In Memoria.

For my last required blog posting, I would like to look back on the semester to all of the things we did as a class and all of the exciting new things I learned personally. We have covered a whole “heckofalotta” history on the book and the topic of authorship in general. Some of the questions we raised in class were about concepts I had never even considered, such as “the quality of paper and how does it affect the overall meaning of the book itself?” Before starting the class this semester, I knew how to decipher poetry, look for symbolism, perform a detailed close-reading, etc. But, I never thought about the physical aspects of a text and how much they contributed to my understanding of what I was reading. So now I would like to take this time to refresh everyone’s memory on what we have accomplished this semester and how this class has reconstructed the way I interpret literature.

1.) Papermaking: The creation of handmade paper was something I knew absolutely nothing about before entering the class. I have always just kind of taken paper for granted as it has always been available to me, but now that I know how much effort and skill goes into handmade paper, I most definitely see it in a whole new light. The amount of labor that went into making paper before the advent of modern technology is incredible. From cutting up piles upon piles of soiled rags to getting everyone at the paper mill to come help press the water out of the pile, it is amazing paper was even made in the first place! A huge amount of labor was needed to produce a simple sheet of paper. Now that I am aware of all the hard work that went into crafting paper and the differences between a quality sheet and one that was cheaply made, I can appreciate the importance of a handmade page in the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, for instance. I find myself looking for chain lines and water marks whenever I pick up an old book… But hey, I’m not complaining.

2.) Marbling: Although we didn’t spend much time on marbling paper it was still pretty awesome to have the opportunity to try our hand at the process. Like paper making, marbling is truly an art that takes practice and patience. Our paper turned out pretty righteous (the slang meaning of the term) in my opinion, even though most likely we would have been kicked out of apprentice school on the first day. Also, meeting Dr. McClintock for the first time was a great experience. The work he has done with marbling, box-making (the Valentine’s day gifts), typeface (he has a typeface modeled after his own handwriting), and publication in general is simply amazing. Dr. McClintock is the man.

3.) Typography: This was the area of the class that really peaked my interest. We didn’t spend a huge amount of time on the topic but we did touch on some very interesting points. Typography has always been a fascinating subject for me. Having the opportunity to set type by hand and print a page on a Vandercook proofing press was like a dream come true. I could have spent days in the basement of Alderman Library setting whole pages of text. The digital resources on typography like the Typography Insight app, “What Type Are You?” online quiz, and even the Arial vs. Helvetica game on the iPad were all very helpful. It was fun to look at the different Kafka title pages and make a decision if the typeface fit the text at all. I didn’t think any of them did but that’s just my opinion… Although we didn’t spend much time on typography, the class helped better open my eyes to the field and solidified my interest in type. I took my interest in type even farther outside of the classroom in my spare time watching documentaries on type (I highly recommend the film Helvetica), researching and reading on the histories of particular typefaces (some type creators are VERY VERY odd), and maybe even pursuing a job in the field of printing or typography. I am in no way trying to sound like an overachiever, I just wanted to tell you all how the class helped establish my interest in typography. Loving type is not all fun and games as I have found out. When I am out and about in town or driving, I find myself constantly looking at signs and text trying to determine if I recognize what particular type is being used. Just last weekend when I was in Richmond with my lady friend, I made sure that she was aware of six different stores that used Helvetica in their logo… Though there are many more than six! Finally she just told me to stop and now I just keep my typographic observances to myself. It is really amazing how much text and type is around us at every moment of everyday that we just overlook. Millions of dollars can be spent designing or choosing one typeface for one particular use and most of the time the public is blissfully unaware of this. A typeface that is perfectly suited to a certain text has the uncanny ability to almost subliminally transmit a chosen message to a reader, without the reader having to digest the words. The phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” rings true for typeface as well. Each printed letter is a tiny work of art, pushing the meaning of the text even further. Harmony in literature exists only when text and type fit seamlessly together on the page. Ok, now I realize i’ve gotten into some strange form of “typographic philosophy” so i’ll just go ahead and stop. But heres a link to a rad book about the philosophy of typography priced at a cool $18.21! Order yours today! You can see why my girlfriend and/or anyone I talk to about type just wants me to shut up… Whatever, I do just fine talking to myself. I’ll just end this section with a small (or maybe not so small?) thought: typography is one of the unsung heroes that keeps this world turning.

