Guest Post: Collecting The Legacy Press

Founded in 1997, The Legacy Press has quickly become a bastion of scholarly work on the history of the book, and their titles have become collectible in their own right. In today’s guest post, bookseller Gabe Konrád interviews Cathleen A. Baker, the founder and driving force behind The Legacy Press.

GK: What was the impetus to start your own publishing house?

CB.jpgCB: While finalizing the manuscript for my first book, By His Own Labor: The Biography of Dard Hunter (Red Hydra Press, 2000), I decided to get an MFA in Book Arts at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, primarily to learn more about letterpress printing, so that I could assist Steve Miller, owner of the Red Hydra Press, in printing the limited edition of that book. And so in 1997 as an MFA student, I established The Legacy Press. At that time, I did an Internet search for the words “Legacy Press” to make sure that there were no other presses by that name out there. While that search was negative, there is now evidence that at least one other concern was using that name then and many more now exist, but mine is the only one that officially includes “The.” The first projects issued under this imprint were printed by hand and fulfilled the MFA degree requirements. The out-of-print titles for many of these fledging works are viewable on my website, www.thelegacypress.com. My dream to help print the Dard Hunter book was realized when I served as the “printer’s devil” on the project from 1998 to 2000. Aside from the years of researching and writing the book, assisting in the physical endeavor of paging out monotype-set galleys, cutting down and dampening the Twinrocker handmade paper, proofing and checking the pages as they came off the Vandercook No. 4, drying the sheets, and collating and folding the sections was an incredible learning experience.

Having the Dard Hunter book under my belt, I was eager to tackle another ambitious project, this time on my own. My thesis project was Endgrain Designs & Repetitions: The Pattern Papers of John DePol (2000), which I co-authored with John DePol (1913-2004), the celebrated American wood engraver. The friendship that arose from that project was cherished by us both for years afterward, and I continue to keep John’s remarkable work available to book-arts practitioners and collectors.

I printed Endgrain Designs on my own Vandercook No. 4 in the summer of 2000 from photopolymer plates that I made. The paper I chose--100# Mohawk Superfine Smooth Ultra-White--had the characteristics I wanted for this book of “wood-engravings”: dense and slick surface to accept the ink without much hint of impression, bright white color to contrast well with the black ink, opaque and heavyweight enough to limit the amount of show-through. As I took the printed pages off the cylinder to inspect them, I began to notice that what I wanted from this presswork was what I could have obtained if it had been offset-printed on a matte coated paper. That doesn’t mean that I regret having letterpress-printed Endgrain Designs because the experience I gained from this project was critical to the conclusion that I reached about printing: that one should decide which materials and techniques are the most appropriate for the text and/or images to be printed. I regard Endgrain Designs as the best-designed and hand-printed book I have been involved in. But during its production, I had the idea that offset-printing could give me the effect that I might seek for a particular kind of book project; I also wondered what it would be like to publish books that did not take so much time at the press and that could be offered at much more affordable prices (Endgrain Designs was priced at $295.00). As a consequence of my MFA experiences, I decided that The Legacy Press would specialize in new, scholarly texts focusing on the printing, paper, and bookbinding arts, that would be well-designed, offset-printed books. Those plans were postponed, however, so that I could finish my PhD in 2004. In spring 2005, I moved back to my home state and to Ann Arbor, where I was fortunate to have a job created for me as Paper Conservator in the University of Michigan Library; I am now Conservation Librarian and Exhibit Conservator.

GK: So what was the first Ann Arbor-based production?

CB: The first offset-printed book that The Legacy Press published was Dorothy Field’s wonderfully illustrated essay, Paper and Threshold: The Paradox of Spiritual Connection in Asian Cultures (2007). It was printed in full color in China in order to keep the retail price manageable. I was very pleased with the results, and the book won a national award. A few years ago, while discussing a potential book project with my friend and fellow Ann Arborite, book conservator and bookbinding historian, Julia Miller, she expressed a desire to have her book printed in Michigan in order to support local businesses. To my surprise when investigating the potential of hiring a local printer, I discovered that Ann Arbor has a long history as a “printing” town, and there are a number of respected book manufacturers within a few miles of my home office. Since Elaine Koretsky’s Killing Green: An Account of Hand Papermaking in China (2009), all of The Legacy Press books have been printed and bound locally. While this increases the cost/price of books somewhat, it was the right decision, and the added bonus is that I can talk to printing professionals face-to-face.

machine.jpgThe year 2010 was a landmark one. Julia Miller’s Books Will Speak Plain: A Handbook for Identifying and Describing Historical Bindings was issued a few months after my book was published, From the Hand to the Machine. Nineteenth-Century American Paper and Mediums: Technologies, Materials, and Conservation. Since their publication, both of these books have secured national awards. Beginning with another award-winning title, Hanji Unfurled: One Journey into Korean Papermaking (2012) by Aimee Lee and the first volume in the series, Suave Mechanicals: Essays on the History of Bookbinding (2013), edited by Julia Miller, The Legacy Press has published books in full color that are printed locally, and although this decision slightly adds to the cost of books, color is a feature that greatly enhances the topics covered.

