The following note appears in the Playbill for the Mostly Mozart Festival’s production of The Dark Mirror: Zender’s Winterreise , an orchestrated version of Schubert’s Winterreise with a lot of dramatic black and white projected images and film, sung by Ian Bostridge.

A note on the projected typeface

In projecting text for live performance, font or typeface becomes a storytelling tool. In The Dark Mirror, we are projecting English translations of a German poem. Typeface in German is fraught with politics and subjectivity more than in most other languages, where medieval blackletter typefaces like the German Fraktur were replaced by the much more legible Antiqua typefaces as early as the 16th century. In Germany, the gothic script Fraktur coexisted with Antiqua fonts until the second world war. For some, the ornate Fraktur lettering was the only truly national typeface. “Grotesque,” or early sans-serif typefaces, emerged in the early 19th century and quickly became popular as easy to read, specifically at a distance. Two Grotesque fonts have become embedded into the design of The Dark Mirror: Akzidenz-Grotesk, a typeface released by the Berthold Type Foundry in Berlin in 1896, and Grotesque No. 9, the typeface employed by the iconoclastic British Vorticist magazine BLAST, published only twice, in 1914 and 1915.

Well, it’s nice to see type being taken so seriously, though the story we’re given here is so soft-focussed as to be almost meaningless. I dare say two faces were used, though I only noticed one. The justification for dragging in the Grotesk, is rather lost by the omission of the more interesting synonym for sans serif — Gothic — which ties back more dramatically to the Fraktur story. Fraktur did survive longer in Germany than elsewhere, but it was by no means an exclusively German phenomenon. Look at Caxton’s work. To describe Antiqua faces (the general descriptive name we give to what we’d think of as ordinary typefaces) as “much more legible” demands the comeback “Yes, more legible to Antiqua readers, but not to black letter readers I’m sure”. It’s a bit reminiscent of those primate researchers who’d use human faces in testing chimpanzee facial recognition abilities, because human faces differ so much.

As to whether sans serif type is really easier to read, whether from close to or from a distance, the jury’s still out. The texts at this concert were undeniably easy to read, though I suspect that this was because they were nicely large, rather than because they were set in Akidenz-Grotesk.

Here’s a trailer from the earlier London performance.

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This is Shelf Awareness‘ story from 1 August, 2017:

PBS will launch the Great American Read, an eight-part television series and nationwide campaign that “explores the joy of books and the power of reading, told through the prism of America’s 100 best-loved books, chosen by the public.” The initiative is designed to “spark a national conversation about reading and the books that have inspired, moved and shaped us.”

In addition to the PBS series, the Great American Read will feature community reading programs and special events, and a range of digital and social media initiatives. The series will include testimonials from notable figures in the entertainment, sports, news and literary worlds, and culminate in the first-ever national vote to choose “America’s Best-Loved Book.”

The Great American Read launches in spring 2018 with a multi-platform digital and social campaign leading up to the reveal of the 100 books selected by the American public and an advisory panel of literary professionals. Beginning with a two-hour kick-off event in May, the documentary special will feature appearances by celebrities and everyday Americans passionately advocating for and explaining their personal connections to their favorite books.

Voting and social media engagement will continue throughout summer, with six episodes of the series exploring the nominated books through various themes, including “Being American,” “Heroes,” “Growing Up,” “What We Do for Love” and more. PBS stations will partner with local organizations and booksellers to activate and inspire the next generation of readers through library, education and community initiatives. Moving toward autumn, voting will close and America’s top 10 books will be revealed, counting down to America’s Best-Loved in the final episode of the series in September.

“The time is right for this nationwide reading initiative that will encourage conversations and complementary activities in communities across the country. We can’t wait to see what America chooses,” said Beth Hoppe, PBS chief programming executive & general manager, general audience programming.

“The Great American Read will speak to all Americans,” added Jane Root, CEO of TV production company Nutopia. “These books tell our story, explore our passions and celebrate the depth and range of our culture. Which book will win? I don’t know, but I’m super excited to follow the journey and find out.”

This sounds promising. Of course “best” lists don’t mean much, but the process of discussion (and invitation to think) are likely to do much good.

