Archives for the month of: June, 2017

This copy of The Mill on the Floss, which cost me 2/9 (about 27 pence in today’s money, but worth a good bit more back in the sixties when I must have bought it second-hand in Cambridge) was originally published and printed by William Blackwood and Sons in Edinburgh at some time late in the 19th century. At that time publishers often didn’t bother to put any dates in their books, especially their cheaper editions; and this carries none. It promotes itself as “The Stereotype Edition” on its title page: I wonder what that said to the potential book buyer. Probably that it was an “affordable” edition. The series title page features a little drawing of Dorlecote Mill and has a totally spurious tissue overlay which looks like it’s there to protect said drawing. Spurious, because the illustration is in no need of protection, being as likely to be damaged as any of the rest of the type on that page, or any other, which was printed by letterpress from the advertised stereo plates. The tissue’s there to impress the potential buyer, who’s meant to think that that vignette of the mill was separately printed as a copperplate engraving, and is therefore delicate. The book also has six full page line illustrations (rather clunky ones) printed so as to look as if they were tipped in plates, i.e. with blank back, and not included in the book’s pagination.

The series list gives pricing for the pukka Cabinet Edition where each volume will cost you 5/-. (No discount if you bought all 24 volumes for £6 though.) I bet you got even more tissue overlays there. My book looks like it’s Crown Octavo too (it’s 5″ x 7⅜”) so they may have used the same paper on both editions. It’s stood the test of time pretty well.

A stereotype is a solid plate of type metal made from a mould of the original type. (It can also be referred to as a cliché.) One of the tell-tale signs of a stereo is its tendency to get damaged after repeated use. On the page shown below you can see along the left hand margin evidence of the plate’s having been slightly bashed, which has compressed the “h”, “w”, “c” and lower down the “d” and “a”.

You can see the hefty impression the stereo could be subjected to in the indentations on the back of the sheet. It’s called letterpress printing for a reason! (Though it is true that the aim of the good letterpress printer was to minimize this indentation, aiming for a kiss impression.)

Stereotypes would be made for books which the publisher expected to print often and in longer runs. Standing type was an expense as well as being constantly at risk of pi-ing — dropping down into a heap of individual sorts. Until the development of lithography enabled publishers to print whatever they wanted whenever they wanted, the stereotype provided a means of evading resetting every time you ran out of stock.

See also Flong, a step on the way to making a stereotype.

It’s an odd book that Mill on the Floss. I remember the first time I read it wondering if I’d failed to notice that there was a second volume. It finishes so abruptly. It’s almost as if the author got fed up; maybe she’d missed her delivery deadline. Alternatively I image them shouting up “Hurry up, Mary Anne. Come on down to dinner.” and she saying to herself: “OK, OK. Let’s just drown ’em and get it done with. And then off downstairs for that mutton chop and tomato sauce”.

Anna Atkins, Papaver rhoeas, 1845

Cyanotype is one of three photographic contact printing methods that rely on the photo-reduction of ferric ions. (The argentotype or van Dyke and the platinum/palladium processes are the other two.*) Richard Benson’s The Printed Picture tells us that cyanotype is how the blueprint is referred to in fancy circles. The process exploits the ability of ferric iron compounds to become ferrous when exposed to high levels of light. Prussian blue was the material originally used. Prints can be made on paper or fabrics (though not synthetic fabrics). You coat the material to be printed (the coating looks pale yellowy green), and hang it up to dry in the dark. Lay on top of it the object to be reproduced and expose the lot to bright light for up to 15 minutes, and there you are. We book-making folks are familiar with the process (or at least the tangible results of the process) in the blues which we often check just before a book is printed. Architectural and engineering drawings used to be reproduced by the same process, and thus our word blueprint has come to mean a planning outline.

