Jerry Kelly book on Zapf smashes through Kickstarter goal

May 19th, 2015

As of this moment (2:34 pm, CDT, 5/19/2015), Jerry Kelly’s Kickstarter campaign to fund publication of a facsimile edition of an unpublished masterpiece of calligraphy and painting by Hermann Zapf has nearly doubled its $17,500 goal with a total of $32,227 already pledged.

If you look at it a bit more closely, you see that this remarkable success is due largely to people (110) who are purchasing the book at its regular price of $65 through Kickstarter and another group (92) who are getting the book at an advance-purchase discount price of $55. It all begins to look like the Kelly-Zapf-Zapf Collector triple threat is a very smart way to sell moderately expensive books about type! Go here if you want to join the crowd.

–Bob McCamant

Type On the Cob: Ladies of Letterpress, June 11-13

April 12th, 2015

They keep adding events and programs to the schedule, so it’s not too late to take a look at the events planned and make a reservation. Mount Pleasant, Iowa, here we come!

–Bob McCamant

Letter from Birmingham

March 30th, 2015

[Modified 4/14/2015 to acknowlege three missed presentations in the Saturday afternoon parallel session.]

No, not from a Birmingham jail. From honest-to-goodness Birmingham, England, home of John Baskerville, noted city son [he even has a big building named after him–how many type designers can claim that?] I went there for “The Beauty of Letters,” subtitled “Text, Type, and Communication in the Eighteenth Century.” The conference was held at the University of Birmingham, but was sponsored by the Baskerville Society, the (British) Biliographical Society, and two west Midlands historical groups.

B459MalcolmDickv2B571CarolineArcherThe organizers of the conference were Professor Caroline Archer of Birmingham City University and and Dr. Malcolm Dick of the University of Birmingham. They often co-sponsor events under the name “The Typographic Hub,” which have been intriguing me for the several years I have been receiving their press releases because I edit this blog. This event was two days, so it seemed like it would be worth the trip.

I signed up because of the title, but I probably should have paid a bit more attention to the sponsoring organizations. It was exactly about the conference subtitle, all of it. There was one bibliographic superstar there, Nicolas Barker. But there were also people talking about shorthand, private madhouses of the 1750s, and a Swedish courtroom. It was all interesting, though, and I don’t regret going.

Saturday began with historian Susan Whyman (whom I seem to have failed to get a picture of) talking about the very interesting figure of William Hutton, a Birmingham man who managed to be a businessman, politician, and writer over a 92-year lifespan. The book that caught my attention was a polemic about the Court of Requests, “Their Nature, Utility, and Powers Described, with a Variety of Cases Determined in that of Birmingham.” It sounded interesting enough that I downloaded a copy from Google Books. Basically, it was a small claims court (dealing with claims up to 40 shillings only) with no lawyers involved and the decisions made by people who were more-or-less the peers of the disputants. His argument that we’d all be better off if there were no such thing as big courts with lawyers–if every case was decided by peers. It did not catch on, perhaps because the lawyers were too big a lobby. He ended his life by writing a series of travel books.

Next came the aforementioned Barker. B471NicolasBarker His topic was a recently-unearthed (in Australia!) book of penned samples by calligrapher Joseph Champion. Most of our knowledge of Champion is through writing manuals which were engraved; what this discovery adds is more samples that came directly from his pen without an intervening engraver. 1965, was John Hayward, the friend and muse of T. S. Eliot. Since 1965, Barker (sometime publisher and first head of conservation at the British Library) has been editor of The Book Collector.

Diana Patterson, a Canadian independent scholar, B479DianaPatterson talked about the handwriting copy books of George Bickham. He was a penman, but even more an engraver. His books were instructional, providing samples of handwriting on one page with a facing lined blank page where the student was expected to copy the master’s writing. (Oddly, few copies turn up with the student copy-pages filled in.) Patterson has been researching copies of his writing books marked with counties in the UK and even cities in the United States, each with special covers indicating they were for local use. She has not, however, developed any evidence that the regional editions had any special local matter, nor did they seem to generate additional sales.

