24 December 2009

Goudy & Christmas

Okay, well the only typographical element in these images is the street number on the house – Bruce Roger’s Centaur which I cut in pine with a scroll saw. Click on the photo to see an enlargement.

Speaking of American types, I’ve always had a soft spot for the work of Frederic Goudy (1865–1947), most of which was issued by the Lanston Monotype company. There’s something warm and lyrical about many of his designs. When I went back and looked at many of the illustrated books I had read in my childhood, I was surprised to discover that my favourites had more often than not been set in one of Goudy’s many types. I suppose that makes Goudy’s letters my typographic comfort food.

One of the best examples of this is a copy of Richard Scarry’s The Animals’ Merry Christmas, which I still own. Originally published in 1950, it marries one of Goudy’s types with Scarry’s colour illustrations. My copy is a forth printing, given to my family one Christmas by a Great Aunt living far away in London, Ontario. Perhaps the excitement of reading these stories in the days leading up to Christmas as a child has become mixed up with my adult response to the typeface.

the Canadian type designer Jim Rimmer also loves Goudy. His Amethyst typeface is very much in the spirit of Goudy, and he has digitized a number of Goudy’s metal types. Both Amethyst and Rimmer’s revision of Garamont (which Goudy based on a type by Jean Jannon) are employed with some frequency at Gaspereau. Now that I think of it, Rimmer issued a letterpress edition of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol in 1998, set in Lanston's Caslon 337 with Goudy's own Lombardic initials and Goudy Text for display. It is illustrated with Rimmer’s trademark colour linocuts.

Maybe there is something about Goudy that is inherently Christmassy afterall.


23 December 2009

Thoreau for Christmas

Thoreau at last! Gary Dunfield and I decided we could stand the delay no longer and took a run at bringing the first few copies of our letterpress edition of Thoreau’s Walking into being before the end of 2009 (given that the title page reads 2008). By the time we close up tomorrow, there should be a dozen or so copies completed. Hip, hip!

The book – which includes Thoreau’s 1851 lecture “Walking, or the Wild,” three wood engravings by Wesley Bates and my annotations – has been in progress for a number of years now. I handprinted the text and Wesley’s engravings on Hahnemühle Biblio paper about a year ago, and folded and collated the sheets. This autumn, Gary finally found time to make the paper for the first 50 jackets, but we simply couldn’t free up the labour to assemble the parts until this week.

Jack McMaster and I made these snazzy ornaments, which are based on those found on a wrapper used by the Thoreau family pencil factory.

This paper-covered edition will total 150 numbered copies and should be generally available in January. It sells for $200. There will also be a lettered edition of 26 books. These will be casebound and placed in a little pine box with copies of Wesley’s three wood engravings. The lettered edition sells for $600. Its completion date remains murky. I’ll let you know when I’ve bought the lumber for the boxes.

Merry Christmas Henry.


22 December 2009

That Jolly Old Elf St Cubbins

Well, well. Just when I was thinking about knocking the old boy off the payroll for good, Randolph St Cubbins checked in today. This was the first we’d heard of him since we received an order for books we’d never published scrawled on the stationary of the Temple Bar Hotel, Dublin, accompanied, as usual, by an assortment of Guiness-stained meal and taxi receipts. But I digress.

Today a package arrived from our long-absconding, fiddle-footed book traveller Randolph St Cubbins. Interestingly, the return address on the package is for the ‘North Pole’, but the package was postmarked in Toronto. This further fuels our suspicion that Randolph is having us on. Likely holed up in the Black Rooster on Bathurst or some other such scheme. Blackguard! Well, say what you will, he does occasionally make a book sale or two, and he certainly knows how to butter up the old employer with a Christmas gift. So here’s to you, St Cubbins, wherever you may be. Merry Christmas!


21 December 2009


Today I had a visit from three young boys from the neighbourhood who showed a great deal of interest in the inky arts. After helping me print the last colour on a broadsheet commission I was completing for their father, I showed the boys around the shop and explained how the machines were used to make trade books. I’m told that these industrious fellows like making their own books at home, so I showed them a simple technique for binding chapbooks using a three-hole stitch. Perhaps I’ll have some summer help in the bindery in a decade or so, what?

