Archives for the month of: January, 2020

The list of works we have lost can be as long as we want to make it. Say it’s lost, and nobody can gainsay you even if the lost work is one you just made up. Borges was big here.

Sir Thomas Browne indulges himself a bit in “Musæum Clausum, or Biblioteca Abscondita” an essay in Certain Miscellany Tracts, published posthumously in 1684. Isn’t it interesting how that period after the title dates the book? The omission of the final -E in the author’s name on the title page (though it’s there in the facing frontispiece engraving) is not unfortunately similarly indicative of the time of publication. We are still quite good at making this sort of error.

The essay includes three sections: 1. Rare and generally unknown Books, 2. Rarities in Pictures, and 3. Antiquities and Rarities of several sorts. His first lost book is “A Poem of Ovidius Naso written in the Getick Language”. The Getae lived beside the lower Danube, and Ovid, who spent some time there on his way home from exile, did claim he’d written poetry in their language. Browne concludes his list: “He who knows where all this Treasure now is, is a great Apollo. I’m sure I am not He. However I am, Sir, Yours, &c.”

A link to a PDF of the first edition can be found at The Public Domain Review, where you can read “Musæum Clausum”.

The Smithsonian Magazine has a go at listing the top ten lost books of all time. They are

  1. Homer: Margites
  2. Lost Books from The Bible
  3. Shakespeare: Cardenio
  4. Inventio Fortunata (a lost account of Arctic geography)
  5. Jane Austen: Sanditon (now of course showing on TV)
  6. Herman Melville: The Isle of the Cross (ms lost by publisher)
  7. Thomas Hardy: The Poor Man and the Lady
  8. First draft of R. L. Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
  9. Ernest Hemingway’s novel about World War I
  10. Sylvia Plath: Double Exposure

See also Stuart Hall: Book of Lost Books. Wikipedia has a list of many, many lost books. They do appear not to be imaginary.

See also Lost books


Photo: Budnews

Via Book Riot comes this You Tube video, contained in a report from EuroNews on an extraordinarily large-format book which is housed in the Hungarian village of Szinpetri,  a significant proportion of who’s population is required to turn a page.

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

The Hungarian creator of this giant book, Béla Varga, says “It was impossible to make it larger. That’s why the dimensions of the book are 4.18m x 3.77m”. (13.71 x 12.36 feet) We aren’t told what constraint it was that limited its size. Obviously you could get hold of larger paper. The binding was by hand, so clearly bigger would have been theoretically possible. It took 13 cows to produce the leather for binding: so you could round up 20.

Photo: Encylomedia, via Global Advertisers.

Printing presses exist which can print a larger area: witness those advertising pieces on the sides of buildings — they used to be painted onto the walls, surely one of the world’s most satisfying manual jobs, but now they are printed on some sort of plastic-y substrate. These things appear, rather charmingly, to be referred to as building wraps. I’ve no idea if this one, and even larger examples which you can find, in just a single piece, or several joined together. Certainly the one I studied near here on Broadway in Washington Heights was just a single piece, though it was maybe a third of the size to this one.

The reference to a Guinness Record in the video is a bit surprising since according to a Google search that “honor” belongs to Dubai. The explanation turns out to be timing. Although the EuroNews article was written this year, it was in 2010 that the Szinpetri book was the Guinness-World-Record-holder, but it’s position was taken over by the Dubai volume a couple of years later.

Mental Floss, unsurprisingly, has a round up of bookley superlatives. They tell us about a series of engraved stone slabs at the Kuthodaw Pagoda on the road to Mandalay which has a claim to the title, but allow as how “The Guinness Book of World Records gives a more standard type of book the record — they say the world’s largest book is a 2012 text on the Prophet Muhammad created in Dubai and measuring an impressive 16.40 ft x 26.44 ft.” Poor old Mr Varga’s monster is less than half that size! They also tell us that the world’s longest book is Madame Scudéry’s Artamène,ou le Grand Cyrus, which is 2.1 million words long. War and Peace, for comparison, contains a mere 560,000 words, though they don’t tell us which languages they are using for their word counts. As an ex-worker in academic publishing I cannot believe that there aren’t even longer books lurking out there.