B492GilesBergerv3Giles Bergel came from Oxford to talk about Bickham as well. The title of his talk was “Writing-master and engraver: a troubled collaboration,” but I appear not to have taken adequate notes to explain what he covered.

B501PersidaV2Persida Lazarevic came from the University of Pescara, in Italy, to talk about Cyrillic calligraphy by Zaharije Stefanovic Orefelin (1726-1785). I confess to having a hard time understanding her talk, but her slides were among the most beautiful shown.

Next up was Timothy Underhill, of Cambridge. I had no trouble understanding him. B506TimothyUnderhill His topic was shorthand–specifically the very careful style practiced by John Byrom. There were a variety of reasons for shorthand in this period (his manual was published in 1767). For some it was simply a means of taking down information in a hurry, but for others, it was a way of restricting who would be able to read what had been written. Because Byrom moved in important circles (he was a member of the Royal Society while Sir Isaac Newton was president), he developed a remarkable collection of followers, including the famous Wesley brothers, Charles and John, who founded the Methodist church.

B516FrancescoAscoliFrancesco Ascoli, who hails from Catholic University of Milan and Brescia, talked about a Swiss tradition of writing in Fraktur for special occasions (often personal greetings on anniversaries, or ownership pages in bibles and hymnals) which persisted in Pennsylvania until the use of English drove it out. He showed many examples, apparently written by ordinary people, not professionals.

Next came lunch. Though I did not drink anything alcoholic with lunch, I did not manage to take photos of the first three speakers after lunch, nor did I take notes on what they were saying. Leonie Hannan, of University College London, talked on “Women, letter-writing, and the life of the mind.” Ruth Larson of the University of Derby talked on “A white sheet is not a proper dress for a drawing room: an archaeology of the letters of elite women.” And Chiara Sironi of Palermo University talked on “The formation of taste through fictional epistles.” Mea culpa. I remember perking up when someone announced the three things that sociologists study, but didn’t manage to write down what they were.

There was also a parallel stream of talks in another room on letter writing, which I was not present for. There, Leonie Hannon of University College, London, talked on “Women, letter-writing, and the life of the mind in England during the first half of the long eighteenth century”; Ruth Larsen of the University of Derby talked on “A white sheet is not a proper dress for a drawing room: an archaeology of the letters of elite women, 1760-1830″; and Chiara Sironi (in a PhD program at the University of Palermo [Italy]) talked on “The formation of taste through fictional epistles.”

B531GaborGelleriAfter a coffee break, we came back and Gabor Gelleri talked about travel writing. My note-taking was only beginning to come to life, but I believe he was talking about the reasons people of the 18th century gave for travel. Whether you wanted to write as you went, or whether you wanted to see the whole thing and then report on it afterward derived from your world view. He showed a 1789 chart, published to allow travelers to note their observations for such variables as productivity and land value.

I was thoroughly awake B540LeonardSmith by the time Leonard Smith came on to talk about madhouses in Georgian England. Some places, like London, had municipally-operated homes for the insane, and these were likely to be fairly well run. But in other cities, private asylums were the rule, and the risks of their being employed for ulterior motives were high among the part of the populace who could afford them. Unhappy with your wife because she complains you drink too much or womanize? Put her away! Smith had studied writing on the madhouses during the period.

B547AnnieMattssonNext came Annie Mattsson, of the University of Uppsala, giving a fascinating talk on what she had been able to decipher from the records left of a particular police case in a Swedish court. From eleven pages of notes, she was able to learn that it was about an organist who had a complaint against a former maid. His daughter had died, and the organist had given the maid a fancy dress belonging to the dead daughter, with the intention that the maid sell it and return the proceeds. The maid sold it, but didn’t return the money. The court eventually said, essentially, What’s done is done.