If you fancy trying your hand at cyanotype Jerry’s Artarama will sell you jars of Jacquard’s potassium ferricyanide and ferric ammonium citrate which when combined will set up the process. All you need to do is treat your substrate (if you didn’t buy pretreated sheets from them) and place on top of it any object which will cast a shadow, leave it in the sun for 3 to 15 minutes, and there’s your image. Among the shadow-casting objects can of course be a negative, whether of a photograph or a page of type. A film positive will work too. A negative will show the type or image blue and the background white, while a positive original will give the opposite result. (Book blues tend to be printed on a yellowish paper.) Most excitingly Artarama offers you self-portrait possibilities: “With Jacquard’s Cyanotype Pretreated Mural Fabric you can actually create a full-body print by laying [sic] on top of the mural fabric for the duration of exposure while not moving. The creative possibilities for Photographers, Mixed Media Artists, and Quilters are endless!”

It all does seem pretty straightforward, as this short video demonstrates:

If you do not see a video at this point, please click on the title of this post so that you can view it in your browser.

The invention of photography in 1839 provoked a lot of experimentation with the interaction of different chemicals with light, and Sir John Herschel came up with the formula for cyanotype in 1842. John George Children, who had been present at the Royal Society meeting when Henry Fox Talbot had first presented photography to the world, kept his daughter Anna Atkins (1799-1871) fully informed of developments. She had been drawing plants and seashells, and frustrated by the lack of illustrations in an 1841 book about algae, set to in 1843 to use Herschel’s process to create the necessary illustrations. The Guardian recounts her story, and tells us there’s an exhibition called New Realities at the Rijksmuseum running until 17 September, featuring Atkins’ work. Unfortunately their link takes you to the wrong show. This link will reveal the Rijksmuseum’s immense collection of Atkins’ work.

I had quietly assumed that cyanotype would be so named because of its blue color (cyan, derived from the Greek κύανος, dark blue, being the name for the blue ink in the CMYK process). But no: according to the Oxford English Dictionary it gets its name from the involvement of cyanide in the process. As their one supporting reference they quote Sir John Herschel from his original publication of the discovery in The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society: “If a nomenclature of this kind be admitted . . . the whole class of processes in which cyanogen in its combinations with iron performs a leading part, and in which the resulting pictures are blue, may be designated by this epithet. The varieties of cyanotype processes seem to be innumerable.”


* These three printing methods are differentiated by color. Cyanotypes are blue, argentotypes are sepia brown (which is why they were named after van Dyke apparently), and palladium prints are browny grey. The color derives from the different effects of different light-sensitive chemicals used.




There can’t be many left working in the business who remember the typing pool. In the nineteen sixties Bentley House’s typing pool was next door to Keith Corrin’s filing room (yes, we didn’t have to do our own filing either). It was staffed by about half a dozen ladies led by Margaret Yayawi, and they’d raise a deafening clatter as they typed away at the majority of the letters and memos which the business generated. They’d rattle off three copies of everything, letterhead, carbon paper*, onion skin paper, carbon paper, onion skin. Later, when I started writing most of my letters by hand, I suggested jokily that I deserved a pay raise for economizing on typing resources — if the typing pool had still existed perhaps I should have been reprimanded by my union shop steward (that would be me) for putting comrades’ jobs at risk. In the work environment it was the typing pool that was first revolutionized by word processing. They still got to type everyone’s letters; they just typed them more efficiently. It wasn’t till the personal computer came along and we all became typists that the pool was terminally drained.

Word processing represented a revolution in authorship. New Republic brings us a review of Matthew Kirschenbaum’s Track Changes: A Literary History of of Word Processing (Harvard University Press, 2016). We are told in the article that by 1984 40% to 50% of American authors were writing their books on word processors. The first book to have been delivered on disk is said to have been Len Deighton’s Bomber in 1970. The word processor certainly made editing easier: the New Republic article tells how Isaac Asimov was transformed from a notoriously messy and inaccurate typist into a neat-freak model of accuracy after he moved onto a word processor. The Atlantic also has an interview with Professor Kirschenbaum.

