28 February 2011

A Meagre and Imperfect Picture

If you do much digging into the history of printing and publishing in Nova Scotia, one of the characters you will encounter is Joseph Howe (1804–73), printer, newspaperman, politician, and reformer. Howe is perhaps best known for defending himself against charges of ‘seditious libel’ in 1835 in a case that is now widely credited as establishing the of freedom of the press in Canada. One of Howe’s best-selling authors was Thomas Haliburton (1769–1865). Haliburton is best known for his literary character Sam Slick, an opinionated Yankee clock peddler who travels Nova Scotia.

I was recently looking over some photographs I took of one of Howe’s publications, Thomas Haliburton’s two-volume An Historical and Statistical Account of Nova Scotia, which Howe issued from his Halifax press in 1829. This handsome title page indicates that Howe was stocking a range of types, which are tastefully set by his compositor. Notice, however the awkward spacing between the V and A in “NOVA-SCOTIA,” and superfluous comma as well. This problem could easy have been fixed by optically spacing the capital letters, as is done below with “HALIFAX”. The subtile ornaments make a valuable contribution to the arrangement of this page.

The chapters headings of Haliburton’s book employ an out-dented and italicized summary at their head listing each chapter’s major themes. This once-common technique is now rarely used in contemporary books.

At first glance, the title page to Volume Two looks like it was printed from the same form as Volume One, but it is not. There are many differences. To name a few: the ornaments are different; the title line NOVA SCOTIA is set with a completely different font (though with no better treatment of the spacing of V and A); and the second volume shifts the word “by” to the final line of the publisher’s notice.

One of the things that caught my eye when I first looked at these volumes was a notice printed on a piece of paper and bound into the book before the title page. The notice reads:

The Publisher has to apologize for the appearance of the View of Halifax, which he regrets is not equal to his wishes. The person by whom it was politely furnished, not being aware that the engraver required a plain ink drawing, coloured the view; and as it was executed by an American Artist, quite unacquainted with the scene, it makes rather a meagre and imperfect picture.

An American Artist, quite unacquainted with the scene? It was not uncommon in those days for printers to commission steel or copper plate engravings to illustrate a work, and for these to be executed based on paintings or sketches provided to the engraver. Let’s have a look at this “meagre and imperfect picture.”

I wonder what fault Howe, or perhaps Haliburton, found with it – and how that fault might have been the result of the local artist providing the engraver with a “coloured” view instead of a “plain ink drawing.” Also, if it distressed Howe to the extent that he felt the need to alert the reader to its shortcomings, underwriting the added expense of printing the errata note and binding it into the book, why did he not simple omit the engraving from the work? Was there author-publisher politics at play here?

One of the other fine illustrations in the book (which was apparently not misrendered) is this one of the provincial House of Assembly in Halifax.

I also can’t resist these step tables illustrating various travelling distances. Composing these tables using type, metal rules and leading required a degree of typographic sophistication that does Howe’s Halifax print shop credit.

I also noted the binder’s ticket on the inside of the front cover. “Phillips. Binder. Halifax.” The only Phillips I’ve come across who was a Halifax book binder was William Phillips, born in 1841 in Connecticut. If it’s in fact his ticket, it would imply that Phillips rebound or repaired these books at some point in their travels.



Stylus P50 USB - Prints on CDs said...

Nowadays you could print nice book using some state of the art printers available in the market.

Anonymous said...

G. & T. Bookbinders, was located on the corner of Granville St. and Sackville St. in Halifax from the early 1800s until at least the 1870s or later. George retired and left the business to his sons. - Doug