B552KatrinKatrin Seyler, of the Birmingham Museum and Art Galleries (more later) talked about a handwritten note from 1716, that was secreted in a baroque writing cabinet just as it was finished. The note was discovered in the 1960s, and the writer talks about how when the cabinet is finished, he will go seek his fortune as a journeyman. Both the very elaborate cabinet and the note are on display at the Victoria and Albert in London. There is an online version of her talk on the V&A’s web site.

B560GiacomoI was unable to understand Giacomo Zanibelli’s talk. Though he gave it in English, I was not able to follow it. He is from the University of Siena, and the title was “The royal publishing industry of the ancient Italian states: an example of cultural and school industry in the eighteenth century.

B565JennyUglowThe day closed with the first of two keynote speakers for the conference. Jenny Uglow, who is at work on a biography of Thomas Bewick, talked about the artist’s efforts to get his wood engravings printed by the slipshod printers he first encountered. He soon discovered Bulmer, who was trying harder to get quality printing. But it didn’t stop him from dropping by the print shop every day when they were working on his Land Birds, the first volume of his great opus on British birds. Uglow also noted Bewick’s pride at developing apprentices to his craft: he claimed that 14 of his apprentices had specialized in wood engraving; of these, 11 turned out to be very successful.

Day two began with the second keynote speaker, Lynda Mugglestone, of Oxford. B572LyndaMugglestone She talked about John Baskerville’s Vocabulary, or Pocket Dictionary, which was a very different beast than Johnson’s dictionary, say. He hoped that it would “not be unacceptable to Young Ladies, and to Gentlemen too, who have not had the Advantage of a liberal or learned Education…” It was not intended to weigh at the most exalted levels, but to be useful to ordinary folk. Mugglestone also speculated upon who actually wrote the dictionary: some have argued for Priestly (who may have contributed first efforts), but largely based on the theology expressed in the definition, she suspects Baskerville himself. Nicolas Barker interjected a remarkable observation: the best way to ascertain Baskerville’s inner life is to look at his definitions for prepositions, Barker said.

B587AlexWright Following the keynote, we had a group of talks on regional printer-publishers. The next speaker up, Alex Wright, is an independent scholar, and his talk, “Baskerville, rabies, and Joseph Dalby” was a breath of fresh air since it dealt with science. Dalby was the author of The Virtues of Cinnabar and Musk, against the Bite of a Mad Dog one of only two medical texts printed by Baskerville. It was among the first to claim that rabies could be treated. Eventually it could (with an injection of rabies vaccine, if done soon enough) but not with Dalby’s prescription. Cinnabar, the source of the pigment vermillion, is largely mercury, and hence extremely poisonous.

B624TonySeatonThe next speaker, Tony Seaton, of the University of Bedfordshire, wins the title for longest topic: “Printing and the mind of woman in Birmingham 1813-15: Mary Anne Schimmelpenninck, the Arch Brothers, and John Baskerville.” He compared the work of two publishers who printed some of Schimmelpenninck’s writing: Baskerville, whose deluxe editions appealed to more prosperous and conservative customers, and the Arch Brothers, who were more fashionable and forward-thinking. She got what she wanted, since her thinking gradually became more progressive as the years wore on.

B618HelenWilliamsHelen Williams of the University of Northumbria (erroneously called Northumberland in the promotional materials for the event) talked about my favorite novel in “Tristram Shandy & the beauty of Caslon: the mid-century novel in a ‘new letter.'” My notes on her talk are not very clear…she definitely talked about what publishers worked on the book: the first one didn’t do particularly well, so he switched to one Dodsley, who was willing to attempt the unusual things Sterne demanded. But though I took some photos of her projected images (which did indeed use Caslon) I failed to note what was her point.

B630PeterPellizzariAfter a break, Peter Pellizzari, who had journeyed over from Harvard, displayed the results of his study of the distribution of the polemical writings of “Publius” (Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay writing pseudonymously) during the campaign for the ratification of the U.S. constitution. Pellizzari had studied mentions of the writings in newspapers outside New York City, where they were originally published. He established by mapping that there were corridors of distribution (mainly along waterways) where they were disseminated.