4.) Books in general: We have learned so much about the book this semester that it is hard to review everything in one blogpost, I don’t have the time for that right now. As Howard from The Legend of Old Gregg would say: “I’m a man about town!” Anyway, the small random facts that I have carried away from the class are quite possibly my favorite souvenirs. It is crazy to think that medieval bookmakers would reuse manuscripts and glaze them into cover boards for other books. Think about all the calligraphy, text, and quality handmade paper that is sitting, hidden behind vellum in museums all over the world. In fact, I found an example of this technique in Hampden-Sydney’s own Bortz Library. As I was typing this post, I glanced over to one of the stacks to my right and noticed a book with a nice embossed spine and cover. What really caught my eye was the portion of spine that was missing it’s outer layer. On the spine, under the cover material, is a strip of printed paper glued to the cloth that holds the gathering together. The paper appears to be a fragment of what was once a list of books available at Henry Bohn’s Classical Library. It seems the practice of reusing printed paper in other areas of bookmaking did not die out in medieval times. Imagine if the slip of paper beneath the cover was autographed by Dickens or Wilde and accidentally got tossed into a scrap pile. The binder may have overlooked the signature and glued it into the book without scrutiny. The signature might have lay hidden for 160 years until a curious english major noticed some faded handwriting behind the torn spine covering. If that was the case I most certainly would have pulled an Indiana Jones/Lewis Bell move and pocketed that baby in the blink-of-an-eye! Another very interesting thing I noticed about this particular book is that it appears to have NEVER been fully read cover to cover. Almost every page in the book, after page 89, is still uncut from when it was folded and bound; it also has never been checked out by anyone at H-SC as the library “date due” card is blank. The book was printed by Cox (Brothers) and Wyman and published by Henry G. Bohn of York Street, London in 1852 and since then, not one soul cared to read The Odes of Pindar, Literally Translated into English Prose past page 89… With the knowledge I have gained in the authorship class, I can look at any old book and begin to uncover the history behind its physical existence. This may be boring and unimportant to some people but I think it’s pretty badass.

The main purpose of this blogpost was not to simply explain everything I have taken away from the authorship class. Rather, I wanted to briefly tell you all how the class has influenced the way I interpret literature, not just on a textual level but on physical and historical levels as well. I am able to apply my knowledge not just to a final paper or project, but to things outside the classroom. Applicable knowledge is the most invaluable kind and that is precisely what we have gained from what I like to call the “experience” of English 360: Gutenburg to Google. We students are in no way experts on any of the topics we covered this semester but I believe the class has given us a leg-up against english majors and scholars that may have never focused on the question of authorship or the physical aspects of the book. Too many people regard the subjects of english and literature as simply an attempt to draw meaning from words on a page. The truth of the matter is that authorship, books, and the written word (i’m grouping very broadly here) goes far beyond merely uncovering textual meaning. Literature encompasses every facet of life and without the book, the human race might have never made it this far.

Post Script: Thank you to everyone in the Authorship class for a great experience this semester and to Dr. Davis who brought English 360: Gutenburg to Google into existence. Fin, for now…

 

 

uSeFuL fOnt

I am excited that our authorship class is beginning to more closely examine typography. Typography has always interested me, more so now than in my earlier years. I can remember working on class projects in lower and middle school that required a visual aid. More often than not I chose a poster board full of pictures and type to capture the attention of the class. For some reason I always paid close attention to the typeface or font I used when presenting projects or even turning in a 6th grade paper on the Civil War. What font would I use for my heading or title? Should my title’s font match the body? Say I was writing a paper about the history of Egypt, what would my title look like? No doubt it was going to be in papyrus. Maybe a paper on Shakespeare would have a title in some sort of scripted typeface. I was most certainly using fonts to convey some sort of idea to my reader without them actually having to read a word; a sort of elementary visual thesis you could say.