Now what it is that might motivate you to produce a book so large that nobody can read it is not explored in the sources I have found. Is fame really worth it? Is it really fame?

My post on Miniature books shows a couple of large books whose dimensions now appear absolutely trivial in the bigness stakes.

Sorry, I’ve got to stop addressing you: it’s time for my 17 minutes of relaxation.

Those who care about Bureau of Labor Statistics time use research will be happy to learn that in 2015, the year following the data covered in the chart shown above, although total leisure time had gone down by six minutes, the time devoted to reading remained steady at 19 minutes. I will resist the obvious temptation to use this inspiring fact to tell you that this shows we are as a nation on the way back to greatness.

A couple of years ago The Digital Reader provided this link to a Thad McIlroy piece about Netflix and its lessons for book publishing — which personally I believe amount to considerably less than a hill of beans. We don’t really need to be told that there are more and more types of media competing for our attention. So what? Stop worrying: if Publisher X goes out of business that’ll be a disaster for employees of X, but many of them will be able to get jobs at say Publisher Y, others will get jobs in other industries, and one or two of them may even start up their own little publishing operation. What won’t change as a result of the demise of Publisher X is the number of people writing books and their eagerness to get them published. However different the experience will be in a hundred years, there will always be “books”. Everyone fears change but change (in my experience anyway) is actually always good.

Statistics can notoriously be made to prove almost anything, though just what these data prove isn’t obvious. One thing I might question is the veracity of respondents: can we really believe that 15-19-year-olds spent just 0.2 hours a day in reading? Does nobody read cereal boxes any more: maybe not, but what about texts, emails, and other electronic communications? No doubt this low number is a result of education not counting as leisure — and if you’re reading stuff as a student it’s totally likely that that’s not going to be your number-one leisure-time activity. (I know it wasn’t mine, though I do know I’d spend more than ten minutes at it.) This doesn’t however mean that young people have abandoned reading, which to be fair is also the CEO of Netflix’s conclusion.

Perhaps unsurprisingly we see no great eagerness in Netflix to become “the Netflix for Books”. There seems to be more money to be made in movies and television: who’d have thought?! A couple of years ago Book Fox provided a review of the contenders for the title. There are clearly readers who are suckers for volume: for them this kind of service is great. For those of us who indulge in more targeted reading (though I’m not sure I could specify what my target is) having a mass of stuff flying at your head, screaming “Read me, read me” is little more than an annoyance. One could argue that there are two different worlds of readers (all squeezed into that 19 minutes), and that they are served by two different publishing businesses: traditional publishing and indie publishing. Whatever, Penguin Random House seems to be giving up on the idea of a “Netflix for Books”. The Digital Reader reports they are withdrawing their books from several subscription services. Publishing Perspectives also has the story focussing on the audiobook sector.

There are only a few areas of law which regularly affect book publishers. Obviously copyright law is at the top of the list, and apart from various employment rules, laws of defamation would be the main contender for second place.

As innocent little proto-publishers we were lectured to about the distinction between slander and libel at the Publishers Association publishing course I attended fifty plus years ago. Both slander and libel are forms of defamation. Slander is a spoken false statement about a person; libel is a written false statement about a person. However a libel needs not just to be written but also to be published. Thus a defamatory statement contained in a letter sealed in an envelope is not libelous until the recipient having read it, opts to share the information in it with others, thus making it public. Whereas a defamation on a postcard is ipso facto libelous — it being assumed that post office staff, and possibly others will have read it in transit. Thus a defamation printed in a book is a libel. (And printers in England need to be careful of what they print because they can be held responsible too.) When you consider the derivation of the word “libel” the distinction becomes easy to remember. The word “libel” derives from the Latin, libellus, a little book, and indeed up until the seventeenth century the word was actually used in this sense in English. To keep us all on our toes, a libel in Scotland (which under the terms of the Act of Union of 1707 has its own legal system) is just any old law suit.

