From research to craft: printing Luther’s theses and teaching letterpress

Type set in 2016 for printing Martin Luther's 95 theses; Thesis 88
Type set in 2016 for printing Martin Luther’s 95 theses; Theses 88 and 89 (roman numerals) Photo: Charlotte Hartmann

The letterpress workshop housed at the Bodleian Library has long been used for experimentation and practical teaching to academic learners at all levels. It’s now equally a site for engaging the public and schools in activities that increase their understanding of, and appreciation for, the Bodleian Libraries’ unique collections. Participatory workshops are the key method that the Bodleian Bibliographical Press uses for helping visitors to feel a connection with ‘old books’, and, through that connection, to engage with research at the University. The workshop offers public courses for adults throughout the year, and offers workshops through the library’s Education team, to schools and adult SEND learners. Planning and teaching these workshops and courses requires an understanding of how the techniques of hand-press printing can be demonstrated and also a facility for tailoring tasks to the abilities of the participants of all ages and abilities.

While teaching to academic students and teaching to the public might be regarded by some as two separate functions of the workshop, it is useful to see how academic research projects can enrich the practice of the workshop for all learners. In our experience of working with one academic project, this yielded two unexpected aspects which influenced the course that the workshop has taken over recent years. Luther’s 95 Theses, earth-shaking in terms of religious history in 1517, proved to be influential again 500 years later in our own small corner of Thomas Bodley’s ‘public library’ at Oxford. We made a re-evaluation of the type of learning that takes place, for all users of the workshop, and expanded the audiences for the workshop by connecting with special interest groups in the community around a topic of current interest.

Undertaking an exercise for Professor Henrike Laehnemann and postgraduate students from the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages, in printing Luther’s 95 theses as a broadside, (described in this blogpost by Charlotte Hartmann), we were challenged to extend the ambitions of the press technically. The length of Luther’s text nearly exhausted the Bodleian’s relatively generous supply of type, and in the end the single side of the broadside was printed in two parts, which needed to be printed to very exacting standards to appear in four parallel columns.

A challenge was posed by the 16th-century printer’s expedients to make Luther’s words fit into the original pamphlet length; having carefully divided the text from the pamphlet version into two halves, it became clear that the second half of the pamphlet contained more abbreviations. The 16th-century printer of the pamphlet had been trying to save space as he approached the end of the setting, to make it fit within 8 pages on a single sheet of paper. The print run of the Bodleian’s broadside version was much longer than usually attempted for any publications at the workshop – 200 – making 400 passes of the sheets through the press, as two halves of the text were set and printed in sequence.

Richard Lawrence is an Oxford printer with his own workshop, who teaches printing at the Bodleian to students and the public. He oversaw the type-setting and printing of the Luther Theses broadside, and comments,

The Luther Theses broadside is the largest text printed on the Bodleian’s hand-operated presses, and having copies of this broadside in the workshop has set an important standard for the kind of work that can be undertaken, and a model for collective contribution to a larger project.

We learned from this that a technical challenge is a key factor in encouraging learning. This project required a large amount of type-setting by untrained type-setters. Contrary to an idea that the role of a class might be to deliver the theory of type-setting in a lecture, and participants might learn from just a small amount of practice, the Luther Theses project showed that only added practice enabled participants to use their new skills more fully, to recognize and correct errors, and to become competent and creative. For learners with the stamina and ability to undertake a lot of type-setting, this is a key factor in their development, and is now something we look out for and encourage in the public classes.

The 2017 Luther anniversary, focussed around Luther’s use of the printing press to get his message across, also encouraged us to get the presses moving out of the workshop on several occasions; for a re-enactment of Luther’s famous fixing of the theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg; a ‘Print your own Theses’ open event at the workshop in May 2017; for the book launch of a Reformation pamphlet reprint by the Taylorian Library (Oxford’s library for Modern Languages); and by lending presses to St Edmund’s Hall, one of Oxford’s colleges, for a Research Day open to the public. This approach, seeing the presses as mobile, has encouraged further use of the presses in the public areas of the Bodleian’s Weston Library, and a small press has been refitted with a mobile stand to enable its use at different venues. The Reformation projects as a whole drew new audiences to the printing press – English and German community members celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Bonn-Oxford town twinning, and postal requests for copies of the 95 theses after images had been posted on social media.

