Monday, November 26, 2007

Mystery in Iowa

JHE Stelling, Bookbinder, Stationer, Printer and Blank Book Manufacturer had these labels made up, according to the seller, in the 1860s. I bought this particular example off everyone's favorite online auction site. Boy was I suprised when it arrived in the mail. It's HUGE! I mean, I was expecting the little labels you typically find stuck on an endpaper somewhere, under 1 inch in any direction. You know the type. The kind of thing usually seen over at Seven Roads Book Trade Label Gallery. This thing is displayed here at nearly life size. It's HUGE! Anyway, my main concern is the history of the Stelling concern. Was Stelling at work in the 1860s? When did they arrive in Des Moines? Did they come from somewhere else, go anywhere else? Why is this label so big? Googling JHE Stelling did not reveal anything. Any ideas, guesses or knowing?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Printing like it's 1907!

I'm way behind on my updates but, I've got some cool stuff to show off! As an explanation though, I've been busy at work. Last Friday was the 100th Anniversary of Oklahoma Statehood. If you live here, it's a big deal. If you're employed by the state historical society, it's an even bigger deal. Anyway, I got to go up to Guthrie, Oklahoma, which was the capital in 1907, and spend the day running presses for folks at the State Capital Publishing Museum. I got to run a 100+ year old Chandler & Price (Old Style) and other stuff. Unfortunately for everyone around me, I want a real press now. Don't tell my Baltimore #11, or my Nervine Press. They're old biddies and get real jealous. This first photo is the front of the 1902 State Capital Publishing building. You can click on the photo for more info, if so inlcined. The bleachers are there for the parade and the Statehood proclimation because it was in this building the telegraph arrived that Theodore Roosevelt had signed Oklahoma into Statehood. I stood close by when the grandson of the man who ran out and hollered "Oklahoma is a State!", did just as his grandfather had done 100 years ago. Then we shot our guns in the air and hollered some more. Oklahoma is a fun place to live. Back to the beginning.

This isn't the museum I normally work at, so I was looking forward to a day out of the office, and having some fun. First thing, I cut paper. Typically, this isn't a fun task, but when you get to use a 1910s Oswego 44" blade cutter, it was extremely cool. This thing takes the whole body to operate, and can cut half a ream at a time! Also, I was told Oswegos were known for a bad design that did not ensure the blade locked in the up position after a cut. It had a nasty habit of dropping just as you would reach in for your fresh cut paper. I was told to always use a stick to get the paper out. See the stick in my hand? No, I'm not sticking my hand in there, I used the stick. I don't care what it looks like. I'd already pulled the paper past the cutting point. If all this talk of vintage printing/ bookbinding equipment makes you "geek out" as bad as I do, here's another shot of a non-public area of the museum: You should be able to click on any photo and get much larger versions. Believe me, there is a lot, lot, lot, lot more. Here's another shot of me at the Oswego. A bit of another standing press and an old Hancock monster in the foreground:
I ended up having to dust off the Hancock and use it after the Oswego decided to become difficult. It got determined to take a finger or two, I decided not to part ways with any of me... so I switched. However, it was hard finding a sharpish spot on the Hancock blade to cut the paper. The other guy I was working with that day chimed "It'll look like deckled edging". Well... I guess so... Then we went down into the public area, where there's a little mock up print shop with a cabinet of type, an imposing stone, a C&P Old Style, and a little proof press. I ran little bookmarks on the proof press while the other gent got our other material composed and locked up. We decided on a simple text: "I was in Guthrie Oklahoma November 16, 2007" with the state seal. Something like that. Anyway, I really liked the setup they have there for doing live printing demonstrations. It worked ok for two people to be in there working, but it would be better for one. Visitors can see on three sides, and see everything going on, like when the paper starts dropping out the bottom of the press, because I'm too busy talking to get them into the guide pins correctly. "Just let them go." They've framed it out to look like a little building, with the framing providing a barrier for safety. The second picture gives you the other half. The imposing stone, the other half of the type cabinet, furniture and just the corner of the proof press. The whole area is probably not more than 10' x 12'. At the front we have a simple little swing gate with long pins that drop through the floor to lock them each in place. We still had a toddler make a break for it inside, though. Maybe we need to put up chicken wire! So, that was it. We printed a lot of little sheets, and saw a lot of very nice folks, not only from Oklahoma, but Texas, Kansas, Wisconsin, Connecticut, China, Poland, Italy, Japan... it was a fun day. Did I remember to take home the couple samples I printed and set aside for myself? Of course not. If you're interested in seeing more of the museum, including the press room, get yourself over to the Amalgamated Printers Association's July 2007 Gallery Gab for a look at the museum this last summer. Lots of photos! More platen presses, Linotypes, old Miehles, Hickock pen ruler, etc. etc. etc. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Bookseller Barbers

