Saturday, January 26, 2008

W. Notting Ltd. British Composing Stick

Here's another really sweet composing stick. This stick was manufactured by the W. Notting Ltd. company in London - it is stamped "Stephenson Blake Co. Ltd.", so it was obviously sold by Stephenson Blake. This stick is made of fairly thin, but strong, stainless steel. It is 9-1/2 inches long and 12 picas deep, with a capacity of 42 picas in line length.
At first glance, it seems like a common screw stick. But it is not. It is a sophisticated advancement over the common screw stick, although it does include a brass screw that tightens the knee against the rail. However, it has several other features that make it a very high quality, precision tool. First, it should be noted that the rail has a beaded portion at the conjunction of the rail and the body of the stick to increase its strength. The end-plate of the stick is iron which is riveted to the plate. The open edge of the body of the stick, instead of being simply the edge of the metal, actually is made up of a serrated edge which is folded over to the bottom side of the stick. The knee has a spring-loaded L-shaped piece of iron that wraps around the top edge of the stick, and has teeth that engage with the serrated edge of the stick. When adjusted to the desired measure, these teeth hold the knee firmly in place at the top edge of the stick, while the screw holds the knee firmly against the rail.
The addition of a graceful curving brace on the knee makes for a very, very firm locking mechanism to assure an accurate line measure, with clamps on the knee extending around to the bottom of the stick at both the rail and the top edge of the stick. To adjust the measure, you loosen the screw and then press down on the L-shaped piece at the top of the knee, thereby disengaging the teeth from the serrated edge of the stick. When the knee is at the desired measure, you remove the pressure on the L-shaped piece, and the spring presses against the piece, engaging the teeth in the serrated edge and locking the knee in place.
This is one choice stick.

Why I Live Where I Live, by Stanley Elkin

Here's the first book - or more accurately called, pamphlet - that I printed that started selling for big money. I was flabbergasted when people started asking anywhere from $600 to $800 a copy for this slight piece. Of course, it had nothing to do with me or my press, but the price was based on the author's importance.
This book started out when I saw an essay in Esquire magazine by Stanley Elkin. Elkin was a very highly thought of novelist, short-story writer and essayist who taught at Washington University in St. Louis and lived just right around the corner from my home, which was near the Washington University campus. Since the essay focused on St. Louis, our neighborhood, and people in our community, I thought that it would be an ideal essay to reprint as a little pamphlet from the Contre Coup Press.
I had never met Elkin - indeed, I never did meet him, despite printing this book and another book that he had written. But I knew some people who had been in his classes, and he had quite a reputation - quite a reputation, indeed! One woman who took a class with him told me that he had given the class an assignment, and when they turned them in at the beginning of the next class meeting, Elkin stacked the writings on the desk in front of him, picked up the top item and started reading it silently. After a few moments, he exclaimed, "Oh my God! What a bunch of shit!" He then took the entire stack of papers, lit them on fire with his cigarette lighter and tossed them into the waste paper basket to burn.
Needless to say, I was intimidated at the thought of approaching him. So I decided to take the bull by the horns, so to speak, and write him a letter that was filled with chutzpah, thinking that this might appeal to him. Regretably, I didn't keep a copy of the letter, but it was along the lines of how he actually owed it to me to let me print the essay, which was ridiculous, of course, but I hoped that it would appeal to his well-developed sense of the ridiculous. Apparently it worked, because he did grant me permission to reprint it. I had promised him that I had no interest in making money off of his writing, and that I planned on giving away all of the copies, which was entirely true.
So I printed the pamphlet in an edition of 30 copies. I bound 25 of the copies in grey wrappers, and another five copies in brown wrappers, which were the copies that I gave to Elkin. For some reason, the picture here looks very much like one of the brown copies, but it's actually one of the grey copies. The presswork was really so-so on the book. I printed it on my old Chandler and Price 8 by 12 platen press, and I hadn't yet perfected doing make-ready, so the pages are pretty uneven. The pamphlet was 9 by 6 inches, with 8 pages, printed on a German Ingres paper with wrapper of Fabriano Ingres heavy. The text was set in the Van Dijck typeface.
So anyway, I sent off the five copies to Elkin, who seemed pleased with the thing, and gave away a number of the copies that I kept - I think I ended up with about nine or ten copies left over that sat around for awhile. Then one day the telephone rang, and it was Peter Howard, owner of Serendipity Books in Oakland, California. He was on a buying trip, and had stopped in St. Louis to go to some bookstores as well as to visit with Stanley Elkin. He was quickly taken with my little pamphlet, and immediately bought some copies from Elkin. He was calling me because he wanted to buy some more from me.
Well, I told him that I couldn't sell them, because I had promised Elkin that I would not do so. He asked me if I would sell him some copies if he could get Elkin to grant me permission to do so. I said that was fine. The next day he called me, not in a particularly happy mood. He sourly told me that he had gotten Elkin to agree to letting me sell some copies, but Elkin had given permission on the condition that Howard pay me what he had paid Elkin for his copies, which was $100 each. I was floored, of course. So I agreed, and he came and bought six or seven copies, as I recall. He twisted my arm to sign the copies, which I am loathe to do because my handwriting is completely illegible, and I think that my signature on a book is more of a defect than an extra feature. But I did sign them as he requested. He immediately went back to Oakland and started offering them for $600. I found the whole thing pretty amusing. But Howard was smart. He knew that avid author collectors want everything that an author has published, and this little pamphlet was the most limited item in Elkin's canon. I think that he sold them out pretty quickly.
So that little item put me in a bit of a different class in the private press community. Today some of my books sell for pretty stiff prices on the internet - or I should say, people are asking some pretty stiff prices. I don't know if anyone is actually paying those stiff prices or not.
A few years later I asked Elkin if he had something else for me to print, and I ended up doing an edition of his radio play, The Coffee Room. But that's another story, and another post.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Star Composing Stick