Nietzsche observed “Our writing instruments are also working on our thoughts”. As The Digital Reader informs us he wrote those words on the Malling-Hansen Writing Ball, illustrated here.  One might imagine having rather frightening thoughts about what such a monster might do to you. The guest post by Mr Kirschenbaum originates at The Conversation and is entitled Technology changes how authors write, but the big impact isn’t on their style. The author appears to prove not so much that new technologies affect style, as that we find it difficult to figure out exactly how to define and analyze the effect.

Ian Bogost, also at The Atlantic, says in his review of Freewrite, a  sort of attempt to escape the Internet incubus and get back to the original stand-alone word processor experience, “Writing today feels terrible not because writing has changed (surely writing always felt terrible), but because today one can never write alone. The writer always feels watched by the voyeur army of real and imagined critics that later will post or tweet inflammatory comments after publication.” Really? Choose your phobia, I guess.

But not every writer rages against the machine. Kenneth Goldsmith, perhaps self-described “Professor of Uncreative Writing” at the University of Pennsylvania, describes himself as a word processor in his piece I look to theory only when I realize that somebody has dedicated their entire life to a  question I have only fleetingly considered, and of course processing words in indeed what writers do.

The big advance pre-word-processor, was the typewriter. Here from Mental Floss is a serious discussion of the model of typewriter used by 20 authors. (Link via The Digital Reader.) I can also recommend the blog Wrong Way, Write Way for typewriter aficionados. One of this ilk, Tom Hanks, has a book of stories coming this fall, each of which apparently has something or other to do with the typewriter.

No doubt the typewriter changed the relationship of the writer to his text, and naturally the word processor did too. I always used to maintain that the invention of the word processor increased the length of manuscripts by 25% as authors no longer needed to retype if they added material early (or late). Just add it in, and watch the job reflow. I suspect that some of the change must indeed be stylistic. Writing by hand has had time to evolve into a process running at the speed of thought: you have time not only to think the thought but to consider how best to express it. Does changing to any machine upset that relationship? You are probably still thinking at the same pace, but the reflection time has been curtailed. Would Proust’s style have been different if he’d had a laptop? I guess style analysis could be conducted on Len Deighton or Isaac Asimov pre- and post word processor. I rather think something would show up. After all if stylistic analysis can be claimed to tell that Marlowe wrote many bits of Shakespeare’s Henry VI plays, this should be a breeze.

And what comes next? The Textio Word Nerd tells us it’s going to be augmented writing. He assures us “The core tech now exists to be able to quantitatively predict with a high degree of accuracy whether a document or email you’re writing will get the outcome you want.” If you don’t write it right, they’ll redirect you onto the right path. The Textio system is demonstrated in a video linked to at the foot of The Nerd’s essay. Well, go for it if you like, but this future’s not for me. I even hate the jaunty non-copyrightable music that plays along with what’s basically a commercial for their product, which seems to be directed at people who don’t know what they want to say. No doubt there are plenty of those, and I dare say the product deserves to be successful. But augmented writing? I expected a little more from that title.


* What the abandonment of carbon paper means for our culture was brought home recently by the discovery of two new poems by Sylvia Plath. These were found, in negative image, on carbon paper folded into the back of a notebook. As people would reuse carbon paper several times, deciphering the poems took some skill; apparently the contents list for Ted Hughes’ The Hawk in the Rain had also been typed with this sheet, along with a couple of other Plath poems and a possible fifth one. Here’s the Guardian account.

Peer review is the system whereby academics report before publication (usually for free) on journal papers and book manuscripts in their area of expertise. This is the main mechanism by which academic publications are validated: suggestions for correction or improvement made by the anonymous reviewers are usually shared with the authors so that the result of the process is better scholarly communication.