To be defamatory a statement has to be false, not just offensive. Problems arise when we consider who is responsible for “proving” the falseness of any statement. Libel laws are well known to be stronger in England than they are in America, and this often leads to publication delays or indeed cancellation. The big transatlantic difference is the burden of proof. In America the burden of proof is on the plaintiff: if you say something offensive about someone it’s up to them to prove you are lying. In England, the opposite; so defendants find themselves having to prove their innocence of the defamatory charge. This amounts to a built-in advantage to the rich and famous. The need to be able to prove all assertions in a manuscript often makes the publication of some controversial book look likely to be unprofitable — knowing there will probably be large legal fees in prospect the publisher will often refuse to publish and risk exposure. I did a post a couple of years ago about a Cambridge University Press instance of such “prior restraint”.

If libel laws are strict in England, they seem even fiercer in Australia where the rate of libel suits in Sydney is, according to The Economist of 14 December, ten times that in London. Apparently the Australian government is considering doing something about it, but they obviously have their mind on other, less metaphorical fires right now.

Mezzotint is an intaglio process in which ink is deposited in pits in a metal plate and then transferred to a piece of paper. Tiny burrs of metal raised at the side of the pits are also involved in holding ink and enriching the tonal effect. According to the Oxford English Dictionary “The process was invented by Ludwig von Siegen of Utrecht, whose first dated mezzotint was made in 1642. The introduction of mezzotinting to England is generally ascribed to Prince Rupert, the nephew of Charles I. He was also formerly regarded by some as the inventor of the technique.” Mezzotint, with its ability to mimic continuous gradations of tone, was seized upon as the best available method of reproducing paintings. We should also remember that the word mezzotint can be applied to a straight painting to refer to tints neither dark nor light — mid-tones.

Photo of a mezzotint rocker from Magical Secrets by Crown Point Press, San Francisco

A mezzotint rocker, a curved metal block with raised teeth, often narrower than the one shown, is used to roughen up a metal (usually copper) plate with even pits all over. Ink it up in this state and print it on an intaglio press and you’ll get an even, rich, black solid. After the rocker has applied its texture, the mezzotint artist then uses a burnishing tool to flatten out some areas of the plate, smoothing out some completely to print white, and leaving others with varying depths of pit and burr so that a complete range of color can be printed with deeper (darkest) and shallower (lighter) tones creating the image. Because the raised burrs are integral to the process, and these are very subject to damage, the number of copies that can be (successfully) printed form a mezzotint plate is quite small. As the plate gets squashed it will begin to lose detail.

The nickname for the mezzotint process was manière noire, pointing to the fact that the picture was extracted from darkness. As Richard Benson suggests in The Printed Picture it’s a bit like creating a drawing by using an eraser on a completely black field — a tricky skill. In many mezzotints, he suggests, technique dominates with the result that the picture suffers. Mr Benson uses as an example of excellence this portrait of King Charles I. Of course in the book, beautifully printed by GHP of West Haven Connecticut from separations made by Mr Benson, what we are seeing is a fine-screen lithographic representation of a mezzotint, so the mezzotint’s structure is reproduced using a fine halftone screen. What you are looking at here is a digital representation of a photograph of a halftone reproduction of a photograph of a mezzotint. Hey, we do what we can!

One disadvantage of the mezzotint process is that large dark areas tend to survive with little detail in them though Isaac Beckett has done a good job of avoiding such a fate. In fact his shadows show a bit more detail than the original (at least in this tiny reproduction of Van Dyck’s portrait) — see the underarm and the detail in the armor nearby. You can click on the picture to enlarge it.

Below is an enlargement of the detail of the eye, which shows the rocker pattern.

As the Metroploitan Museum tells us, while the earliest mezzotints reproduced the works of past masters, living painters soon realized that here was a way to promote their own work. A mezzotint can be made more rapidly, thus less expensively, than a line engraving (although it yields fewer impressions) and “British portrait and subject painters would work closely with mezzotint engravers to prepare skilled reproductions of their work, which were frequently shown alongside their painted prototypes in London’s annual art exhibitions. Such images often gained greater currency than the artists intended: to meet the increasing demand, less reputable publishers did not hesitate to plagiarize copies of popular works.”

