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RBS’s The Scientific Illustrated Book to the 1800 – Part 2

July 28, 2013

So I didn’t get around to doing the post on Friday as I promised, as I was busy reading through the material til rather late. But now that I have arrived in Virginia (a 3.5 hour drive where I just took in the scenery and had random thoughts ran in and out of my mind, nothing book history related), and having some time for my reading to percolate, it enables me to think through some of the questions I would like to get at during my time here.

In terms of the Gaskell sections I had to read for class, I managed to get through all the required pages. In continuation from the summary that I had blogged about in the earlier post, this is more centric on the different roles and specific materials used by pressmen and compositors. Among the most important aspects of these, some of which had been mentioned in the previous post, is related to imposition, forme, folds, proofs and corrections, preparation of the paper, inking, pulling and beating at the form, press figures, and cancels.

Much of the above has to do with the real process of presswork and composing of type. The forme that holds the paper is determined by the kind of folds produced for the paper and the folds are given by the short hand ∘. If you wonder where gutter, header, footer, and side margins came from in your word processing, it came from the handpress era when the ‘furniture’ is arranged to kept these parts from being bound (think long form and short form when you look at two-sided printing the next time). Of course, the sizes of the sheets determined the actual folds that might take place, and Gaskell has a table for that on page 86 of the book. Then, there are also the tranchefiles, which are the double chain lines at the deckle edgee, at half a chain’s width from the shorter edges. Of course, each paper would come with watermarks that have been intentionally produced as identity for the paper. The paper will then have to be set on the stone that is the forme. In terms of the arrangements of the gathers of the queers, it does make sense that the better paper will be arranged more towards the outer layers while the more defective (but not too defective ones) are left to the middle. That, of course, depends on what kind of production is in process (I imagine it would be hard to have a paper too noticeably defective if you want to be producing any form of illustration. The first proofs were read off the type that has been impressed on the form. The story of correcting and proofing is pretty interesting in itself, especially that pertaining to the handpress period, and would appear to be rather odious for a book with hundreds of pages and difficult words, which brings us back to the question on whether the printing technique itself determines the kind of books that were being produced at that time, and therefore, influence the popularity of certain genres and literary forms over others.

The particular hand press that Gaskell’s book talks about is the wooden common handpress (there is the copperplate printer’s rolling press, and the iron handpress), and it could be held in the same or different room from where warehouse where the quires of paper are kept. I am particularly interested in finding out as to how the printer decided, probably in conjunction with the author, on the quality of the paper and the format for printing, thus determining in advance how much of what kind of paper to stock.  Presumably this will have to be entered into the accounting since the cost of overheads, labor, and raw material have to be accounted for.  Of course, it is possible that paper from different runs for different productions do get mixed up along the way, as we would be able to tell by the chain lines and watermarks.  The papers that are gathered are then sent off to a bindery, which is not part of the presshouse. As binding is done laboriously done, the cost of it does not go down with the amount of binding that is done: in fact, the cost may go up, which is why for trade binding, the cost of the trade material are kept at as low a price as possible, through the use of calf or sheepskin, which were more plentiful then. While the cheaper productions were sold bound, some of the more expensive scholarly productions, which would include intricately illustrated books, are sold unbound so that the book collector can send it to his binder for bespoke binding.

Gaskell does not go into too much details about decoration and illustration here, other than to provide short explanations to each technique of print illustration, though those details are supplemented by the other texts that I would have to read for the school. But it is interesting to think about the different time periods when the printers first started working with wooden block reliefs in the early modern period and how that gradually moved to the use of metal plates (chief being copper). The different techniques for making plates ranged from engraving, etching, mezzotint, stippling, aquatinting, and color plating. A number of these methods are still in use today, even if the tools are different. I would be interested in finding out how these differ in their production, for the rest of the week, and which are the choice methods for the production of specific.

More on the actual art and techniques of scientific illustrations, beginning tomorrow. I will refer to some material from Gaskell where necessary, but will begin talking at greater length the other readings specifically on the topic of image-making, on top of the notes I will be making for class. Depending on time, I might upload some pictures here everyday, or leave them til I get to go home. I look forward to doing more graphically intense blogging as I begin taking pictures of my book history experience here, and maybe, I might tweet a sample of them if I even have a moment. I will also try to tweet some of the lectures I will be attending. Looking forward as well to visiting some of the rare book haunts around here, while also checking out their amazing collection.  Dibner this Wed will be tiring but amazing.

First day of class tomorrow.


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