Building a collection of books, artifacts and ephemeral can not only be a scholarly endeavor but a personal love that lasts a lifetime. Often these collections find homes in academic and public libraries as gifts from the collectors. They are valuable archives that will not diminish in value as the world digitizes. In fact, their value increases as digitized collections can be used without the expense of traveling to where the collections are housed. But it cannot be ignored that viewing a beautiful binding with one’s own eyes, or feeling the pages of handmade paper cannot be replaced by images. The art of collecting books, and all things related to those books, is a needed one. To support this effort several organizations have joined (list of links below) to sponsor the National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest recognizes college and university students for their work in book collecting in and effort to “encourage young collectors to become accomplished bibliophiles”. Several Universities and colleges support their own competitions with the winners then representing those institutions in the national event. The National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest rules state: “A collection should reflect a clearly defined unifying theme or interest. It may incorporate ephemera, maps, prints, autograph material as well as books, either hard cover or paperback, as long as they are germane to the collection’s focus. How well a collection reflects the collector’s intent is more significant than either the number of items or the monetary value of the collection.” (rules)
Be it to supplement the text, or serve as the focus of the story, illustrations are one of the highlights of book design. Book illustrations often come from fine art in the form of watercolors, oil paintings, graphite drawings, photography, or other fine arts mediums. Today, illustrations may be composed digitally as vector or bitmap graphics. An image is reproduced in a book by means of an image carrier created during the prepress process. The process used to create the image carrier depends on whether a book is to be printed in one, two, four, or more colors, and the type of press it is to be printed on. Contemporary commercial book production using offset lithography, will begin with scanning the image for execution as either a half tone for one color printing, or a color separation in cyan, magenta, yellow and black (CMYK) plates for a full color image.
Letterpress printing requires relief or intaglio printing methods. Relief printing includes woodcuts, wood engravings, linocuts, or raised polymer plates. Woodcuts, grace incunabula books, and continued to dominate book illustration until Thomas Bewick (1753-1828) introduced wood engraving; the cutting of the end of the block of wood, instead of the plank side. Intaglio printmaking, creates an elegant image with rich and precise lines. Intaglio prints are made by engraving, a means of carving into a metal plate that delivers sharp lines with crisp details, or etching, where acid is used to bite into the metal plate, leaving a clean line, but not with the same level of sharpness as engraving. Different types of metal plates are used for these processes. Durable steel plates were common in the 19th century for good quality book illustrations. They produced excellent images, and yielded a large numbers of prints before the plate would break down and loose quality. The number of prints produced from a plate is known as an edition in the fine arts. Printing presses yield runs, that is, the number of sheets printed off the press. When a book is referred to as a limited edition, it means that particular book was part of a short run of special books, often designed with special illustrations rendered by a notable artist and produced with the finest quality printing methods.
Block Books (scroll to bottom and view some of the texts)
Letterpress Metal Printing Blocks
“I must, before I die, create the type for today of ‘The Book Beautiful’ and actualize it – paper, ink, writing, printing, ornament and binding. I will learn to write, to print and to decorate.” T. J. Cobden-Sanderson
At the turn of the 20th Century, T J Cobden-Sanderson (1840-1922) and Emery Walker (1851-1933) founded the Doves Press in Hammersmith, England. Cobden-Sanderson known for his stunning bookbinding also marks his place in typographic history for the act of “bequeathing” the Dove’s types into the River Thames. While the dispute between the ownership of the Dove’s type between Cobden-Sanderson and Walker lead to its reproductive demise, the art of this type set to paper is still to be seen in the handsome Dove’s press books.
The Dove’s type is based on the 15th-century types of Venetian printers, Nicholas Jenson (1420-1480) and Jacobus Rubeus (ca. 1400s). Jenson’s letters are considered the final step in evolving from blackletter to the roman letterform, an improvement in legibility that is credited as a major advancement in the distribution of knowledge. Jenson’s letters are to be the basis for not only for the Dove’s type, but William Morris’s Golden type, and, often cited as one of the best book fonts, American designer Bruce Rogers’ (1870-1957) Centaur type as well.
Rogers’s was working as a free-lance designer and assisting Henry Watson Kent, secretary of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, at the Museum Press from 1913-1916. It was during this period that Rogers designed the Centaur type to which the Museum held certain rights. The Oxford Lectern Bible, designed by Rogers’ in 1935 uses the Centaur type with all the “grandeur of its conception, in its classic severity without ornamentation”. It is the grace of the Centaur letterforms, surrounded by the elegance of unadorned paper – a cappella, that makes the pages of this book a typographic masterpiece.
To truly appreciate an art, it is wise to study the mechanics behind its execution. The art of typography begins with a high degree of study on the working principles of letterforms. The process then continues according to the technology of the time, but begins, as it has for centuries, with the designer’s original drawings. The designer must consider not just the individual letters, but how they fit together to form words, the extra characters, such as ligatures, numbers, fractions that are needed for the individual alphabets and the members of the new type’s family. Once designed, it is up to the composer, or designer, to layout the type into pages. Here leading, letterspacing, kerning, hierarchy and other design components come together to translate the author’s ideas to the reader.
Books exist to be read. They are vassals for the author’s words. Type is the most important element in this vessel. How the type is designed, how it bites into, or sits on, the paper and the way it is arranged on the page are the components that combine to make it an enjoyable experience for the reader. This art, the art of typography, is often invisible to the reader. That is, if it is done well – for “typography exists to honor content”. 1
1 Bringhurst, Robert. The Elements of Typographic Style. 3.1rd ed. Vancouver: Hartley & Marks, 2005.
Joshua Heller Rare Books, Inc.