The keepsake we printed featured (along with Miss Dickinson's poem) the first press trial of my new Memorial Hall ornaments. They worked very well in letterpress.


I’ve been thinking about calligraphic title pages, perhaps because I photographed a few good ones during recent book scouting adventures.

This one is from the opening pages of Hartmann Schedel’s Nuremberg Chronicle, which I’ve been exploring in the special collections room at Acadia University.

Another hand-lettered title page I like opens David Jones’s The Tribune’s Visitation (1969), a copy of which I’ve been coveting at my local antiquarian bookseller, The Odd Book. (It’s not expensive, I’ve just got a stack of other books to pay off first.) This particular copy was once owned by the New Brunswick poet Douglas Lochhead and includes his marginalia and line numbering. It’s a very handsome title page. I’m particularly fond of the choice and use of colour.

The ornate, William-Morris-influenced title pages found in Dent’s Everyman’s Library series, like this copy of Robert Louis Stevenson’s In the South Seas & Island Nights’ Entertainments, were hand lettered and added a real sense of ceremony to what were otherwise mass-produced objects.

Being typographically inclined, I’ve not employed hand lettering on the title pages of many Gaspereau Press productions. The exceptions are the work of calligrapher Jack McMaster, such as this title page from Harry Thurston’s Broken Vessel (2007).


19 December 2009

Seen in the Wild

Today Soren Bondrup-Nielsen and I participated in the annual Wolfville and Area Christmas Bird Count. We were looking for birds in a territory north-west of Canning, Nova Scotia. In all, we counted about 23 species during the day, most of which are found in Soren’s book, Winter Nature, which he co-authored with Merritt Gibson and which Gaspereau published last fall. (Merritt Gibson was also counting birds in another ‘block’ nearby.) It was a great day, but the count totals were lower than average.

I'm no good identifying gulls. One immature ring-billed gull had even Soren consulting the bird books.

Also spotted this week: A new sign erected in my neighbourhood. Ugh!

Andrew Steeves ¶ Printer & Publisher

18 December 2009

Two Type Designers

Today Rod McDonald, one of this country’s foremost type designers, left the warm serenity of his basement studio at Lake Echo, Nova Scotia, and dropped down to the valley for a visit to the printshop and lunch at the local pub. Before ordering lunch, Rod and I lamented that the pub no longer uses the menus I designed for them several years ago using Rod’s Laurentian typeface; since they changed the menu, the food prices have gone up and the typographic quality has gone down.

We had a sort of typographer's lunch at this pub a few years ago with Rod, Glenn Goluska, Will Rueter, Gary Dunfield and myself. I remember how exasperated the waitress got trying to take drink orders while the bunch of us typophiles were having an animated discussion about how well Rod’s type worked on the menu. “He designed this typeface,” I said to the young woman, thinking this would explain everything. She answered with a blank stare. I guess she'd never thought about where letters came from before.

Rod’s been making letters for a living since the age of 14, when he started working as sign painter. He’s best known in Canada and around the world for his skillfully made digital type families: Cartier Book, his refinement and completion of a typeface begun by Carl Dair; Laurentian, his incredible Garamond-flavoured type originally developed for Maclean’s magazine; and Slate, a sans serif family which functions well in an astonishing range of applications.

Laurentian finds frequent use at Gaspereau Press. Originally designed as a magazine type, Laurentian has turned out to stand up quite well to general use as a text type. A few years ago, with encouragement from Robert Bringhurst and myself, Rod added a set of extended descenders and a more lyrical Q to the character set, additions which I think enriched the type. I've used it to set poetry books (Michael deBeyer's Change in a Razor Backed Season and Johanna Skibsrud's Late Nights with Wild Cowboys), complex works of philosophy (Jan Zwicky's Wisdom & Metaphor and the forthcoming Lyric Philosopy), journals (Parenthesis 15, Atlantic Geology and The Blomidon Naturalists Society Newsletter), and everything in between, from menus to templates for bronze casting. It's one of the sharpest tools in my typographic toolbox.