B635KevinWisniewskiKevin Wisniewski, of Maryland University, had a broad topic: “Compositors of types: typography and design in eighteenth-century America.” He talked about at least two things: –Various versions of the Declaration of Independence. It turns out that the authorized version of the Declaration [which came out well after various unauthorized ones] was printed by a black woman: Mary Katharine Goddard had taken over the Baltimore print shop run by her husband after his death. –Francis Hopkinson, a signer of the Declaration, was a well-connected public figure who followed all the trends at home and abroad. He had read Sterne and employed local printers to imitate the must cutting-edge typography being done in England.

B644PierreDelsaerdtPierre Delsaerdt works at the University of Antwerp, but he was investigating an earlier Belgian place of learning, Leuven University, which started a university press in 1759. A group of administrators seem to have conspired to create the press to put their university on the map. They managed to produce beautiful books (reminiscent of Baskerville’s) for a few years, before the occupying Germans shut it down. The speaker, Delsaerdt, is a master of his presentation software: his slides were, hands down, the most perfectly designed of the event. [Leuven University Press was reincarnated in 1971, but it is a whole new thing.]

B663JennieMcDonaldAfter lunch, Jennie McDonald, an American independent scholar, lightened things up with her collection of alphabets in human form. Various printers created popular posters, perhaps using so-called “posture masters” as models. She also demonstrated a doll whose flexibility would have made it good model.

B671JoannaJarvisJoanna Jarvis, of Birmingham City University, talked on “The power of the press: an eighteenth century tale of actresses and image control.” She told of the parallel lives of two women: Mrs. Mary Robinson and Mrs. Sarah Siddons, who tried to maintain respectable images in the press while being stage actresses. They were both fighting against the public perception of all actresses as being essentially prostitutes. Robinson had setbacks (being mistress of the Prince of Wales didn’t really work out) but eventually regained an acceptable public image. Siddons, according to Jarvis, was the first genuine success as a modern actress who maintained control of her own image.

B680JonMeltonFinally a type designer! John Melton has some interesting designs on his web site, but they don’t appear to be for sale to the public. Here he was talking about his effort to develop a serif typeface based on the work of John Soane, architect of the Bank of England and many other neo-classical structures. Details from his buildings and his preserved workspace were used as sources to develop a theory of his visual vocabulary, from which letterforms sometimes had to be invented. Melton is also considering a Soane sans-serif, but there he is treading a path blazed by James Mosely.

B698PeterAllenPeter Allen, an independent scholar, took us into the final segment of the program, looking at more regional printer-publishers. He spoke about Samuel Galton, Jr. who found himself owner of a large estate (“Great Barr Hall”) which somehow prompted him to bring out a 3-volume natural history text intended for children. His first volume about birds, which came out in 1791, had the distinction of including the dodo bird, which had probably been extinct since 1662.

B726ElaineMitchellElaine Mitchell, of the University of Birmingham, shared her interest in plants and plant commerce with her talk titled “A growing obsession: plants, print, and progress in the eighteenth century.” Her interest in the field began with her discovery of Baskerville’s plant order from James Gordon. She has since turned up many more lists: both lists of plants offered, and of plants ordered. It turns out that exploration had increased the universe of available plants to a very long list, close to what today’s serious gardener can summon.

