Posted: July 22, 2015 in Oat City Book Trade

Don Milliken, ORbooks, Amherst, Massachusetts, timeless

Or BooksBoundlessly great. This was a “magazine for artists with a sense of humor.”Dada, Fluxus, the Zine Scene. Hey, Uncle Don, what are you laughing at? “Whaddaya got?”


Thomas MacKellar, The American Printer
John Wilson, Treatise on Punctuation

MacKellar American Printer title pageMacKellar-Wilson spinesWilson on punctuation title

In the second half of the nineteenth century, every printer in the land kept a copy of Thomas MacKellar’s The American Printer on the shelf. Usually it sat next to John Wilson’s Treatise on Punctuation.

Only a Compositor

Posted: July 15, 2015 in Oat City Book Trade

Henry Lewis Bullen, Only a Compositor (RIT: Press of the Good Mountain, 1962)

Bullen title page croppedThe compositor is Alexander Collins. He worked for the Hall Printing Company of Pittsburgh, a competent journeyman who specialized in “blank work,” the tabular tasks of billhead and order forms. Those jobs demanded careful precision, technical excellence far in excess of their apparent ordinariness. In 1918, Henry Lewis Bullen, a printing bigwig at American Type Founders, wrote an Inland Printer piece about Collins titled “Only a Compositor.” In 1962, Alexander Lawson reprinted that essay at his Press of the Good Mountain. What made Collins special for both Bullen and Lawson was not his craft, but connoisseurship. Collins was a bibliophile. When, in 1914, New York’s Grolier Club feted Theodore Low De Vinne, the city’s printing mogul, it published Collins’s complete De Vinne bibliography. Collins missed the party.

Evergreen Review

Posted: July 15, 2015 in Oat City Book Trade

Evergreen Review No. 2

Evergreen Review no. 2Miller, Rexroth, Ginsberg, Kerouac, Duncan, Ferlinghetti, Miles, Rumaker: all this once belonged to Helen Alexander. She wrote her name inside her copy of Evergreen Review, and then, in time, she sold it along with the rest of her books to the University of Wisconsin book store. This second issue of the magazine, the famous “San Francisco Scene,” wound up on the store’s sidewalk rack of used books.

The Stinehour Press

Posted: July 15, 2015 in Oat City Book Trade

Type Specimen Booklets, The Stinehour Press, 1980

Stinehour fan 2

I’ve worked at University of Massachusetts Press. Nice place; nice people. (Also splendid taste, as time would tell—Karen’s Fugitive Red won the Press’s Juniper Prize, in 1999.) In the late 1980s, I operated a Mergenthaler Linoterm phototypesetter, an (already) ancient typosaurus facing the onset of digital composition. An episode in my printing life was ending. I came away with some vintage Linoterm type specimen booklets from the famous Stinehour Press, of Lunenburg, Vermont.

Dick Higgins, Spring Game: an opera for shadow puppets (West Glover, Vermont: Unpublished Editions, 1974)

Higgins Spring GameFluxus. According to Dick Higgins, the music (piano, accompanying SATB soloists) must use traditional western rhythms but should “improvise their parts according to a predetermined system.”

A Gentleman Decides

Posted: July 10, 2015 in Oat City Book Trade

Sis Willner, A Gentleman Decides (Chicago: Black Archer Press, 1931)

Willner coverI can’t account for A Gentleman Decides. It has a small-press look that jumped me at a yard sale. Black Archer Press issued it in 1931. It’s inscribed by Sis Willner “for Evelyne, who is new to Chicago, and who—I hope—has the sense and the guts to keep out of our ruts!” Louis J. Rerra, a book artist of repute in Chicago’s 1920s and 1930s designed the book. Carl Sandberg wrote its preface. There’s also something called a “postface,” by Samuel Putnam. Everybody knows Sandberg; Putnam was a 1920s expatriate who, in 1947, published Paris Was Our Mistress: Memoirs of a Lost & Found Generation. The book is Putnam’s claim to fame—that and a portrait of Putnam done by the modernist painter Joseph Stella. According to back matter in A Gentleman Decides, Black Archer would feature the Stella painting as part of Putnam’s upcoming In Defense of Eroticism. The book never appeared.

Willner 2Samuel Putnam once described a barroom fight—at the Café du Dôme in Paris—between Stella and Ary Stillman. Putnam watched them whack at each other with canes. I imagine that sort of vigor illumines Sis Willner’s appeal. She was, said Putnam, an “untameable ‘wild girl’ of the prairies.” Sandberg, in his foreword, called Sis “a hard-boiled virgin.” Sis was a girl about town; she held forth at the Pump Room of the Ambassador West Hotel. All these ancillary people are more interesting than Sis was. Which, I think, is the point.