Sunday, March 30, 2008

Mark Twain's "1601"

One of the most widely reprinted humorous sketches by Mark Twain is "1601: Conversation as it was by the Social Fireside in the Time of the Tudors", written in 1879. This bawdy little piece was written by Samuel L. Clemens for his own amusement and that of a few friends, and its original printing is still a bit of a mystery. In any case, it is very funny, and I believe that every self-respecting private press has a duty to do a printing of it - here is mine, printed in 1996.
It actually all started when I stopped by an art supply store that was going out of business and bought a small number of full sheets of Fabriano Roma paper, a gorgeous handmade paper with a gaudy watermark. I think that I only got about eight sheets - maybe a few more, I don't remember. Since this was obviously only a very small amount of paper, I wanted to print a short text on it, and 1601 immediately came to mind. I figured that I had enough paper to print about eight copies of the book, which is really enough. While I think that all private presses should do a 1601, they don't need to be printing large editions, since there are already so many around. So eight copies was just fine with me.
I ended up printing a book that was 9-3/4 by 6-1/2 inches, with 17 pages. The book was bound by the Campbell-Logan Bindery with a beautiful marbled paper for the sides. Since the book is very humorous and written tongue-in-cheek, I thought that a design that was pretty tongue-in-cheek was called for as well. So I printed the darn thing in as many different typefaces as I could work in. The main text was set in Goudy Thirty, with the little introductory page in ATF Civilite. I used Solemnis, Goudy Text Shaded and Weiss Initials for display - it's a bit of a crazy-looking book.
Now, I had purchased the paper in full sheets, and since I didn't have a paper cutter, I trimmed it with a cheap office paper-cutter, and I suspect that it was the irregularity of the trim that may have caused me a huge problem. I printed the book in several colors, and this included the page numbers in brown. I had printed brackets at the bottom of the page in black, and then started to print the page numbers in the middle of the brackets. To my horror, I spoiled sheet after sheet because I couldn't seem to hit the register correctly, and the page numbers would print right over the brackets, or so far out of center that they looked horrible. I would check and recheck the register with waste sheets, and would hit the spot perfectly - then when I went to print the actual sheet for the book, it would miss. I figured that the problem was how I had trimmed the sheets, but it may have been something else. The result was that I only ended up with four copies that were acceptable, ruining the other four copies. So the book was finally published in a limited edition of just four copies, all press-numbered. Two of the copies I kept for myself, leaving only two copies to sell. So if you are a collector of printings of 1601, then you're really going to have a problem finding this one!

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