All Things Wireless & Letterpress

All Things Wireless & Letterpress

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

"A Pocket Caroler" : The Making of my Latest Chapbook Project.

Order details are posted at the end of this installment. 


The Genesis of this three year project began more then five years ago when my wife and I was in charge of our Church's College and Young Adult department.  It was discovered that many if not most of our kids simply did not know the traditional Christmas Carols that we would try to lead them in during our Tuesday Nite get togethers during the Holiday Season.  Most would scurry to their cell phones or tablets to Google the lyrics.  I began to envision a small booklet like this just for our kids.  I would just run 'em off on my computer printer.  I went as far as making a few lyric sheets just for us ten or fifteen gathered people... scarcely enough to warrant a booklet.
.
It wasn't until I joined a few printing groups that I learnt about the "Chapbook" and became fascinated with letterpress publication that I began to consider actually using the presses at my own shop "Paper Wren Press", which is a 19th century-modeled printery which normally printed stationery, wedding announcements and business cards with the typical spongy paper and deep impressions.  I was never entirely comfortable  using my presses for this purpose, those big Iron Horses were designed for words, for publications, for page-production work!  But alas!  The "Letterpress Revival" was married to printing deeply impressed images upon thick, unsized, spongy card stock.  And if my letterpress shop were to earn its keep, I had to print what people wanted, and toe the line with the public's expectations of "Letterpress".
.
All the while, I found myself deeply engrossed with 17th and 18th century books.  I had collected these books since Junior High School, and in the process, fell in love with the ancient way of doing things.  The very simple and straight forward approach the old Devil's Tail printers used was very appealing to me!  And although I did not have a wooden English "Common Press" like Ben Franklin's or Sellers & Sellers or Kristof Sauer, and while I did  not have enough metal type to even consider book printing, I did have good plate makers that could make nice dies not unlike what was used in the mid 19th century.
.
At one point I joined the 18th Century Parsons group, and discovered it was created and run by James Moore, a bookbinder par excellence that specialized in 18th century era Bible reproductions with absolutely authentic, eye popping leather binding.  Right out of the era I so loved.  I began to think that maybe I, too, could contribute something to this group with my own ancient machines.
.
And thus the two ideas began to emerge.  A Chapbook, printed following the protocol and methods of the 18th century, containing... Christmas Carols!  
.
Why not? It seems a whole generation is growing up with little or no contact with these wonderful songs.  And to make it 18th century-ish would add that historical bit of awesomeness. 
.
So I began my research in 2013 after a serious, life threatening bout with major surgery.  What would such a book look like if printed in 1769?  After doing a lot of Googling and web-tracking, Library visiting, and talking with other printers around the U.S. and the U.K., I discovered very... very little.  
.
Finally I contacted Colonial Williamsburg.  They seem always to have "A Colonial Christmas" theme during the Holidays, heck, they even published a book by that title!  They must have some ideas I could use!   So, calling the foundation, I was referred to one of the historians.  I'll never forget his response to my initial query as to the purpose of my call.
.
"Oh.... That.....!"
"W-what do you mean 'Oh, That!'? I responded.
"That, sir, is a fiction." was the response.
.
He then went on to relate that "A Colonial Christmas" was mainly a venue to showcase Colonial events in one place at one time.  No, on Christmas they didn't chase a greased pig, they didn't go around caroling, they didn't hold sumptuous parties, they didn't deck the halls.  In fact, in most of the Colonies at the time, Christmas revelries, public celebrations, caroling and such were, if not outright banned, certainly discouraged.  There were Christmas services at Bruton Parrish, to be sure.  There is a record of a private party being held at a residence in Williamsburg one Christmas, the songs they sang were from a contemporary operetta performed in London, the lyrics having been published in the Gentlemans Quarterly.   Only the Germans, especially in Pennsylvania, celebrated Christmas anything like publicly.  In Great Britain, London even had to pass a ban on street caroling because roaming drunken bands were literally demanding money for their "caroling" at the door step of the residents of that good City, and were known to burst in and ransack the home if the residents refused!
"Now bring us some Figgy Pudding, and bring it right here!  We won't go until we got some!"
.
"Sir", the historian continued, "what you have pictured in your mind is more of a "Dickensian" Christmas of the early to mid Victorian era." - which made perfect sense.  And indeed, I do get a lot of my "historic Christmas" imagery from "A Christmas Carol"... and, of course, my German family.  I did live in Bavaria growing up, so I familiar with many of the ancient 16th and 17th Weihnachten traditions, and I do know that Germans did make a big deal out of Christmas, with the Christkindlemarkts and the Weihnachtsfests,  and especially what goes on at  Oberammergau every ten years, with their passion play dating back over 500 years!
.
And so the idea of a Colonial Caroler of actual historic significance evaporated, to be replaced by a "Dickensian" version.  And it was probably for the better.  My presses are, after all, of the Victorian era (1869 in design.  Specifically, the Gordon Franklin design.)
.
I did opt to stay with my beloved 18th century Caslon fonts, although it had passed from prominence in the printing world about the time the "tall 's' " fell from use.  (That's the 's' that looks like an 'f'.)  I chose, however, to at least keep the cover page entirely 18th century.  I love 18th century title pages, both boxed and unboxed (bordered and unbordered).  I love the use of the tall-s.  I love the courtesy of the 18th century book, making the last word of the page the beginning word of the following page so the reader won't lose the thread of thought.  How courteous!  To me, the most reader friendly books are the books of the 18th century.  And the most enduring.
.
As such, I compromised.  The Title Page is indeed modeled after a typical frontspiece of 1760.  The rest of the book thereafter.... is 1850.  
.

