Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Canvasser's Tale by Mark Twain

As I've mentioned in a previous posting, it's often difficult to find a good text to print at the Contre Coup Press, due in part to the fact the the edition size is so small that authors don't want to give me a manuscript with such microscopic exposure. So we have adopted a simple rule of thumb when seeking a text to print: when in doubt, print something by Mark Twain.
I have had a lifelong interest in Mark Twain, having read many of his books when I was still a child. In the early 1970s my interest became almost an obsession, as I read through nearly all of his published works as well as books about him - I probably read around 200 books about the great Mr. Clemens. I collected his first editions and at one time had probably over 20 firsts - during a time of difficulty, I was forced to sell the collection. I still find that Mark Twain's writing always strikes a responsive chord in me, and I laugh out loud at his humor.
So in 2000 I decided to reprint one of his tall tales, this one about collectors. It's entitled The Canvasser's Tale, the title referring to door-to-door salesmen, who were called canvassers during the 19th century. This particular canvasser tells the sad story about his uncle, an avid collector of various odds and ends, who ultimately decides to collect echoes. Yes, that's right - echoes. The story is very funny, to my way of thinking anyway.
My edition is 7-3/4 by 5-1/4 inches, with a lovely binding by the Campbell-Logan Bindery in a cloth spine with marbled paper sides. The book is short - only 15 pages. I set it in the Cochin typeface and printed 20 numbered copies. The paper is Frankfurt - Henry Morris gave me a quantity of offcuts of this paper, and I have printed quite a few books and pamphlets on the paper. Since the story concerns a collector who is intent upon collecting items that are unique, one-of-a-kind objects, I noted in the colophon that the owner of a copy of this book would have just such a unique item, because the book in their hand would be the only one with the particular number of that copy.
I've printed several stories by Mark Twain, and will describe them in future postings.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Grover Stick

Here's another classic stick, the Grover. Similar in many ways to the Rouse Job Stick, the Grover used a clamp that operated in the same way as the Job Stick. However, the knee did not have teeth fitting into holes in the rail - the clamp simply used friction to hold the knee in place.
This particular version of the Grover was made by the Golding Company in Boston. According to Speckter, the stick was invented by Oliver S. Grover in 1855. The knee has a strap of steel attached to it that wraps around the knee and under the body of the stick. The knee does not have a brace of any kind. This stick is 10 inches long with a depth of 13 picas. The shape of the clamp differs somewhat from the original Grover stick, this one more closely resembling the later Rouse clamp. This stick was originally nickel-plated, although much of the plating has worn off. There is a patent date on the body of the stick - it is very hard to read, but looks like 1888, although one or both of the 8s may be a 6. In any case, the Grover was a very popular style of stick, and was made by a number of different manufacturers. I do have some with the original style of clamp, and I will post a photograph of this clamp in some future posting.

Broughton's Rules: The First Contre Coup Press Publication

Here is the very first publication that came from the Contre Coup Press - or more correctly, the Cerberus Press. When I first began printing, I called myself the Cerberus Press. However, after a few small publications were completed, I discovered that a Cerberus Head Press already existed, so I changed the name of the imprint to avoid confusion.
In 1979 I decided that I would take the plunge and try printing. I had been collecting private press books for several years, and had done a lot of reading about the private press. In particular, I had been corresponding with Eugene Richardson, proprietor of the Vanishing Press in Gurnee, Illinois. He really encouraged me to give it a try. So I looked in the classified advertisement section of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and found a press for sale locally - an 8 by 12 Chandler and Price New Series platen press. I responded to the ad and made the purchase. As I recall, I paid something like $350 for the press, and I paid an extra $100 to have the press moved into my basement. What I didn't realize was that moving the press into my basement was going to involve dismantling and reassembling it, which was quite a job. The seller of the press was an old press mechanic who knew the press like the back of his hand. I mostly stood by and watched as he put the press together in my basement. When I tried to help, I mostly got scolded.
Anyway, I had a copy of Polk that gave me the basic information that I needed to get started. I also made my first trip to Dave Churchman's place to purchase stuff. This was when he had his printing stuff located in his primary business location, before he moved to the Boutique du Junque on Warman Ave. in Indianapolis. I bought just about everything I needed from Dave - empty typecases, furniture, sticks, quoins, etc.
I don't remember how it was that I bought my first type from the Acme Type Foundry in Chicago - I suppose that someone recommended them. I spent a lot of time studying typefaces, and finally decided upon Deepdene as the typeface to begin with. It wasn't a very good choice, as I was later to discover. But I wanted to use a typeface that everyone else wasn't using - I should have realized that there was a reason that people didn't use Deepdene. It was a Goudy face, but had some very unfortunate characteristics. For instance, due to peculiarities in the face, the face had a couple of unusual ligatures - "gg" and "gy", for instance - and when you used these character combinations, they showed up darker than the rest of the text. So the appearance of the page was marred by dark spots scattered around.
So having no idea what I was doing, I proceeded to set up and print the text of Broughton's Rules. I was very interested in the history of boxing at the time. In 1743, John Broughton had drafted a set of rules that were used during the early bare-knuckle boxing period. I wrote a brief introduction and then simply reprinted the rules.
I should probably be too embarrassed to let anyone see this thing. I didn't do any makeready, not yet knowing how to do so. The inking was horrible, as was the overall design of the thing. But at least it was a start. The pamphlet is 7 by 4-1/2 inches with 10 pages. I printed the piece on a nice Curtis paper whose name I don't recollect, with a wrapper of Fabriano Ingres. I printed a total of 60 copies, all of which I gave away - it was several years before I got the courage to actually ask anyone to pay for a book.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Rouse Micrometer Stick