B742JenniDixon Jenni Dixon, another independent scholar, had the unenviable task of concluding the day’s presentations with hers about James Bisset. He had a large house in downtown Birmingham, which he used as a museum and picture gallery. He also wrote, including a Poetic survey round Birmingham, with a brief description of the different curiosities and manufactures of the place, accompanied with a magnificent directory, with the names and professions, &c. superbly engraved in emblematic plates

It was an engaging conference, but I also found Birmingham the city of interest. Did you know that it has more miles of canal than Venice? I allowed myself an extra day at the end of the conference to tour. The weather did not cooperate, but I managed to find an excellent umbrella in a Birmingham shop, and walked from the University (about six miles from the center of town) up to downtown along a canal tow-path. It was amazingly pastoral–the only thing which made it less so were the commuters using the same path to get to work. Once downtown I gawked at the amazing just-built library and found the Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery very worth while. Their local history sections were beautifully interpreted, and they have a cafe in a glorious room. A few snaps:




–Bob McCamant

A smallish book exhibit in Dublin

March 13th, 2015

Imagine a place in your city with a nifty sign like this, pointing to an honest-to-goodness museum where they display printing equipment. Sign Add to that, they have some space where they can stage changing exhibits. No, to my knowledge, you would not be in any major American city.

This one would be in Dublin, across the pond in Ireland. I’d seen the museum before, but now they were having an exhibit of hand-printed books, and they invited me to show one, so I contrived to add Dublin to another trip, and here I was. To me it is also of interest because of the opportunity provided by having a single curator pick all the books in a show. In the end, there was a bit of politics…Irish presses were included, naturally. But Jamie Murphy, who had cut a wide swath through this year’s Codex with his handsome books and his gift of gab, is able to pick books that stand out. These were the presses represented:

Barbarian Press
Bonnefant Press
Celtic Cross Press
Deep Wood Press
Distillers Press
Editions Koch
Electio Editions
Grafikverkstan Godsmagasinet
Heavenly Monkey
Incline Press
Ithys Press
Lone Oak Press
Mary Plunkett
Midnight Paper Sales
Old School Press
Old Style Press
Pear Tree Press
Russell Maret
Salvage Press
Sherwin Beach Press
Stoney Road Press
Two Ponds Press
Whittington Press
Wild Apple Press

ShowAtWidth This image is of 2/3 of the show as it stretches down the aisle. Do look at the FPBA Facebook pages for additional photographs.

–Bob McCamant

SOTA Student Typography Contest

March 10th, 2015

The Society of Typographic Aficionados has announced its sixth annual SOTA Catalyst Award. The award is targeted at young people who have created original work in type design, type history, or other areas related to typography. It recognizes a person 25 years of age or younger who shows both achievement and future promise in the field of typography. The purpose of the award is to act as a catalyst in the career of a young person who does not yet have broad exposure in the profession.

Among the side benefits is that the judging panel (John Langdon, Zuzana Licko, Kamal Mansour, and Jan Middendorp) will be forced to look closely at the work.

The recipient will be awarded up to $2,000 USD in reimbursement for transportation and lodging expenses to attend the TypeCon2015 conference in Denver, CO — August 12th to 16th. They will have their conference registration fee paid for and will be required to give a 20-minute presentation during the main conference program. Recipients should be available to attend the conference from Thursday to Sunday.

The deadline for entries is April 6; find details here.

–Bob McCamant

Ewan Clayton talks in Birmingham March 12

March 2nd, 2015

Ewan Clayton, a calligrapher, former monk, erstwhile consultant to Xerox and Professor in design at the University of Sunderland, will be talking at 1800 (that’s 6 pm to us Americans) at Birmingham City University, P350 Lecture Theatre, Parkside Building, 5 Cardigan Street, Birmingham B4 7BD. Book your free ticket here.

EwanClayton Why might you want to? Ewan Clayton grew up near the village of Ditchling, Sussex, home to the calligrapher Edward Johnston. His family worked as weavers in the Guild of craftsmen on Ditchling Common founded by Eric Gill in 1921. Ewan was the last member to join the Guild before it closed in 1988. He trained as a calligrapher at the Roehampton Institute with Ann Camp and subsequently assisted her with the teaching there. For a few years in the mid 1980’s Ewan lived as a Benedictine monk at Worth Abbey in Sussex. After leaving the monastery he was hired as a consultant to Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Laboratory (PARC). Today Ewan is Professor in Design at the University of Sunderland where he co-directs their International Calligraphy Research Centre. In 2013 he was named Craft Champion of the year for his contribution to educating others in the Crafts in the first National Craft Skills Awards. I’m not sure what he’ll talk about, but anybody who goes from a monastery to Xerox PARC should have some interesting stories. Put him into Google Images, and you’ll see a lot of lovely calligraphy.