Designing the Chapbook

I found a wonderful digital font that was a dead ringer for Caslon No. 337 Old Style that even included archaic ligatures (two letter joined together as one piece of type) and the tall-s.  It's called "Wylde", and kerns very nicely.  In fact, it is used interchangeably in this book. I also found the formal blackletter digital font "Cloister" to be not only a dead ringer for the font used in my 1685 copy of "Visions of Government" (Edward Petit), but it also duplicates my metal Cloister fonts (ATF, 1890) as well.  Again, used interchangeably with no perceptible difference.  These digital fonts were used to create printing dies that put me well ahead of schedule  time-wise and cost wise.  The other option was to order several metal fonts from M&H to suppliment what I already had, a several hundred dollar proposition I simply had no budget for.
.
The paper I chose for the Caroler is the same type used by many reproduction binders for their 18th century work, Neenah Classic Laid, natural white.  It shows "lay lines" not unlike the original laid printing papers commonly used in prior centuries... and better fit my budget. I wanted the final price of these chapbooks to be within reach of most folks whom I felt might wish to have such a Caroler.
.
All told, most of the pages are digitally designed and polymer plated.  Only the Colophon is handset. I thought this to be a good blend of more modern and traditional technologies.
.
Printing the Chapbook (the trials and tribulations of the Printery)
.
This is my very first foray into book publication.  I have printed Hornbooks, but not bound page books.  Even a relatively small booklet like a single signature Chapbook can be a fearsome challenge to behold!  Though there are only twelve carols in the Caroler, this book contains the binding equivalent of a 48-face-page book!  While the actual press printing itself might take days... possibly stretching into weeks, the rest of the process, the trimming, folding, collating, stitching, gluing, and time in the nipping press to set may take months.... even into the next year! 
.
2015 marks the starting year of the Pocket Caroler project.  It was when I placed my first ideas  on a vector drawing board.  The completion of the design was finalized in 2016.  But at that time I could only go with metal dies.  While less expensive than ordering more metal type fonts, it was still a hefty cost package.  Coinciding, we were facing a possible home foreclosure at the time, so work had to stop.  In fact, as the next year drew to a close, I had already closed the Paper Wren as a business, and began to post much of my equipment for sale.  We were in bail-out mode.  It looked like by 2018, the Paper Wren, along with the house and possibly my vintage amateur radio station WD4NKA would be history.
.
Ultimately we did find refinancing, and the Paper Wren was saved, but so only as a hobby, no longer a registered business.  Nonetheless I had the presses!  Then, another thing happened: the sale of some items made it possible for me to purchase a Boxcar Base, which enabled me to use Polymer dies on my older Chandler & Price letterpress!  While the base was pretty expensive, the polymer dies used with it are not!  And so, "A Pocket Caroler" was again on the drawing board!
.
By spring I received the dies I needed for printing and had enough matching type to handset the Colophon.  I was able to order the Neenah Classic Laid from Amazon, and the Cover stock from French Paper Co.  Money was tight, and I had to charge a bit for materials, but the gears were finally turning and things were happening!  And so by the start of summer, the press was inked, the paper cut, and the process of actually making a Chapbook began!
