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Old 03-10-2009, 10:37 PM   #1
Eric Ladner
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Join Date: Apr 2005
Location: Tacoma, WA
Posts: 139
Default The Private Presses, by Colin Franklin

In Tacoma, WA for a long weekend, to hear the younger daughter's classical guitar ensemble play at the University of Puget Sound (where she's in her second year as a Music/Business major), I stopped in, as usual, at Kings Books, on St. Helens Ave.

Tacoma is blessed with at least two outstanding used book stores, Kings, and the Tacoma Book Center, in the shadow of the Tacoma Dome. The Book Center has more books, but Kings is more spacious and pleasant to browse in. And they have cats. I don't know why cats always seem so appropriate in bookstores, but they do.

I found an almost new-condition copy of the 1969 hardback edition of Colin Franklin's "The Private Presses," originally $15, for $27.50. I just looked at Amazon's resellers, and saw it for as much as $132, which seems pretty silly.

I'm only three chapters in--Daniel, Kelmscott, and Ashendene so far--but it is making the private press phenomenon a little more understandable to me.

I've always been a little puzzled by the fascination with archaic language and sometimes obscure works of many of the private presses, and by the continuing reverence for what often look like fussy, over-decorated designs.

But, I'm learning that they did publish contemporary works, and that not even all of Morris's books were heavily decorated. I was particularly taken with the descriptions of the formal typography of St John Hornby's Ashendene books, enlivened with brightly colored hand-drawn initials. It reminds me a lot of Bob Palladino's calligraphy classes: for serious, or religious material, use a formal letter in very black ink, possibly with carefully placed brilliant red initials or marginal notes; for less weighty texts, red, green, and blue initials can brighten the page.

What I'm really happiest about, though, is Franklin's book itself: 12 point van Dijck on heavy paper, with generous margins. I've posted a scan of a page at


(Unfortunately, my little scanner won't show a full spread.)

The paragraphs are interesting, using no indentation, and no extra space. It really works better than I would have expected, and creates a very even page. I haven't found a case yet of a paragraph ending with a full line; I guess you could push it or pull it a little if you had one, or just depend on the sense of the text to indicate the break.

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