Yes, I know that I'm probably a total philistine, but somebody really needs to explain to me why you would ever need to make the fine adjustments that this stick is manufactured to allow.
Here we have the Micrometer Stick, manufactured by H.B. Rouse and Co. of Chicago (sorry that the pictures aren't clear). The Micrometer Stick was designed to supercede the Quarter-Point Stick, that was too fragile. The Micrometer Stick uses a body that is identical to that of the standard Rouse Job Stick, with the row of little rectangular holes along the rail into which teeth on the knee engage. The clamp is pretty much the same - the knee is what is different.
The knee, cast from pot-metal and consequently a little brittle, has a similar bar with two teeth that engage with the holes along the rail of the body. If you remember on the Job Stick, when you lift the clamp there is a little lever that, when turned 180 degrees, moves the bar with the teeth 6 points, thereby allowing the measure to be adjusted by agates as well as by full picas. The Job Stick has four teeth, while the Micrometer Stick uses a mechanism that has only two teeth. But instead of the lever as is on the Job Stick, the Micrometer Stick has a...well...a micrometer for adjusting the teeth.
The way it works is, you lift the clamp and then turn the little wheel on the knee which moves the two teeth by half-point intervals. The teeth appear to be able to move a full pica, so there appears to be a total of 24 possible adjustment points. I could be wrong on that, and it may actually allow more intervals than that.
But let me ask all you compositors out there: when is the last time that you needed to adjust the measure on your stick with this level of precision? Really! Is this necessary? It seems to me that this is the kind of technology that appeals to gearheads and equipment geeks, but has little practical value.
Anyway, this stick was apparently pretty popular, and I have several of them. This particular one is a stainless steel stick 9-3/4 inches long and 12 picas deep, with a capacity of 46 picas in line length. The stick is stamped with a number which is supposed to be matched with a number on the knee, but I don't find a number on the knee, so maybe Rouse just routinely stamped these numbers without matching them to a knee.
Postscript Feb. 10: Henry Morris tells me that one of the uses for the Micrometer Stick is when text has been machine set using the Monotype typecasting system, and you want to adjust the setting by hand. He says that the measure is often inexact, so you may have to adjust the measure in the stick by a very small increment to accommodate the line-length of the machine-set type when you begin making adjustments to the text. So that's one rationale for the need for this type of stick.

Millworker, by James Taylor

I used to print ephemera a lot more than I do now. When the press was inside my home, it was just a lot easier to do little printing projects like small broadsides or folders. But with the press out in my unheated detached garage, it's more laborious to schlep type and stuff back and forth from the basement - where my composing room is located - to the garage. I'm also limited to printing during the warm months.
So anyway, I've always been partial to song lyrics by some of the more significant singer-songwriters, like Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon and James Taylor. I particularly like James Taylor's song Millworker, which he wrote for a Broadway show that closed after a couple of weeks. He recorded it on his album Flag in the late 1970s.
I decided to print the lyrics. Now, lots of people issue Christmas greetings, New Year's greetings, Valentine greetings - I wanted to break the mold a little bit, so I issued my printing of Millworker as a Labor Day greeting. After all, the song is about a woman spending her life working in a mill, so the song seemed appropriate to issue to commemorate Labor Day. If you click on the picture, I think that you will get another web page with an enlarged picture that is large enough to be read.
As usual, I printed it without permission. I printed it on a single sheet of Fabriano Ingres Light 12 by 8 inches, that I folded into fourths to 6 by 4 inches. I set the type in Kennerley, and I printed a total of 60 copies.
One of the things that I wanted to do was to create some symbolic image from typographic ornaments. So I put together a grouping of ornaments for the title page that was supposed to represent a spool of yarn like you would see in a mill where fabric was woven. Apparently it didn't convey what I intended, as a number of people told me what a nice Christmas tree I had made (!). Oh, well.
I issued the piece in St. Louis on Labor Day, 1980. Some years later, after I had moved to Louisville, I had occasion to attend a concert by James Taylor at the Louisville Gardens (what had formerly been called the Louisville Armory, and where I had attended a James Brown concert back in 1966 - but that's another story). My wife had an acquaintance who was friends with one of James Taylor's backup singers, and she agreed to be a go-between to try to get him to autograph a copy of the piece, even though I'd printed it without his permission. So I gave the woman two copies of the piece, one for me and one for Taylor, and she passed it along to the backup singer who successfully obtained James Taylor's autograph on it, as you can see in the picture.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Adana Composing Stick

Here's the Adana version of the common screw stick. These sticks are very common in England, where they were made by the Adana Company, the primary manufacturer of small presses for hobby printers in England. The stick is a very simple mechanism, with a knee whose only unique feature is that it has the letter "A" incorporated into it, standing for Adana - the end of the stick is curved to conform to the shape of the knee. The clamp extends around the rail and under the bottom of the stick, with a screw of brass.
This particular stick is cast from what I believe is referred to as "pot metal" - I'm not sure if I'm correct on that. But it is very heavy and greyish in color. I have other Adana sticks that are made from steel or aluminum.

