31 March 2009

In Our Library

In the process of learning the craft of printing and publishing, Gaspereau Press has gradually been acquiring (surprise) books. From time to time we’ll use this blog to give you a peek into our modest though eclectic library.

One of the rarer volumes in our library is a copy of A Dictionary of the Art of Printing, written by William Savage and published at London in 1841 by Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans. The printer was A. Spottiswoode, New-Street-Square. Arranged alphabetically, this book is a collection of practical facts and historical background on everything the nineteenth-century printer might wish to know. Covering topics ranging from the practical (casting-off, page imposition, mechanics, hyphenation rules) to the arcane (the Doomsday Book, Rose Engines) to the exotic (composition rules for Hebrew or Sanskrita), the book remains a valuable a tool for students of fine printing as well as the print historians.

If you can’t lay your hands on a copy, the contents of this book may be found on Google Book Search:


20 March 2009

The First Day of Spring

The first day of spring! And we’re getting close to the release dates for some of our spring 2009 titles. Most of the books are now progressing through the production line, some on press, some in sheets, some sewn, some bound. This time of year it’s hard to find a flat surface in the printshop that isn’t piled up with paper which is in some state of becoming a book. This week, as well as tidying up the last few details on the text of Anne Simpson’s essay collection The Marram Grass, I also used the Vandercook 219 letterpress in my office to print a few book jackets for spring titles and an invitation to our upcoming Spring Poetry Tra-la at Ben McNally Books in Toronto. That is, when I wasn’t busy crushing cupcakes. —AS

18 March 2009

Gaspereau Press celebrates the 100th Anniversary of the Vandercook Printing Press

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the invention and trial run of the Vandercook Printing Press.

While others will be waiting until May (to coincide with the first recorded sales of this fabulous little machine), we here in Kentville prefer to get our cake on now.

And so do our proofing presses.

10 March 2009


Gaspereau Press publisher Gary Dunfield on some of his favourite things

I love machines. I love equipment. I love tools. I love them in all shapes and sizes. I love old ones, I love new ones, from the 80-year-old monotype caster we bought for $15.00 on eBay to the iPod Nano I just got my wife. I love electronics, mechanical devices, computers and even simple tools that allow you to do a job, or to do a job better.

Last week I made 163 sheets of paper using a system – or a machine, if you like – that I assembled and built. It is a very simple system. I also made a couple of photopolymer plates. I exposed the plates using a light source that I built from an old fluorescent fixture, and then washed them out in an old film developer tray with a brush. Today I will case bind some books. The tools I will use for this are quite simple … some of them I built or modified myself.

While I may sometimes sound like one, I am hardly a Luddite. In addition to all the other things I did today, I also made some changes to a piece of software I am writing (an accounting package), put a toner cartridge in our copier and solved a problem on our offset press – with two small pieces of tape. We have a shop full of equipment, including some wonderful pieces of machinery. The Heidelberg KORD presses we run are magnificent. The copier is an adequate piece of equipment. The computers I use are interesting, but getting to be a bit old.

Let me tell you about the monotype. This is a particularly remarkable machine. It casts pieces of lead type for printing. The type it casts runs from cross section of a match stick and a little less than an inch long to maybe a 1/4 inch square and the same length. This machine was very important in the book trade as it meant you could cast text for the book quickly, accurately, fully justified and efficiently. There are actually two devices – a keyboard that produces a punched ribbon – a four-inch-wide paper tape containing instructions about what character, how wide and in what order to cast the type. The second machine reads the ribbon and produces the type – at a rate of something like 80 to 100 individual pieces of type a minute. What amazes me about this system is that it is driven by an air compressor, a motor and a heater. There are no electronics, nothing digital, no relays, and no switches. This machine was built so that that it could run from a gas heater and a belt drive and some compressed air. The belt drive could be driven by a water wheel if you wished – as could the compressor. All timing and control of what happened when was determined by cams and wheels. We don't build machines this way anymore. It is cheaper and simpler to build them with electronics.

So, why the obsession with machines and equipment and tools? Printers and therefore publishers (at least those who do their own printing) are dependent on tools and machines. Our shop is full of equipment; presses, imagesetters, film developers, plate burners, plate developers, folders, cutters, casters, sewers, perfect binders, foil stampers, tools to fix the machines, equipment to test the machines, tools to build the tools! We modify equipment (we have the only Sulby Mark II Perfect Binder I know of with a special modification to produce loose-back perfect-bound books). We build equipment. We cannibalize equipment.

The problem with machines is that there is no end to them. I make photopolymer plates with equipment that cost me about $100. The timer is an old darkroom timer that was bought at a yard sale (it had been used to time hockey games in Hillsborough, NB) – $5.00. Now if you ask the guys who sell you photopolymer plates how to make them, they will tell you that you have to buy a photopolymer plate processor. They start at $5,000. If I made 20 plates a day I would get one, because standing that long over a sink, washing out plates, would drive me batty. But we make four or five a month on average, so it’s a good tradeoff.

What is the point of all this equipment? Making things. In our case, making books. Designing, printing and binding books. Given the number of operations that have to be performed in order to turn paper into a book, you need a lot of equipment. The temptation is to have to have the most recent, the best, the biggest and the most expensive tool to do each job. This is not always possible, of course, so it then becomes a question of trade offs. What will do the job, at the right cost, the right size and with right level of labour involved. And so we have a mix of old, new, simple, complex, homemade and store-bought. And I get to keep it all running.

04 March 2009

Winter Nature at the Berwick Library

It was a packed house this past weekend at the Berwick Library where nature enthusiasts joined Merritt Gibson, Twila Robar-Decoste and Soren Bondrup-Nielsen for a presentation about their book Winter Nature: Common Mammals, Birds, Trees and Shrubs of the Maritimes. Freezing rain scuttled plans for a guided winter walk, but luckily the Winter Nature gang came prepared with plenty of slides and a few carefully collected specimens.