On the way home I stopped and dug around in the university archives for a while. I ended up looking through a portfolio of sheets printed in Italy during the incunabula. One sheet I was looking over was printed in 1478 by the Venetian punchcutter and printer Nicolas Jenson. What a thrill to discover a small piece of fifteenth-century print heritage here in the small town where I live.

Two superb digital revivals of Jenson’s letterforms are Centaur and Adobe Jenson. Centaur, originally a metal type, works best printed letterpress, but Jenson is built to withstand the demands of modern papers and printing techniques.

So, a good day with type designers from both the fifteenth and the twenty-first centuries.

Andrew Steeves ¶ Printer & Publisher

17 December 2009

Times New Roman – g

Here are two more magnifications I made of characters from the original 10 point metal version of Times New Roman, printed letterpress in a sample book produced by Mackay’s of Chatham. The first image shows the standard issue g and the other shows the rarely used 'long extender' g. Notice the differences between the lower bowls.

Andrew Steeves ¶ Printer & Publisher

Memorial Hall in Letterpress

The new Memorial Hall ornaments I designed earlier this month are getting their first real road test this week, and in letterpress at that. A client asked me to design and print a keepsake of an Emily Dickinson poem, and the ornaments were a good fit for the project. They will be printed in two colours with the text in black.

With photopolymer you execute your design on a computer and then use a high-resolution imagesetter to generate a negative, just as you would for making a plate for offset printing (except wrong-reading, emulsion down).

The text is set Garamont, Jim Rimmer’s digital revival of F.W. Goudy’s Monotype revival of Jean Jannon’s lively, baroque-flavoured, seventeenth-century type (which was mistakenly attributed to Claude Garamond and thus misnamed). When printing letterpress using photopolymer plates, I generally find that typefaces which were actually designed with letterpress printing in mind yield the best results.

This is what the plate looks like before printing. The image area (type) is raised and when mounted on a base and locked into the press it behaves more or less like metal type.

First I have a number of other short printing jobs to complete, like some more jackets for a reprint of Jan Zwicky’s Thirty-seven Small Songs & Thirteen Silences. This cover is printed on one of the great handmade sheets produced by our friends at Saint Armand in Montreal.

Andrew Steeves ¶ Printer & Publisher

16 December 2009

Waltzing Presses

Between other jobs, there was more waltzing with presses today using pallet jacks, dollies and Burke Bars. The little 'Pearl' and a second Vandercook migrated northward in the building and took their new places. One more press to move into the letterpress studio. I can't wait to get the drywall finished so we can build shelves, clean up and get printing and handbinding out here again (and start on the next renovation project).

Andrew Steeves ¶ Printer & Publisher

15 December 2009

Times New Roman

One of my least favorite typefaces for books is perhaps one of the most ubiquitous: Time New Roman. In fairness, there’s nothing particularly wrong with the design of this typeface, if you’re setting newspaper columns in 8 point type that is. It was used to good effect in a a number of books through the twentieth century, but many of the optional sorts that made it more friendly to book setting in its hot metal days are excluded from the digital versions that come with your computer: old-style figures, ligatures and alternate characters with longer descenders for g j p q y in the roman, as well as f in the italic.

A commercial typesetting job I’m working on this week employs Times New Roman, so I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit and tuning up my copies of the font. I pulled out a letterpress-printed sample book produced by the famous British printing house Mackay’s of Chatham and put both regular and extended characters under the microscope for closer examination. Both samples above show 10 point Times New Roman, one with a regular p and one with an extended descender p.

A number of years ago I moved over to a flatscreen monitor. Well, my monitor died this week, so Gary climbed up into the loft and hauled down an old monitor to get me by while we source (and save for) a new flatscreen. What a pig! How did we ever manage to give up so much desk space before? This retro look is not sitting well with me. Notice the Times New Roman samples under the microscope.

