“Well, I lay it down, first, that a book quite un-ornamental can look actually and positively beautiful, and not merely un-ugly…” William Morris, The Ideal Book, 67
The books that sprung from Fine Printing movement were beautiful because of the time and thought that went into their design. Each element of a book was carefully crafted; each decision made during its creation was made consciously and deliberately. For William Morris, and like-minded printers, Fine Printing was about paying homage to the art of the book and the return to traditional pre-industrial printing techniques. Littlejourneys to the homes of eminent artists: Raphael by Elbert Hubbard (Book Set 2) exemplifies many of the hallmarks of the Fine Printing esthetic. I will start with the typographic layout of Raphael because, as Morris said, it “is a most important point.”
Morris held that modern printers had disregarded the importance the page layout and the integral role it played in a reader’s experience of a book. Pages are rarely viewed alone – more often than not, we view page spreads. This means that we are always looking at two pages at once. Morris believed that pages should be printed with margins that suit the way in which we view them. Raphael’s pages are printed on the page following traditional margin proportions of a Fine Print book – the left margin being the smallest with the top and right margins progressing in size, ending with the largest margin on the bottom. When looked at as a spread, the type flows out from the center fold, creating a unified feeling that is lost when a printer “dumps down his page” in the middle of the paper.
Raphael opens with a dense decorative woodcut, but besides that is modestly “ornamented” which puts the focus on the typography and what it does for the text. The type is a true black which lends itself to being easily read. The only problem with the text was the lack of leading separating paragraph changes.. As a modern reader, I had a hard time with the paragraph symbol notations, but had I been reading it at the time of its printing, 1902, maybe this would not have bothered me. Printed on course handmade paper, Raphael fits easily in the hand, which leads me to believe its printer intended it to be a book that could be enjoyed anywhere the owner chose to bring it. Between the letter press type, handmade paper, and thoughtful decoration, it is clear that a great deal of care went into making this book beautiful – something Morris surly would have appreciated.
Emily McVarish’s Was Here does not technically fall into the Fine Printing family, but I think that it is still quite relevant to our discussion. Was Here is composed of about 65 pages, with four different fonts printed in six colors at varying sizes. At first glance, this book would make both Morris and Russem ill, but McVarish’s creative use of typography actually serves the text (arguably) better than any of the more traditional books we have looked at (in my opinion). I am going to attempt to recreate my experience with this book in order to support my claim:
I approached Was Here like I would any book; I sat down, opened it up, and began to read its pages chronologically. I felt like I was reading a poem, but I wasn’t sure how all of the words were stringing together. Each page had one to four different typefaces, and at times it was confusing to read, but I trudged on. Littered throughout the book were photographs, or rather two photographs that were cut up, or magnified, and then repeated. As I read through the book, I started to think about what we had learned about typeface and the important role it has played in the history of communicating a text. Then it hit me: the typefaces are not random; they are different for a reason. I flung (gently, of course) the pages back and started from the beginning – but this time through, I only read one typeface (the all-caps, san serif, red/green/blue typeface). This is what I read (from here on, anything in  is a note from me, but anything in () is actually that way in the text. Also, please excuse the spacing – I copied and pasted this from a word document – I tried to change it here but the blog won’t let me):
Every moment of our lives
Has a hole punched in it.
This picture shows one such perforation
Cut through the middle of a clear day’s sleep.
No picture can give us the face of first-persons.
Faces in pictures just say, “unclaimed.”
Signals shoot past a gap in their eyes,
As we go on stirring the cinders.
A surface veracity
Flits along presently,
We have only to follow:
“Here we see …”
“These buildings stand …”
We Leave the station.
When we speak into a picture, our words strike the dead and departed.
These words move a pointer over a life, to its stead.
Yet where we speak, whole worlds are deposited,
Accounts kept on a grain of shade.
Each picture tends a portable past,
And a filed of actuality,
Scaled by desire for mastery
And trimmed at the edges:
(In)complete in every detail.
Here is a particularity
Enough to fill a hundred histories.
(We do not know who that man was.)
When we respire on a recorded detail,
We upset the weight of an interval,
Here lying in layer above it
“That was the end of that,” we say
“Then came only this.”
From that glistening trait,
Some small line of credit
Is looking at us.
Unseen then, uncanny now,
Its promise (of plenty)
Outlives the telling.
Here and there
If we look at a sleeping compartment
And see the turn of a finder’s key,
We overlook the latest graves,
Our sweeping lupe has plotted them:
Coming, coming, gone.
The picture before us
does not foretell us
From it we lift a longing’s invention
on rounds of indeterminacy.
We see the skip
Along the tapping strip
that always mourns
its moment holes
And blindly circles
Of a starting place
The disk action
Of the dreamed.
of an origin
Those ledgers of a latency,
I then went back to the beginning and only read the medium-sized black serif un-italic typeface and read this:
Great crowds pass through these quantities, the carriers of an instant.
