Archives for the month of: November, 2017

Erik Kwakkel sends a tweet linking to this Leiden blog post, about a sheet they found which shows evidence of having been used centuries later as a frisket to print characters in red. You can see the little windows which have been cut into the sheet which would be interposed between the paper (already printed with black) and the type. The full width of the type printed in red can be seen overprinting the original manuscript text and illustration on the frisket sheet. Where the little windows were cut the red ink would get through and print on the sheet being pulled. For the first pass through the press (or second if the red was printed first which actually seems more likely) all this type would have been inked in black. I’m not sure how, when printing the black they’d prevent its printing where the red was ultimately to go. There’s no way to cut a frisket with holes all over except in the few spots where red was required. Maybe they’d glue little patches over these characters after inking — though I’ve no idea how they’d prevent such slips falling off or moving and they’d have to do that after every inking which sounds ludicrously labor-intensive, even in times of cheap labor. Setting up two versions of type would be prohibitively expensive at a time when type was cast by hand and a printer’s holdings would be kept to a minimum. Really I think they’d have had to print the red first, using this kind of frisket, and then remove these bits of “red” type and replace them by quad spaces;* that way you could avoid having to reinsert these characters afterwards for the red printing.

This example, from a School of Advanced Study, University of London study of early modern frisket sheets, looks like the red ink was applied as a solid block, which would be hard to imagine unless it were being used in the inking phase rather than when the impression was pulled. Probably it just looks like this because so many impressions were run that slight variations in registration built up to fill in all the gaps between the type.


* Quad spaces are less  tall than the type, so that when ink is rolled across the type none of it adheres to the quads, leaving the area they occupy blank on the printed sheet. You can see them rather well in this picture from Paper Wren Press.

The sheet is designed with a shape which enables it to fit a battledore, or hornbook.

He that ne’er learns his ABC, for ever will a Blockhead be. So hearken you writers. Ruth Harris brings us (via The Digital Reader) an Authors’ alphabet. It has lots of links which should prove useful to self-publishers.

Oregon State University Press has a publisher’s alphabet. Maybe I should try one too.

  • A is for author, the bane of your life.
  • B is for bully — the same or his wife.
  • C is for contract that sews it all up.
  • D’s for delivery when you find it’s a pup.
  • E is for editor, reading the books;
  • F’s for the curses she makes as she looks.
  • G is for galley where we check out the type.
  • H for hysteria. Marketers all just love hype.
  • I’s for the index you forgot to get done.
  • J is for JSTOR — isn’t digital fun?
  • K is for black ink, how we use it, oh my.
  • L is for List price — folks’ll say it’s too high.
  • M’s for masterpiece — with a great deal of luck.
  • N’s for neglect — books do often suck.
  • O is for out of print — now we relax.
  • P is for payments: royalties, wages, and tax.
  • Q is for quire. Never quite sure what it means:
  • R is for ream — 100 quires make 5 reams.
  • S is for book seasons: Spring, Winter and Fall.
  • T is for text font — don’t make it too small.
  • U’s for under-recovery — curse all overhead!
  • V is for volume — all too often unread.
  • W’s for waste. We trash many a lousy book.
  • X is for Xeroxing — how editorial training is took!
  • Y is for yapp — overlapping cover flaps.
  • Z marks the end: books replaced by apps?

Looking back over this I notice how cynical and pessimistic it is. Melpomene obviously took off on me. However, I insist, I remain the most cock-eyed of optimists about our business.


The Oxford English Dictionary definition of chronogram quotes from the Athenæum about the title page shown here: ‘Thus, in 1666, when a day of national humiliation was appointed in the expectation of an engagement between the English and Dutch navies, a pamphlet issued in reference to the fast-day, instead of bearing the imprint of the year after the usual fashion, had this seasonable sentence at the bottom of the title-page: ‘LorD haVe MerCIe Vpon Vs’. It will be seen that the total sum of the figures represented by the numeral letters (printed in capitals) gives the requisite date 1666’ (Athenæum No. 2868).

I guess chronograms look clever, but I’m not sure why you’d want to do this — maybe just to show you can — but in medieval and early modern times people often seem to have incorporated these dates in code-like form using Roman numerals in lines of text. The Collation, the blog of the Folger Library brings us examples. As the page illustrated above shows, you don’t have to get the numbers in the right order — it’s just a matter of totaling the elements. In this example, an X for ten is replaced by a couple of Vs for five. Just so long as it adds up right.

It’s as if I told you “My, My, eVIl eXIsts” and you understood right away that I was commenting on our current situation. Not sure that that’s a particularly efficient way of communicating, but there you are. Use of the chronogram seems oddly pointless to me. Apparently, however, they were widely used in Jewish literature and epitaphs.