In between things, Gary and I continue to renovate the new letterpress area. We took Jack’s Albion Press for a walk today and settled it in a new location. Tomorrow there’s some hammer drilling to do and then we can put up the drywall and hang the door. And there's another vandercook to move yet, and a C&P which will need to be broken down to get through the door from the back shop.

Andrew Steeves ¶ Printer & Publisher

11 December 2009

Letters & Books

I skipped out of the shop an hour early today and stopped in to see my friends at the Esther Clarke Wright Archives at Acadia University. They had an interesting brass telescope on display. I of course noticed the lettering.

The archivist showed me what seems to be a Latin copy of Hartmann Schedel’s Nuremberg Chronicle, printed by Anton Koberger in 1493. This famous piece of incunabula was hidden in plain site for many decades in an odd collection of rarities assembled by William Inglis Morse and donated to Acadia between 1926 and 1931 (other parts of his library went to Dalhousie and Harvard). This book, a history of the world, is famous for its integration of text and illustration. It has over 1800 woodcuts, some extending across page spreads. This copy seems poorly printed at times compared to other sheets from the incunabula period that I have seen, and hand colouring infrequent. If you’d like to see high-resolution images of pages from a fully coloured copy, click here.

Once the special collections room was closed for the evening, I went to the general stacks and found this nice endpaper in a copy of Jack Shadbolt’s Mind’s I; Poems &: Drawings, published by M&S in 1973. I’d guess by the style that it was drawn by M&S house designer Frank Newfield, not Shadbolt.

I made a stop on the way home at my neighbourhood antiquarian bookseller’s, The Odd Book. I took the opportunity to extol the virtues of the understated text and jacket design of a copy of Donald Creighton’s Canada’s First Century, 1867–1967, published by Macmillan of Canada in 1976. Even in a small town, it is possible to find examples of both old and beautiful design if you know where to look and what you are looking for.

09 December 2009

Memorial Hall Borders

In October, I travelled to Fredericton, New Brunswick, for Ross Leckie’s Sixth Annual Poetry Weekend at the University of New Brunswick – or Leckiefest as I’m want to call it. Founded largely by accident, it’s the world’s most down-to-earth and dead-simple literary festival. Readers ranged from Leckie’s promising creative writing students to Griffin Prize winner A.F. Moritz. I met a pile of interesting writers. It was the first time I’d heard Sue Sinclair, Kevin Connolly or Zach Wells read, for example, or met Arc magazine’s Anita Lahey. I wasn't reading, but Gaspereau authors Michael deBeyer and Ross Leckie read, and Halifax poet Matt Robinson read from a letterpress-printed broadsheet he commissioned me to design and print for him. Gaspereau’s long-time proofreader, Christina McRae, was there too, reading from her new book published by Wolsak and Wynn. I can’t say enough good about this folksy little event.

One of the great things about Leckiefest is the venue. The readings were held in Memorial Hall on the campus of the University of New Brunswick. Built in 1924 to honour the 35 UNB Alumni who died in the First World War, Memorial Hall was originally designed as a science building. When my architect friend John Leroux heard that I would be spending the day in Memorial Hall, he raved about it and emphasized that I must check out the stained glass windows. (John, author of Building New Brunswick: An Architectural History, is a bit of an expert on New Brunswick’s built heritage.) And John was absolutely right. It’s an astonishing space. And the stained glass windows inspired me to design a new suite of typographic ornaments. John graciously went back to take some detail photos of the windows for me. This week, I completed a trail version of the font. No doubt I'll use these ornaments in some forthcoming Gaspereau projects.

Also this week, Gary and I, and my son Adam, knocked down some walls in the printshop in order to dedicate more room to letterpress printing. In this renovated space we will install two Vandercook proofing presses, an 1833 Albion press and perhaps a Chandler & Price or Pearl platen press or two, as well as type drawers and the composing stone. Gathering these tools together from various corners of the shop where they are presently dispersed will effectively create a quiet, well-lit letterpress studio – a better place for printing and perhaps eventually for teaching as well.