Mezzotint remained principally a British craze from the 1750 through the nineteenth century. In Paris Jacques-Fabien Gautier-Dagoty did develop a process of four-color printing from mezzotint plates, an enterprise which did not survive the Revolution. Here’s a detail of his print, “The Tapestry Worker”, which is to be found at The Art Institute of Chicago.

In so far as mezzotints appeared in books they would tend to be printed separately from the text and bound in to letterpress sigs. Inevitably with the invention of photography and fine-screen lithographic printing the finicky process of mezzotinting declined in commercial importance. Yet, as with any old technique, artists are still producing mezzotints, and printers exist who can print mezzotint plates. (See the caption of the photo of the rocker at the top of this page.)

Here’s an Atlas Obscura video about Book Town Hay-on-Wye.

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

I did a couple of posts about book towns a while back. Anyone interested can find them via the index.

“Every man his own printer” J. R. Holcomb & Co. of Mallet Creek, Ohio boasts. You can, with care and attention, read in the ad their description of how transfer process worked. (Does their drawing feature one or two gentlemen?)

Hectographic printing is a process involving the transfer of an original, prepared with special inks, to a pan of gelatin or a gelatin pad, and thence to paper. We’ve all got a digital printer/copier sitting under our desks nowadays, or have access to a Xerox machine in the office, so such finicky duplication techniques are no longer necessary. Does anyone still use carbon paper either? Carbon paper was good for one or at a pinch two copies: if you wanted more — hectograph to the rescue?

The process was also called jellygraph, and under this name is alluded to by P. G. Wodehouse in The Pothunters (1902). His characters use the process to print a school newspaper. “This jelly business makes one beastly sticky. I think we’ll keep to print in future” they opine. In Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936) George Orwell refers to a socialist paper produced on a jellygraph. Obviously the duplication technique was quite familiar to readers a hundred years ago. I’m not aware of ever having heard of jellygraph when I was growing up. Maybe none of my living kin had worked in an office (which perhaps strangely seems to have been true) or the small town in which I lived found no need for duplication of documents, but even when the Xerox machine was introduced I don’t recall anyone saying “Thank goodness. We won’t have to use that damn jellygraph any more”. That would only have been in the early sixties, before I became an office-worker myself though. I do however remember the mimeograph in it’s purple pride.

To operate the hectograph, you would use a special aniline ink to write your message, or to draw your picture onto a sheet of paper which you’d then lay on the gelatin pad which would take up the inky image, now reversed. The inks could come in the form of pencils or pens, as a type of carbon paper, or even as a typewriter ribbon. Various colors were available but most popular was purple, allegedly because it gave the best contrast, though it was the color of the first aniline dye invented, so may have been the default choice. After the image had been transferred from your master sheet to the gelatin, you’d place a blank sheet of paper onto it, apply gentle pressure, and a reproduction of the original would be transferred to that paper, now once again right-reading. Twenty or so copies could be made, though careful use could get up to 50 or more progressively paler and paler impressions before the ink on the gelatin pad was exhausted. Ironically the name hectograph originated with the Greek hekaton, meaning a hundred, but this was clearly an act of aspirational nomenclature. It was tricky to avoid touching the gelatin while putting sheets of paper onto it which would damage the surface and potentially the image. Sticky fingers were as Wodehouse tells us an occupational hazard.

The hectograph/Hektograf process was invented possibly in Germany in the 1870s, though aniline dyes were first developed by William Perkin in England in 1856. (Allegedly he found “mauveine” by accident while trying to discover a cure for malaria.) The one-page system marketed by Holcombs was soon upgraded by the introduction of the Schapirograph which operated from a continuous roll of paper coated with gelatin, glue and glycerin. This improvement was introduced about 1880 and continued to be marketed till the early 1920s. As their ad tells us the Schapirograph claimed to be able to make 150 copies in only a few minutes. Also simple enough to be operated by a child!

It’s reassuring that almost any old technology seems to be revived these days by hobbyists. Almost inevitably the hectograph has recently been revived and updated for use in the art world. Wikipedia discloses to us that temporary tattoos are actually hectographs.

