Guild of Book Workers Newsletter
Number 96
October 1994

Reviews

The GBW Newsletter reviews books, reports, new periodicals, booksellers' and auction catalogs, and electronic products that pertain directly and indirectly to the book arts: papermaking, calligraphy, typographic design, printing, book illustration, bookbinding, marbled and decorative papers, book conservation, etc. Reviews focus on issues of interest to active artisans and craftspeople. Publishers, book artists and craftspeople, and friends of the book arts are asked to send appropriate publications for review or notice to the book review editor.

Books received which are not strictly within the scope chosen for the Book Review section but which might nevertheless be of interest to readers of the Newsletter are noted as Books Received.

Books or publication announcements should be sent to the Book Review Editor: Sidney F. Huttner, The University of Tulsa Library, 2933 East 6th St, Tulsa, OK 74104-3189; (918) 631-3133; fax: 631-3791; Internet: SFH@Vax2.UTulsa.Edu; Bitnet: SHuttner@Tulsa.

The Book Review Editor welcomes notice from GBW members of their willingness to review and their areas of interest or knowledge.

Exhibit: "Broken Rules and Double Crosses: Ken Campbell: An Artist's Books."
New York Public Library, Edna Barnes Salomon Room. Curated by Rodney Phillips. August 27-December 30, 1994.

Reviewed by Nina M. Schneider
Center for Book Arts.

I think of the book arts as a divided world. There are fine press books; and there are artist's books. Artists have a tendency to forget that a book should function, not just compile artwork, and artist's books often disappoint because they lack craftsmanship. Fine press books, on the other hand, tend to be conservative and non-experimental. Ken Campbell's books, fortunately, are executed so precisely and with such daring that the distinctions between these two worlds are bridged. Ambiguity is reserved for the layers of meaning and of medium. There is a dark foreboding in most of the works in this exhibition. Layers of ink hide and reveal shapes and images. Pages are "painted" in metallic sheens.

This retrospective exhibition spans almost 20 years. Campbell was born in 1939 and trained as a poet and graphic designer. He studied at the London School of Printing and writes, designs and prints his books letterpress. Almost all the books in the exhibit, except for the few offset and screen-printed examples were printed on a Vandercook. Campbell's background allows him to combine the best of artists' books and fine press books. He bridges art and craft to produce some truly amazing works.

An early work entitled Father's Hook is the most quiet, almost fragile, piece in the exhibit. A tall, slim volume, it is printed in red, yellow, green, and black on Japanese tissue with such sensitivity that the ink seems still wet. The translucency of the pages is wonderful considering that the layers of ink which produce these colors must have been heavy. Perhaps it's an illusion of texture. There are four blocks on each spread of the same color that do not quite meet at the seams, creating a cross of untouched paper. The pages fold out to create squares for the squares of color. Although the book is about a difficult relationship between the artist and his father, the aesthetic of the book is emotionally soothing, reflective in its simplicity.

The book AabB is the most typographic. Screen-printed in brown, green, and blue letterforms based on wood typeface designs, the three lines of text overlap but are still clearly readable. The 17 pages are accordion bound. A smaller mock-up allows a viewer to see the entire text: A and B are having a conversation in the middle line, the logic of which is as challenging as trying to read the three lines at the same time--they confuse the word "sea" with the letter "c" and so forth. A joke on writers, proofreaders or printers?

Later books, such as Tilt: A Black-Flagged Street, Firedogs, and A Knife Romance are darker both in color and tone. Solid color grid blocks show up again, but the translucency is gone, and they seem to hide the paper instead. Firedogs, for instance, teases with a pink and red cover of serif type overprinted in a sans-serif face of varnish on white paper. The interior, however, is dark, both literally and metaphorically; the darkness converges on the paper and images. Produced during the Gulf War and printed from zinc plates, type-high nails and sandpaper, the book evokes pain, sharp objects, small pieces embedding into tender things. Campbell's own poetry is set against all this in the elegant Bodoni typeface. The contrast is compelling.

Skute Awabo (Awabo Skute) is a book that seems to have been painted until closer inspection reveals colored and metallic inks. Layers are built up through the colors and printed textures of wood and composing materials. The greens and light blues in the first pages echo the coolness and shifting layers of a river (awabo) evolving into browns and reds and a darkness of soot and dying ashes of fire (skute).