The Grand-Kids

OK, so what kind of a grandfather am I if I don't post a few photos of my grandchildren? Shameful! So here they are - Samantha is the redhead, about 5-1/2 years old. Clara will turn 2 in March. We think they're pretty great - I guess all grandparents think so about their grandchildren. But ours are really special. Honest! Anyone will tell you.

The Coffee Room, by Stanley Elkin

Here's the other book by Stanley Elkin that I printed. This was, to say the least, much more elaborate - the most elaborate book that I had ever printed up to that time.
After I moved to Louisville, I wrote to Elkin back in St. Louis and asked if he might have another text of some sort that he'd be willing to have me print, with the only payment to him being copies of the book. He responded by saying that the only thing that he could let me have under those terms would be a radio play that he had written several years earlier. The play was written for a series of radio plays on National Public Radio; he was not very happy with the edits that the producers of the NPR broadcast had made, so he specified that I should print his original text, which had been printed in a little magazine, Epoch.
The name of the play was The Coffee Room, and it was set in the faculty lounge of the English Department at Washington University, where Elkin taught. The play was a roman a clef, with the characters being based on actual faculty members of the Department.
I printed 95 copies of the book on Frankfurt Cream paper in a 9 by 6-1/4 inch size. The book, published in 1987, ran to 45 pages. I got Steve Skaggs, a calligrapher here in Louisville, to do the lettering for the title page and the titles for the opening pages of the Introduction and the text of the play itself.
I decided to go whole hog and commission some wood engravings to illustrate the book, so I contacted Michael McCurdy, who did three full-page illustrations and one tailpiece - I show all of them above. Now, I had never printed wood engravings before, so I was probably foolhardy to tackle doing so without any training or instruction. I made numerous mistakes, and it's pretty miraculous that the engravings turned out as well as they did. First off, I bought some ink from the Dan Smith Ink Co. on the west coast that was specifically made for printing wood engravings. I picked what I thought would be the easiest engraving for my first attempt. I had already printed the text pages on the sheet that the engraving would be printed upon. With not too much makeready, I got the engraving to print pretty well. Just one problem: the ink wouldn't dry. I didn't realize that the ink did not have any drier, which I was supposed to have added myself. So I had a hundred or so copies of this illustration that would never dry. I couldn't face re-setting the text for the two pages on the sheet and then printing the engraving a second time. So I went to an art store and bought a couple of cans of artists' spray fixative, which I sprayed over the engravings to basically encapsulate them and keep the ink from rubbing off. Twenty years later, the pictures still look OK, so I guess the fixative was a good solution.
Then I came to the first engraving in the book, the one with the large black door. I was doing makeready by cutting tissue and putting it under the block, rather than in the packing of the press (I printed this book on a Vandercook Universal I, which I owned when I first moved to Louisville). So I started cutting the tissues and pasting them to the key sheet. And I cut, and I cut, and I cut...twenty-six layers of tissue later, I finally got the furschluginer engraving to print right. When I mentioned to McCurdy what a terrible time I'd had getting the block to print, he said, "Oh, yeah, I think that block was low on one side." I'll say.
I asked Carol Blinn to do a paste-paper for the binding - I think that this was the first book of mine that she did binding paper for. She has subsequently done a number of covers for me. I had the book bound at the Campbell-Logan Bindery.
I sent sheets to Elkin to sign, and then sent them to McCurdy to sign, so both signatures are on the colophon page. I press-numbered 20 copies to give to the people contributing to the book - Elkin, McCurdy, Blinn, Greg Campbell, Steve Skaggs, and five copies for myself.
If you look at the picture of the colophon page, you will see a pressmark that I also had Michael McCurdy design for me. It's pretty nice, but I haven't used it in recent years for some reason.
I've been told that I was insane to print the wood engravings on the text paper - that the paper was far too rough and toothy for wood engravings. I should have used a smoother paper. Also, I've been told that I should have put the makeready in the packing rather than putting it under the blocks. I guess it's sort a miracle that the illustrations turned out as well as they did, given my lack of experience and the mistakes that I made.
Another strange thing that I did was to set the character names throughout the text separately from the speeches. This meant that I had to struggle to get the names to align with the text, dealing with differences in squeeze and all. Stupid, I guess. There must have been some reason for me to do it this way - I just don't remember what it was.
I'm just about ready to tackle wood engravings again - hopefully in the book that I will be printing this year; stay tuned.