The Economist‘s February 2015 article “Academic publishing: Oath market” reported on stresses in the peer review process. (You may not be able to access this piece unless you have a subscription.) “Peer review’s current incarnation took shape in the middle of the 20th century: authors submit a manuscript to a publisher, who then seeks out academics suitable to comment on it; the publisher then submits critiques anonymously to the authors, who amend the work to reflect the critiques. The system nearly works. The reasons for anonymity are manifold, but that information asymmetry often causes trouble, with reviewers shooting down rivals’ work, pinching ideas, or just plain dragging their feet (overwhelmingly, reviewing is unpaid).”

With the thousands of journal articles flying about looking for a home one can see how the pre-publication peer review system might well be under stress. As an academic you do after all have a job, and you can’t just put that aside because you’ve agreed to review thirty journal articles. There are fewer books, but of course, on the other hand books are longer. Academics do peer review because they regard it as part of their responsibility as a member of the academic community: helping advance research is part of the reason for their existence. And the possibility of learning something can also be a powerful motivator. But as pressures increase the temptation to cut corners is always lurking there. Short-back-and-sides gets the job done and that manuscript off the desk, but of course does cloud the water when less than responsible research manages to get published. Openness helps. Faculty of 1000, an online biology and medicine publisher, has come up with an oath its peer reviewers must accept:

  • Principle 1: I will sign my name to my review;
  • Principle 2: I will review with integrity;
  • Principle 3: I will treat the review as a discourse with you; in particular, I will provide constructive criticism;
  • Principle 4: I will be an ambassador for the practice of open science.

Other publishers are allegedly following the lead. The oath obviously doesn’t have any real force, but the thought is that by agreeing to it reviewers will have to think about the issues, and this may make them behave better. For many I would imagine this might seem a bit offensive. Book publishers obviously have an easier task, each requiring fewer reviewers, and they are thus perhaps more likely have a personal relationship with their referees. Of course many journal editors also have personal and professional relationships with many who they can consult as peer reviewers.

Writing a journal paper is also unpaid work, but it can be seen as more central to an academic’s mission, being the way in which research is communicated, thus reputation enhanced, and credentials buffed. But how about making pre-publication peer reviewing similarly recognized and potentially prestigious? Publons, a company which enables academics to track their usually anonymous peer reviewing contributions, aims to allow peer reviewers to get the credit for them that inclusion in their bibliographies would confer. It was established in 2012 and according to Wikipedia has more than 150,000 signed-up academics.

The whole academic enterprise is under stress these days. There seems to be an urge to make the whole “business” more efficient — in economic terms. Investment is going into STEM subjects and the humanities are being devalued — after all, what good is a degree in history, English or philosophy when it comes to getting a job? None: so let’s defund them! If governments (and through them, we) insist on turning university education into a job-search commercial commodity, then peer review cannot survive. As a teacher you’d be insane to divert your attention from your lecturing and research for even a minute — let someone else review that paper, and I’ll read it when it’s published if it’s any good. Business-orientated policy-makers might well say that that’s just as it should be. If peer review is worthwhile, then its value should be indicated by its price. Publishers should pay pre-publication reviewers. But of course that means the price of academic journals would have to rise to cover the extra cost, and we’ve been being deluged in complaint about how ridiculously expensive journals already are. (And ditto academic books of course.)

How this will all end up is beyond me. Maybe we’ll wake up to the danger of attaching a price to everything. More likely we won’t and will just have to come up with a slicker, cheaper way of communicating research. Those who think we already have such a thing should pause and reflect on what costs are saved by not printing a journal article on paper. (Hint: hardly any. See Profitability of e-books?)

Not much seen anymore, a catchword is a word printed at the bottom right hand corner of a recto page just below the last line of text. It duplicates the word at the start of the next page, and was placed there to enable someone reading the book out loud to turn the page without any hesitation in the flow of their recitation. Now that we all read our books silently we don’t need to care about performance values.

This example comes from La congiura del conte Giovanni Luigi de Fieschi printed in the 1620s in Antwerp.

Folger 197208. From the Folger blog The Collation.