If you've read the blog, hopefully your curiosity has been piqued with the question "How prevalent were bookseller/barbers?" I first learned of the phenomenon reading Fine Books & Collections Magazine. Editor Scott Brown has updated readers on bookseller barber developments via his blog. Well, here is the latest entry: Two 18th Century gentlemen of Edinburgh. One Hugh Ingles, printer and barber, at work from 1788-1811. Also, a William Thomson, bookseller and barber, at work from 1790-1802. Mr. Thomson also went about as wig-maker and hair dresser, later advertising as a bookseller only. I found these entries browsing the Scottish Book Trade Index. It certainly makes me curious about other strange combinations. Bookbinder/ butcher? Papermaker/ chandler? Stationer/ Ship's Captain? With the development of an American Book Trade Index, who knows what we will find.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Book Trade Indexes

American book collectors, librarians, archivists and bibliographers need an American Book Trade Index. I've tried to get a skeleton database together to start answering the questions of what it should include, what kind of information will we want to be able to find, how should it be structured... etc. Being more of a printing press guy than a computer guy, I did not get far. I tired bribing friends. That helped, but again didn't get far.

One thing that should be included in the American Book Trade Index [ABTI], is images. That is one feature lacking from the efforts I discuss below. I’ve started to collect trade cards, bookseller labels, advertising covers, from the book trades and gather images available online. All 1000+ images are now here, awaiting the ABTI, and spurring research and info sharing. Love it!

I've mentioned the British Book Trade Index [BBTI] before, but thought it was time to give them a review. The BBTI has been around since 1983, but online since 2002. Their purpose as stated at their website:

"BBTI is a database which aims to include brief biographical and trade details of all those who worked in the English and Welsh book trades up to 1851. There is a separate Scottish Book Trade Index at the National Library of Scotland, so BBTI includes only those Scottish book trade people who also traded in England or Wales at some point in their lives. BBTI includes not only printers, publishers and booksellers but also other related trades, such as stationers, papermakers, engravers, auctioneers, ink-makers and sellers of medicines, so that the book trade can be studied in the context of allied trades. BBTI is, however, only intended as an index to other sources of information. It is not intended to be a biographical dictionary of book-trade people."

There is one difference between the BBTI and what I hope the ABTI can be: An encyclopedia of book-trade people. Entries will not only include when and where some one did business, but photos of the building, their trade cards, and a link to their digitized memoir at
Apparently, in 2005, many "behind the scenes" updates to the BBTI website were finished, and more entries added. Another important update is the inclusion of Prof. John Feather's Checklist of the English Provincial Book Trade before 1850: I'm working on a similar list for the US. Does one already exist somewhere? I thought so, but I can't find one.

The British trail cools in 2005. There is this hopeful statement, however:

"The long-term future of BBTI is guaranteed by the commitment of both the University of Birmingham and the Arts and Humanities Data Service. " It remains unclear if that means the BBTI will continue to exist as it is, or if it will be updated again once more money is available.

The British Book Trade Index has a lot of information, and seems to have filled in from many standard sources. However, the search capablities are fairly limited. Searches are only successful if you know what you're searching for. If I wanted a list of all booksellers who issued tokens, this is nearly impossible. My queries were not anwered at the email address provided for questions. It seems abandoned, but what is left online is still useful in other respects.

The National Library of Scotland has compiled a Scottish Book Trade Index. From their website: "The Scottish Book Trade Index represents an index of printers, publishers, booksellers, bookbinders, printmakers, stationers and papermakers based in Scotland, from the beginnings of Scottish printing to ca. 1850. The Scottish Book Trade Index is very much a work in progress, and is periodically updated. Comments and suggestions for additions are always welcome."

The Scottish entry is nice, but has no searching capability. You must know the name of the business or person you are searching for. Granted, that is often the only information you have, however, if I wanted all the book trades people in Perth, I'd have to go through each page and copy it out from there. Not very efficient.

Our third entry is from American shores: The Nineteenth-Century American Childrens Book Trade Directory, compiled by the good people at American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts. From their website:
"Based upon the unparalleled collection of Children's Literature held at the American Antiquarian Society, this comprehensive directory contains 2,600 entries documenting the activity of individuals and firms involved in the manufacture and distribution of children’s books in the United States chiefly between 1821 and 1876."

The ACBT Directory has a much more useful, fast search engine. One of my critiques is that they do not cite their sources. The BBTI and SBTI both have reference lists. However, for our purposes, this Directory will prove to be the most useful tool for an inclusive American Book Trade Index.

So, take a good look over these three amazing tools and think of how an American version should look, what kind of information it should contain, and how people would use it. In the mean time, get over to the ABTI group at Flickr and join in.