The British Book Design and Production Awards, rife with awards to big names in publishing like Thames and Hudson and Phaidon, also has two of FPBA’s press members as winners:
Sensuous Lines, “A Catalogue Raisonne of the intaglio prints of John Buckland Wright,” won the “Best British Book” category for Fleece Press. The images were assembled by Christopher Buckland Wright, the artist’s son, who gathered together surviving copper plates left in the artist’s studio at the time of his death. Not surprisingly, the most deluxe edition of the book is already sold out.
Where else, but Birmingham? The indefatigable Caroline Archer explains, “Whilst the book trade, and its historians, may focus on the capital, every provincial town also has its own typographic history embedded in its ephemera, pamphlets, newspapers and books; and every regional town has designed, produced, published and printed books of both interest and value. This symposium considers the productions relating to, and of, the regional press.”
The event is Friday, December 5, and these are the speakers:
Caroline Archer (Birmingham City University) Items form the archives: printed in Birmingham
Rob Banham (University of Reading) William Gye: printer of Bath
Lucy Collins (University College, Dublin) To Russia with love: a poetry pamphlet from World War II Belfast
Jenni Dixon (Independent scholar, Birmingham) Dealers in curiosity: how print promoted Birmingham wares
Mike Dring (Birmingham City University) Projecting the technocratic city
Andrew Kulman (Birmingham City University) Promoting the new Birmingham, 1964-80
Persida Lazerivic (Università Chieti-Pescara) From Rome to ‘Little Rome’ all over Rumelia
Ian Montgomery (University of Ulster) Printing and books on the edge of the Union
David Osbaldestin (Birmingham City University) Birmingham’s nineteenth century printers and the use of the sanserif
Ines Vodopivec (Independent scholar, Slovenia) Book culture in [non]existence of printing
Ian Horton (University of the Arts, London) Where did hard Werken get Rotterdaon?
It’s free, but to attend, reserve here.
One exhibitor uses “press” in his self-identification, and I recognize at least one long-time FPBA member among the names named. I myself hope to make it to see the exhibit some year. It already opened, and will be at William Patterson University in Wayne, New Jersey. Details here.
Lance Hidy, the legendary artist and graphic artist of food and postage stamps, has an exhibit up at the Museum of Printing in North Andover, Massachusetts. It can be viewed on Saturdays between 10 am and 4 pm, into December. (Large groups can attend at other times, by arrangement.)
To go with this, he’s giving a talk, called “A Printmaker’s Progress,” on Friday, November 7, at 7 pm, at the museum. They’ve got the talk up on their home page, and if you have 25 seconds to kill, you might be interested in the time-lapse film of the opening night of the exhibit. You might even pick out somebody you know!
The week after the APHA/Dard Hunter conference in San Francisco, the Book Club of California scheduled a 2-day event called “A Feast for the Eyes” at their club house and two other venues in its neighborhood. What’s not to like? I found it fascinating and was very impressed with the BCC’s organization.
I’ve posted half a dozen pictures on the FPBA Facebook page. I won’t attempt comprehensive coverage, but will mention what were the highlights for me.
Randall Tarpey-Schwed was an instrumental organizer of the event, and his presentation Friday, the first day, was a tour-de-force chronicle of what one can learn by careful book collecting. Inscriptions in books linked food writer M.F.K. Fisher, collector Harold H. Price, screenwriter Idwal Jones, fine printer Ward Richie, and many others.
We relocated to the Commonwealth Club for one presentation, on more commercial culinary publishing, which was being recorded for broadcast and podcast. It was moderated by Joyce Goldstein and featured insiders from Chronicle Books, Sunset Magazine, and Ten Speed Press.
I overheard some grumbling about the next presentation, which was three blog writers talking about their approach to this new form of culinary publishing, but found it interesting myself. The writers behind the blogs “Dash and Bella,” “5 Second Rule,” and “Yummy Supper” each spoke about writing blogs and cookbooks, since they all do both.
For those of us for whom no trip to Codex is complete without a visit to Chez Panisse, the presentation by Patricia Curtan, David Lance Goines, and Wesley Tanner was probably the summit of the program. All three had stories which blended Alice Waters and printing. (Stephen Thomas, left, was the moderator.)
For me personally, the presentation by Ben Kinmont was the conference’s meatiest food for thought. Kinmont sells antiquarian gastronomic books from the unlikely location of Sebastapol, California, but also produces occasional art/food events in such cities as Montpelier, Amsterdam, Paris, and San Francisco.
Both days ended with delicious receptions in the BCC club rooms featuring handcrafted spirits, wine, and beer–not to mention delicious snacks–and plenty of conversation.
Saturday morning we were amused by the story of The Poodle Dog and its publicity. This establishment had many incarnations, all of which featured good food, [perhaps sometimes misleadingly labled] strong drink, and rooms whose design permitted visits between prosperous men of commerce and women who were not their wives.
The afternoon highlight was a panel discussion between two biographers of M.F.K. Fisher, Anne Zimmerman and Jeannette Ferrary, moderated by Randall Tarpey-Schwed. One point upon which all agreed: if you haven’t ever read any of her writing, start with _Gastronomical Me_.
To ease us into our final hour of drinking and talking, Tom Ingalls showed a torrent of beautiful wine labels for California vineyards, designed by California artists and designers–from classics of the 70s through the amazing labels being printed directly on bottles today.
Long 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.
Mind 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.
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].
He 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.
She 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.
Next 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.”
Matrix, 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.
There 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.
The 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.