This post begins with the discovery of a copy of Image: 5 from a secondhand bookseller in Sydney, Australia last month. The issue was devoted to English wood engraving and contains many fine examples of the craft. But I am less interested in that than in the man who edited the journal (and before that Alphabet & Image) - Robert Harling (1910 – 2008). Obituaries at the time of his passing make note of his relationship with Ian Fleming, both men sharing a passion for life and literature: Fleming secured, if that’s the right word, a job for Harling in the second world war, later using him as a character in one of his novels (The Spy Who Loved Me). Harling also turned his hand to fiction publishing several novels based on what was then Fleet Street, the centre of the newspaper industry in the UK. Later he worked with the renowned Sunday Times editor Harold Evans.
But it’s Harling as a typographer that I wish to write. He knew Eric Gill, visiting him at Pigotts (see here for a blog on that place) and commissioning articles for the precursor to Alphabet & Image, Typography. Hence, he was a perfect fit to write that wonderful book The Letter Forms And Type Designs Of Eric Gill, published in 1976, an expanded version of pieces published first in Alphabet & Image.
Not that Harling was an uncritical devotee. In an article printed in The Penrose Annual XXXIX (1937) he writes of Gill’s Kayo: ‘Kayo is a dismal type. In the hands of a skilful typographer it could probably be made to do a good-hearted, gargantuan job very well. In the hands of jobbing printers scattered throughout England it will be just plain MURDER. The type was originally named Double Elefans, which had a very pleasant touch of the lampoon about it. The new name, Kayo, is too horribly truthful. It will be popular from John o’Groat’s to Land’s End, but it will be a return to the popularity of the types of Thorne and Thorowgood in that grim mid-nineteenth century. Typographical historians of 2000 AD (which isn’t, after all, so very far away) will find this odd outburst in Mr Gill’s career, and will spend much time in attempting to track down this sad psychological state of his during 1936.’
…and with a nod to a more famous, if less morally coherent place on the west coast of the USA.
The standing letters, about 1.5m tall, celebrate the opening of a new art gallery near me, named after Margaret Olley (1923-2011). The gallery, part of the Tweed Regional Gallery, in northern NSW, Australia, was officially opened last week to much fanfare – a speech by the Governor-General no less, who had known the artist for many decades and spoke movingly of the artist, her life and her work. As this is not an art blog I will leave you to seek out more on Olley, but click here as a good starting point.
In this digital age the use of ink is ever restricted, putting aside that used in Biro’s and the like. By ink I mean that liquid which is put into a fountain pen, or, as described by M. Therese Fisher (The Calligrapher’s Handbook, Faber and Faber, 1983): ‘It must be freely flowing, and be even in colour. It should have a grittiness rather than a stickiness. It should be non-corrosive, non-posinious, not easily erased and non-fermentable’.
According to Fisher there are two ways to make ink. Firstly, mix gum with lamp-black; secondly, treat salts of iron with tannic acid. The latter fades to brown, the former is permanent and does not change in colour.
The Chinese had a method for the preparation of lamp-black. They used distilled water, or rainwater, which was poured over the lamp-black made from the ‘incomplete combustion of oils’. Apparently kept for three years is ideal, rubbing frequently with the hand to preserve the polish.
For Indian ink try this 1825 recipe: ‘Put six lighted wicks in a dish of oil, hang an iron or tin concave cover over it so as to receive all the smoke; when there is a sufficient quantity of soot settled to the cover, then take it off gently with a feather upon a sheet of paper, and mix it with gum tragacanth to a proper consistency. Note: the dearest oil makes the finest soot, consequently the best ink.’
Last week I chanced across a first edition of Rogers’s Paragraphs on Printing at a secondhand bookstore in Sydney, Australia. This was a wonderful discovery, though I was impressed at the size and range of books on printing, typography and bibliography at this shop.
I have had a Dover reprint of this book for many years so was familiar with the contents but the ‘real deal’ was a delight to hold and handle. As I took the book home with me I wondered how long it had remained in this store, how long had it been since it had seen sunlight on its covers. I reflected that I was liberating the book from its imprisonment, giving it a new lease. However, this particular store is not long for this place. It is closing, and all books there were at half the price that had been carefully inscribed in a 2B pencil on the flyleaf. (I’ll let you into a secret – the original price for Rogers was 100 Australian dollars.)
My delight at finding this volume was tempered later by the realisation that yet another secondhand bookshop is going, in this case the owner is taking the contents online. Now, I may be old-fashioned but browsing a bookshop, let alone one that sells a pot-pourri of books just ain’t the same online. I love the randomness of secondhand stores, the fact that despite the efforts of the staff to place their charges in some order you yet may stumble upon a curiosity, a treasure, something that you’d never find elsewhere in this ordered, well-mannered world.
Today paper is taken for granted. It is cheap, readily available (despite predictions three decades ago about the ‘paperless office’) and durable – mostly. Not so in the 15th century.
I take these comments from Drawing in Early Renaissance Italy by Francis Ames-Lewis (Yale UP, 1981) who notes that paper had been in production since 1276 at Fabriano (of course paper had been produced in China long before then – during the Han dynasty, c BCE200-200AD), and which by the mid-forteenth century had become one of Europe’s leading centres.
The invention of printing by moveable type in Europe triggered the expansion of paper making but prices were high since the raw material continued (until the 18th centre) to be cotton. Ames-Lewis observes that ‘in the 15th century good quality paper cost about one-sixth the price of parchment…[and] the cost of paper was a surprisingly high proportion of the total cost of book production. For the edition of 1,025 copies of Ficino’s translation of the complete works of Plato, printed in Florence in 1483, the paper cost between 120-160 florins, whereas all the printing costs came to only 90 florins.’
Her reference is to paper as used by draughtsmen and I would be interested to learn of references to paper and printing in that period.