I wonder if catchwords are ever found in children’s books, the one category of book which does still regularly get read aloud. I wouldn’t be surprised if catchwords featured in lectern Bibles, but I can’t find a photograph confirming this, and it’s been almost 60 years since I last had to read the lesson.

The term can also refer to a heading in a text, a catch line. It can also substitute for catch phrase with the meaning of a briefly popular expression. In the sense of a desirable attainment, a “catch”, Sir Walter Scott refers in St Ronan’s Well to a catch-match “She made out her catch-match, and she was miserable”.


Not sure I find any of these suggestions (from The Peabody Institute, via The Digital Reader, and E-Book Friendly) very helpful. But there you are. “Don’t finish” is all well and good, but I find it really hard to do; plus I always worry that it might become habit-forming.

In the end, if you don’t want to do it, you won’t do it.

“Oh the irony” Mashable headlines its story on Amazon’s filing a patent for a way to block on-line in-store price comparison. Irony I guess, though I suspect bare-faced audacity might be closer to the mark. I bet filing the patent is more a matter of preempting the opposition than of protecting their own bricks-and-mortar world.

Maybe Amazon doesn’t want you checking alternative prices on-line while you’re in their stores, but you can be sure they find this practice an altogether more attractive idea when it’s being done in someone else’s shop and it’s Amazon’s price which is being looked up. Is it just too “conspiracy-theory” to suspect that they are really trying to lock up the technology in order to prevent others from coming up with a means of preventing their own customers from checking prices at

And hey, why not? If you have all the money in the world, what are you supposed to do? Not spend it?

Though I’ve never seen this before one sees how it could happen.

Perhaps surprisingly for a German book my hardback copy of Johann Peter Eckermann: Gespräche mit Goethe in den letzten Jahren seines Lebens is rather a cheap production. It comes from the second printing which took place in 1984 at the Karl-Marx-Werk, Graphischer Großbetrieb, Pößneck, in Thuringia, appropriately not far from Weimar  (35 miles) in the German Democratic Republic as it still was then. It is printed on a groundwood sheet (you can see it yellowing around the edges) and is perfect bound — something we have always assumed no German publisher would ever do to a hardback. No doubt C. H. Beck of Munich found this almost 900 page book difficult to price, so cut the necessary corners, though the book is bound in a nice bit of blue cloth. The print works is still there in Pößneck, now discretely renamed GGP Media, short for Graphischer Großbetrieb Pößneck which is what it was first called when it abandoned its connection with the great man.

That little scrap of paper sticking up is bound into the perfect binding. It’s the bottom right hand corner of the page behind it — I guess the next person got a copy lacking that bit, while I get to enjoy it twice.

Why does the peer reviewer need a monument? Why in Moscow? Why outside the Higher School of Economics? Why carrying the inscriptions “Accept”, “Minor Changes”, “Major Changes”, “Revise and Resubmit”, “Reject”? The answer apparently — because it was there. (It being the block on the left.)

Nature has an account of the monument’s origin.

The picture shows Ivan Chirikov who came up with the plan and raised $2,500 to realize it. The concrete cube, which was perviously just in the way, has also been carved with the titles of 21 papers. These are papers written by the largest donors, who are thus immortalized in return for their generosity. Now they too* may cry “Si monumentum requiris, circumspice“. Of course, given the monument’s location, maybe this should be said in Russian. Fortunately Pushkin stands ready with his riff on Horace’s take on the topic:

Exegi monumentum

Я памятник себе воздвиг нерукотворный,
К нему не заростет народная тропа,
Вознесся выше он главою непокорной
        Александрийского столпа.
Нет, весь я не умру — душа в заветной лире
Мой прах переживет и тленья убежит —
И славен буду я, доколь в подлунном мире
        Жив будет хоть один пиит.
Слух обо мне пройдет по всей Руси великой,
И назовет меня всяк сущий в ней язык,
И гордый внук славян, и финн, и ныне дикой
        Тунгуз, и друг степей калмык.
И долго буду тем любезен я народу,
Что чувства добрые я лирой пробуждал,
Что в мой жестокой век восславил я Свободу
        И милость к падшим призывал.
Веленью божию, о муза, будь послушна,
Обиды не страшась, не требуя венца,
Хвалу и клевету приемли равнодушно,

        И не оспаривай глупца.

