Paul Gehl on Centaur, at the Newberry 10/22

October 14th, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALong ago, I made the mistake of showing a paragraph of an author’s work to him in two typefaces: the one I wanted to use, and Centaur. You will not be surprised to learn that he picked the Centaur. Most every writer loves the “engraved in stone” feel of the face–suddenly his or her words seem timeless.

As the blurb for Paul’s talk says, “The design of type in the twentieth century was largely a matter of historical revivals or revolts against historical models, so it raises all kinds of historiographical issues as well as aesthetic ones. In this talk, Paul F. Gehl (for 25 years the curator of the Newberry’s collection on typography) will trace the history of one, particularly influential type face from its introduction by printer Nicolas Jenson to revivals as recent as last year. Along the way he will suggest that the history of type is central to the histories of art, science, literature, and commerce.”

The talk is at 6 pm on Wednesday, October 22, at the Newberry Library in Chicago. (Details.) Wish I could attend.

–Bob McCamant

Erik Spiekermann hangs out a letterpress shingle

October 14th, 2014

p98a_designwillsavesmMind you, no books yet. But he does claim to have retired from Edenspiekermann and FontShop. The idea of his new “letterpress workshop” P98a (in Berlin) is to print posters, which sell for 98 each. (That’s 98 in dollars, pounds, and Euros–whichever you use. Tough luck, Brits.) I get this news from a new magazine called Lagom, which you can purchase as a PDF or on paper. (But no freebie online edition. You must pay to read.) It says its “in celebration of people who make a living from their passion,” and the first issue leads with a story about a paper goods shop attached to a design studio, followed by a story about two ad agencies which keep bees in central London.

Since he’s printing all posters, you might think Spiekermann would use photopolymer–but no, he seems to use wood and Plakadur, the resin composite used by Berthold to make their large poster type. This info is from the P98a web site, which is free.

–Bob McCamant

Oak Knoll Fest 2014, Days 2 and 3

October 9th, 2014

The first day of real Oak Knoll Fest 18 followed the prequel, described below. The real thing began with speakers on Saturday morning, followed by the book fair, held at the New Castle senior center, where it has been held in recent years. The town cooperated by providing additional distraction and entertainment in the form of a bicycle race and a beer festival on the town green.

After Bob Fleck’s welcome, Russell Maret jovially harangued the audience to renew its individual FPBA memberships at the fair [which many did].

Blog2CaroleeHe then introduced Carolee Campbell, who let us in on her life both before and after discovering book making. It was news to me, but she had been something of a TV star, winning an Emmy and spending 9 years on the soap opera “The Doctors,” on NBC. She even treated us to a few tabloid covers featuring her smiling face. Even earlier, she had been associated with the Actor’s Studio, of which she was elected a lifetime member.

While she was acting, she was also taking photographs. She was very fond of the out-of-doors, and took as many trips as possible to beautiful sites in California.

BlogOldCaroleev2She liked telling a story with photos, and thought that binding them into a book might be a good way, so she took a book-binding class, which she found more interesting than she had expected. She decided her pictures could use some words, and thought of poetry. She then took the transformative step of taking a class from Harry Reese [of Turkey Press] at UC Santa Barbara.

For the remainder of her talk, Campbell took us through some of her books, explaining the process involved in each. These days, she tries to do a book every year. They are almost always of poetry, so a major part of the process is absorbing the poem or poems themselves. Often the typography comes next, before the form of the book has been settled upon. (Generally, she tries to work with metal type she already possesses.) One step at a time, elements of the design come into focus: size, texture, illustration. This of course occurs while the work on another project, in production, is going on.

Her working setup probably made many printers in the audience jealous. She is able to do parts of the process outdoors in the California air. In a recent year, she was able to watch a pair of hummingbirds build a nest, lay their eggs, and fledge their young in a small tree right near where she was at work! She showed pictures; if my memory serves, they were from the production of The Persephones, which involved some most unusual “illustration” processes, including a combination of sumi paints with coarse salt.

Blog2JohnNext up Saturday morning was John Randle. (He had spoken at the first Oak Knoll Fest. This supplied food for speculation that this was going to be the last. But the Flecks, father and son, kept tight lips on the topic, at least in my hearing.)

He started earlier, with a few glimpses of early printing projects carried out while a student at Marlborough College–not a college in the American sense, but a boarding school. The print shop there was not part of the formal curriculum, so it presented considerable freedom. Students organized themselves to put out publications, which were sometimes ambitious. He showed booklets they had produced including one of poems by Siegfried Sassoon, who had also attended the school. He told a story about a publication done there which became a great collector’s item as the writer’s first publication–I cannot tell from my notes, but perhaps it was William Golding. “Keep your early work,” was Randle’s advice to the printers in the audience.