The Doves Press Bible
Manuale Tipografico (1818)
Bruce Rogers Collection
Adobe Type Library
Typography for Lawyers
What is Typography
Audio Interview – Ladies not allowed!
Bixler Type Foundery
The papermaking process is fundamentally the same since the invention of paper in 105 A.D. Plant fibers go through the process of BEATING, a means of pulverizing the fibers in preparation for casting. CASTING, uses a wood frame and metal screen, to pull the paper sheet from the slurry made with water and the pulverized fibers. The cast is then COUCHED, removed from the mold to absorbent blotters. The final step, PRESS DRYING, uses pressure to flatten the wet sheets. Modern papermaking technology began in the 19th century with the Fourdrinier papermaking machine. As with type, faster methods of production needed for distribution to larger markets came with the industrial revolution. (machine paper production video) (handmade paper production video) Handmade papers, with lovely deckle edges and artistic watermarks, are still used in special, or limited edition books. These collectible books can demand prices in the five-figure range depending on the quality of paper, printing, binding, and design utilized, while a commercial edition of the same book will use materials and production methods that keep the cost much lower. Finer books are printed on letterpress or offset presses with individual sheets of paper, while commercial printings often employ large web presses that use economical roles of house paper made specifically for these presses. The evolution of paper technology directly relates to printing technology. Better paper leads to higher quality printing and new refined type forms. The finish, watermark and materials used to generate a sheet of paper speak a language that translates the author’s words, identifies the book’s history and character. Paper may be one of the elements that protects the book, as we know it, from the approaching ebook. Just as we feel more connected to digital tablets and smart phones with touch technology, so do we connect to the feel of paper as we hold a book in our hands and turn the pages.
750 years of beautiful paper
Dard Hunter Mill
Papermaker and paper historian
History of Papermaking
Watermarks in Incunabula
Click browse motifs
Vandercook Proof Press
A popular letterpress found in many letterpress shops today.
A Short Letterpress Documentary
Beautiful video that explains the process of letterpress printing. Full of terms on printing and type. If you watch only one video on this page, watch this one.
Making Books A 1947 documentary on printing commercial books produced by Encyclopedia Britannica Films in collaboration with The Library of Congress.
This link is an example of contemporary offset lithography commercial eight color sheet fed printing press. If your book is printed after 1960, it is most likely printed with offset lithography.
Stereotyping & Electrotyping
by Frederick John Farlow Wilson, John Southward
Moxon’s Mechanick Exercises: Or, The Doctrine of Handy-works Applied to the Art of Printing, Volume 1
by by Joseph Moxon with Preface and Notes by Theo. L. De Vinne 1896. De Vinne’s reprinting of Moxon’s famous 1683 work.
Moxon’s Mechanick Exercises: Or, The Doctrine of Handy-works Applied to the Art of Printing, Volume 2
by by Joseph Moxon with Preface and Notes by Theo. L. De Vinne 1896. De Vinne’s reprinting of Moxon’s famous 1683 work.
Makers of polymer plates for use with contemporary letterpresses instead of metal and wood type and blocks.
Bookplates are small printed papers tipped into the front of books that indicate ownership. Historically, they are designed by artist to the specifications of a library or book collector and produced using fine art printing methods such as engraving. Bookplates are works of art in their own right and highly collectable. Private collections, as well as library collections exist. Academic and public libraries may commission designs for bookplates for their general or special collections, or may something as simple as a rubber stamp. Bookplates from private libraries add special provenance to a book. These plates can be designed not only by famous artists, but prove the ownership of the book to a special person thus making that copy highly collectable. Society of bookplate collectors in the United States and across the world regularly hold exhibitions and exchange plates to share with other collectors as well as find special plates needed to complete their collections.
Other types of provenance cannot only raise the interest of a particular copy of a book, but its value as well. Aside from a bookplate, also referred to as ex-libris, simple penciled words from a previous owner can relate a most interesting history. Provenance can include heraldic marks painted into medieval books, booksellers’ codes, book labels and stamps, special binding features, and items inserted within the book. Auction catalogs and book dealer’s catalog descriptions are valuable tools for researching provenance. May I also suggest David Pearson’s book, Provenance Research in Book History: A Handbook, published by the British Library and Oak Knoll Press. Researching a book’s provenance can put us into the heart of solving an intoxicating mystery with fascinating discoveries.
Bookplates at Yale
“Particularly in the late 19th and early 20th century, bookplates were prized for their aesthetic value as miniature prints. With no intention of affixing them to books, individuals began to commission bookplates solely as a means to collect, organize, exhibit, and exchange them as works of art.”
[Your Name Here]: The Ex-Libris and Image Making
An exhibition held in the Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library
Bookplates at the Pratt Institute
The Ex Libris Collection consists of nineteenth- and twentieth-century bookplates from private and institutional libraries. The plates feature finely detailed engraving and etching, and serve as outstanding examples of period book art and typography.
Bookplates at the New York Public Library
“Born in 1879, Sanger came of age during the heyday of the Comstock Act, a federal statute that criminalized contraceptives. Margaret Sanger believed that the only way to change the law was to break it.” (PBS)
Bookplates at The Victoria and Albert Museum
“This plate was designed by Charles William Sherborn, who was a founding member and vice-president of the Ex Libris Society. This group of enthusiastic bookplate collectors was a precursor of The Bookplate Society, which still holds regular meetings in London. A portrait of Mr. Ashbee can be seen between an image of an ash tree and an actual bee – a clever visual reference to his name.”
Bookplates at The Houghton Library
“The bookplate collection at Houghton Library comprises over 20,000 individual plates, from book collectors and libraries all over the world.”