–Bob McCamant

Help wanted: bookkeeper

February 26th, 2015

FPBA is losing its long-term bookkeeper this spring. Kathleen Denning is retiring!

We need a new one. I got an excellent suggestion from our membership secretary, Sean Donnelly, but she turned out to be too busy to take us on.

The job involves –receiving groups of payments from Sean year-round and from others following events; –sending out checks to pay our vendors, when authorized by the treasurer or North American chair; –maintaining computer records of all payments and receipts; –preparing complete reports from the prior year and year-to-date reports of our finances at the time of budgeting in October (this is done in response to me, who is also your treasurer, and who proposes the budget for the following year, but based upon the bookkeeper’s information).

The ideal replacement will probably be an independent bookkeeper, not a full-fledged CPA or a person working in a large firm. Generally, the larger the firm, the higher the hourly cost. We need to husband our pennies!

If you have a bookkeeper you work with and have personally found to be good, please reply to

–Bob McCamant

Scenes from Codex 2015

February 14th, 2015

BGroup6156Codex continues to consolidate its position as the most important form of communication in our field. More people attend a single day of its show than read an issue of Parenthesis, I fear. Real sums of money change hands in its aisles. Having a booth on the floor makes one feel a part of an important worldwide “movement.”

I cannot do justice to the show in words on a blog. (I’ll put a few pictures on the FPBA Facebook page, however.) But I will try to say a bit about the symposium. This year the symposium made a clear statement: what matters in the field is not just books, but artist’s books. Clearly and beautifully conveying a text is still of value, but to be a star in the field, you now need to do something nobody has ever thought to do before. You must still produce an object that honors craft, but it is the thought behind it which sets you apart.

Sam Winston

Sam Winston

Sam Winston of London was the first speaker. (If you read my post about the Los Angeles fair a week ago, you might recall that I bought a third edition of an early book of his called A Dictionary Story there.) He talked about a project whose only purchasable outcome was some rather amazing scrolls. Its real end product was to be a twentieth of a “Walk in Book” exhibit at the Victoria and Albert museum, called “Sky Art Ignition: Memory Palace.” Winston’s section was called “Modern Gods” and it represented objects using designs composed of the chemical symbols of their components. His web site shows banners derived from the exhibit materials.

Carolee Campbell

Carolee Campbell

Carolee Campbell, of Southern California, came next. She walked us through the process of producing her early book The Real World of Manuel Cordova, a single long poem by her friend W.S. Merwin, published in 1995. It is described in detail here. She decided to use an Uncial type, and found one whose letter shapes she liked, though its spacing was poor. So she filed letters down to achieve the desired spacing using the work of Victor Hammer as a guide. At one point, she admitted that she liked to use an Uncial here because it “slowed the reader down.” She also admitted that though the story in the poem is about the Amazon, she used maps of a US river she had explored for the shapes of the river which meanders down one side of the poem. It is a 15-foot-long foldout book if desired, and is printed on an extraordinarily difficult paper to use, called kakishibu, a persimmon-washed and smoked handmade paper from the Fuji Paper Mills Cooperative in Tokushima, Japan.

Roberto Trujillo of Stanford

Roberto Trujillo of Stanford

After the a break we had the first keynote speaker, Roberto Trujillo of special collections at Stanford. His remarks were controversial among many in the audience. Rather than trying to summarize his ideas, I suggest you speak to someone you know who was present, and see what they understood him to say, and how they reacted.