Here's another goodie - the famous "Star" stick. The Star was another variation that was fixated on keeping the knee perfectly parallel to the end-plate of the stick. This ingenious knee used a simple clamping mechanism that tightened the knee against the stick, and also locked teeth into grooves cut along the bottom of the stick, thereby firmly locking the knee not only to the correct measure, but holding it firmly across the entire depth of the knee, keeping it from getting sprung. The teeth were spaced an agate apart (ie., 6 points), so the stick could only be adjusted to full- and half-pica measures.
According to Speckter, one of the problems with this design was that the knees tended to get broken due to compositors tightening them too much. As a result, he says that the company enjoyed a thriving business in selling replacement knees. This particular example is quite a nice one. It is 12-1/4 inches long and 12 picas deep. It retains nearly all of the original chrome, or nickel plating, which was added to better quality sticks before the advent of stainless steel. The patent dates are 1904 and 1905, although the stick was made for quite a number of years. This one is stamped "The Star Tool Mfg. Co.", but I also have examples stamped "Eagle Mfg. Co." - I do not know if this was a different company entirely or simply a successor company to the Star company. Maybe someone out there knows the answer to this, and could email me the information at
Thanks to Paul Young for the pictures of the ATF advertising folder regarding the Star stick.

Joni Mitchell - Between the Forceps and the Stone

True confessions time: I'm a pirate. The Contre Coup Press never asks permission to print copyrighted materials. I flaunt copyright like most people flaunt the speed limit. I rationalize it by telling myself that 1) the copyright holders would never give me permission, 2) my edition size is so small as to be invisible anyway, and 3) I sell the books for less than my out-of-pocket expenses for paper, type, ink, binding, etc, so I'm obviously not stealing for profit. So I know that's a lame rationalization, but it's the best that this criminal can come up with at the moment.
Here is an example of a book that I printed without obtaining permission. I have loved the music and lyrics of Joni Mitchell since she first came on the scene many years ago. I printed a pamphlet of her song lyrics early on in the history of the Contre Coup Press, but it was one of the most unattractive books I ever did. So I wanted to do a nicer book of Joni Mitchell lyrics.
At the same time, my 17-year old son, Noel, had developed an interest in photography. So I decided that it would be fun to do a book of Mitchell's lyrics, and illustrate them with original photographs by my son. There is a wonderful old cemetery here in Louisville named Cave Hill Cemetery that has a large collection of beautiful monuments and headstones. So Noel and I went around the cemetery and located monuments that we thought would be representative in some way of the lyrics of the songs that I had chosen. Noel took the photographs, developed the film in his darkroom and hand printed ten copies of each photograph, which I tipped into the books.
I entitled the book Between the Forceps and the Stone, which is a line from one of Joni Mitchell's songs that reflects a person's life from birth to death - and, of course, also referenced the "stones" that we had photographed. The book was set in Monotype Cochin that I had purchased from Kay Kramer some years earlier. I printed the book on Nideggen paper, with a trim size of 9-1/4 by 6-1/4 inches, with a total of 50 pages. The book was printed in an edition of only 10 copies, and was bound by the Campbell-Logan Bindery with an interesting decorated paper for the sides. I was fortunate enough to get Jerry Kelly to do the lettering for the title page, which he did in return for credit against purchases from Timothy Hawley Books.