Here’s a Publishers Weekly story, and the PBS press release announcing the series. (Can’t decide what “(w.t.)” means. Can’t be working title surely, can it?) The Publishers Weekly story clarifies how the initial list of 100 books has been chosen; it was “chosen through a demographically representative survey of ordinary Americans conducted via YouGov, a polling organization. Based on the question ‘What is your best-loved novel?,’ the YouGov survey produced a list of 1,200 titles.” This list was then whittled down by “a volunteer panel of ‘respected industry professionals including heads of not-for-profit literary organizations, educators, a librarian and members of the literary press,'” So all you’re going to get to vote for is the order in which these 100 “best books” should be ranked. Better than nothing I suppose. Let’s hope folks join in.

Louis-Nicholas Robert (also known as Nicholas-Louis) was the first to make a paper-making machine, which he patented in Paris in 1799. It made a continuous roll of paper by using a paddle-wheel to scoop pulp up onto a wire mesh where it was drained and then compacted by rollers in the press section. But Robert was unable to develop the machine, and the scene of action moved from France to England, where two London stationers, Henry and Sealy Fourdrinier invested £31,830/16/4 in a vain attempt to commercialize the concept. After they went bankrupt the idea was taken up by Bryan Donkin who in 1804 built the world’s first practical paper machine at Two Waters Mill in Hertford.

The Fourdrinier’s return on their huge investment was the immortality of having the machine named after them. After development the Fourdrinier machine, which is still the workhorse of the paper industry, operates as shown in this exploded diagram.

(Both illustrations are taken from J. H. Ainsworth’s quaint Paper: The Fifth Wonder*, Thomas Printing & Publishing Co. Ltd, 1959.)

The pulp in the head box is in a solution of 97% water, and flows out through the Slice, an adjustable opening allowing thicker or thinner paper to be made. Fibers released onto the Wire will want to align themselves in the direction of the flow so the whole unit is shaken a bit from side to side so that some of the fibers end up overlapping one another thus increasing the strength of the bonds. The Wire extends from the Breast roll to the Couch roll (pronounced “cooch” in the paper world) with Table rolls and Suction boxes between them promoting drainage. When the paper leaves the Wire it is still 80% water and the Presses compact it and force out more water, getting it down to 60% or 70% water when it jumps over to the Dryers where heated felts evaporate off more water. In the Calendar stacks the paper is ironed by slippage between rollers, then wound up on the Reel and rewound to desired lengths and widths by the Winder.

Here’s a 4 minute video of Kraft paper (brown paper) being made on a huge Fourdrinier.

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For what came before, please see  four earlier posts “Paper making by hand”, the first of which can be found here.


* For those who want to know, the other four wonders are motor vehicles, meat, steel, and petroleum. Mr Ainsworth has ranked his wonders in U.S. sales volume at 1959’s values.

The University of Iowa has produced a dynamic map showing the spread of printing across Europe between 1450 and 1500. Click the Animate button then the Spread of printing button, and watch fifty years of expansion. You can do this with the other categories too.

This was brought to our attention through the American Historical Association’s site in a piece about getting started in Book History.

Do we really have to face the translation of everything into money? We may wish we could keep bookshops as places where we can look at books and buy them when we are inspired, but, in the real world, bookselling is a business, and profit is necessary. We all know that costs mount, especially as rents just keep rising — as they must in response to the laws of capitalism. Sure capitalism may have done us all a lot of good, but can’t anyone come up with a modification which would mean “good” things get a break? Or are we doomed to see all retail outlets operated by merchants of international schmattes?

Peter Glassman, owner of Books of Wonder has just announced the opening of a new store on West 84th Street in addition to their original location on West 18th Street. The New York Times quotes him “Given the rise in retail rents along 18th Street, I am not optimistic about our ability to renew the lease”, so the new second store is there as an insurance against the first one’s having to close. Just walk along New York streets and you’ll encounter a surprisingly large number of shuttered stores. (I guess real estate people take tax write-offs against their losses from empty buildings — they certainly don’t seem to be in any hurry to re-rent. Increases of 3 or 4 times the current rent are being proposed on lease renewals. Surely this can’t be sustainable.) The Mayor of New York City is seized of the problem. Hasn’t figured out what to do about commercial rents, but does recognize that having all the little shops shut down because they can’t afford to pay the rent is not “a good thing”. We just had an announcement that the City will now pay for legal representation for tenants faced with eviction from their apartment by landlords — previously a very uneven playing field. This expense will apparently be more than balanced by reductions in the cost of providing housing the homeless after the landlords have thrown them out.

