Photo Credits: Thaddeus Holownia
Amatoritsero Ede: It is rumored that Gaspereau press owns its own printing press. Is this true? If so what difference does that make to the timeline and process of publishing a book.
Andrew Steeves: It’s true. We own many printing presses, ranging in size and age. The oldest press in the building is an Albion handpress dating to 1833. The newest – if you’re like me and refuse to call digital copiers and printers ‘presses’ – would be one of our Hiedelberg KORD presses, which dates to the mid-1980s. Most of our printing is done on the one-colour Hiedelberg KORDs, which print an octavo-size sheet. Having our own printing presses helps us to control both the quality and the cost of manufacturing books. For a small literary publisher, I think that survival is all about retaining control – of quality, cost, vision, ownership...
A.E.: Having an in-house printing press would mean a smooth transition between editorial and actual presswork, would it not.
A.S.: Absolutely. It’s a return to an older model of working where a small group of people collaborate under one roof to accomplish a single task, instead of breaking it down and parceling it out. This way of working better respects both what is made and who is making it. It has more in common with the cottage industry model than it does with
modern manufacturing and printing.
A.E.: Could you describe for us the technical details of the printing facilities at Gaspereau press?
A.S.: Well, on the front end, we look much like a normal publisher, with people doing manuscript selection, editing, marketing and all the white-collar elements of book publishing. As well as overseeing the editorial process and actually doing some of the editing, I design all the books, and I design them with a specific knowledge of the technological and material limitations of our equipment in mind. I’m also able to experiment in ways that a freelance designer is not. It’s a process that offers a lot of freedom to me as a typographer. The printing process is more or less conventional: imposing pages, ripping files to the imagesetter, stripping film, making plates, and running the sheets. We also incorporate letterpress printing into many of our trade books. Sometimes this involves setting lead type by hand and sometimes it involves digitally set type and photopolymer plates. When we do letterpress, I actually do the printing myself, but generally, it’s Gary Dunfield who keeps the printshop and bindery working.
A.E.: What consideration informs your binding practices? We know for example that certain binding practices are best suited to certain climates.
A.S.: Yes, absolutely. We do both Smyth-sewn soft-covers and case-bound books here at the press. I don’t know about climates, but I do know that any book which has the back of its signatures sawed off and is shoved as a wad of single sheets into a glue binding isn’t worth a damn within a year or two. We are dedicated to making books that are properly sewn. Sewn books open widely and are incredibly strong. If your paper is any good, sewing could add a thousand years to the life of a book. If a publisher thinks his books are worth reading and re-reading, they should have sewn bindings. I’m baffled that anyone would do otherwise, except for telephone books and trashy romances.
A.E.: When was Gaspereau established and why the decision to incorporate print production into the usual editorial processes of – especially – a small press.
A.S.: Gary Dunfield and I founded Gaspereau Press in 1997 without any relevant experience or particular plan. We certainly didn’t plan to become printers, but within a few years our curiosity got the better of us. As I said before, it was driven in part by a desire to control the quality and the cost of manufacturing. We just weren’t happy with the quality of the work we were able to get locally and we gradually bought old equipment and taught ourselves the trade. I think that this sort of ‘hands-on’ ethic is essential for a small publishing house. It’s certainly a more humane and interesting way to work.
A.E.: An in-house printing press and bindery allows you a lot of freedom in terms of packaging a book. Are there any books that were given special attention in production? I am thinking of limited editions and so on – like those handmade editions of the old manuscript culture.
A.S.: I’m not a fan of the term ‘packaging’. Don’t get me wrong; I’m in business to sell books, yes, but what drives us is the content, not the package. In a small press, you can actually get away with that, as you don’t have a large marketing department giving you grief. You get to put content first. That’s ironic, I suppose, given that so much of our reputation is based on the physical books, on their material presence, their unique look and feel. I suppose that the freedom that comes from the fact that we don’t give a damn about the conventional wisdom of commercial publishing actually helps us make interesting, unconventional covers and jackets. In truth, I’m looking for readers, not so much viewers, collectors or consumers. I’m not in the advertising business and refuse to make my books fully commercial objects. While we often have a lot of fun with jackets, though I’m not sure that any particular books get special attention. We simply try and honour the content and present the book and the press to the potential reader in an honest and understated fashion.
A.E.: I heard from the grapevine that George Elliot Clarke’s recent dramatic poetry, Trudeau: Long March & shining Path, published by Gaspereau, was a special print job. Could you give details?
A.S.: Really? I find that perception intriguing. It’s pure mythology. There was nothing exceptional about the way in which Trudeau was printed or bound. In fact, there wasn’t even any letterpress work on that job. It was a pretty ‘straight-up’ production, and we gave it just as much attention and care as we did the other books we produced that season, no more, no less. It’s funny what people will believe when they want to, and I suppose that’s good for business.
A.E.: Are there any other ‘handmade editions’ from Gaspereau press?
A.S.: Well, all of our books have an element of ‘hand work’ in them. Many even have some hand-printed letterpress element incorporated alongside conventional printing and production techniques. We do sometimes issue true ‘limited edition’ letterpress books in the tradition of the private press movement, however. For example, on the press later this month will be a small edition (less than 200 copies) or Henry David Thoreau’s essay, Walking, which will be released this fall. I’ll be hand-printing it on mould-made German paper, with three original wood engravings by Wesley Bates. There are two different editions, one in paper wrappers for $200 and a case-bound edition with a portfolio of signed prints for $600. The jackets will use handmade paper made here at the press. So every once in a while we go overboard and do something really special, mostly for the sport of it. But our main focus is affordable, well-made trade books. Beautiful, well-made books should be affordable and available to anyone, not just collectors.
A.E.: In short Gaspereau put a premium on printing as an ‘art’.
A.S.: Actually, I’d rather say that Gaspereau puts a premium on craft. Art’s a little too loaded a word and it implies a certain detachment that I can’t abide. We see ourselves as working in the great Humanist publishing tradition alongside those early printer-publishers Aldus Manutius and Christophe Plantin. If you feel that the books you publish are important – and we do – why wouldn’t you want to send them into the world in beautiful and sturdy form, well-equipped for their journey through the ages?
A.E.: Thank you for your time and congratulations on the great job Gaspereau is doing.
A.S.: Yes, well, thanks for your interest.
Printing methods based on Gutenberg’s printing press spread rapidly throughout first Europe and then the rest of the world. It eventually replaced most versions of block printing, making it the most used format of modern movable type. As a method of creating reproductions for mass consumption, the printing press has been superseded by the advent of offset printing.
July 04, 2008
New Releases From Gaspereau Press