5 inches wide, and has 56 pages. Included is a brief notation by my grandmother, and an afterword by my mother, describing a little bit about the lives of the people mentioned in the journal.
The original of the journal had quite a few photographs pasted into it. My great-grandfather, Ira Gale Tompkins, was a photographer in the 1860s and 1870s, so many of the photographs were taken by him. He was never able to make a go of photography, having been minimally successful with a studio in Grand Rapids, Michigan before moving to western Wisconsin. He had hoped that he would be able to market photographs of local sites and homes with little competition from other photographers, but the pioneers were too focused on putting food on the table to be spending money on photographs, so he had to try to make a living as a farmer, a profession for which he was ill suited. He finally gave up and moved to Chicago, where he lived the rest of his life.
My friend, Kay Michael Kramer, proprietor of The Printery, suggested that I have some of the photographs reproduced by the Hope Press in St. Louis, and they did a very nice job, using an ink that gave the photographs a sepia-tone look. The pictures that I've shown here are of Ira Gale Tompkins, Demaris Ide Tompkins, and Mabel (Birdy) Tompkins, my grandmother. Demaris Tompkins started the journal for the benefit of my grandmother, because she wanted to pass along a record of her childhood and some family history. My grandmother, in turn, did a great amount of journaling herself, filling at least three large volumes with as-yet unpublished writings.
I had the marbled paper for the binding made by Jim Reed, another St. Louisan who was heavily involved in marbling. A young man in St. Louis who was interested in bookbinding bound the book, but regrettably I can't remember his name. He wanted to make the binding have a period look, so he waxed and polished the marbled paper.
I printed the book in an edition of 100 copies, using Ragston paper, which was a really nice letterpress paper that is no longer being made. At the time, I didn't have any extra money to put into the production of a book, so I asked members of my family to front me $100 each in return for five copies each of the finished book. My brothers and parents kindly did so, which allowed me to complete the book.
My great-grandmother was a good writer, and the journal is very well-written, particularly in comparison with the typical journals and diaries of the time. Often they were little more than a recitation of the weather and the activities of the day. Ira Gale Tompkins also did some journaling, but his journal is quite uninteresting. Demaris Tompkins poured her heart out in her journal, and it is a wonderful view into the life of the time.
However, while she was a good writer, she was not a particularly good speller. So just for fun, I printed up a little sheet that I called "Non-Errata", being a take-off on errata sheets that printers sometimes add to point out typographical errors in a book. My Non-Errata sheet pointed out mis-spellings that were not typographical errors, but were mis-spellings in the original.
This book was actually reviewed (positively) in Fine Print and The Devil's Artisan.

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