Now a single phrase, “in such a place
at such a time”
holds them restless to the floor,
prevents their forward motion.
Countless lives have passed this way.
Their places have been taken.
Visitors to the great hall see
every type of home improvement..
Next comes the arc of a household name,
its letters outline and outstanding
on the face of an upright display.
A thoughsand dashes extend its status.
(The sawdust slows our crowding steps.)
Inside the gallery, the traffic has gathered.
This little travelling will not dissolve.
The man in this picture has been saved up
He holds a distance as he walked toward the doors.
The man looked up
Another man enters the fast falling frame
The man who looked up was passing. He is still.
The figure in the foreground is waiting for a ticket to be admitted.
As if mentioned, he turned his head and was taken, grey-clad, to be stored and kept, to be come true.
The white packet on the left is trembling.
Here we see a bit of a person.
I am dead:
in perfect condition.
And we are lost:
Who is dead?
This unfeeling stranger
Now, perhaps, a street runs through him.
All these watchers are deserted
A few people stopped to look.
The noise of street traffic
is stamped on them.
A woman sights a statue
in her quick vicinity.
She is dependent for her position
on the instance of per patenting.
Every casting is the same.
(Release me.) [backwards]
I would touch you, am worth remembering
Often years pass by before you and I begin to meet.
I suffered, yes, I see that now.
I had lost the grace of uncertainty.
And it is I who must do the work
of producing this instant,
cutting down year to be
at the same
Here, in this view,
and I am left
What shows will last,
But such remains
Now you have seen.
“Here is a man elapsed,”
“If he had been content to stand,
he might have been distilled.”
But you have seen
the soft edge
and the faded generality.
File me under “stricken.”
Next the very small black serif typeface:
As the city grew, lines slowly widened.
Streets assembled along a wire
And turned into the row you see here.
Hyphens of lives projected this district
from parting point to avenue,
casting little shadows.
A magazine vendor lived here.
In large cities, the time of daily
is scored in concrete seconds,
laid out in strips,
and lined with still doorways to pass.
Buildings repeat buildings
to keep their punctual places.
Further on, a window will
leave room to let an instant.
Here we see the schedule of streets
filled with shifts and glass appointments.
Shop windows and shelves perfect a readiness,
standing keen, side by side.
Sometimes the pull of the pavement
and the particles of the hour
will create a shaft or surface tension,
and we may wish to ask the wire:
How long can this corner
afford to keep time?
Then the black italic serif typeface:
The finished product rotates slowly.
It is the last word revolved and reflected.
A long line of short distances,
A thin sheet of novelty
assure its turning constancy.
And still the packages fall from
breaking their way through resting eyes
to alight on a moment’s vacancy.
Every article in this room
is labeled with an offer.
Each clerks countenance
meets a lasting standard.
Here we see a clever model
designed to be fulfilled and emptied,
separate in its own clear wrapper,
blind and complete in itself.
These extra attachments
have been places to complete,
pressed together with distinction.
There are many to be delivered
Then the large (it actually varied in size quite a bit, but I made the decision that since it was all the same font and color, that it was one unit) silver typeface:
This is a long, narrow current of air playing on folds in a monument.
Notice the tags exceeding their wares with the first craft of decay.
Labels seal the ruins of the ready.
The passer-by has an untouched history.
Passengers are the fragment’s attendants.
No documents follow in their tracks.
I was incredibly dizzy and felt sick while reading Was Here due to the speed required to flip through the book when reading only one typeface. Rapidly flipping through 65 pages more than four times was really hard but it was exhilarating. That moment of discovery was incredible because I had come to it without instruction. Knowing the history of the role typography has played in book making and Fine Printing enabled me to make this discovery. Russem quoted architect Charles Eames definition of design as “a plan for arranging elements in such a way as to best accomplish a particular purpose.” Had McVarish simply printed her poems on separate pages, I don’t think they would have been as successful. She utilized typeface and page layout to generate a physical and emotional experience for her reader. McVarish’s choices do accomplish a particular purpose and while her book may also be aesthetically hectic, it is done so with deliberation. By using several fonts, McVarish was able to give the reader two options; to read each typeface separately or to read them all as one. Each choice would create a different poem, but neither way is ‘wrong’ (I say this because if reading the book in a traditional manner was not what McVarish wanted, then she wouldn’t have printed it in a way that made a reading of that nature possible). While Was Here was not printed on handmade paper or printed with a letter press, the interactive nature of my reading experience made me appreciate the book more than any of the older texts from book set three. The Fine Printers had their readers in mind when they chose to use high quality paper and a traditional, legible page layout but Emily McVarish also had her readers in mind when she made the decision to use a complex layout and varying fonts to present her poetry.