Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Pointless and Questionable Classification

Classification of Printers Herewith is a foolish, pointless, and patently invalid attempt to classify printers, an effort fraught with half-truths, misconceptions and biases. That said, here’s what I think. While there are a myriad of motivations for people to take up letterpress printing, private/fine press printing, etc., the motivations tend to group into the following broad classifications. Artistic Types Some people wish to pursue artistic expression, and letterpress printing is a way of doing so. These people are likely to strongly stress images and illustration in their work, and to de-emphasize the content of the text as the focus of their effort. They may make “books” that aren’t books in the conventional sense – objects that look like books, but can’t really be read, or are not primarily being produced for the purpose of being read. Artistic types often use very toothy papers, alternative binding structures, odd page layouts, sculptural techniques, etc. Artistic Types are the most likely to violate Beatrice Warde’s admonition that “printing should be invisible”: for Artistic Types, printing must not only be visible, its visibility should predominate the viewer’s perception. Many people who fall in this category are people with college art degrees, who often dally briefly with letterpress printing and then move on to something else because of the tedium of the medium and the lack of widespread public interest in what they’re doing. On the other hand, it is not at all unusual for Artistic Types to also be Literary Types, in which case their books tend to be more readable. Literary Types Some people wish to use letterpress printing as a mechanism for literary expression. They may be writers themselves, although they usually print the writings of others as well as their own writings. For this type of printer, conveying the text is of prime importance, while the choice of using letterpress as a means of doing so is the result of a recognition that a beautifully designed and printed text is more enjoyable to read than is a poorly designed and printed book. Sometimes the literary motivation is combined with an artistic motivation. When good literary taste combines with artistic talent, the books thereby produced tend to be both intellectually interesting and aesthetically pleasing. A subtype of the Literary Type is the amateur journalist. Amateur journalists wish to express their opinions and to publish their own writings, and to do so, they take up letterpress printing. There are several organizations to which amateur journalists belong and which exchange the productions of the members – these organizations date back to the late 19th century. Typographical niceties are not generally a focus of amateur journalists, although there are exceptions to this rule, as to all rules. Some amateur journalists are among the ten-most-wanted for crimes against typography – tasteless and outlandish use of color and ornament being the most common such felony. An example of a purely Literary Type would be the Daniel Press of the 19th Century. The books are not very interesting typographically, but were primarily produced as a way to convey a particular text. An example of the literary/artistic combination type would be any one of a large number of fine private presses – The Printery, Bird & Bull, Aliquando, Warwick, etc., etc. Mechanic Types Quite a few letterpress printers are primarily interested in the mechanics of printing presses, typecasting, etc. These are the guys (usually guys) who would be out in the garage fixing up a ‘57 Chevy if they hadn’t become interested in printing presses. Text is usually secondary, and artistic expression is often an afterthought with this type (although some Mechanic Types have an artistic flair as well). But Mechanic Types tend to spend a lot more time tinkering than they do producing printed work. When they do actually print something, it is usually on the topic of printing itself. A subset of this type is the “Ye Olde Fashioned Print Shoppe” types. These are the people who are enamored of engaging in an archaic activity – they love to use old 19th Century platen presses (iron hand presses if they can afford them). They wear paper printers’ hats and focus on how they’re doing it “…just like Gutenberg did!” Again, for this type it’s about the equipment and the process, not the product. Busman’s Holiday Types The Busman’s Holiday Type is the person who works in the typographical design and printing industry, and who operates a private press as an outgrowth of their professional work and interest. Sometimes these types do crappy work, while sometimes they do great work – it all depends on the extent to which they combine a literary or artistic bent with their work. People like Henry Morris and Kay Michael Kramer were professionals in the printing world – Kramer a textbook designer, Morris a commercial printer – who established private presses that produce some of the finest work being done out there, combining both artistic and literary interests. Dwight Agner was an interesting type, who started out as a private printer when still a teenager, then moved into commercial book design as a professional career while continuing to operate his private press, the Press of the Nightowl. “Professional” vs. “Amateur” Printers Historically there have always been fine printers who attempted to make a living at it. This includes people who started out as basic commercial printers, but who developed an interest in producing fine work and became known for doing so. The Grabhorns would be a good example of professional commercial printers who became professional fine printers. In today’s world, a number of people of the Artistic/Literary Type have been able to be professional printers – John Randle at the Whittington Press would be an example, as would Carol Blinn at the Warwick press, Andrew Hoyem at the Arion Press, and Gray Zeitz at the Larkspur Press. This often (but not always) means living a very modest lifestyle, because making a living at fine printing is a tough row to hoe. Some of the best known full-time printers weren’t really professionals in the sense that they made their living at printing – they were people who were already wealthy and didn’t need to work, and became full-time printers as an avocation. The Allen Press was a good example of this type. A number of people who study letterpress printing in college go on to establish printshops after graduation that they hope will allow them to make a living at fine printing – few of them are successful at this for very long. Amateur printers abound, most of whom focus primarily on ephemeral printing. Busman’s Holiday type printers may operate their private press as an amateur undertaking, and they are a hybrid of the professional and the amateur. Some amateur printers, who make a living in an entirely unrelated profession, produce books of some substance, but this is a small and dwindling number of practitioners. Emerson Wulling’s Sumac Press was a good example of an amateur printer who produced a large body of significant work. James Lamar Weygand’s Press of the Indiana Kid was another. The writer of this essay has produced a number of books at the Contre Coup Press, although the quality of these productions would be a matter of debate and wouldn’t really bear comparison with the work of Wulling or Weygand. Serious book printers who are true amateurs (ie., not printing full-time as a profession or doing private presswork as a Busman’s Holiday activity) are few and far between today.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Deep Play

