I’m reading Counterpunch: making type in the sixteenth century, designing typefaces now by Fred Smeijers. Fred is a digital type designer who has gone back to the roots of printed type. He has studied early type-makers’ tools in museums, and taught himself to make type punches used for making moulds for casting type for hand setting. A fascinating book.
I don’t have anything printed in the period Fred writes about, but I was reminded to look at a book I do have. It was printed in London in 1770, the second volume of Sermons on several subjects by Thomas Secker LL.D., Late Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, published from the original Manuscripts, By Beilby Porteus D.D. and George Stinton D.D., His Grace’s Chaplains. I am not drawn to its boring content, but I like to see and feel and read a volume made when books were such special possessions.
His Grace’s words are printed in roman and italic type with dark brown ink on cream laid paper. You can see the fine corduroy watermark made by the wires of the paper mould. The corners and spine are covered with brown leather (calf?), with red leather (morocco?) spine labels for the gold blocked title and volume number. The boards are covered with marbled paper, and the edges of the book are marbled to match. Perhaps all these details were discussed between the book binder and the book owner, in a time when book sellers supplied books unbound. Or maybe the book was just sent to the binder with a note to bind this to match the others in the Rev. Mr. So-and-so’s library. For me this book is a microcosm of skilled hand work, in paper making, type setting, printing, binding, paper marbling and gold blocking. Turning its pages is a ticket back a couple of hundred years from the present.