After school, Randle did work he found uninteresting on “Fleet Street,” perhaps because it was trade publishing, not newspapers. He determined to drive to India, with a side trip to Burma to visit his father’s grave. While on the trip, he was “haunted” by the vision of starting his own press. He remembered a gardener’s cottage at Whittington house, which belonged to a relative. The relative wasn’t using the cottage, and didn’t mind if he set up shop there. There followed a hectic period when he and his wife Rosalind worked the week in London and drove to the Cotswolds to print on weekends.

Eventually they bought a house nearby, and made Whittington Press their living. He told the story they tell on their web site: the “first book, Richard Kennedy’s A Boy at the Hogarth Press, which took a year of weekends and holidays to print in an edition of 525 copies on an 1848 Columbian hand-press, proved to be that rare event in the private press world, a best seller (it was re-issued by Penguin the same year, and in 2011 by Hesperus Press, with a foreword by John Randle), and encouraged us to make the Press a full-time activity in 1974.”

BlogMatrixMatrix, their annual journal of fine printing, came along in 1985. He distinguishes it from their “books,” though the journal itself comes out in book form. “Book projects are so scary, you don’t even want to work out the finances before you start,” he admitted.

He provided a number of other insightful tidbits. –Vance Gerry (Disney employee and part-time printer) was the most inspiring printer he ever worked with. –You should buy a press whose bed is four times the size you need to print. That is the only way it will have the solidness required. –The press building (now greatly enlarged from the original gardener’s cottage) harbors many paper-eating snails. For that reason, the books are stored elsewhere. –They have an old Wharfedale and a new Heidelberg. –Harold Berliner’s collection of Monotype matrices are now in Switzerland. –Randle likes New Castle enough that he printed Miriam Macgregor’s account, New Castle, a brief encounter, which you can pick up online for $675 to $1000. –John makes the books, and Rosalind does the rest. –The target (not always met) in pricing is to charge three times costs. This compares to commercial publishers, who use a multiple of six or seven. “But the only safe way to price is to put yourself in the customer’s shoes,” he says.

BlogLockupThere is at least the possibility that Whittington will continue past the reign of John and Rosalind. Their son, Patrick, now works at the press. He has become its voice in outreach to a younger generation, and spearheads the annual “open day” every September, attracting a large number of printers to sell their wares. Frequently he works on posters. (I believe it is a Patrick lockup pictured at right.)

With Randle’s conclusion, the main event began. My coverage of the book fair is mainly photographic, and can be found on the FPBA Facebook page.

The last day of the Fest featured a retrospective talk by Bob Fleck, telling the story of how he came to start his bookselling and publishing business and the pleasures it has provided him over the years. (To some, this was another hint that this might be the final Oak Knoll Fest.)

Fleck was a chemical engineer, as had been his father before him. He had several employers, but his last, Getty Oil, transferred him to Delaware. The love of books, and particularly books on bibliography, had been growing. The late A. Edward Newton, who wrote Amenities of Book Collecting, was a hero. “I quit on Friday, and on Monday I was a bookseller,” Fleck said. The first step, buying into Horseshoe Lane Books in Newark, Delaware, proved to be a false start. So he started his own store, naming it after Oak Knoll, Newton’s property in Pennsylvania.

Though he sold a bit of literature at first, books on books soon made up the majority of his inventory. An early highlight was acquiring the library of Alida Rooschvarg. No sooner had she sold it to him, than she set about acquiring a second one, which Fleck sold, too. Altogether, she built six libraries, and he sold them all. “She cried each time we took one away,” he said.

For a store selling heavy objects, Oak Knoll has been remarkably peripatetic, but practically all the locations have been within a few blocks on Delaware Street in New Castle. Sometimes the Flecks (for there is a Millie in this story as well) have lived above the store, but now they have a very pretty, very old, house a block away, and the store is on the second and third floors of a former Masonic lodge known as “the opera house.”

Fleck added a related publishing arm in 1978, and has built up a backlist of over 1000 titles either published or distributed. He is also justifiably proud of his role with book-related organizations. He has been president of both the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America and the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers. He was president of ABAA the year that ILAB came to the United States, and showed us pictures of the event in Santa Monica, California. And he is also proud of being the host of the 1997 book fair at which our own organization, FPBA, was cooked up. He showed a photo of the very first meeting in his home.

He started holding Oak Knoll Fests in 1993, and we were treated to many photos of exhibitors looking much younger than we do today. And speaking of young, sitting right the front row was Robert D. Fleck: the third, his son, who is now in charge of the antiquarian bookselling division of Oak Knoll.