Academics who can write for a general audience are a vital resource. They know the stuff, and have the knack of explaining it to the man on the Clapham omnibus. Many such books become hugely influential without ever selling in mass quantities. These are just the sorts of book which are perceived as being most endangered by recent developments in trade publishing. Mid-list is often held to be dead. But I’ve often maintained that these are just the sorts of books which university presses can use to amortize the costs they incur for all the research monographs they exist to publish. I’m not criticizing university presses; naturally if they could always persuade such authors to publish with them they obviously would. I propose them as a refuge, after trade publishers have decided it’s no longer worth their while to attempt to publish books which only sell 5,000 or so.

The Passive Voice sends us a link to this Washington Post story about National Endowment for the Humanities grants being given to people writing non-fiction books directed at a general, non-specialist audience. Such books are perceived as being squeezed between reductions in publishers advances against royalties and difficulties with time off from your academic job.

If you don’t see a video here, please click on the title of the post in order to view it in your browser.

While it’s always nice to hear of writers getting grants, I wonder if this sort of pre-gatekeeping-gatekeeping is really the best way to go. American suspicion of government payments for anything is not utterly misplaced, though we are perhaps a longish way from people being required to write books about themes mandated by an evil dictatorship. Still the price of liberty is good old eternal vigilance — though it’s always struck me as paradoxical that the very people who think the establishment has a monopoly of the good, are the same people who suspect it of harboring evil designs on their freedom.

The Public Scholar Program does have noble aims. One just hopes that such generosity survives the next few years of refocussing our revenues into the wallets of millionaire donors to the GOP!

This Borgesian bookshop, mirrors multiplying books apparently endlessly, is to be found in Yangzhou, China.  Atlas Obscura shows us several pictures. Maybe it’s more bibliophile’s nightmare than dream.

Just saw this advert on television the other day. Doesn’t it just knock your socks off? How can printed bibles possibly compete?

There’s money to be made of God’s word. The exhibition associated with the CBA* Annual Conference is always attended by bible publishers who gape in amazement at the kitchy extravaganza on offer. I especially remember a six foot high picture of the head of Jesus whose eyes would follow you round the hall, winking every now and then.

If you don’t see a video between the first and second paragraphs above, please click on the heading of this post in order to view it in your browser.


* Christian Booksellers’ Association

The Scottish Book Trust sends out a blog post by Danny Scott entitled “40 of the best songs inspired by books”. You can find it here. It comes with YouTube videos so that you can listen to all of the songs (U.S.rights permitting: I’ve posted alternate links here for the ones that won’t play in USA).

The songs (and the works they are based upon) are:

  1. Joni Mitchell’s “I’ve looked at life from both sides now” (Bellow: Henderson the Rain King)
  2. Art Garfunkel singing “Bright eyes” (Watership Down)
  3. Bob Dylan: “Hurricane” (The Sixteeth Round by Rubin Hurricane Carter)
  4. Simon & Garfunkel: “I am a Rock” (John Donne’s Meditation XVII)
  5. Woody Guthrie’s “Tom Joad” (The Grapes of Wrath)
  6. The Noisettes: “Atticus” (To Kill a Mockingbird)
  7. Bloc Party: “Song for Clay” (Less than Zero by Brett Easton Ellis)
  8. Mercury Rev: “The Dark is Rising” (Susan Cooper’s novel of the same title)
  9. The Zombies: “A Rose for Emily” (William Faulkner’s poem of the same title)
  10. The Bangles: “The Bell Jar” (Sylvia Plath’s novel)
  11. T’Pau: “China in your Hand” (Frankenstein) Alternate link
  12. Katy Perry: Firework” (On the Road)
  13. Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” (The Wizard of Oz)
  14. Lana del Rey: “Off to the Races” (Lolita)
  15. Fleetwood Mac: Rhiannon (Mary Leader: Triad)
  16. Leonard Nimoy: “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins” (The Hobbit)
  17. The Beatles: Tomorrow Never Knows” (Psychedelic Experience by Timothy Leary & Richard Alpert) Alternate Link
  18. The Buggles: “Video Killed the Radio Star” (The Sound Sweep by J. G. Ballard) Alternate link
  19. Kate Bush “Wuthering Heights” (WutheringHeights)
  20. Bobby Womack: “Across 110th Street” (Across 110th Street by Wally Ferris)
  21. Chance the Rapper: “Same Drugs” (Peter Pan)
  22. Black Star: “Thieves in the Night” (Toni Morrison: The Bluest Eye)
  23. Killer Mike: “Willie Burke Sherwood” (Lord of the Flies)
  24. Metallica: “For Whom The Bell Tolls” (For Whom The Bell Tolls)
  25. Manic Street Preachers: “Motorcycle Emptiness” (S. E. Hinton: Rumble Fish)
  26. Jethro Tull: “One Brown Mouse” (Burn’s To a Mouse)
  27. Radiohead: “Paranoid Android” (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)
  28. Led Zeppelin: “Ramble On” (Lord of the Rings)
  29. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds: “Red Right Hand” (Paradise Lost)
  30. The Strokes: “Soma” (Brave New World)
  31. The Rolling Stones: “Sympathy for the Devil” (Bulgakov: Master and Margarita)
  32. Queen: “The Invisible Man” (H. G. Wells’ The Invisible Man)
  33. The Sensational Alex Harvey Band: “The Tomahawk Kid” (Treasure Island)
  34. The Velvet Underground: “Venus in Furs” (Venus in Furs by Sachor-Masoch)
  35. Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” (Nelson Algren’s Walk on the Wild Side)
  36. Devo: “Whip It” (Gravity’s Rainbow)
  37. Jefferson Airplane: “White Rabbit” (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland)
  38. Frightened Rabbit: “Backyard Skulls” (Christopher Brookmyre: Where the Bodies Are Buried)
  39. Belle & Sebastian: “I Fought in a War” (Salinger: For Esme — with Squalor and Love) Alternate link
  40. Blue Rose Code: “True Ways of Knowing” (Norman McCaig’s poem of the same title)