I am just about sold out of "Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight" by Clifford Geertz. The special copies are sold out, and there are just five copies left of the regular edition available, priced at $195.00 plus $15.00 for shipping. And here's a picture of the grandkids - it has nothing to do with books, but poppy is proud, so what the heck!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Deep Play, by Clifford Geertz - New Contre Coup Press Book

ANNOUNCEMENT A New Book from the Contre Coup Press Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight By Clifford Geertz With Wood Engravings by Wesley Bates The Contre Coup Press is pleased to announce its new book, Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight by Clifford Geertz. This is the first separate printing of this seminal essay in the field of Cultural Anthropology, an essay that is considered one of the most influential works of scholarship in the last fifty years In 1958, Clifford Geertz and his wife went to study the culture of a small village in Bali. Little did they know that they would become caught up in the fascinating phenomenon of cockfighting. Geertz would go on to write this essay, one of the best examples of his “thick description” approach to exploring cultural issues and behaviors. The essay recounts Geertz’s first experience with the Balinese cockfight, which ended in a mad chase by the police and a narrow escape, an event that opened up the previously unresponsive Balinese people to Geertz’s observations. In the essay, Geertz describes the cockfight itself, but he describes in much greater detail the rituals surrounding betting and the way in which the cockfight is used to reinforce power and status relationships amongst the Balinese people. This book reprints the original essay in its entirety, and also includes a collection of tributes to the author, who died in 2006. The book is 9 inches tall by 6 inches wide with 111 pages. The text was set in the Bembo typeface, and the book was printed on Frankfurt paper using a Vandercook SP20 proof press. The book is illustrated with wood engravings by Wesley Bates, the Canadian wood engraver whose engravings have graced the pages of some of the finest books printed in recent years. He is shown at the peak of his powers in these illustrations, filled with action and detail. There are four full-page illustrations, a magnificent double-page spread of two cocks fighting, a portrait of the author, and four vignettes, all printed directly from the blocks. Each copy of the book is signed by the artist. The book is bound using a special decorated paper designed especially for this book by Carol Blinn, the proprietor of the Warwick Press and a renowned paper decorator. This paper is a variation on a common Balinese textile design. The bindings were designed by Gregor R. Campbell and bound at the Campbell-Logan Bindery in Minneapolis. There are two editions of the book. The regular edition is limited to 24 numbered copies (the colophon states that there were 25, but only 24 copies were completed). It is bound with a cloth spine and Carol Blinn’s decorated paper over boards, and is enclosed in a slipcase. The special edition is limited to 8 roman-numeral numbered copies. The book is bound with Carol Blinn’s decorated paper over boards, with a morocco leather spine. Included with each copy of the special edition is a portfolio of the Wesley Bates wood engravings printed on Johannot paper. Also included with each copy of the special edition is one of the actual wood engraved blocks used in printing the illustrations for the book. The book, portfolio and block are housed in a custom clamshell box. Price for the regular copies is $195.00, plus $15.00 for shipping within the U.S. Price for the special copies is - Now Out of Print. Payment may be made via MasterCard, Visa, checks, money orders or PayPal (PayPal payment address is Order from: Timothy Hawley Books P.O. Box 5277 Louisville, KY 40255-0277 502-451-3021

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Bagel - An Early Contre Coup Press Book

Here's a very early effort, published when I was still using the Cerberus Press imprint. The pamphlet is entitled "A Brief Treatise on the History & Technique of the Bagel", written by Theophile Homard and published in University City, Missouri in 1981. This was the fifth publication of the Press, all of which had been small pamphlets bound in wrappers. This pamphlet is 8 inches tall by 4 inches wide with 8 pages. The book was set in the Kennerley typeface with display in Goudy Handtooled and printed on Basingwerk Parchment paper, sewn into Fabriano Ingres Heavy wrappers. The item was issued in an edition of 35 copies. I was heavily into breadmaking at the time I printed this one, and I had come up with a recipe for whole wheat bagels that was really great - I enjoyed the process of making bagels, boiling them before baking and all. So I thought that it might be fun to print my recipe and directions. And while I was at it, I could write up a little essay on how the bagel was originally developed. Unfortunately, my research didn't really turn up definitive information on the history of the bagel, so I asked the erstwhile Theophile Homard to make up a story of how the bagel was invented, and printed that. I don't know if people reading this little pamphlet actually believed the story, but who cares? I fiddled around with the ornaments that surround the opening title, and ended up turning the ornament on a 45-degree angle and creating a little cartouche. I was still in the process of teaching myself how to operate the press, so the presswork on this one leaves something to be desired.