One of the truly aggravating mistakes that I made in this book was mis-spelling a word in one of the lyrics. My favorite of all of Joni Mitchell's songs is Shades of Scarlett Conquering. This song is about a woman who is likened to Scarlett O'Hara from Gone With the Wind. But for some inexplicable reason, I spelled her name "Scarlet" throughout the lyric, as well as in the title! Yikes! And not only that, I had also mis-spelled the name in the pamphlet that I had printed years before! Double yikes!!
I press-numbered four copies of the book - two for myself, one for my son Noel, the photographer, and one for Joni Mitchell, that being No. 1. However, I found myself in a quandary about how to actually get the copy of the book to her. I couldn't trust just sending it to her record company, because I was afraid that someone would just swipe it. I've been stumped, and the book still sits here waiting for me to find a reliable way to get it to her. Anybody out there know Joni Mitchell well enough to tell her that I have a book that I want to give to her?

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Bacher Aluminum Composing Stick

In contrast to the cheap aluminum stick described yesterday, here is a very nice, well-made stick that also has an aluminum body - but there the comparison ends. This stick was manufactured by the Bacher company, which I believe is a German company. The stick is 10-1/4 inches long and 12 picas deep. It opens to a line measure of 48 picas, which is stamped into the stick. The end-plate of the stick is steel, and is riveted to the stick body. The aluminum body is much thicker and stronger than the body of the cheap stick in yesterday's post.
The knee bears some resemblance to the Buckeye knee, with a clamp that screws against the knee with a lever. However, unlike the Buckeye, the clamp goes around the rail and under the body of the stick.
This stick has a really nice feel to it. This particular one has some ownership markings on the bottom of the body: "G DUNN JT/IT". I assume that G Dunn is the name of the compositor, and JT/IT may be the name of the company where he worked - that's all speculation, of course.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Cheesy Aluminum Composing Stick

Here is possibly the cheapest, cheesiest stick that is in my collection. This thing is an abject piece of crap! Awful! It's made out of thin aluminum, with the end-piece riveted to the body. The knee is a simple bent piece of aluminum, with a clamp that is just a bent piece of steel with a thumbscrew. There is no identification of manufacturer, as if anyone would admit to it. It's nine inches long and ten picas deep. It opens to about 38 picas.
Cheap and poorly made as it is, it probably does the job OK. But I sure wouldn't want to set up a form that has to be put into a large chase and fit nicely, because I would be afraid that the squeeze exerted when I justified the lines of type would bend the damn stick and make the measure irregular. I'd want to be very careful to not justify the lines too tightly.
Anybody who knows who is responsible for this disgraceful piece of junk can email me at


Countless thousands of rabid fans of Timothy Hawley Books and the Contre Coup Press have requested a picture of the proprietor. So herewith is a picture of me. The picture is a few years old, and I'm somewhat better looking now.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Henry Waller Travel Journal - A Contre Coup Book