Carolee Campbell called the attention of the audience to the presence of Claire Van Vliet at the symposium. Claire will celebrate the 60th anniversary of her Janus Press on Valentines Day (February 14, 2015) with the opening of an exhibit of its work at the Center for Book Arts in San Francisco. A standing ovation ensued.

Peter Koch presents to Michael A Keller.

Peter Koch presents to Michael A Keller.

The morning concluded with thanks all around, including a presentation of an enormous Richard Wagener wood engraving to Michael A Keller, University Librarian at Stanford University, for his many years of service to Codex Foundation. With that, we broke for the first day of the fair at the Craneway. For pictures of the fair itself, see the FPBA Facebook page.

Ken Botnick

Ken Botnick

Day two of the symposium began with Ken Botnick. He is a professor of art at Washington University in St. Louis, and he gave a report on “The Diderot Project, Tracing the Arc of Influence.” A description of a talk he is to give at Smith College in April says it better than I can: “His astonishing magnum opus, [ is] an extended interaction with concepts of work, craft, and aesthetics found in Denis Diderot’s famous 18th-century Encyclopedie.” The resulting book is also a stunning one, which he proved by showing us every spread, at the rate of one every 2.5 seconds.

Ines von Ketelhodt

Ines von Ketelhodt

The second presenter on Tuesday was Ines von Ketelhodt, a German book artist who (in collaboration with Peter Malutzki) earned attention for the 50-volume Second Encyclopaedia of Tlön. She described her new project, a 6-volume set with each volume exploring a separate color, Farbwechsel: One Project – Six Colors. Joshua Heller gives a volume-by-volume description of these books on his web site; some convey texts, some are mainly image.

Alberto Manguel

Alberto Manguel

After a break, we returned to a discussion by historian, novelist, and essayist Alberto Manguel as our second keynote.

Jonathan, always present on the periphery.

Jonathan, always present on the periphery.

–Bob McCamant

A “fine” pressman visits Printed Matter LA

February 3rd, 2015

Why is collecting “fine” books an elite activity while collecting “art” ones (including ones that look slick, ones that look grungy, and ones that look boring) one which appeals to a wide selection of the educated public?

BigSceneTo put it another way, why are we thrilled to have a “nearly three thousand” people come to Codex, when Printed Matter New York drew 35,000? I’m trying to puzzle that out, so I attended my second Printed Matter LA this past weekend. (Technically, the name of the event is Printed Matter’s LA Art Book Fair.)

A few differences are self-evident. Codex is all about craft. The books we show and buy often have fascinating content, but our real afficionados go on about the typefaces, the papers, the bindings–almost never about how interesting the words are. Printed Matter books almost always are provocative, esoteric, or funny. With rare exception, nobody cares how they were produced.

Oh, and then there’s sex. How many erotic images did you see at the last Oak Knoll? Sex is everywhere at Printed Matter…from the smeared b&w of “underground” zines to the glossiest of color photo books.

BocallaghanThe intersection of interest between the fairs is “art.” Collectors in both worlds love to find something beautiful, unique, refined–but above all, creative.
I confess that I bought a few books at Printed Matter last year and this. One book artist I discovered last year, billy ocallaghan (yup, that’s how he styles it), makes stunning, moderately expensive, and slyly crude books he has managed to sell into the collections of the Victoria and Albert and the New York Public Library. The “art” is photographs and crayon or marker scrawl, all reproduced in vibrant ink-jet and bound–probably not archivally–in structures which appear to be of his own invention. This year he has moved wholesale into flipbooks, accordions of paper which you hold and endlessly flip up and down from one stack to the next.

BKarlLaroccaAnother both-year favorite is Kayrock Screenprinting, which mainly appeals to me because of its craft. When you or I think of screenprinting, we think of t-shirts with big colorful images, or perhaps posters in day-glo colors. Kayrock has perfected the art of printing delicate, detailed images. Last year I bought a book of fine patterns printed in light blue drawn by the company’s empresario, Karl Larocca; this year I bought a photo book. You would never guess either were screen prints. (If I remember correctly, the secret he told me was that he uses somewhat diluted inks, which don’t develop the third-dimensional quality of most silk screen printing.