.
The photo above shows my handy mock up, which I used to help me avoid confusion as to which page backed which page.  It also served as a centering guide.  The mock-up was printed on my computer printer, exact size and colours. The mock-up is resting on pre-cut waste paper used for set-up and registration, which in turn is resting on 250 sheets of French Paper cover stock, which in turn is resting on the page stock, numbered for each leaf.  .  I dreaded mixing up those pages because  I could not buy more stock.  This was it, it had to go through the first time!  It was a scary proposition but I did have some old books on the subject that were immensely helpful.  Also helping me in the form of advice over the phone was Emily Hancock, of St. Brigid Press, who served as my long-distance encourager and mentor in this endeavor.  Thank you ever so much, Emily!  Also, to you Carl Nudi, from TBAS!  You were the one that helped me make up my mind as to which binding method I should use.
.
No printer is an island.
.
The cover is printed in two stages.  The border chosen was inspired by the work of the Roycrofters, of East Aurora NY and dates to 1900.  It is a beautiful interlaced leaf pattern.  The center design would be printed in black.  There was a design up my sleeve that always captured my imagination, and served to inspire the one and only illustration this chapbook has.
.
Yup.  A Christmas Seal. Nothing speaks Christmas in the English Speaking world than three gents hauling in the Yule Log, blowing a celebratory trumpet.  Hmm.... maybe they did get loud celebrating Christmas in the year 1200!  That might be fun to research.
.
 I redrew the design by hand, then edited pixel by pixel in, believe it or not, Microsoft Paint!  Old as that program is, when it comes to single colour raster editing, it is still my go to for fine editing of images.  It came out very nicely, I thought.  Now, to be absolutely authentic, I might could have engraved it on end grain boxwood.... but again, cost.  Time and cost.  You might guess why a book might cost a month or even several months earnings the prior centuries.  As it was, editing this image took about as it would have to actually do a woodcut.  But.... I didn't have to buy any specially prepared wood!  
.
I try to keep my eye on the final selling price.  I did not want to go over the twenty dollar per-book mark.  This book is, yes, collectible, but it's goal is to be utilitarian.  I want folks to actually use it, not merely add it to their collection under glass.  Which is why I both hand stitched the text block and used an end-sheet glued cover technique.
.
I had to include a shot of my trusty 1908 28" Craftsman Guillotine cutter.  This is the most valuable machine in my shop, aside from the presses themselves!  No printery can long sustain without a means of a good paper cutter.  Especially if you are doing publishing, even on a small scale!  This old gal even has safety features that would amaze OSHA today!  Like magnetic lock-out, a stock feature cast into the iron of the blade-head.  In this shot, I am cutting the cover stock.
.
Assembling the Chapbook
.
Along with never having actually printed a book of any kind before, neither have I collated and assembled one!  I had to collate the pages, that much I knew.  But how should I bind everything together?  I wanted these books to reflect real hand-work, so I opted to hand sew the signature, or page-groupings.  This required a punching cradle and a punch awl.  Also a punch template so I knew where the holes went.
.