People power can help. In our neighborhood we recently “saved” our local supermarket whose lease had been gazumped by a chain pharmacy. We all turned out on the street in front of the store; local politicians got involved; and eventually the pharmacy accepted that bad publicity didn’t really work; so we have our supermarket, for the next few years at least. I don’t know if we could turn out impressive enough crowds for a bookstore though! Still, somehow bookstores are still opening. Maybe some of those landlords are getting fed up with keeping properties empty. We obviously need to reinforce this behavior by changing the tax deduction for losses of this kind.

Why is it that landlords are the only ones who appear to be guaranteed to make money? (And this is a problem which long predates our current administration led by an über-landlord!) We all know that they are not making any more real estate; quite the opposite I fear. I suppose there’s no way to get to a world where land is a public good. As far as I can figure it, nobody has any basic right (other than force majeure) to own land. Just because your great-great-great, etc., etc., etc, grandfather bought it or even worse just beat everyone else to the punch, killed off all contenders, and grabbed the land in your home valley should not, in any sensible ethical scheme, allow you to collect rent from me for settling on a small bit of that valley floor. Calls for the socialization of land tenure are unlikely to meet with any kind of positive response, but at least let us allow it to flit through our mind. We need to consider for whose benefit this whole game is for, and whether that’s as it should be.

Jonathan Pie (a socially alert commentator portrayed by comedian Tom Watson) as usual hits it radically on the nose. Sensitive ears may want to be aware that his outspokenness includes lots of cuss-words. For non-Brits: Swan Vestas is a brand of matches.

If you see no video here, please click on the title of this post so you can read it in your browser.


CutStar is a new name for a phenomenon we used to have to describe as having a sheeter at the front end of the press. Here is Printing Industries of America‘s take on it. As it is cheaper to buy paper in rolls rather than sheets, and usually cheaper to print shorter runs on a sheet-fed press, the idea that economies might be achieved by sheeting on press began to grow in popularity in the later years of the 20th century. CutStar, a Heidelberg trade name, integrates this into the press giving you the flexibility of sheet-fed printing. The PIA description implies that, by disconnecting the cutter unit, the press can be used as a web press for longer runs.

As usual, if you don’t see a video here, click on the title of this post in order to view it in your browser.

I find these freakishly amazing. They are printed from electrotypes made from the original wood blocks, and come from Dahl & Sinnott, 308 Pearl Street, Hartford, Connecticut.

From Printing Art, Vol. 35, 1920

From Printing Art, Vol. 35, 1920

It is almost unbelievable that someone could cut this sort of detail in wood. (Click to enlarge the illustration so you can see the detail.)

See the recent post Wood engraving or woodcut.


Most of us in publishing spend little time thinking about the contracts with authors which form the basis of our stock in trade.

Many publishers use a standard contract, adding any peculiar issues as additional clauses at the end. Big trade books will tend to have contracts negotiated clause by clause by publisher and agent. These will usually cover only a license to publish — in various specified editions. A university press on the other hand may “buy” the copyright from the author in return for royalty payments or a fee. In crude terms this just reflects the relative value of a bestselling novel and an academic monograph. Effectively it means that when the book goes out of print, publishing rights will probably revert to the author in the trade world, while the copyright remains with the academic publisher. An academic publisher will rarely refuse to revert copyright upon being asked though. The arrival of print-on-demand production has affected this part of the contract: if the book never becomes unavailable, rights need never revert. Agents are no doubt tying reversion to a rate of sale now.

You should remember (because we all know this don’t we) that you should always read your contract and would be wise to get legal advice on it. You never know when your book is going to go viral, so think about rights you may be casually giving up. What looks anodyne today may turn out to be a big pain tomorrow. Hergé apparently assigned publishing rights to his work to his publisher in 1942, and this has cast into doubt millions of dollars-worth of merchandising rights. The Digital Reader has the story. As Tintin was first created in 1929, Hergé (1907-83) doesn’t have the excuse that he was a young writer unaware of future demand for his works. Maybe he needed to raise cash in a hurry.

