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the curator of Manuscripts, Jim Holmberg, and asked him if I could search around for a manuscript that was previously unpublished that I could print.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 Abebooks.com 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 hawleybk@insightbb.com

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