Interesting to note that Holcombs spell facsimile as two words hyphenated. In fact the term originally began life as two words, unhyphenated. It began to pick up the hyphen around the start of the nineteenth century, and became one word around the turn of the twentieth century. Wikipedia tells us that the Holcomb advertisement dates from the nineteenth century — the online consensus seems to be that it dates from 1876, though I can’t find any real evidence for this: $4.50 for a pad of letter size masters may help date the ad.


There follows the complete text of A. C. Grayling’s essay “Reading” from his book Meditations for the Humanist.


How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book!   THOREAU

It seems that some doctors prescribe books instead of medications to patients suffering from depression, stress and anxiety. The patients are referred to a bibliotherapist — yes: bibliotherapist — who gives patients reading lists suited to their conditions. The treatment’s inspiration was the observation by librarians that borrowers are apt to say, on returning a book, that it did them good by making them laugh or by distracting them from their troubles.

There are almost too many things to say about this amazing fact. Cynics will ask, What sort of pass are we in that people need a doctor’s prescription to prompt them to read? When did we forget that reading is, for a thousand reasons, one of the chief resources of life? Will doctors turn to prescribing dinner for the hungry and sleep for the tired as the next step in the medicalisation of human existence, or as a response to the supine inability of people to think and act for themselves?

There is a tincture of justice in these exclamations, but it is not appropriately directed at doctors. It should rather be directed at the failure of our culture to show people what rich deposits of pleasure and usefulness, and what expansion of horizons, are to be found in reading. An education in reading includes guidance — very easy to give, it takes five minutes (much less if you say, ‘Ask a librarian,’ which is excellent advice) — on how to find any required book or kind of book. And just a little experience as a reader grants access to the great country where one flies as an eagle over the history, comedy, tragedy and variety of human experience, at every point garnering much, if the reading is attentive, from the abundance on offer.

The key is ‘attentive’. The best thing any education can bequeath is habits of reflection and questioning. Reading can be a passive affair, and entertainment leaving no impression on the mind beyond a pleasant present distraction. Many books are skillfully written to demand no more, and there is nothing wrong with that. But for anything more, reading has to be an activity, not a passivity. It is hard to define what makes good books good, because good books come in so many different kinds, but one thing common to most of them is that they make readers think and feel, elevating or disturbing them, and making them see the world a little differently as a result. ‘We find little in a book but what we put there,’ Joseph Joubert said. ‘But in great books, the mind finds room to put many things.’

Reading does not automatically make people wiser or better. When it has that effect it is because readers have done the work themselves, quarrying the materials from their response to the printed page. But apart from practical experience of life, which is everyone’s chief tutor, scarcely anything compares with books as the mine where that quarrying can begin. To read is to enter other points of view; it is to be an invisible observer of circumstances which might never be realised in one’s own life; it is to meet people and situations exceeding in kind and number the possibilities open to individual experience. As a result, reading not only promotes self-understanding, it equips one with insights into needs, interests and desires that one might never share but which motivate others, in this way enabling one to understand, and tolerate, and even to sympathise with, other people’s concerns. As an extension of how this informs one’s behaviour towards others, it is also the basis for civil community and the brotherhood of man.

I keep a photograph on my desk of the Philosophical Library in the Strahof Monastery in Prague. Taken from the upper gallery, it captures the tranquil beauty of that deep room, filled up with light from the clerestory windows in the right-hand wall. The photograph shows one long bar of sunshine lying across a tier of book-shelves, illuminating the richness of the leather bindings ranked there. Below, on the ground floor, three desks are disposed at comfortable intervals, among them an ingenious reading wheel any scholar would envy.

The scene is wonderfully expressive of everything to do with books, and the reading of books, with study and thought, with books as the distillations of time and man’s endeavours — even the world itself, brought into reflective equilibrium and clothed in quietness and retreat. If, off to one side, there were a closet with a bed in it and wherewithal to make tea, one would not mind being locked in there, and the keys thrown away.

A cynic might proclaim this beautiful and evocative library a mere dead mortuary for books, a past curiosity for dull-eyed tourists to glance at, a selling-point for the postcards that now represent its only product. But I think it is a work of art, and represents something opposed to the uneasy, fickle, failing norm of most human life and its compromises.