I’ve reared a monument not built by human hands.
The public path to it cannot be overgrown.
With insubmissive head far loftier it stands
               Than Alexander’s columned stone.
No, I shall not all die. My soul in hallowed berth
Of art shall brave decay and from my dust take wing,
And I shall be renowned whilst on this mortal earth
               Even one poet lives to sing.
Tidings of me shall spread through all the realm of Rus
And every tribe in Her shall name me as they speak:
The haughty western Pole, the east’s untamed Tungus,
               North Finns and the south steppe’s Kalmyk.
And long shall I a man dear to the people be
For how my lyre once quickened kindly sentiment,
I in a tyrant age who sang of liberty,
               And mercy toward fallen men.
To God and his commands pay Thou good heed, O Muse.
To praise and slander both be nonchalant and cool.
Demand no laureate’s wreath, think nothing of abuse,
               And never argue with a fool.

Translation by A. Z. Foreman at Poems Found in Translation.

Here’s Nabokov reading the poem in another translation.

Pushkin was of course paying tribute to Horace’s Exegi monumentum, which for good measure here follows with a translation from the site Lost in translation.

Horace, Ode 3.30.

Exegi monumentum aere perennnius
regalique situ pyramidum altius,
quod non imber edax, non Aquilo impotens
possit diruere aut innumerabilis
annorum series et fuga temporum.
Non omnis moriar multaque pars mei
vitabit Libitinam; usque ego postera
crescam laude recens. Dum Capitolium
scandet cum tacita virgine pontifex,
dicar, qua violens obstrepit Aufidus
et qua pauper aquae Daunus agrestium
regnavit populorum, ex humili potens,
princeps Aeolium carmen ad Italos
deduxisse modos. Sume superbiam
quaesitam meritis et mihi Delphica
lauro cinge volens, Melpomene, comam.
I have finished a monument more lasting than bronze
and higher than the royal structure of the pyramids,
which neither the destructive rain, nor wild Aquilo
is able to destroy, nor the countless
series of years and flight of ages.
I will not wholly die and a great part of me
will avoid Libitina; I will continuously arise
fresh with later praise. While a priest will climb
the Capitoline with a silent maiden,
I shall be spoken of where the violent Aufidus roars
and where Daunus, poor in water, ruled
a rural people, powerful from humble origin,
the first to have brought Aeolic song to
Italian meters. Accept the proud honor
obtained by your merits and with the Delphic
laural, Melpomene, gladly encircle my hair.

I guess we’ve strayed quite a long way from a concrete block abandoned in a Moscow park. Enough already.

* This is the inscription on Sir Christopher Wren’s monument in St Paul’s Cathedral.


The question of whether the monkey who took a selfie can or cannot own the copyright, which I alluded to in a post a couple of years ago, incredibly rumbles on. It now seems that his “next friends” are still suing to claim the macaque’s ownership of the picture which he took on the camera of British photographer David Slater. Techdirt, via The Digital Reader, recounts the farce.

The idea that a monkey, even one with a real name now listed in court documents, can own copyright is surely nonsense and the fact that such a suit is being brought just goes to show the power of money (which significantly only differs by one one letter from monkey, a character well known in connection with business) to motivate apparently respectable lawyers to make apparently stupid arguments. I guess you can’t criticize the Ninth Circuit for giving it a Case Number — there it is. They have to judge what comes before them I guess.

That  infinite monkey we’ve all heard about who’s sitting around trying to type the complete works of Shakespeare by randomly pecking at a keyboard will no doubt be given a boost when he hears of this suit. Are copyright riches awaiting the completion of his random task? And if monkeys, why not robots?