The most recent book in the exhibit is Ten Years in Uzbekistan, a collaboration with photographer David King. The spreads on display have such a painterly quality that they look saturated. The pages are printed from half-tone portraits in which the faces have been "erased" in black ink by Campbell. King discovered a book of Alexander Rodchenko's in which Rodchenko had erased the names and faces of those individuals who had been destroyed by Stalin. Campbell's erasings seem to be not only about dissidence but about censorship as well. The faces are covered, the pages are covered, the text and the figures are as obscured as anything else that others may not want to be seen.

Many of the pieces are exhibited with their accompanying proofs, type, and lock-ups. These objects, especially the lock-ups, enhance the books by demonstrating just how methodical Campbell's process was in attaining his results. My only complaint about the exhibition is the black case linings. They are too dark for many of the books and, without an interior light in the cases, I found myself looking at the reflecting grid of the skylight.

Campbell, while breaking down all stereotypes of the Artist's Book, demonstrates that there are many things left to discover. I left the library encouraged for the future of book arts.

Werner Rebsamen. Technically Speaking: Articles on Library Binding.

Library Binding Institute, 7401 Metro Boulevard, Suite 325, Edina, MN. 1992 edition. 168 pp.

Reviewed by Elaine Larsen
Rutgers University Library.

The technology of bookbinding is a rigorous process whose varied history rivals that of the individual who authored this book. Comprised of articles which Werner Rebsamen published in Library Scene and New Library Scene from 1975 to 1989, this book focuses on the many binding techniques and tests that have evolved over the years and Rebsamen's experiences with them. The son of a Swiss master bookbinder, Rebsamen began his career as an apprentice at age fifteen and honed his craft in Holland and the United States prior to his appointment in 1975 as Technical Director for the Library Binding Institute of the Rochester Institute of Technology. Rebsamen intends to educate potential bookbinders through detailed instructions, illustrations, and the organization of his text.

Even though the text deals with technical subject matter, Rebsamen uses simple terminology to instruct the reader. In a 1981 article, "Binding Books in Cloth," Rebsamen defines the complex nomenclature of each of six bleachery procedures: desizing, scouring, souring, chemicking, antichloring, and drying. The tone of this article is not argumentative but authoritatively neutral as the author offers explanation for the tests he performs, stating that "some library books are heavily circulated, while others seem to stay on the shelves forever. Therefore, any testing of library books must take these factors into consideration.."

Intricate drawings, graphs, and photopraphs demonstrate procedures and compile data. For example, "A Library Binding Performance Evaluation," a 1983 study, contains a line graph showing the results of the "tumble test" which measured the degradation of books after rotation in a rectangular chamber. Rebsamen plots the widths of four books with different binding styles on the vertical line and the revolutions per minute on the horizontal line. To the book's disadvantage, however, space does not permit the reproduction of photographs in their original size, resulting in grainy or darkened images which are of little educational value to readers.

The organizational approach that Rebsamen follows will also assist those who wish to acquire bookbinding skills. The author establishes a pattern whereby he identifies the problem, tests its severity, and evaluates the results. Teachers may wish to utilize this book as a classroom text or select appropriate articles for student reading lists. In addition, future bookbinders will appreciate the chronological order of the articles as a means of tracing the evolution of library binding.

A minor fault of Rebsamen's work is the absence of citations for certain historical information. In a discussion on the practice of edge gilding, the author fails to provide references for further study. Readers who are unfamiliar with the process of applying gold leaves to the edges of a book may want to consult other sources for additional commentary on the history of this procedure. For the most part, though, this book is well-written and lucid.

Bookbinding is a profession that few specialize in; therefore, experts in the field must articulate its intrinsic value to all bibliophiles. An awareness of binding techniques is essential for maintaining collections of books that institutions currently own and for perpetuating book production in the future.

Kenneth W. Rendell. Forging History: The Detection of Fake Letters and Documents.

University of Oklahoma Press, PO Box 787, Norman, OK 73070-0787. 1994. 171pp. $24.95. ISBN 0-8061-2636-1.

Reviewed by Lori N. Curtis
University of Tulsa Library.

Forging History is a fascinating read and will keep the reader enthralled to the end. This is a technical manual on the detection of fakes and forgeries, with chapters devoted to the analysis of paper, ink, writing instruments, handwriting and typewriting, but it is also an examination of three recent major forgery cases (the Hitler diaries, the Hofman Mormon forgeries, and the diary of Jack the Ripper) in all of which Rendell played a major role, if not the major role, in exposing the fraud. Rendell's discussion of these cases is spellbinding, and for that reason alone, the book is worth $24.95. You will be amazed at the audacity of the forgers and the gullibility of the public.

