26 October, 2013

The Diary of a Dead Officer

The time has come, we think, for us to reveal what is happening in the printing office at the moment . . . or, rather, what I have been printing away at for many weeks now, while Frances tells the world about the already wonderfully appreciated The Third Thing and Ralph Kiggell, now returned home to Bangkok, makes plans for the book to be promoted and exhibited in a number of his far eastern galleries.

Above you will see the titlepage of our new offering which gives most of what you need to know about the text. There have been editions of this remarkable and moving text but not many . . . and I do not know of one where the words have been balanced by equally powerful images.

That clearly is the particular strength of this publication (planned, for obvious reasons, for publication in 1914) [ . . . or, even, 2014. Thanks for pointing that out, Natalie]. John Abell's wood and linocut techniques have become simply more and more hard-hitting since we first met the young artist a couple of years ago. He has since won prizes and the acclamation of many who have seen exhibitions of his work - often woodcut images of incredible complication and four or five feet square - printed laboriously by the artist himself with the back of a spoon. Five hours labour per print is the going rate, John says!

It did not take the OSP long, as I think you may imagine, to bind this artist to us and agree a text which would be appropriate to his skills and the times.

I have been working for some weeks on printing the text (in Bodoni type and a dark green ink) but I have just reached the excitement of beginning to print the images. It is this that I thought I would photograph for you today.

First of all, here is a lino block, fresh from John. It bears his unique brand of 'drawing' . . . very bold and in a handful of crude coloured markers. As the lino is pale, you can hardly see the cutting  but it has by this stage been completed, in all its detail. You will note that it has not been 'proofed' in any way. John never does. Somehow he is able to know exactly what the cuts he makes will look like.

Look carefully at this 'drawing', for it is about to disappear, for ever. Below, you will see that the rollers of my press have inked the lino before the press makes an impression, in exactly the correct place one hopes, on the page which already has text printed on it .

. . . and this is the result of that inking. (The two scruffy pieces of paper below the block, by the way, are there to warn me if the pressure on it from the rollers is forcing the block down the bed of the press.) Here is the printed result.

 Here you can see the image in a bit more detail and . . .

 . . . and here the image is seen in relation to the rest of the type on the spread.

There is still a long way to go but I hope I have whetted a few appetites to see the completed book, sometime early next year I hope. I, for one, am absolutely thrilled with how the book is developing . . . and so was John when we showed him the first printed image!

23 October, 2013

Burnt Sugar

This year I have not been overdoing the 'wonders of Nature in the Wye Valley' brand of post . . . but I thought this might be an exception. Breathtaking to see it in this peak of brightness - especially as the day on which this photo was taken had seen torrential rain for hours on end.

I do not know whether e-smell has been invented yet but I certainly don't have an ap for it. If I did, you could enjoy, as we did, the extraordinary smell of burnt sugar that comes from the leaves that have fallen to the ground.

It is a Cercidiphyllum japonicum and I planted it a number of years ago. More recently I planted a Liquidamber quite near to it and that is also doing well, in an adolescent sort of a way. In a few years time the double act should be quite something!

14 October, 2013

Duke Humfrey's Night, Oxford

As we have written here in an earlier post - Jubilate Agno was the result of an overwhelming day for us in one of Britain’s most spectacular libraries: spectacular in its physical buildings but also in the astonishing collection of books and archives housed there.  The joy at being able to turn the pages of Eton College’s Gutenberg Bible and observe its printing and decorations at close hand sent this printer rushing to pay tribute to the experience in a book from our press.

Christopher Smart’s Jubilate Agno seemed an appropriate choice of text and in conversation with Angela Lemaire, with whom we have collaborated on so many occasions, we discovered a shared pleasure. She was eager to create images which would pay tribute in similar manner to the early decorators of the Gutenberg. When the woodcuts had been cut and the printing of text and imagery had finally been achieved here, it became a stunning book. The Library at Eton was delighted with their copy and the book has been bought by many other institutions and individuals.


Last Saturday, however, saw the book in august company once more. The Bodleian Library had bought a copy and had then selected it for an important event in their calendar . . . when they invite Friends of the Library to a fundraising event to view some of their recent acquisitions and to sponsor individual titles.  Called Duke Humfrey’s Night, a reception takes place first in the Divinity School alongside the Radcliffe Camera and the Sheldonian . . . glorious Oxford architecture.


The designer of the invitation to this event had asked if he could borrow some of Angela Lemaire’s imagery - but then followed the design of the text as well. There was also a catalogue of the acquisitions which the Friends were being asked to sponsor - with the ‘alpha’ and ‘omega’ from Jubilate Agno on the covers and within. We were all delighted by such a prominent honour, and indeed to have been asked to join the event - Angela coming south from Scotland and we heading east from Wales.

All the acquisitions were laid out in Duke Humfrey’s Library, each with a member of the Bodleian staff to elaborate on the catalogue details and show off the particular aspects which made it important to the Library’s collections.

So, alongside eighteenth century travel diaries, family and military journals, rare printing, music, an oriental woodblock, papyri requiring considerable conservation and ephemera, Jubilate Agno was displayed in one of the ‘cubicles’ created by the shelving. 

We met many enthusiastic ‘Friends’, including those who had ‘sponsored’ ours, and it was wonderful to talk with the now 90 year old Colin Franklin who remains as lively a bibliophile as ever. Richard Ovenden, Interim Bodley’s Librarian, spoke to the assembled company about an archive of Fox Talbot and early photography and, later, was similarly talking of his delight in handling Jubilate (and in receiving details about Old Stile Press books).

It was an evening that will remain in our memories alongside that day in the Eton Library with Michael Meredith.

P.S.  Sadly I cannot say that we met these earlier visitors to Duke Humfrey's Library - at Hogwarts, no doubt!