I still do this today, although I will not be turning in my Capstone paper on Tennyson and Victorianism with a title using marina script. Whenever I type an academic paper, or any paper for that matter, I ALWAYS use cambria. Cambria is aestheticlly pleasing to me and that is exactly what the people who created it at Microsoft intended. Cambria was specifically designed for on-screen reading and to look good in small sizes. In today’s world, 99% of students type papers on computers, so why not use a font that is geared exactly for such a medium (stats my own). I think cambria’s transitional serifs help a paper flow better than say a sans typeface. I have this belief that as someone reads a paper I have written, my intentional choice of font helps guide the reader from letter to letter, word to word, and idea to idea with ease. The sans category of fonts just doesn’t quite cut it for me in terms of academic writing. They are blocky and modern looking. Sans don’t flow as well as the serif family in my mind. My ideas are better illustrated in a paper using cambria as opposed to helvetica.

So have I pretty much labeled cambria as my “one-size-fits-all” typeface? Hell no. I wouldn’t use cambria on anything other than an academic paper. It is meant for on-screen reading, and in my case printed paper, and that is where I intend to keep it. If I ever open a store that is geared toward the modern gentleman, maybe my sign will be in De Soto. If and when I type up all of my family’s recipes into a book, I will definitely use Rollerscript. Both of these fonts translate my intended message to a reader or a passerby without the individual actually having to read the words. If a guest in my house saw a handmade “cookbooky” looking book, typed in rollerscript, sitting on my kitchen counter, I bet you 9 times out of 10, he or she will think of a family cookbook. You might ask, “why does it have to be a family cookbook?” Its because i’m not sitting in Barnes & Noble for 8 hours hand writing every Paula Deen recipe but I will surely jot down grandma’s lemon pie recipe on a scrap of paper and digitize it later. If I take the time to type up all my family recipes, i’m going to use a font that suggests handwriting because that is how most traditional family cookbooks are made. Most times they are written by hand and that is the message I want to convey.

Peter Balthazar wrote a post earlier this semester that talked about comic sans. The piece was informative and interesting but I want to talk about the photo he included at the end. The photo depicts two office bulletins, one in comic sans and one in helvetica I believe. Helvetica believes comic sans is inappropriate inside of a Fortune 500 company but comic sans is perfectly in her element when typed in all caps saying, “PLEASE KEEP THE DOOR CLOSED!!! THANK YOU!!!” Comic sans, in all caps, suggests big bold handwriting and depending on the vocabulary used, can suggest aggressiveness. Think of the note as handwritten by a pissed off coworker. I would be much more inclined to take notice of an angry handwritten message, or one typed in a font that suggests big angry handwriting, than to one typed neatly in helvetica. Comic sans does indeed have a purpose even though that purpose is very limited. So helvetica can go back to boring eye charts they use in doctors offices, I’ll keep comic sans around for when I need her.

 

Letterpress Printing

On the first day of class Dr. Davis placed a cheaply made romance novel on the table and asked, “What makes To Seduce a Sinner different than any of the rare books sitting in front of you?” We all jumped at the chance to point out the differences in the binding, paper quality, cover art, and so on and so forth. It was apparent to the entire class that the more modern novel was just not up to par, in terms of quality, with the older books. This fact scared me a little bit. I feared that maybe in the future, all books even the “classics,” would be made with as little attention to quality as raunchy romance novels. But, i found hope. On the internet of course.

This hope comes from the letterpress printing revival that is gaining momentum all over the  world. Small companies like Firefly Letterpress in Boston, Mass are using traditional printing presses to create all kinds of handmade books and ephemera. Although a hand printed wedding invitation is always nice, in my opinion the real importance of a letterpress revival is the fact that books are once again being printed with an extreme attention to detail. The amount of books being printed on traditional presses isn’t huge, but the fact that a small group of people care enough to spend the time and money to do it means the book as an art form hasn’t completely been forgotten.