David Armes (Red Plate Press) Bodleian Printer in Residence 2019

David Armes, Red Plate Press
David Armes, Red Plate Press

The Bodleian Bibliographical Press is delighted to welcome David Armes (Red Plate Press) as printer in residence during four weeks in November-December 2019.

During the residency, Armes will work at the Bodleian’s Bibliographical Press on an addition to his series, ‘Text Landscapes,’ site-specific works made with letterpress printing on paper.

Armes is a visual artist working with print, language and geography. His work is frequently site-specific and considers how sense and experience of place can be represented, with source material including automatic writing, anonymous conversations and oral history. He works primarily with letterpress printing on paper and the final forms can vary in shape and size from large scroll installations to broadside prints to artists’ books and chapbooks. Through using what was once an industrial print process, he is interested in where the multiple meets the unique, where the ephemeral meets the archival.

Based in West Yorkshire, Armes has held artistic residencies at Zygote Press fine art print studio (Cleveland, USA; 2018), Wells Book Arts Center (New York, USA; 2017), BBC Radio Lancashire (Blackburn, UK; 2017) and Huddersfield Art Gallery (West Yorkshire, UK; 2016)

While he is in residence, David Armes will lead a public workshop and give a public lecture.

25 November & 28 November Public workshop: ‘Wood type: pattern, colour and language’
5:30 – 8:30pm
Bodleian Bibliographical Press, Schola Musicae, Old Bodleian Library
Registration fee: £30 (+ £1 booking fee)
This is a hands-on workshop using the wood type collection and iron hand presses. Participants learn the basics of letterpressprinting, use wood type in an expressive and creative manner, and learn to see type as image. Participants will complete a small edition of prints.
To register: https://visit.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/events-exhibitions

5 December Lecture: ‘Accumulating Narrative – meaning and mutation in letterpress printing’
co-presented by the Bodleian Libraries Centre for the Study of the Book and the Oxford Bibliographical Society.

This lecture will be delivered from an artist research perspective, drawing on David Armes’s own practice and that of the artists whose work he will explore. It looks at the links between the 1960s concrete poetry work of Hansjörg Mayer and the graphic typographical works of Wolfgang Weingart, drawing a line through the later 20th century work of Ken Campbell to reach the 21st century work of contemporary artists Vida Sačić, Aaron Cohick, Marianne Dages and Dimitri Runkkari.

The lecture will pose questions on subjects such as how meaning can mutate through the process of production, what impact the physicality of materials has and how we can read narratives created through improvisational production techniques.

Lecture Theatre, Weston Library, Broad Street, Oxford, 5:15 pm
Free admission. No booking required.
For information on attending the lecture, please see the event listing at https://visit.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/event/accumulating-narrative

 

 

Bodleian printer in residence 2019-20: David Armes

David Armes
David Armes

We are pleased to announce that David Armes will be Printer in Residence at the Bodleian Bibliographical Press for one month during the coming academic year 2019-20.

David Armes is a visual artist working with print, language and geography. His work is frequently site-specific and considers how sense and experience of place can be represented, with source material including automatic writing, anonymous conversations and oral history. He works primarily with letterpress printing on paper and the final forms can vary in shape and size from large scroll installations to broadside prints to artists’ books and chapbooks. Through using what was once an industrial print process, he is interested in where the multiple meets the unique, where the ephemeral meets the archival. Recent residencies have been at Zygote Press fine art print studio (Cleveland, USA; 2018), Wells Book Arts Center (New York, USA; 2017), BBC Radio Lancashire (Blackburn, UK; 2017) and Huddersfield Art Gallery (West Yorkshire, UK; 2016)

See the Red Plate Press webpage.

David Armes, 'rights of way' (book)
David Armes, ‘rights of way’

The Printer in Residence programme draws together community and University members with an interest in printing and the book arts, to use the Bibliographical Press workshop at the Bodleian Library. During the residency in October-November 2019, David Armes will work on a new iteration of his ‘text landscape’ series, present a lecture and lead a public workshop, to be advertised on the Bodleian Libraries website.

The residency programme is supported by a private donation to the Bibliographical Press.