After Fleck’s talk, it was time for the second and final day of the Fest, which is pictured on the FPBA Facebook pages.

–Bob McCamant

Oak Knoll Fest 2014, Day 1

October 4th, 2014

FleckBlogThe first day of Oak Knoll Fest (Friday, October 3) was a symposium. It was of primary interest to people in the trade–book makers, book sellers, and librarians. The topic was “Craftsman to Collector: Selling and Buying the Fine Press Book,” and it was divided into seven easily digestible chunks, each around a small part of the subject.

The day began with John Randle and Russell Maret discussing, appropriately, book fairs. Russell boldly claimed that book fairs “are the primary way I sell books,” and pointed out that even if he didn’t always sell many books, it was his way of connecting with the people who would eventually become his customers. Randle said that at this point in the career of his press [Whittington, Herefordshire, UK] book fairs are not his most important means of making sales, but he concurred in saying that a first long-term customer had come to him because of showing at a show sponsored by the American Booksellers Association!

The discussion moved on to the cost of tables at book fairs, but though opinion in the audience was somewhat mixed, a majority seemed to believe that almost always the cost was appropriate to the opportunity the event presented, even if it couldn’t result in profitable sales for every exhibitor.

The second panel, Rob Fleck of Oak Knoll and Ian Kahn of Lux Mentis, talked about web sites, and what they are good for. Rob talked about what made a press’s site useful to him: a clear impression of what the press is about, good images of both books and the proprietor, and obvious contact information. Khan spoke more generally, though he did cite Russell Maret’s blog as being an outstanding way of marketing his work. “Russell manages to engage you in what he is doing. You can easily tell whether what he is doing is something that would interest you. If he amuses you, his books probably will too.”

Khan talked about his own web site a bit as well. He admitted that visuals are very important to an effective site, but that he has not managed to get as many up as he should. One unusual technique, a video preview of what will be on his stand at a book fair, has been unexpectedly effective.

The third panel on email, with Rob Fleck and Tim Murray of the University of Delaware library, did not provide any clear solutions for presses. Both admitted that good email practices could certainly be effective, but that people’s success in using it is all over the map.

A discussion of social media, with Russell and Ian on the stage, made it clear that it is capable of being very effective, but that much depends upon the personality of the person who is putting himself across. Russell said that “Every time I go to a book fair, I meet people who have seen my blog before.” Oddly, though he has never sold a book to anyone in the Ukraine, it is the sixth most important country as a source of readers of his social media.

Khan is a proponent of what he calls “organic” use of social media. “Representing yourself, being yourself, is a lot more effective than just showing merchandise,” he says. He says he has about 1800 Twitter followers. He knows what he posts will not suit everyone, but that he makes a sort of friend of many who discover the oddments about which he writes.

We then blended into a sunny New Castle midday to look for nourishment.

After lunch, we were back for a discussion of print advertising by Simon Lawrence and John Randle, which was of interest to North Americans because our UK brethren are still remarkably dependent upon mailings and periodical advertising.

Next up were Tim Murray and Vicky and Bill Stewart, the latter of whom run Vamp and Tramp booksellers, describing physical trips to visit [mainly institutional] buyers. Since Murray is a buyer, and the Stewarts are book dealers, their presentation was two sides of the same coin.

Murray has four kinds of visitors he doesn’t ask back: 1) the schmoozers: people who talk too much about unrelated topics; 2) the instructors: people who know what is right and do not admit that a customer might have a mind of his own; 3) the scholars: a variation on 2), but who have the weight of enormous quotable writing to bolster points of view; and 4) the used car salesman–he actually had someone pitch him with “What do I need to do to sell you this book?”

The Stewarts told the dramatic story of how they came into their present occupation, selling handmade books out of a van, travelling the country. Both had been suffering through jobs they didn’t enjoy, searching for second careers. They decided to start a bookshop, which was to specialize in modern firsts. It was going okay, but not really lighting their fires. Then one day, Bill happened upon a Ron King book which really excited him. They started looking for more such books, and found them a-plenty. Eventually they bought out Califia Books and embarked on their current career of selling books from almost 400 presses to libraries and other collectors around the United States.

They told about how they must prepare for each visit (they manage two a day when they’re in populated regions), and how some librarians bring in friends of the library to pick out books they’re willing to buy and give, others bring students or faculty, and some even demand that the Stewarts disappear while they commune with the books.

There was a bit of frank discussion of discounts to booksellers, but no secrets were divulged. Vamp and Tramp, because it operates strictly on a consignment basis, insists on a standard 40% discount for all. With other booksellers, it appears to be an issue settled by negotiation.