BAfterReasonableThis year I ended up buying two “books” of word art. Both are accordions. Miranda Maller’s After Reasonable Research uses what appears to be wallpaper as a printing surface, which impairs legibility. It is a timeline, with every conflict she was able to locate listed by its year, ranging from the Parthian dynastic wars of AD 1-35 to 3900 killed in Afghanistan in 2006, the year of publication of the first edition. (Mine was from the third edition.) Only one year, AD 329, is notable in that she was unable to find any conflict which was occuring in that year. This is not a book you will ever read, but it is eloquent nonetheless.

BDictionarySam Winston’s “A Dictionary Story” is actually three accordions. Each “spine” pairs text with gloss, positioned on either side of the spine. As things progress, the gloss loses its way, and spills all over the page.

BPixelStressA third pair of books I acquired are comments on color reproduction. Anouk Kruithof (she hails from the Netherlands) alternates pages of minute photographs printed on the matte side of the paper with huge blowups which suggest a halftone screen on a superglossy side; but these are actually squares of single colors, not overlapping dots. I think the name of the book is Pixel Stress, but that might only be the name of the booklet which is inserted, picturing the sale on the sidewalk of framed copies of the blown-up sides.

BCMYKMy second color-reproduction book was Flavio Trevisan’s CMYK: Blow-up. He’s from Toronto. All his books come in a uniform format, perhaps reflecting his being an architect before he started making books. This one is an image of the earth (or at least I think it’s the earth–it’s never identified) at varying degrees of enlargement, from less than an inch in diameter to so close up that a single dot from the image fills a double page.

I bought one piece I don’t know how I’ll ever display. The artist, Gary Kachadourian, draws (generally in pencil) detailed, near photo-realistic objects and surfaces (a 1991 Volvo or a Rubbermaid trash container), and then reproduces them (sometimes with repeating patterns stripped together) at life size. Mine is a 6-foot by 6-foot forest floor.

BSpaOne of the coolest pieces of art I found was wall art, intended to attract people to the booth of SPA, a publishing imprint. I was in awe of the spray painting.

BPanelPrinted Matter LA had a series of panels and speakers, five in all. I tried one, a panel of zine creators from the 70s through the 90s. It was heavy going. By the end, I was able to deduce that the man in the middle of my picture wasn’t a zine creator but a zine packager: he has collected ephemera from the period and reproduced it in packages for sale to art museums the world over. “I want to elevate subculture for the whole world,” he said.

So, what’s my bottom line? I think we should try a bit harder to get some younger book artists into our “fine press” events, ones who don’t charge so much for their work. (The high end collectors at Printed Matter didn’t seem to object to rubbing shoulders with the riffraff.) Should we also have a bit of live music at our fairs? Sell coffee? [Well, Codex does sell coffee. But at Printed Matter LA it’s the first thing you discover when you come through the door.] I know that our term “fine press” was arrived at by a painful process of elimination. But these days “fine” may be a turnoff.

Like our Oxford fair, Printed Matter has dealers in antiquarian books sharing the event with current creators. Maybe that is a really good idea: it rubs the noses of those attending in the idea that something that was sold for next to nothing a long time ago can now be worth big bucks.

Oh, and then there’s sex.

–Bob McCamant

You’ll find additional photos on the FPBA Facebook page.

Registration now open for ‘Beauty of Letters’

January 16th, 2015

The long-awaited blockbuster symposium called “The Beauty of Letters: text, type and communication in the eighteenth century” which will take place in Birmingham, England on March 14 and 15, is now accepting registrants. It’s 85 quid for both days, but you can also come for one day and pay somewhat less. All the details are here, and you can register here.

Speakers are coming from Milan, St. Petersburg, Boston, Sienna, and all over the UK. There will even be a bookseller. I’m hoping to come myself!

–Bob McCamant