New sonnets and old Shakespeare: Russell Maret printer-in-residence at the Bodleian Libraries, 2017

Russell Maret, 2017 printer-in-residence at the Bodleian, led a seminar looking at old and new printings of Shakespeare. Participating were some of the printers who had contributed to the Bodleian’s new collection of Shakespeare’s sonnets printed in 2016. The group discussed questions of fidelity to the early printed texts, artistic interpretation, and personal responses to the poems.

The seminar examined new and old: the earliest edition of Shakespeare’s Sonnets (1609) and the First Folio edition of his plays (1623), and a selection of the 2016-printed sonnets, each presenting one 14-line poem in a different format including:

  • Number 99: a library catalogue card drawer, with each word of the sonnet on a separate file card
  • Number 114: ‘Vibrate-lances Zone 114’, a poster-size Dadaist interpretation with the text printed in two colours
  • Number 112: containing a facsimile of the 1609 printing and a facsimile of a portion of the Droeshout engraved portrait from the First Folio
  • Number 110: a movable with winking eye and disappearing lines
  • Number 81: with a delicate decoration of gothic arches
  • Number 74: resembling an obituary broadside, aptly commemorating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death
  • Number 62: alternating lines of black and red giving original and modernized spelling
  • Number 50: in a wooden Old West wrapper
  • Number 25: on coloured paper with a calligraphic Spanish translation curving around the printed English
  • Number 15: on red paper, text set in Perpetua, with lines 6 and 7 picked out in Mila Script, and a flower-seed illustration
  • Number 3: fully linocut, with the last two lines depicted as a reflection in water
  • Number 27: in old style; type-written; and in binary code
  • Numbers 5&6: using a facsimile of the Doves Press type, referencing the Doves Press 1909 edition of the Sonnets
  • Number 28: several copies on beer-mats in two colours

This last sparked thoughts of adjourning the seminar, but there was some work to do first.  The printers’ expertise was put to work at the Bodleian’s Bibliographical Press to make a keepsake of the occasion;  lines from King Lear in three colours, with unlocked type interpreting loosening coherence.

A film of Russell Maret’s lecture, ‘Making third stream books in the post-digital age’,  is here: https://podcasts.ox.ac.uk/making-third-stream-books-post-digital-age

Hogarth Press Centenary: Print-a-thon at the Bodleian

from Dennis Duncan:

Early in 1917, Virginia and Leonard Woolf walked into the Excelsior Printing Supply Co on Farringdon Road and bought themselves a printing press. The press, a small handpress which they installed on a table in their dining room in Richmond, came with instructions and some cases of type. The whole lot came to £19.5s.5d. That May they began work on their first publication, Two Stories (one by Leonard, one by Virginia), with Virginia setting the type and Leonard operating the press. Twenty-one years later, when Virginia finally withdrew from the company, the Hogarth Press had published 440 titles, including work by T. S. Eliot, E. M. Forster, Katherine Mansfield, Vita Sackville-West, Freud, and H. G. Wells, not to mention much of Virginia’s own most significant writing.

“Books are not turned out of moulds like bricks. Books are made of tiny little words, which a writer shapes, often with great difficulty, into sentences of different lengths, placing one on top of another, never taking his eye off them, sometimes building them quite quickly, at other times knocking them down in despair, and beginning all over again.”
-Virginia Woolf, “How Should One Read a Book?” (1925)

To celebrate the centenary of the Hogarth Press, then, it seemed like a good idea to think about the role that printing played in shaping Woolf’s writing. And since the Bodleian Bibliographical Press is equipped not only with the kind of handpress the Woolfs used for their first publications, but also with the same typeface, we had an ideal opportunity to put ourselves into Virginia’s shoes for a day.

One of the earliest Hogarth publications was Hope Mirrlees’s Paris: A Poem, dated 1919 (or rather 1916: Virginia placed the final ‘9’ upside-down and didn’t catch the error until after printing, correcting it in pen in all copies). It is a wonderful and unjustly overlooked piece of modernism, and with its wild typography – different alignments, passages in caps and italics, a block of music inserted into the text – posed a considerable challenge to Virginia’s recently-acquired skills as a typesetter. Just the thing then for a public print-a-thon.Working in half-hour shifts, our team of printers – from absolute beginners to advanced setters – set out to print as much of Mirrlees’s poem as we could in a single day. Breaking for lectures by Dr Nicola Wilson (Reading) and Dame Hermione Lee (Oxford) about the Woolfs and the Hogarth Press, we ended up with a respectable eight pages, about a third of the poem.