You are invited to vote for which one you think best, but there’s a deadline of 28 November at 5pm Scotland time, so get listening. I voted for the laddies from Selkirk.


This image comes from Jeff Peachey’s blog post of October 20, 2015.

G. Ruse and C. Straker. Printing and its Accessories. London: S. Straker & Son., 1860. Robertson Davies Library, Massey College. University of Toronto.

Never really thought about it but it does stand to reason that litho stones would have to come in a variety of sizes. Just placing your image in the middle if a gigantic stone would make registration even harder — plus hauling the thing around — just look at those weights!

Atlas Obscura brings a collection of photos of stones from the Puck Building at Lafayette and Houston in New York City, where Puck magazine used to be printed by the J. Ottmann Lithographing Company.

I notice than some of these stones are right reading — this has to mean they were being used in an offset lithographic press.


Apart from the occasional scrawl on the blackboard I never had to write on a “slate” at school, but one knows that millions of predecessors did. For me there’s an old world charm in the design of this slate book from Thomas Nelson: things were still being designed to look a bit like this when I was a child. It’s not really slate on the inside; just a tough coated paper manufactured to take chalk and allow it to be erased again and again.

These images come from Jeff Peachey’s blog.

I’m not sure exactly when slates stopped being used in schools. Mrs Brewer’s Parlour implies that that would be in the early 20th century, but I bet it was much later.

Techdirt (via a Digital Reader link) brings us the astounding news that the story of the monkey who took his own picture just won’t go away. The photographer is now saying he’s going to sue Wikipedia for treating the monkey’s picture as if it were in the public domain. The photo appears on their entry as public domain.

Common sense — which I guess we have to accept has minimal relevance when it comes to the law — would surely demand that, if the monkey’s not allowed to own copyright in a picture which he took, neither should the owner of the camera be allowed to do so just because he paid over the cash to buy the camera. I wonder if the law courts have ruled on the copyright position of a photo made by a robber on a camera he’s stolen. Would they maintain that copyright should vest in the camera’s owner, who may not even have been in the same country when the photo was taken. I dare say that the photo should not be allowed to become the property of the thief, but the camera’s owner shouldn’t own copyright in something he or she had nothing to do with creating. If Hemingway “borrowed” my typewriter and wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls on it, should I imagine that I should be receiving royalties on the book? What if it had been an anachronistic laptop computer? Is there a risk of Microsoft’s claiming copyright in your work because you used Word to create it? No, no, and no, I trust.

Here comes word, via The Digital Reader, that the graffiti on a building in New York City have been protected from the building owner’s desire to paint over them. Ownership of the medium is being held to be less significant than the rights of the creator of the art. Ownership of the camera is less significant than the rights of the photographer, and as Naruto, a Celebes crested macaque, is the photographer the picture is not eligible for copyright protection and has to be in the public domain. Nobody’s suggesting a monkey did the NYC graffiti but even if Naruto had done them they still wouldn’t be copyrightable, though the City might nevertheless protect them through the sort of moral rights asserted in this case, or even the Visual Artists Rights Act. (One assumes however, that animals are no more able to claim protection under VARA than under Copyright.)

LATER  — 24 April 2018: CNN brings the news that Naruto has lost in court. He doesn’t own the copyright in the pictures he “took”.