Philosophical Hall, Strahof Library (clearly not Professor Grayling’s photograph)   © 2011 David Coleman

·   ·   ·   •  •  •   ·   ·   ·

A library is like a hive storing honey, part of the best, sweetest and most nourishing exudate of human experience. A commentator on Vergil’s Georgics Book IV, which tells of honey-bees and lost love, remarked that only four things withstand time — gold, sunlight, amber and honey. Some archaeologists digging in Greece once came across an ancient amphora filled to the brim with honey over 2,000 years old. They took a little each day to spread on their bread at breakfast. After a time they noticed that there was something at the bottom of the amphora. When they looked, they found that it was the body of an infant.

It is an extraordinarily touching thought that the mourning parents of this child, so long ago, buried it in honey to preserve it forever. The action speaks of great wealth, and great love.

The honey story is of course a good one, but its connection with reading is a bit tenuous. The library as a sticky series of honey pots? Maybe we can think of the ideas in books sticking to their readers — in order to remember you have to read actively, as Professor Grayling says. But the activity doesn’t end when you close the book; you also have to reflect on what you’ve read after the event — licking your sticky fingers? Memories are formed by periodic reexamination of an event, an exercise which reinforces the synaptic pathways in the brain, thus foregrounding that particular item.

One might nigglingly object that “exudate” is an overly fancy word to describe either honey or books. It’s also an inaccurate term in both contexts. Nevertheless Professor Grayling writes well and clearly. His latest book, The History of Philosophy (Penguin Press, November 2019) is an inspiring eagle-flight over the world’s philosophies. My philosophy-student granddaughter reports that it is a rich quarry.

For a rational, liberal, secular-humanist like me Professor Grayling’s heart is in the right place — right (or really left) on his sleeve. “Faith”, one of his brief chapters, includes this rousing sentence “Religious belief, meanwhile, whatever it might do in comforting the fearful in the dark, has always and everywhere brought war, intolerance and persecution with it, and has distorted human nature into false and artificial shapes.” I find myself growing more and more intolerant of intolerance.

“Reading” is reprinted without any permission at all: let’s just say that it’s for criticism and review!

I did a piece on bibliotherapy a few years ago.

We continue to hurtle down Open Access Avenue, determined to make the results of scholarly research available free of charge. Maybe I’m just an old dinosaur, but am I alone in marveling at the twist we’ve managed to get our knickers into with this OA business? We started out with the wonderful idea that access to government-sponsored research should be made available free of charge. Then, we slowed down and thought about things; which made us have to accept the fact that yes indeed there are costs involved in publishing a journal article. No problem: let’s just get additional funding from grant-giving bodies so that the authors can cover these costs. Unfortunately it ends up not being that straightforward. Here’s a discussion at The Scholarly Kitchen about payments for peer reviewing articles and payments for publication: the two unavoidable cost elements in scholarly publication. The problem being of course that paying to have your article assessed feels fine up till the moment the decision is made to reject it.

Tim Vines is proposing a middle way: “An alternative is to give authors a choice of how they pay for their article:

  1. Pay a submission fee to cover peer review, with an additional publication fee if their article is accepted, or
  2. Submit for free, but pay a (much higher) APC if their article is accepted.”

My problem here is with the absence of the 3rd choice — the old-fashioned one of free submission and free publication, with a nasty publisher selling the journal to subscribers (and of course making obscene profits by so doing). Undeniably there is a strong argument to be made that research paid for out of public funds (and research not paid for out of public funds, but conducted by academics who are paid out of public funds) ought to be available free of charge to the taxpayers who paid to create it. I annoyed bosses for years by pointing this out as a potential problem. But . . .

Might it not be that an imperfect system (which I acknowledge that profits at the level being made by Elsevier etc. suggest that we do indeed have) is no worse than any alternative? I suspect that most people are not too upset about the profit levels on journals coming from a university press or a scientific society: it’s the big independent traditional publishers that objections focus on. Parenthetically we might factor into the discussion the glaring differences between scientific research and publication in the humanities — not too many government bodies are providing funding for research into close readings of “Thirteen ways of looking at a blackbird”, yet humanities journals are in danger of getting caught up in the Open Access flood too.