Here's a book that I feel pretty good about, despite its flaws in terms of presswork. One of the challenges facing a printer who prints teensy-weensy little editions like I do is finding quality manuscripts to print. Most authors aren't too keen on seeing all their hard work result in a book that only 20 or so people will ever be able to read. So one solution to that little problem is to print something written by someone who's dead!
The Filson Historical Society here in Louisville, formerly known as The Filson Club, has an amazing manuscript collection. Some years ago I introduced myself to the curator of Manuscripts, Jim Holmberg, and asked him if I could search around for a manuscript that was previously unpublished that I could print. He agreed, and I started looking. With amazing luck, I stumbled upon a travel journal that none of the library staff was even familiar with. It had been written by a young man named Henry Waller, who was a West Point graduate, an attorney, and would soon become a prominent citizen of first Maysville, Kentucky and then Chicago, Illinois.
The journal in question was written during a trip that he took from Frankfort, Kentucky in 1835 down through south-central Kentucky, into Tennessee, and on down the Natchez Trace through Mississippi - unfortunately, the journal broke off while the travellers were still in Tennessee. What was remarkable was the quality of writing in the journal. Most similar manuscripts are quite uninteresting. Waller described the people and places in a very colorful style, and the journal is very enjoyable reading. I did a great deal of research on Waller, his family, and the people he met along the way, the places he visited, etc. This included a visit to the still young and active Shaker Colony at Pleasant Hill, a tour of Mammoth Cave before it became a commercial concern, a visit to the Tennessee state legislature while it was in session, and stops at many famous and less-than-famous inns and taverns. I wrote an introduction, and also included at the end a tally of the expenses that had been written in the same volume with the journal.
The book itself is 10-1/2 by 6-1/2 inches with 48 pages, printed on Mohawk Superfine paper. The book was bound by my usual binder, the Campbell-Logan Bindery in Minneapolis in a very nice period-style marbled-paper with a cloth spine. I set the type in Lutetia type that I purchased from Harold Berliner. Therein lies a story. The type was cast from European matrices, but on American Monotype machines. For reasons known only to him, Berliner cast the 14 point Didot size type on a 14 point American body. Of course, Didot is larger than American, so the result was that all of the descenders kerned off the bottom edge of the body of the type. Well, I've had problems with kerns breaking off when I used too much impression, so I decided to use a light impression to avoid this problem. But in so doing, I ended up over-inking to compensate for the light impression. This was particularly problemmatic for the 10 point size that I used for footnotes and shoulder notes - the counters on the 10 point type were very, very shallow, and they tended to fill up with ink and make a big blotch on the page. I was pretty unhappy, particularly because it probably would have been safe to use a heavier impression, but I was too timid.
Anyway, I printed 100 copies during 1997, which of course is a very large edition for me. Consequently I had copies of this around for a long time, and I ended up giving quite a few of them away just to get rid of them. I do have to say that I think that this is a pretty good book in terms of content, even if the presswork was a disappointment.
P.S. I've been contacted about purchasing copies of this book. Unfortunately, I have no more copies for sale. However, copies can be obtained in the second-hand market through and I would encourage people to go to that website if they want a copy.
If you want additional information, I can be reached at

Brass Composing Stick

This is the only brass composing stick in my collection. The body of the stick is brass, the knee is brass - the screw clamping the knee is steel, although the nut is brass. The stick is 11-3/4 inches long and 10 picas deep. There is no identifying information on the stick as to manufacturer. It is a very basic Common Screw Stick in design, with holes spaced along the rail and a knee with a slot that allows fine adjustments. It is interesting to note that the knee on this stick is not braced with any sort of cross-bar to prevent the knee from becoming sprung, and as a result, this knee is slightly sprung - that is, the face of the knee is not perfectly parallel to the head of the stick. This usually results from years of tight spacing of lines that gradually bends the knee slightly out of parallel. The Albion stick was the first to have a brace to prevent this from happening- I will show an Albion stick in a future post.
Remember that you can click on the picture to get a larger image. Also please remember that I am eager to get additional information on any of the sticks that I describe. You can leave a comment here on the blog or email me at
Thank you.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Hoe Yankee Stick

Here is a real classic stick from the 19th Century - the Yankee stick, manufactured by the R. Hoe & Co. of New York City. This stick was the originator of the type of stick that would lie flat on a table because the clamp on the knee did not extend below the bottom surface of the bed of the stick body.
This particular stick is large, being sixteen inches in length and having a depth of 14 picas. The stick can accomodate a line measure of 82 picas or so.
As you can see, the rail is fluted, so that a corresponding slot on the clamp holds the knee firmly in place without the clamp needing to wrap around the bottom of the rail. According to Speckter, this stick was introduced about 1870 - this particular stick has a patent date of February 8, 1878 stamped on it.
This stick is beautifully manufactured, with a brass clamp and thumbscrew, and a knee with an indentation cast into it where the screw fits. It has a great feel in the hand.