I had a brief introduction to letterpress printing through my work with the Lettermpress application i purchased online. After the download was complete I opened the app with the assumption that I could construct an 18th century title page within a relatively short amount of time. I was very wrong. Without any prior knowledge whatsoever about printing presses, I became overwhelmed as I scrolled through a vast collection of moveable type and tools with odd names. After reading the directions twice over and about an hour’s worth of positioning type onto my bed, I had a simple cover ready to be printed. I then picked my ink color and drug the lever with my mouse only to find I had placed my type completely backwards. After about two more hours of scrolling and a few minor setbacks I finally had a printable cover sheet.

Although my experience with letterpress printing was on a computer, it was easy for me to see just how much work goes into printing using traditional methods. The process has been made obsolete with the advent of modern printing technology but the quality that comes out of traditional presses is unmatched. There is something special about holding a book created by a master printer. Every little detail is taken into account and the end result can truly be called a work of art.

 

 

CSI: London

“Jack the Ripper” is the common moniker for the serial killer thought to be responsible for multiple murders that occurred in London’s Whitechapel district in 1888. Although there have been many potential suspects brought up throughout the years, to this   day the case remains unsolved. The main obstacle in solving the Ripper case today is that DNA testing simply did not exist in the late 1800′s. Any possible evidence, such as blood, hair, clothing fibers, skin cells, etc, was overlooked by detectives and has long since been washed away from the crime scenes. The Ripper’s definitive DNA, by now, is impossible to  know but he did leave behind an abundance of important clues that could aid in solving the case. His letters.

Hundreds of letters claiming to be written by the Ripper were sent to local newspapers and London police during the time of the murders. Many of the letters are thought to be hoaxes penned by ordinary citizens aiming to fuel the massive amount of publicity surrounding the case. The lure of such a high profile case in the newspapers certainly invited a fair share of copy-cats to send in their own letter “from hell.” There is really no way to tell a “actual” Ripper letter apart from a “fake” but by closely examining the paper and the handwriting of the messages, researchers can begin to draw similarities between them.

Imagine you have a pile of alleged Ripper letters sitting in front of you. What would you look for first? The watermark from the papermaker? A possible embossing? A border, if so does it have a color? The way is the letter folded? The quality of the paper? Do you notice any drawings or peculiar markings on any of the letters? Can you see any similarities in the handwriting? These are all important things that researches look for when examining letters possibly written by the Ripper. Patricia Cornwell, the popular American crime writer, has closely examined hundreds of Ripper letters and she believes she has solved the age old case. In her book, Portrait of a Killer, Patricia details connections between a multitude of Ripper letters and the famous German painter Walter Sickert.

Cornwall’s argument for Sickert includes a variety of factors that connect him to confessional letters written using the name Jack the Ripper. A careful look at letters exchanged between Sickert and fellow painter James Whistler show that Sickert used high quality stationary made by companies like Monckton, Alexander Pirie & Sons, and Joynson. Many Ripper letters are written on the same type of stationary Sickert was using at the time. Some letters even have matching watermarks and appear to be from the same batch of paper. Similarities in handwriting also tie Sickert to letters from the Ripper. A well known Ripper letter that has painted letters on high quality art paper shows that the author had access to art supplies like colored pencils, paints, and lithographic crayons. Many of the small sloppy sketches on Ripper notes closely resemble drawings done by Sickert. Throughout her book, Cornwall describes extremely intricate details that show similarities between Sickert’s choice of paper, ink, and handwriting to many Ripper letters.

Although drawing comparisons between letters is not enough evidence to show that Sickert is indeed Jack the Ripper, it is still interesting to see how researchers are paying close attention to the paper, ink, and handwriting the Ripper may have used. The lack of DNA evidence forces modern detectives to reach way back in their bag of tricks in an attempt to solve the caseI would recommend Portrait of a Killer to anyone interested in the Ripper case and especially the letters connected to the historical figure.