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Book Arts

A Fine Press in the City

Lily Lou
Travelog Guide & Map

In the accordion arena, there is a book like Dress Eclectique (1986), by Isabelle Dervaux, a completely irresistible little mix and match book. It’s in the form of those books kids love—which have separate top, middle, and bottom panels that can be moved to change the dress and look of the figure on the page. Here, move a panel, and man in a bathing suit suddenly has gorgeous legs and is wearing huge platform shoes; move another, and a woman with a Josephine Baker–like skirt festooned with bananas now has the bottom half of her figure wrapped in a tight gown with an ornamental Tutu; and so on. Another accordion book, Travelog Guide & Map (1994), by Donna Ratajczak, tells the story of a rather sad-sack parole officer named Arthur, whose movements are charted in a jaunty fold-out map by Jessie Hartland. Then there is Voir Dire Maelstrom (1996), by John Adams Griefen, a large, appealing accordion book made of hand-treated masonite covers with hand-torn edges and pop-ups. It’s difficult to discern the author’s full contribution in this case, because the total extent of the text is the title. Nevertheless, the book somehow leaves you both entertained and bothered.

Esther Smith, in addition to her duties as Purgatory Pie’s designer, has also written two books on her own, How to Make Books (Potter Craft 2007—a division of Random House) and Magic Books & Paper Toys (Potter Craft 2008). These books are not only instructive, but entertaining and full of child-like energy.

Both Smith and Faust teach at the nearby Borough of Manhattan Community College, and now the greater part of their income comes from teaching. That wasn’t always the case. In the past, much of their livelihood came from designing and printing letterheads, business cards, and invitations—very typical of any fine press trying to stay healthy. But 9/11 changed all that.

Purgatory Pie Press

19 Hudson Street, #403

New York, NY 10013

(212) 274-8228

Situated on lower Hudson Street, in a lovely district with old, massive, rust-tinted brick warehouses, Purgatory Pie Press is not far from where the Twin Towers once stood. The buildings’ fall did not physically injure Purgatory Pie Press; the studio isn’t in a direct line with where the towers went down. But it did affect the press’s health. “After 9/11,” Smith said, “people stopped coming to TriBeCa. Well, not everyone, but a lot of them.” For many people, any building within a mile of the Twin Towers disaster became tainted ground. Customers who normally dropped in to look over samples of wedding invitations or business cards stayed away. So you can see that even eight years after this tragedy, it still affects the lives of people who live and work in the area.

If this column is to have any practical application at all, perhaps it should encourage those skittish customers to go downtown and take back our city.


All Purgatory Pie Press books are collaborations. Esther Smith designs the books; Dikko Faust sets the metal and wood type by hand and prints on a 1930s Vandercook 4 letterpress. All are hand-stitched, hand-bound, signed, numbered, limited editions.

Voir Dire Maelstrom

John Adams Griefen, 1996. Edition: 61. 9 x 12 opens to 6 feet. Hand-treated masonite covers. Letterpress topographic relief prints. Types: Gothic wood & Corvinus. Gold, silver, copper, & blue steel on torn Rosaspina cream. Hand torn edges and pop-ups.

Travelog Guide & Map

Map: Jessie Hartland. Text: Donna Ratajczak. 1994. Edition: 150. 18-3/4 x 26 map folds to 9-3/8 x 4-3/8 x 1/4 guide. Types: Kabel & Kaufmann Bold. Green, blue, & red on pale yellow Bodleian.

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