Book Set 2 & 3

Fine printing, at its heart, is an attempt to return to Morris’ more reverential approach to book making. The belief that books must be composed of only the highest quality materials, that they are meant to be limited, and that the individual books produced are a unique pieces of art in need of preservation. Fine printing looks backward to the history of printing and its surrounding culture to produce work, both for contemporary books and historical reprints. In this way, fine printing is very closely linked to the Arts and Crafts movement, championed in part by William Morris. His press, the Kelmscott Press established in 1891, was among the first fine printing presses. The trend of fine presses as small, privately owned businesses is still integral to the fine printing identity.

The Four Gospels of the Lord Jesus Christ, from book set one, caught my attention for a number of reasons. Initially, the history of the book struck me; it is very plainly inspired by the King James bible, an edition made in an attempt to lighten the weight of the King’s sin on his shoulders. The King James bible is in itself influenced by William Morris, and the Four Gospels is no different, if much larger. In the same way that Morris included multiple embellished initials at the beginning of his passages, the Four Gospels used the capital letters in its text to further illustrate or emphasize certain aspects of the gospel .For example, the ‘T’ in a verse about the conniving of the devil had for its crossbar a snake. Smaller embellishments, like symbols akin to asterisks and flowers, were used as paragraph markers and, again, as emphasis. This is was obviously borrowed from Morris, as is the respectful, consistent treatment of the margins and use of a bright scarlet ink to capture attention. However, the focus on simplicity of the mise en page left no room for Morris’ woodcuts. It also emphasized the semiotic value of the text.

Song of the Decline of the West is similarly Morris-esque in its centered text, and the leading used between lines is consistently wide and readable. It, too, embodies fine printing in its materials. It is constructed of hand made paper, high quality paper that gives the reader a textural experience that is consistent with the grainy feel associated with the sandy West. The book, however, fails to convey a deeper link between text and image, and the elaborate woodcuts Morris loved so much are absent.

Of the two books I have discussed, I prefer the approach taken by The Four Gospels of the Lord Jesus Christ. I find it much more visually compelling because instead of being bombarded by illustrative stimuli, like so often happens when viewing Morris’ work, the reader is left to intuit the semiotic value of the text. With no distracting woodcuts to drown it out, the voice of the text becomes clearer. The quiet, undisputed authority of the Roman type used in the Gospels lends itself perfectly to the Word of God. The semiotic value of the Roman text can communicate more effectively and clearly the power of God than any drawing ever could.


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