Made in limited quantities, fine press books elevate publishing to an art. They are highly sought after by art lovers and book collectors alike. If you've been reading our blog for any length of time, you know of our affinity for fine press books. We love seeing what the likes of Heavenly Monkey, The Golden Cockerel Press, Nawakum Press, and more create. Do you have a fine press collection? Or are you interested in adding fine press titles to your library?
Medieval Germany: it brought us Otto the Great, the formation of the Hanseatic League, and the first stirrings of the Protestant Reformation. It also, as best as we can discern, brought us long stitch bookbinding, a non-adhesive form of bookmaking (meaning it eschews the use of glue or other adhesives) that gained some popularity in 18th and 19th century Europe.
James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time (1963) was published for the first time over 50 years ago. To commemorate its original publication, and to remind readers of its continued significance in the twenty-first century, Taschen released a letterpress edition of the book, which includes more than 100 photographs taken by Steve Schapiro. As a photographer for Life magazine, Schapiro traveled through the American South with Baldwin and captured images from the Civil Rights movement, including pictures from Selma and from the March on Washington. In addition to Baldwin’s texts and Schapiro’s photos, this letterpress edition of The Fire Next Time also includes an introduction from U.S. Congressman John Lewis, who marched from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 while serving as Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The edition also contains some of Schapiro’s stories from his travels with Baldwin, as well as an essay by Baldwin’s sister, Gloria Baldwin Karefa-Smart.
For many authors and illustrators, the ability to make your own book is quite appealing. If you’re interested in collecting fine press objects or bookmaking through the art of letterpress, what are your options? One of the more interesting possibilities for contemporary authors who want to pursue letterpress comes from Boxcar Press. Unlike other presses, Boxcar Press isn’t always printing books (although it does have printing capabilities). Instead, it’s making polymer plates for letterpress bookmakers and broadside artists who are interested in modern fine press. We’ll tell you a little bit more about the polymer plates that Boxcar Press makes, and then we’ll tell you about some of the great resources it offers to those who are new to letterpress as well as those who have been doing letterpress for quite awhile.
Herman Melville's first novel Typee, was a critical and popular success. Indeed, it launched him headfirst into a massive literary career. However, his subsequent books did not receive as many positive reviews, and in his lifetime, he slipped into relative obscurity as something of a one hit wonder despite continuing to publish both novels and short stories. He died in 1891. It wasn't until what would have been his hundredth birthday that the “Melville Revival” began. His books were reprinted, scholars began studying and writing about him, and his unfinished works were released. Since this revival, Melville has taken his place as one of the American literature greats. His novel Moby Dick, while considered a disaster at the time of publishing, is an area of study all its own and is considered one of the best American novels ever written. Melville collectors may be interested in learning about the following editions of the seminal work and potentially adding one to their shelves.
If there’s one problem with our literary landscape, it’s perhaps there are too many great writers and thinkers for the average reader to keep track. Whether you’re looking into a specific literary tradition, region, or movement, it’s easy to gloss over a handful of important writers or those literary artists who have in subtle ways influenced future generations of scribes. Because history is instructive and it’s impossible to understand where you’re going without realizing where you’ve been, this oversight can be a serious misstep for the literary enthusiast.
Perhaps one of the greatest oversights—especially considering the width and depth of the career and creative interests—is English writer, poet, designer, and socialist activist William Morris.
As early as the year 1040, the Chinese had made movable type out of clay and earthenware. The innovation, for a variety of reasons, did not catch on in the East, but four centuries later it became the center of a revolution in Europe. In 1439, the craftsman Johannes Gutenberg used movable type in his shop in Mainz. His screwpress method was so effective that for three and a half centuries little was done to improve its design. But evolve it did, becoming ever more complex and efficient, bringing the written word to ever greater swaths of the population.
Centuries before Europe, and as early as the 800s, Japan hosted the best papermaking craftsmanship in the world. To this day, a few hundred businesses—often family-run and owned—continue the tradition of making superior-quality paper by hand. The process is labor intensive, slow, and requires years of expertise, but why expect anything less when it comes to manufacturing some of the best paper on earth?
Paper marbling is an art form that may well date back more than a thousand years. The technique involves creating paint patterns on top of a container of water and transferring those patterns to paper, usually paper of high quality. The result is stunning, unique designs that can be used for covering leather-bound books or simply as decorative art in its own right. At the very latest, it first appeared in 12th century Japan before spreading across Asia. In the 15th century, it had either made its way from East Asia or been re-invented independently in Turkey, where a new, more sophisticated version of the practice (called ebru) would gain popularity. This spread throughout the Islamic world and eventually reached England around the 17th century. There, marbling was used not just on books but also for wrapping gifts and lining drawers and shelves. Want to see the process for yourself? We've compiled some videos of paper marbling.