Additional photos on the FPBA Facebook page. More posts to come, and “one book from each table” on the Facebook page.

–Bob McCamant

Make pie and give it to the devil

September 20th, 2014

The arcane language of the printshop is very old. This amusing blog post (the blog is called Spitalfields Life) reprints amusing entries from an 1875 manual given to beginning typographers. I learned many of the same terms when I first worked in a print shop in the 1960s.
–Bob McCamant

Codex Australia shuts down

September 8th, 2014

Just received an email from Alan Loney:

Dear Friends

It is with a great deal of sadness that I tell you that Codex Australia Inc is closing down and all its programs and operations will cease by the end of this month.

While this decision has been very difficult to make, we are nevertheless heartened by what we have been able to achieve in such a short time – two published chapbooks, two Bolton Lectures, three Meet the Artist interviews on the website, three visits to Book Artist’s studios, and of course the Codex 2014 Symposium and Book Fair last March. As a direct result of the Book Fair, many Australian book artists met each other for the first time, and several new connections between Australian and international book artists have been forged. We are delighted to know that , whereas only one Australian exhibited at CODEX 2013 in California, there will be at least five exhibiting at CODEX 2015 next February, and this is due to our Codex 2014 Symposium and Book Fair and the presence of several book artists from the United States, New Zealand, Germany, Israel and China.

We wish to thank all of you who supported Codex financially and participated in our programs. We thank Peter Koch and Susan Filter and the Board of the Codex Foundation in California who accepted Codex Australia as an affiliated body from the beginning, and Jorge Alberto Lozoya of Codex Mexico who came to Melbourne and provided us with so much encouragement to “take the plunge”. We also thank all those book artists who came to our 2014 Symposium and exhibited at the Book Fair, and our Sponsors, without whom none of it could have happened.

Whether the work of Codex Australia will be followed up by others, is yet to be known. But we do know that many of those who benefitted from our activities are equally saddened by our decision to close. When one door closes, another opens, so we wait with interest to see what the future will bring.

Very best wishes to you all,
Alan Loney, president

–as received by Bob McCamant

Newberry Tumblrs its treasures

September 2nd, 2014

NewberryTumblrSay you’ve got a lot of great typographic material. Say you have a sedate physical building off a nice park in Chicago. How to get the interest of all those young type folk who would love to see it? Wouldn’t have crossed my mind, but that Paul Gehl doesn’t miss many tricks. He launches Exploring Printing History at the Newberry on Tumblr. I count 15 posts since it started in late July. This is one worth a bookmark.

–Bob McCamant

Attend ‘Landmarks in Printing’–London in November

August 30th, 2014

It appears that there is still space available at the Printing Historical Society’s 50th anniversary conference, to be held in London on November 13 and 14. (I’m going!) Many speakers I’ve heard of, and others I haven’t, on the general topic of “Landmarks in Printing: from origins to the digital age.” Topics begin with “Did Johannes Gutenberg invent the hand mould” and continue through “The making of a printer: the advent of technical education in the printing industry.” See the whole schedule.

–Bob McCamant

Two weekends in San Francisco

August 4th, 2014

On October 16-18, the American Printing History Association is having its annual fall conference in conjunction with the papermakers’ society, Friends of Dard Hunter. It’s called
PoP-logo-color2-150x85Paper on the Press,” and it’s partly at various venues in San Francisco, including the Center for the Book, and partly at Mills College in Oakland. Keynote will be by Kathryn and Howard Clark the legendary Indiana papermakers. The details are here.

Then, on October 24 and 25, the Book Club of California is offering a mini-conference FeastForTheEyescalled “A Feast for the Eyes: Gastronomy & Fine Print Symposium.” Speakers include Anne Willan, Randall Tarpey-Schwed, and Ben Kinmont with a panel discussion by Bill LeBlond, Michael Carabetta, Margo True, and Jenny Wapner and a second panel by Patricia Curtan, David Lance Goines, and Wesley Tanner. And that’s just the first day! For details, look here. Through September 1, it’s $135 for members and $155 for nonmembers.

–Bob McCamant

Once again, Birmingham is the place to be…

June 4th, 2014

…if type is what interests you.

The Baskerville Society has a lettering tour on Saturday, June 7. Book here. The cost is modest. Just under a pound if you’re a member, just over if not.

Looking farther forward, July 1 is the deadline for paper proposals for “The Beauty of letters: text, type and communication in the eighteenth century.” This is the topic of a conference to be held next March. More details are here.

Birmingham is also boosting an event in Oxford: “Worlds of Learning: Education and the Book Trades” will explore all sorts of arcane worlds of publishing come July 22 and 23. Book here.

–Bob McCamant