20 November 2009

Starnino wins the A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry

Gaspereau Press is pleased to announce that Carmine Starnino’s poetry collection, This Way Out has won the A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry.

The A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry is sponsored by Jacques Nolin and awarded by the Quebec Writers’ Federation. The prize is granted each year to an English-language poet residing in the province of Quebec. The award was presented at the Quebec Writers’ Federation’s Awards Gala on November 17, 2009, at the Lion D’or, Montreal.

Carmine Starnino’s latest collection of poems, This Way Out, is full of lyrical escapes, exits and embarkations that set out to measure degrees of belonging and proximity to being at home. With his close attention to sound and ease of comparison, Starnino tries on voices and costumes for size, revisiting his childhood stomping grounds and current neighbourhood bars, reliving teenage haircuts and marvelling at the skill of the local butcher. Counterbalancing his own search for place, Starnino delights in locating in other people and favourite objects their aptitude for simply being themselves.

Carmine Starnino is a poet, essayist, critic and editor of Signal Editions, the poetry imprint at Véhicule Press. His collection, With English Subtitles (GP, 2004), won the A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry and the 2006 Bressani Prize. This Way Out was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award in 2009. Starnino lives in Montreal.

15 November 2009

Wikipedia: Martha saved Letterpress

I got an email this weekend from my buddy Peter Koch, letterpress printer and cultural buckaroo extraordinaire, based in Berkeley, California. Peter directed me to the Wikipedia entry for “Letterpress Printing,” specifically the subsection entitled “The letterpress revival since the 1990s.” The entry says:

Letterpress publishing has recently undergone a revival in the USA, Canada, and the UK, under the general banner of the ‘Small Press Movement’. Interest in Letterpress was fueled initially by Martha Stewart. The use of wedding invitations in her magazine Martha Stewart Weddings, was the first to use pictures of Letterpress invitations in their images. The beauty and texture became appealing to brides who began wanting Letterpress invitations instead of traditional engraved invitations. […] Popular presses are, in particular, Vandercook cylinder proof presses and Chandler & Price platen presses. In the UK there is particular affection for the Halifax, built by Arabs.

Needless to say, I was interested to discover that convicted felon and home decorator Martha Stewart was in fact responsible for ‘fueling’ the revival of letterpress printing. Here I had thought that it had something to do with all the incredible letterpress printers operating round the world (like those, for example, who are involved with the Fine Press Book Association). I also have no idea what a Halifax press looks like, or who these crafty Arabs are who manufacture it. Perhaps Martha can enlighten us in an upcoming issue of Martha Stewart Weddings, a must-read publication for anyone in the letterpress avant-garde.

So in tribute to Martha’s outstanding contribution to letterpress, and Wikipedia's endless potential for jawdropping insipidness, I’m posting one of Peter Koch’s great ephemeral pieces below. Keep your presses rolling, Peter. Some day you may make a contribution equal to Martha's.


12 November 2009

When Winter Fringes Every Bough

Winter’s around the corner, so I took a little time out from a demanding week to print a little broadside of one of Henry Thoreau’s poems on leftover ends of some green St. Armand handmade paper we had kicking around. When you’re tired out and working too fast, slipping a little joyful play between other responsibilities, obvious blunders sometimes slips past you unnoticed – until you’re home by the wood stove, that is. I snorted when I saw the kerning problem between the A and V in ‘David’. You could drive a bus through that gap! Well, whatever. Henry won’t mind. The poem is “When Winter Fringes Every Bough” and you can find a version of it online at the web site of the Walden Woods Project (which is a very worthwhile project, indeed).

Speaking of Thoreau, Gary Dunfield made the first 50 sheets of handmade paper for the jackets of our long-overdue letterpress edition of Thoreau’s essay Walking. We hope to have some copies of the paperback version in circulation before Christmas (given that the title pages state that it was published in 2008).