There’s a great deal of aggro in the self-publishing/indie community about the iniquity of publishers and their rapacious contracts. But every deal is a negotiation, and it’s up to authors to keep negotiating if they are unhappy with some of the terms. Sure the power balance favors the publisher: all the more reason to bargain hard. Publishers really have no incentive to be so hard-nosed that they alienate every one of their authors. After all, at the end of the day there are always other publishers, including potentially yourself. Any publisher’s editor will be expected to sign a certain number of books each year: they, as individuals, cannot afford to allow every negotiation to end in acrimony. Sure they’ll push for the most favorable deal they can get: so should the author.

The Authors Guild currently has an initiative under way aimed at revising several of the boilerplate clauses that publishers typically import into their contracts. It stands to reason that standard contracts need to be revised from time to time as new technologies and distribution options alter the shape of our business. Publishers can I think be relied on eventually to respond to market forces, and change clauses in their standard contract which no longer make sense. Much of the frustration in the indie community stems, I think, from the slow pace of change. This may not be desirable, but is surely understandable, especially in cases where the clause needing change is one which benefits the publisher! What looks like rapaciousness is all too often laziness and incompetence. Still, why should an aggrieved author feel better about laziness than greed?

from Chicago Tribune

Walker Rumble’s The Swifts: Printers in the Age of Typesetting Races (University of Virginia Press, 2003) is an odd publication. Its main focus is on the weird phenomenon of races between hand typesetters. (Rapid typesetters were apparently referred to a swifts.) These races were put on in the sort of place, commoner in the second half of the nineteenth century, now represented by Ripley’s Believe It or Not, or Madame Tussaud’s, and appear to have drawn large crowds. Betting on the speed of a hand typesetter had long been a feature of in-house work-time entertainment in print shops: this development pulled it out into a public forum and naturally did nothing to reduce the betting.

Speed of setting was obviously an important factor in the efficiency of a newspaper. Getting pages printed was no problem on their power presses, but you had to have type to print there: and there were limits to the number of people you could hire. Not only was there a limited number of journeymen out there, but training, all via apprenticeship, was controlled by the union. In a ten-hour day the average journeyman would set (and correct) about 7,000 ems, 700 an hour. At a rate of 1,500 ems an hour, which most compositors would achieve in spurts, their hand would be reaching into the typecase at a rate of 4,000 times per hour. Very fast workers might reach back and forth from case to stick seven or eight times every five seconds. William C. Barnes, one of the last of the champion racers before technology took over and hand setting was superseded, managed 2000 ems an hour in the heats for the 1886 national typesetting championship in Chicago. He would also set blindfold and with his type cases reversed (i.e. upper case below lower case).

The workers naturally had an interest in not allowing the speed in the composing room to get too high: 700 ems an hour was just fine by them. One of the workers’ beefs about the attempt to bring women into the business in the years following the Civil War was that they would work too fast, no doubt to indicate how viable an alternative workforce they were. This represented a delicate balancing act for the macho typesetting unions who needed to demonstrate that men were better, and yet keep work rates down (thus pay rates up). This tension could be partially resolved by these typesetting races which seemed to show that men really could set type faster than women. This was almost certainly not the case, but naturally head-to-head races were not arranged. A comp could easily claim that it wasn’t possible to sprint all day: their competitive speed bursts were never allowed to become the norm. Of course the union, and all its members also faced the looming challenge of machine typesetting, a challenge which overwhelmed them all in the end.

Public hand typesetting races were a short lived phenomenon. They couldn’t get going till printing became industrialized in the 1830s and 40s, so that there were large groups of comps who could compete with one another in in-house competitions, and the races couldn’t survive when hand setting was superseded by machines and the contestants all lost their jobs (or retrained). Thus the “sport” only lasted for about 15 to 20 years from around 1870 when the first public events were arranged.

Well OK. Quite clever I guess. You can slip some little books in there horizontally under your bottom too. But don’t put too many books into the chair bit or it’ll be hard to move.

From Thames & Hudson’s blog, Bookshelf, where they have lots of this sort of stuff.