GK: Color is a major benefit, as are the DVDs that accompany Books Will Speak Plain and Suave Mechanicals. I love the high-resolution images that you can magnify 400% and really see the most minute details. How did the decision to include DVDs come about?

CB: Julia Miller persuaded me to include a DVD of the over 1,400 images of bindings that she had accumulated over the years, most of which could not be included in the print version of her first book. Because most of the images in that book are in black and white, there were several reasons to include a DVD: (a) to reproduce at relatively low cost all of the bindings in color, (b) to produce a very large number of images, and (c) to be able to zoom in on the bindings. The last advantage has been noted by a few reviewers as a distinct advantage in being able to see details. It is not the same as having the book in your hands, but it must be the next best thing.

While “zoomability” is good, this feature is meaningless, however, unless a really good digital image has been taken in the first place. When photographing books, the following are a few suggestions that I give prospective authors: (1) use a white or neutral gray paper or fine cloth/felt, rather than a black, background because the edges of the binding will be more easily read, especially dark-colored bindings; (2) set your camera at the highest, finest image setting in order to capture all of the fine details; (3) because what you want to see in a binding is rarely in two dimensions, you might be better photographing a book using the manual setting (rather than using auto focus) with the f-stop at the highest number, e.g., f-22, to increase the depth of field, bringing more levels into focus; because this will increase the amount of time needed for the light to enter the smaller aperture, you would be advised to use a tripod or copystand rather than hand-holding the camera; (4) rather than lighting the book just with light coming from directly above it, consider adding another light source placed to the left or the top of the book to provide some raking light; this assumes the book is orientated in the way you intend for the viewer to see it, e.g., right side up (if you need to turn the book upside down to photograph it more easily, place the raking light at the right or bottom); (5) if photographing a detail, take that image separately, filling the viewfinder with it; never crop the detail from a much larger image because the resolution will be too low to reproduce except at 100% (the size of the original); (6) you can often set the camera to save images as TIFFs and this format should be kept as your archive copy, but because TIFFs are so large--take up a lot of memory--I convert them to JPEGs so that the design file, either for print or for the DVD, can “hold” more images without slowing the software program down or crashing it.

GK: For those wishing to collect titles from The Legacy Press, the first four titles - One Curve of Sugar, The Story of Blue Betsey, Carmen 1, and Endgrain Designs - are stunning and quite rare on the market, but your “production” books are an excellent place to start for anyone interested in the history of the book. Suave Mechanicals promises to be an amazing series. Do you have a roadmap of how many volumes will follow and a date for the next installment?

sauve.jpgCB: Thank you for your nice words about my early efforts at hand-produced books. By the end of October 2013, editor Julia Miller will have read the essays that are intended for volume 2 of Suave Mechanicals, and the book should be published by late summer 2014. Authors of essays for volume 3 have already begun to be identified, and so this series should be ongoing for a few years, at least. In addition to providing important information on often esoteric subjects having to do with the history of bookbinding, Suave Mechanicals also gives first-time researchers the opportunity to publish their work, working with people--Julia and I--who are eager to guide them through the often-intimidating process. My goal is perhaps a bit more self serving: by making publishing more comfortable, I hope to more easily convince prospective The Legacy Press authors to submit book-length manuscripts. There are a significant number of people who are doing incredible research in bookbinding (as well as other areas in the printing, paper, and manuscript arts), but most are reluctant to proceed into the overwhelming world of publishing. The Legacy Press exists, in part, to help those people get their knowledge into print.

GK: This is exciting because, as stated by Deborah Howe in a review of Suave Mechanicals, volume one, on The Bonefolder, it “establishes a new level of scholarly research and invites each one of us to become more astute and insightful when conserving and or observing these rough jewels.” This, of course, is entirely true, including chapters on historical repair, votive offerings on Armenian bindings, Colonial blankbooks, American scaleboard bindings, papier-mâché bindings, etc. It seems like the history of the book has been covered already, but this series clearly shows how much more there is to delve into! With Hanji Unfurled, Killing Green, and Paper and Threshold, The Legacy Press has become a specialist in Asian papermaking and use. How did that occur?

CB: I cannot say that that was planned, and the credit has to go to Dorothy Field’s wonderful essay about the importance of paper in global cultures, Paper and Threshold. Hers was the first book that The Legacy Press issued as a “trade” edition. Since 2007, the year her book was published, authors from the intimate world of Asian papermaking have recognized that The Legacy Press is sympathetic to the idea of covering subjects that are quite specific, especially works that must be supplemented by a large number of images. With the next TLP book, A Song of Praise for Shifu by Susan Byrd, I have gone a bit outside my layout “rules” to accommodate her unique, poetic vision. This strong relationship between publisher and author is, I think, rare, especially for “trade” books.