Long-time recipients of Timothy Hawley Books catalogues are familiar with hearing about Ellen. Here's a picture of the great, glorious and long-suffering Ellen, for those who might be curious.
Also a picture of our dog, Lucy.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Sibs: A Contre Coup Press Book

Here's the second-smallest edition printed to date by the Contre Coup Press (the smallest edition was a book produced in an edition of zero copies! That is, it was produced in an edition of ten copies, all copies being bound and then destroyed as an exercise in non-attachment.).
This book is entitled Sibs. It was printed in 1994 in an edition of just one copy. The book is 10 by 7 inches, with 28 pages. It was printed on Basingwerk Parchment paper, another wonderful paper that is no longer being made - Basingwerk was a beautiful, very smooth paper made from esparto grass, and I printed a couple of books on it. Amazingly enough, I had this single copy of the book bound by Fritz Eberhard, the renowned bookbinder, calligrapher and book artist. Actually, I had several books that I had him bind for re-sale, and so I tossed this one in just for fun. It is bound in silk sloth with leather labels on the spine and the front cover.
The book came about when someone (I don't remember who) took a roll of photographs of my two sons horsing around in our back yard. When I got the pictures developed, it struck me that I could arrange the pictures to tell a little story of sorts - so I did so, and wrote a humorous narrative to accompany the photographs, tipping the original photographs into the book.
By the way, although it doesn't say so anywhere on this site, if you place the cursor over any of the photographs and left click the mouse, you will get a much larger version of the photograph. So if you'd like to get a closer look at anything, just click on it.
It's funny to look at these pictures. My older son, Jordan, was about 15 years old, and my younger son, Noel, was 12. Jordan is now in his early thirties, and runs the comedy club in Lexington, Kentucky, Comedy Off Broadway. He has two daughters, Samantha and Clara. Noel works in a residential program for people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities. He also is a musician, having toured the U.S., Europe and Japan with a singer/songwriter named Tara Jane O'Neill. He is also working on a baccalaureate degree in nursing. Kids do grow up, don't they.

The Buckeye

Here's a stick that people really like - the Buckeye. The Buckeye, so-named because it was first introduced by the Chandler and Price Company in Cleveland in the good old Buckeye state - Ohio - is a very simple but elegant stick. This particular stick is a fairly large one, being 11-3/4 inches long with a depth of 15 picas. Buckeyes were made in many sizes, including very small ones with a very shallow depth of as little as six picas. While a number of other companies made the Buckeye, this one is an "authentic" Buckeye from the Chandler and Price Company.
The mechanism of the Buckeye is very simple, but effective. The knee slides freely, and has a removable clamp that is tightened with a simple lever that turns a screw, the end of which presses against the knee and holds it tight against the U-shaped part of the clamp that extends across and around the top side of the rail.
The manufacturers were aware that there was one potential flaw in this design. What if, for reasons of wear or metal fatigue or even variation in manufacture, the screw did not fully tighten before the lever hit the bed of the stick and could not be turned further? To ameliorate this problem, a tapped hole was drilled in the knee where the screw would press, and a set-screw was inserted so that an adjustment could be made to assure that the clamp could be tightened.
According to Speckter, the Buckeye was developed to compete with the stick manufactured by the Hoe company that used a fluted rail so that the clamp on the knee did not have to extend around the rail and below the bottom of the stick (I will show one of these sticks in a future posting). This meant that the stick could lay flat on a galley or on the bank, or could even be put directly into a press and a proof pulled without dumping the type from the stick (although this is a practice rightly frowned upon). The Buckeye also could lay flat because the clamp did not extend below the bottom of the rail.