Journal publishers have found it worth their while to go along with Open Access: after all what does it matter whether you get your money by selling subscriptions or by collecting Article Processing Charges, just as long as you get your money. Well, I guess it really does matter in that you can no doubt make more profit off subscriptions than off APCs, but some’s better than none, and no publisher would wish to stand too publicly against the tide of opinion in favor of free access to state-sponsored science.

But rather than pushing for free journals, how about some way of limiting the amount of profit that can be made off a journal which is publishing publicly-financed material? No idea what this might be, and of course I do realize that any Congress is likely to resist legislation restricting the hallowed power of the free market. It’s often/usually a mistake to think that the way to solve a problem is to invent a new system: I think it’s almost always more efficient to amend the current system than to come up with a whole new way of doing things. Would it not be possible for the publishers themselves to do something about journal pricing to take account of public access? Of course the trend of government involvement in libraries is to cut, cut, cut, but some funding to offset journal costs might be justified. (This would only be a matter of redirecting the funds. If they are currently being make part of the research grant, sending them elsewhere wouldn’t amount to any increase in cost.) For publishers, even if the level of profit on journals were to be less, their existence would still be an immense benefit. You send out renewal notices around Thanksgiving and in return get a huge cash infusion for journal issues you’ll not have to provide until later in the year. That’s worth a bundle. The cash used to come in handily in time to pay royalties on our books at the end of the first quarter.

Still, it’s probably too late to go back to the status quo ante. Once you’ve passed the turning to the road less taken it’s very difficult to turn round and go back.


* It stands for Article Processing Charges.

Aquatint is a type of etching. Whereas in a regular etching process a solid layer of waxy resist is scratched with a sharp tool to expose the metal of the plate beneath so that it can be etched out in an acid bath, in aquatint the area to be bitten is covered with a powdered granular resin which is adhered to the metal plate by the application of heat. When the plate is put into the acid bath the resin particles protect the metal (printing white) while the areas between the grains are etched away and will thus form irregular pits ready to receive ink.

Here’s a close up of an aquatint coating from A device called a dusting box was developed in order to apply the resin in an even coating across the plate. An infinite variety of tones can be achieved in aquatint by treating different areas in acid baths of differing strengths and for different exposure times. After processing, the granular resin is removed and the plate can be touched up by scraping and burnishing. While it’s possible to make an aquatint picture just from various shaded areas, the plate will usually have some sort of outline and linear detail provided by conventional etching or by engraving. Aquatint is capable of producing smooth tones with such a fine detail that the unaided eye cannot see the grain.

The name aquatint is derived ultimately from Latin, though only thought up and applied to this intaglio process in 18th century Britain, (aqua tincta = dyed water). It was thus called because of its supposed ability to mimic a watercolor painting. Due to an idea of Jan van de Velde IV around 1650, the technique didn’t catch on commercially for a while, reaching a peak by about 1750 and lasting through to the mid-nineteenth century when it began to lose ground to photography and lithography. There are of course still artists using the process.

Here’s a detail of an aquatint from a book Picturesque Groups for the Embellishment of Landscape (9¼” x 11½”, London, 1845). The full plate shows three groups of workers and is entitled Masonry. This is the middle group. The plate was made around 1823 by W. H. Pyne, and contains six different levels of aquatint exposure as well as an etched outline. The plate-maker would first do the lightest tone (shortest duration) acid bath, then paint over these areas with resist and expose again for the second lightest tone, and so on till all was done.

Below we can see a detail of the back wheel of the cart, showing two different levels of bite. In the dark shade at the bottom you can make out needle work done after the aquatint bite in order to darken the shadow.

You can click on these images to enlarge them. Masonry comes from Richard Benson’s invaluable The Printed Picture. I recommend examining the group with the cart: this is a beautiful piece of craftsmanship.

It’s probably a bit perverse to regret the development of more direct routes to the printing of such amazing technical masterpieces — photography, lithography, and photo gravure — and of course hardly anyone could afford to buy a book like Picturesque Groups nowadays if we did produce it this way. But still nostalgia tugs. It seems almost impossible that such work could be produced just by humans and hunks of metal.