GK: If I recall correctly, isn’t shifu a type of material woven from thread made of paper?

CB: Yes, that’s right. Until reading Susan’s book, I had no idea that this craft has been around for centuries, and there are extant examples of clothing that are hundreds of years old. Even though I know that under all but the most adverse conditions such as fire and mold, paper is a remarkably stable and resilient, it is still amazing to me that work clothing worn everyday for many years survives. The most appropriate paper to convert into thread has properties that vary somewhat from paper destined for other more common purposes, and there still exist papermakers who specialize in shifu paper.

GK: Going back to your early work, two of the volumes you produced were booklets and the third, Carmen 1, was a French-fold with two papyrus pop-up elements. This item, which quotes Gaius Catullus, is striking in its simplicity, yet the pop-up mechanisms seem terribly difficult to master?

CB: In many respects, I consider this simple project one of my most successful in terms of design and printing. It was a class assignment and we all had to include a pop-up or moveable element in the French-fold format. I looked at a lot of past student works and other examples of pop-ups in the MFA program’s collection and the University of Alabama’s Special Collections. The mechanism is quite simple and working with papyrus was fun, and the writing on it is the poem-- Carmen--by Catullus in Latin. It is interesting to me to contrast this 4-page project to the 350+ page biography of Dard Hunter that I was involved in. Page for page, the former was much more difficult to get right, and this difference reinforced the idea that a short work, such as a French-fold or a broadside, needs to be “perfect,” and that there is no room for “okay” as there seems to be for a longer work, where mistakes are spread out over more paper and are therefore less noticeable and perhaps more forgivable, though one should always strive for perfection. When the reader can take in a short work in a few seconds, what the creator wants to say must be quickly discernible; there should be no fault in word, design, or printing that catches the eye and diminishes its impact.

GK: How were the papyrus fragments produced, given that aged feel?

CB: I bought two sheets of newly made papyrus from a paper distributor, wrote on it, and cut it into pieces. Any patina that it has acquired in the past decade or so is accidental. Since working at the University of Michigan Library, which has the largest collection of ancient papyri in the Western Hemisphere, I now know what truly aged papyrus looks and feels like. The old has often been buried in the desert for centuries, and it is soft, friable, and a decidedly brown color rather than the honey tone of new papyrus.

Bibliography of The Legacy Press, 1997 through October 2013

The Story of Blue Betsey
Cathleen A. Baker (Tuscaloosa, 1997, edition of 30)

One Curve of Sugar
Jennifer Futernick (Tuscaloosa, 1998, edition of 100)

Carmen 1
Gaius Catullus (Tuscaloosa, 1998, edition of 50)

Endgrain Designs & Repetitions: The Pattern Papers of John DePol
Cathleen A. Baker, John DePol (Tuscaloosa, 2000, edition of 130)

“Dashes for a Typographical Stage” John DePol Keepsake
(Tuscaloosa, 2004, edition of 300)
Offset-printed leaflet featuring a number of wood-engraved dashes cut by DePol (1913-2004), most of which were made for The Typophiles’s Benjamin Franklin Keepsakes. The original layout was designed by DePol, who signed 80 copies.

Paper and Threshold: The Paradox of Spiritual Connection in Asian Cultures
Dorothy Field (Ann Arbor, 2007)

John DePol Pattern Papers
(Ann Arbor, 2008)
Ten different DePol-designed pattern endpapers that are available by sheet for fine-press binding work. These designs include “branches,” “brush,” “bulbous,” “curls,” “pisces,” “shells,” “stream,” “tooth,” “triangle,” and “whirl.” Having exclusive license to publish DePol pattern papers, The Legacy Press also has an additional thirty-four designs available for special order for edition binding.

Killing Green: An Account of Hand Papermaking in China
Elaine Koretsky (Ann Arbor, 2009)

From the Hand to the Machine. Nineteenth-Century American Paper and Mediums: Technologies, Materials, and Conservation
Cathleen A. Baker (Ann Arbor, 2010)

Books Will Speak Plain: A Handbook for Identifying and Describing Historical Bindings
Julia Miller (Ann Arbor, 2010)

Hanji Unfurled: One Journey into Korean Papermaking
Aimee Lee (Ann Arbor, 2012)

Suave Mechanicals: Essays on the History of Bookbinding, Volume I
Julia Miller, ed. (Ann Arbor, 2013)

A Song of Praise for Shifu
Susan J. Byrd (Ann Arbor, October 2013)

Our thanks to Cathy Baker for taking time to answer our questions. Gabe Konrád is the owner of Bay Leaf Used & Rare Books in Newaygo, Michigan. He is a member of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America, the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers, and the Independent Online Booksellers Association.

Images Courtesy of Gabe Konrád.


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