This is the punch cradle and awl.  Both are home made.  That black tape you see down the middle is gaffers tape, linen based.  It has seen over a thousand punches by now.  I use a folded index card as a hole template and lay it atop the center fold and just punch right through.  Hey, it worked, and I got consistent spacing.  But before I punched the first hole, I needed to decide which stitch to use.  I opted for a five-hole pamphlet stitch, which I found on the internet.  It will better endure the tension of the book being opened and closed several times each year.  The stitching thread is tied off in the center.  I wound up using two types of stitching thread, the first twenty-odd books use a darker waxed linen thread, but when I ran out, I discovered my source for this particular thread no longer existed.  So after book twenty, I used waxed silk thread instead.  Both are good, but the silk is white, while the linen is a brownish.  Either way, you don't see it since the cover covers it.
.
After I punched one hundred books,  I then had to stitch one hundred books.  Do you know how many Hallmark movies that is??  Days bled into weeks.  Remember, I have a full time job and other things to do in life!  The summer wore on.  I had considered asking for help to get all this done, but decided not to since I didn't know what my schedule to accomplish all this would look like, week to week.
.
Eventually I got the textblock stitched.  Next came applying the cover.  This turned out to be a bit more involved than I had planned.  First I had to decide just how that cover was going to attach.  Should I stitch through the cover ?  If so, that would maybe speed things up, but how would the cover wear over the years with five holes and stitches forcing a crease in the spine as it bent back and forth many times?  Also, there was the question of aesthetics.  How would the exposed thread on the spine look against the cover?  If the cover was darker, maybe it would look ok, but I didn't want a dark cover, I liked what I already had.
.
After considering options, I decided to tap into my case-binding background and borrow a bit from formal bookbinding techniques which I will show below.  I opted to use a type of end-sheet, which is normally glued to the inside board of a case bound book (hard cover).  This serves three purposes: 
.
1- It covers the board covers folded inside the boards, 
.
2- It adds to the securing of the cover binding to the spine by relieving some pressure from the cover hinges. 
.
3-It relieves pressure from the text block itself.  
.
All these things play into the making of a book, chapbook or otherwise, which is in itself a living organism, to provide for it a long and non self-destructive life.
.
Applying all the above to the chapbook: I stitched in the end-sheets to serve the dual purpose of being the Title Page cover and function as an end-sheet.  Normally, the end sheets are tipped in, not sewn in to the text block.  However, this was not practical in this application.  I thus glued the cover to the spine of the text block, and allowed the glue to travel a bit beyond the actual spine, so the cover is actually placing part of it's opening and closing tension on the end sheets.  About half an inch or less of the end-sheets attach to the cover.  When you open the chapbook, the end sheet opens with it, but it still protects the title page.  It seemed to be, and has worked out to be a nice compromise for a robust cover, especially considering this is a paper back book!
.
This is a mid-progress shot.  The books in the foreground box are awaiting stitching.  The box behind it are where the pages were arranged awaiting collation.  The double deck shelf that looks like an Inbound Outbound tray is actually where I square and bone-fold.  The collated, folded sheets are placed on the bottom tray to await punching and stitching.
.
After all the stitching was done, I had to trim the text-blocks on two sides, open and top, to both level the pages so they would fan well, and also the top, for page even-ness and to be size proportional to the cover which is about to be glued over the block.  The trimming was done on a Logan Mat Cutter.  Normally a "plough" is used.  This is a sliding blade that evenly trims the pages of a text block.  The guillotine cutter is best not used for trimming of a book unless a lot of margin is being trimmed off.
.

I used the punch cradle for this operation.  I nest the cover, with a decided fold, just as I would if I were punching.  This serves to create a trough for a bead of glue.
.
I lay in a thin bead of glue.  I used what is essentially Elmer's Glue-all.  I use it for all my binding, even restoring 300 year old leather bindings and textblocks!  
.