“I’m the only woman in England free to write what I like. The others must be thinking of series’ & editors”
(Diary of Virginia Woolf, Vol. 3, September 1925)

“So,” I asked one of our volunteers, “now that you’ve set a page of type, how do you think the experience of being a printer might have influenced Virginia as a writer?”
“Write fewer words!”
A useful and hard-won insight.

Print-a-thon, May 13

On Saturday May 13 the Bodleian Libraries Bibliographical Press will hold a Print-a-thon celebrating 100 years of the Hogarth Press. The effort is to print all of ‘Paris’, by Hope Mirlees, published by Leonard and Virginia Woolf in 1919. As Duncan Heyes  (British Library) notes,  this is ‘a radically experimental poem that challenged and developed the Woolfs’ abilities as printers.’

All enthusiasts of any ability, therefore, are welcome to join the effort, taking place in the printing workshop in the Old Schools Quadrangle, Old Bodleian Library, starting at 10:30 am. During the day we will break to hear two lectures in the Lecture Theatre, Weston Library, from Dr Nicola Wilson (Reading) at 12:00, on ‘The Other Hogarth Press,’ and from Dame Hermione Lee (Oxford) at 3:30, on ‘Virginia the Printer’.

The Print-a-Thon is organized by Dennis Duncan (Bodleian) and  Nicola Wilson (Reading), in connection with the University of Reading’s call for works on paper, and conference June 29-July 2,  https://woolf2017.com/call-for-printed-works-on-paper-hogarth-press100-exhibition/ 

Shakespeare’s Sonnets 127 to 154, printed in 2016; The Dark Lady sonnets

Shakespeare’s Sonnets 121 to 126, printed in 2016

Vile or vile esteemed? Look hard for the ‘missing’ lines in Sonnet 126. More to come on these sonnets, with notes of their making, in a later blogpost.

Shakespeare’s Sonnets 100 to 120, printed in 2016

In 2016, the 400 year after William Shakespeare’s death, the Bodleian Library asked printers around the world to print his sonnets afresh. These are the results.

See more Shakespeare sonnets printed in 2016

Sonnet 117, The Press of Robert Lo Mascolo, Union Springs, New York
Sonnet 117, The Press of Robert Lo Mascolo, Union Springs, New York [detail]

Transformations in print

The Bodleian’s Bibliographical Press continues experimenting with techniques from the hand-press period. This transformation print  [see pictures of the original] held at Bodleian MS Wood E 25(10) is one of several from the 17th and 18th centuries containing the same general theme under the title, ‘The beginning, progress, and end of man’.  The Bodleian’s copy has the imprint, ‘Printed for J. Deacon, at the Angel in Guilt-spur Street‘.  The same images appear in an edition at Harvard with the imprint, ‘London: Printed by E. Alsop for T. Dunster, 1654‘; another version, ‘Printed by B. Alsop for T. Dunster, 1650‘, is in the Thomason collection at the British Library. Several other versions exist, and the Bodleian also holds a manuscript version from the 18th century.

At Broadside Day 2017, in the Weston Library, Jacqui Reid-Walsh will speak about ‘The beginning, progress, and end of man’ as an interactive text.

Meanwhile, Richard Lawrence at the Bodleian’s Bibliographical Press is experimenting with printing transformations using two blocks; here using reproductions in zinc based on the Bodleian’s copy. From this experiment it appears that the transformation could be achieved using two blocks, ‘Adam’ and the ‘mermaid’; one printed on the centre of the sheet, and the other printed over this on the outside, after the upper and lower edges were folded to meet in the middle. As further evidence for this hypothesis, the Bodleian’s copy shows blocks printed over the deckled edges of the paper.  We still wonder why, in these 17th-century editions at least, the title (on the outer side) and imprint (on the inner side) are interrupted by large gaps at the latitude of the join.

Thanks to Kim Vousden for graphic design to prepare the images for reproduction as printing blocks.

Collections containing over 30,000 ballads in Bodleian collections are accessible online at http://ballads.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/

Register for Broadside Day 2017, to hear more about broadsides and street literature.