Although exciting, the book does have flaws. What struck me first as I started to read was the apparent disparity between the title and purpose as stated in the introduction. Rendell states: "This book is concerned with the forgeries that have been created with the greatest technical skill and textual accuracy, forgeries that have been created to dupe handwriting experts, not journalists, and created to defraud dealers, collectors and curators out of money. They were not usually created by persons who wanted to change history (emphasis supplied)." But does not the title Forging History imply the opposite? Would it not be reasonable to expect discussion of forgeries that were done with the express intent of changing history, or least putting another spin on the story? It is not clear that all of the forgeries discussed were only done for money. Rendell clearly states "[Hofman's] forgeries, created with great skill and scientific knowledge after months of research into the context of each piece, were intended to rewrite Mormon theology" (Introduction, pIII). And further Hofman "wanted to rewrite Mormon history according to what he believed actually did happen..."

Rendell continues: "This is what this book is all about--how an expert can conclusively prove, and demonstrate, that a historical document is genuine or a forgery." This is clearly the more accurate purpose of this book. It is not a manual for the beginner, not a "how-to" book. This is the story of one man who has spent more than three decades studying and exposing forgeries and has without doubt become an expert in the field, expert perhaps to a degree few others will attain. When Rendell says faults are "immediately apparent," the reader should add "to the trained eye." It would be difficult for most general readers to see the subtle distinctions that Rendell points out.

Rendell comes down very hard on Questioned Documents examiners, nearly dismissing them all as incompetent. Clearly there are those who did not take as critical a view of the documents as they should have, but it is still a fairly large step to dismiss the entire profession as incompetent. Again, Rendell appears to forget his thirty-plus years' experience exceeds that of most examiners in this field.

The book has other flaws: I noted several typographical and proof-reading errors such as mismatched captions and illustrations. The photographs are not well reproduced with many too faint to accurately illustrate the author's specific point. It also has manufacturing problems: in the review copy, glue seeping between sections had glued pages together. The layout is also disconcerting. The approximately 8" x 11" page size allows for a fairly wide page. However, the textblock is restricted to a width of four inches and pushed to the gutter leaving an outer margin almost as wide as the text. On pages where illustrations fill in the white space, the layout looks fine, but on pages of text only (about one in four), pages with only one or two small illustrations, or pages with illustration only, it looks as if the book has slid into the gutter. This format leaves a lot of room for marginal notes, but I kept wanting to center the text on the page.

The first three chapters discuss general characteristics of forged writing, ink, paper, writing instruments, comparisons of handwriting and typewriting and other physical details of forged documents. It is these chapters which book workers may find most fascinating. Book artisans will find engrossing (but hopefully not tempting) the discussions of ink composition, how different inks react to old or new paper, and how some forgers have gone to great lengths to replicate period inks and prevent tell-tale feathering. Likewise with paper. Because chemical testing and analysis of inks and paper has become much more sophisticated, forgers have also had to become much more sophisticated in their efforts to fool.

However, in discussing ink or paper or some other physical aspect of a forged document, the author frequently refers to the three major forgery cases (which are not discussed in depth until the final chapters), drawing the reader into the story, then announcing that the case will be discussed in more depth later. I found it extremely frustrating to be tantalized, then denied. A more successful arrangement might have been to place the chapters devoted to the three major forgeries first, followed by the technical discussion of the physical elements. Though in some ways this would make the second half of the book anti-climactic, it would provide a firmer foundation for the technical discussion, and references to the cases would not have to be cut short.

Criticisms aside, I do recommend this book. If you are a curator of manuscripts, a dealer in such, or a collector, be forewarned that reading this book will make you question every signature and writing you have in your collection--and was that latest letter from your mother really her writing! Rendell effectively demonstrates how skillful many forgers are and how anyone who is not an expert can and will be fooled. But I recommend it with trepidation. Rendell painstakingly points out the fatal flaw in each forger's work, and this alerts dealers, collectors and curators to the possibilities of forgeries (though most of us will not be able to detect them). But forgers also read. This book could help spawn a new generation of highly skilled forgers who can avoid the mistakes of their predecessors and whose forgeries will be even more difficult, if not impossible, to detect.