I run my finger down the center to smooth out the glue bead, and let it sort of push up the side of the trough just a bit, maybe half inch or less.  You can sort of see it doing this in the photo.  Now remember, the cover is paper!  It will lose stiffness at the fold if you let it get to damp/ gluey, so you will need to develop a "feel" for what's right.
.
Next, I remove the cover and set it on a flat table surface to ensure squareness.  I slip the text block directly into the cover fold and glue.  The textblock is also resting on the surface, which means the cover and the text block will be flush at the bottom.  Even, but flush.  However if the cover is a bit larger than the block, you have to slide the textblock up just a bit to split the difference between the distance from the top and bottom of the cover.  Work quickly!  That glue sets pretty fast!  After a few times, I got the feel of it.  Once the textblock sets well in the cover, fold the book.  Then open, grasp the text block and push it in to the cover to make sure it has contact.  You will see some glue appearing at the top and bottom.  You want that.  It should be just a little, easy to wipe off.  Then close the book, and put a binding clip on the open end for the next step.
.
Here's a shot of the textblock tightly in the cover.  There may be a minutia of space depending on the thickness of the thread used.
.
When folded, before I do any clamping, I check the squareness of the corners of the open end.  Remember the glue does relax the spine a bit, so you have to actually put the book into square if a lot of glue is used.  Once I am satisfied both top and bottom are even with each other, I put a binding clip on it.
.
Ok, bottom side looks good, too.  In the case of my Chapbook, there are slight variations in sizes, maybe less than 1/32".  These are hand made, hand cut, hand trimmed books, machine perfection does not happen here.  Each book has a personality all it's own.
.
At this point the books are clipped and clamped between two pieces of wood to set for a few minutes before I place them in the nipping press.  I found that once held in place the glue sets well with the pressure exerted by the clamps, the binding clips providing just enough hold to keep the edges of the book from "drifting".  This is all new territory for me, who's relatively light background is entirely involved with case binding and repairing 18th and prior century books.  And yet some principles hold universal.
.
After clamping with those wooden paddles (did you recognize them?  Battledore paddles used for Hornbooks!  They sure come in handy for lots of other things.) I place them in my nipping press, which is double layered.  It was custom made probably around 1945-50 at Waukesha, Wisconsin, and was discovered in a maintenance closet at a missions school.  I've never seen one like it.  The boards are Phenol, which was used as high current insulation during the War.

The lower deck holds the books that have already been clamped.  The upper deck is used for the books that come right off the wooden clamps, where they dry under pressure.  So, top is where they dry, bottom is where they stack afterwards.  Both under some pressure.... not a lot.
.
In this photo there are two stacks of three books on the lower deck, and the upper deck there is two, as you can see.  The decks are notched to fit between the "cheeks" of the press.
.
Now the platen is placed atop the second deck and those two books.  When the next two books are set, the two on the second deck will be stacked on the lower deck, the fresh books replacing them, and so on as a cycle.
.
Here is the completed nipping press with ratcheting screw brace. The cheeks (the two steel side bars) stand two feet high, which makes this device multi-functional for sizes up to 7 x 11 inches.  Great for smaller books up to 6 x 9 inches.
.

Whew!  Done!  One hundred Pocket Carolers.  Awaiting inspection and then signing and numbering which will probably be done in pencil, as we did will all our limited edition work back when I did custom framing in a fine arts gallery in another life.  Its amazing the things you pick up and carry into another field of endeavor.
.
Pricing and Ordering Information
.
"A Pocket Caroler" will be available by 12 October 2018.  The price for the first and only edition (so far), signed and numbered is $15.00, plus shipping. PayPal orders and multiple book orders, please contact me directly at the below email addresses, or PM my facebook page.  To order, drop me a line at paperwrenpress@gmail.com, or  wd4nka@gmail.com
.
Late note:  I have had a lot of response!  Thanks for the pre-orders, folks!  Some are ordering multiple sets, which is great!  Two things: for quantities over three, I will be shipping using the small flat-rate box, which is at this writing, $8.00 (I'll verify that today at the P.O.).  Another thing: this means the limited availability will go fast. I will keep folks posted as to any changes.
.

G. Johanson, Printer.

No comments:

Post a Comment