David Chambers, Colin Franklin, Alan Tucker. Gogmagog: Morris Cox & the Gogmagog Press.

Private Libraries Association, Ravelston, South View Road, Pinner, Middlesex HA5 3YD, England. 1991. 184pp. 1650 copies (of which 500 for sale) at $90. ISBN 900002-25-5; 65 special copies ISBN 900002-65-4.

Reviewed by Maggie Yax
Wright State University, Fordham Health Sciences Library.

In the preface to this book, David Chambers states: "The present volume ... stems from a suggestion by Colin Franklin that those of us who have been collecting Morris Cox's books should bring his work to a larger audience than the small size of his editions had hitherto made possible" (p. 10). This is a worthy intent. Morris Cox--printer, poet, artist, book artist, and philosopher--has much to offer a variety of audiences. Whether or not this book achieves its intent is largely dependent upon the level at which one wishes to know Cox and his books. If one seeks an introduction and a glimpse at some of the beauty he has created, this book will satisfy. If, however, one wishes a more complete experience, the reader may come away frustrated. Cox's complex vision is not easily presented.

This complexity is reminiscent of another artist to whom Cox is often compared: William Blake. While their techniques and intent may have differed, they have in common a combination of unique genius and uncompromising vision which is nearly impossible to reproduce. Their creations were born of the same frustration--a dearth of publishers willing to take a risk on extraordinary men. Consequently, both sought other avenues for their expression. Unfortunately, these avenues included methods so unique and results so rare that anything less than the original fragments their spirit.

Still, we must know something of these visionaries, and this book is a valiant attempt to give us Cox. It does so with a variety of essays, excerpts, illustrations, and plates. The preface introduces Cox and his Gogmagog Press in a brief biographical sketch. Two essays follow: "Morris Cox--Printer" by David Chambers and "Morris Cox--Poet & Novelist" by Alan Tucker. Chambers' essay explores not only every method of printing Cox has employed, but also addresses Cox's artistry with the photocopier and his binding techniques. Tucker's essay on Cox as writer is detailed and cerebral. Both establish Cox as an exemplar for artists and writers who continually struggle to recommit to their own particular vision.

The next three sections of the book are: "A Selection of Poems" by Morris Cox; "Letters to Corrie Guyt", excerpts of Cox's letters to a South African book collector; and "Prefaces and Colophons", reproductions from some of Cox's books in which he has offered commentary on the work. These chapters provide insight into Cox's art and philosophy by letting us experience his own words.

A short essay by Colin Franklin recounts his introduction to Cox's work and his subsequent acquaintance with him. Franklin recalls being immediately impressed, and later, becoming both a friend and a passionate collector of Cox's books. In this chapter, we see Cox through the eyes of an experienced bibliophile. A 65-page annotated bibliography of Cox's books, an alphabetic list of books, and an index of books follow. Fifty-five illustrations, sixteen in color, are interspersed through the book.

For some, however, all this will not be quite enough. They will feel as though they are left with too few pieces to complete the picture. And, the few pieces offered are presented in a way which fractures the whole. It is the book's organization which gives us this disjointed view of Cox's work. It explains his printing technique for a certain title in one section; prints the poetry for the book in another; reproduces a plate or illustration for it in yet another; and describes the binding in still another. The reader must work excessively hard to recall these bits and pieces in order to visualize the whole.

In his essay, Alan Tucker addresses the difficulty with presentation: "I hope this packaging of Morris Cox is able to do justice to his work both as printer and writer: while there is no other way to do it, at the same time it is alien to his style and his philosophy of work," (p.37). Indeed, this book's presentation is alien to Cox's spirit. In fairness, though, this difficulty of packaging artists' books haunts everyone who tries to share these unique creations with a larger audience. But Tucker was wrong to think there is no other way. An approach used occasionally by the Northwest Review came immediately to mind while reading this book. In some issues, artists' books are reproduced in their entirety. While such reproductions still compromise the integrity and intent of the books by necessarily altering their original presentations, they do not fragment the work by explaining technique and printing of only selected words or images. Of course, this book could not include entire reproductions of each of the seventy- three items in Cox's bibliography. However, even one such presentation appended to this book might have helped present a more integrated view of Cox and his vision.

In spite of the difficulties with presentation, one cannot but be thankful for this book. It is inspirational and informative for both writers and book workers of every stripe. More importantly, it introduces Morris Cox to a larger audience and reaffirms his unique contribution to the book arts.