Editor’s Note: Today’s post is by Tony Sanfilippo. Tony co-owned and managed Svoboda’s Scholarly Books in State College, Pennsylvania for almost a decade until he closed it in 2000. He has since worked in university press publishing. He is currently the director of the Ohio State University Press.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how books have changed over my lifetime and I recently had a couple of experiences that drove home how drastic that change has been between what books used to be and what they are now. I first started thinking about this when I learned a few weeks ago what a book could be in the early- and mid-twentieth century.
When I first moved here to Columbus, Ohio, I began hearing about a group of interesting book nerds who called themselves the Aldus Society, and when I finally tracked them down I immediately joined. Several weeks ago one of our members arranged a private tour of the Chillicothe, Ohio home and studio of Dard Hunter, led by the home and studio’s current owner, Dard Hunter III. It was an amazing experience. The home still felt very much like it must have back when Dard I lived there and still housed his library, which was completely intact, and his curiosities parlor. The one part of the original house that had changed drastically from when Dard I bought it was a studio and press he added, called Mountain House Press. It was there that he created his famous papermaking books.
But any discussion of Hunter has to begin with his work at the Roycroft Colony. Hunter’s time there helped mold the American Arts and Crafts movement, and he left a fingerprint in craftsmanship like few before him, designing and fabricating furniture, stained glass, tile, pottery, and of course, practicing and teaching the art of bookmaking. But he was primarily a papermaker, that was his main focus, and it may have been related to the fact that his father was a newspaper publisher in Chillicothe who endorsed the industrial revolution and the dramatic and seemingly positive change it brought to people’s lives. But while Dard himself also thought progress brought a net benefit, he worried that the rapid adoption of mechanization would destroy craftsmanship and cause the extinction of the ancient arts. So, in what appears to be a response to the rolls and reams of his father’s newsprint he grew up around, Dard decided to really specialize in one thing: the art of handmade paper. He traveled and studied and wrote books about as many of the international traditions of papermaking as he could find, and he designed, published, and often printed books about these processes. And he himself practiced these arts and became a master papermaker. Dard wasn’t only a papermaker though; he also became a master printer, designer, binder, typographer, illustrator, and all-round fabricator. He even designed and cast his own type, ornaments, and punches using hand-moulds he designed and built almost identical to the ones Gutenberg invented, which was really what made movable type and scalable book printing possible, not so much the press. Hunter’s books are among the most beautiful books the early twentieth century produced. And his designs defined a movement.
He married and had a son whom he also named Dard, and Dard II took up his father’s work and eventually mastered every skill his father taught him. While his father was primarily known for the work he did at the Roycroft Colony, Dard II began to build his reputation in Chillicothe, where he worked in his father’s shop. There they continued to make handcrafted books, often on the book arts themselves, but also taking on commercial work, like creating the bookplates for the personal library of William Morrow.
Dard II’s contribution to the world of books was probably crowned by the book he produced to celebrate the work of his father.
Life Work of Dard Hunter
Please use the magnification function on these; it’s absolutely worth it. Kudos to the Marriott Library at the University of Utah for scanning these. What is extraordinary about Dard I’s Mountain Press books is that they are believed to be the first American “one person” books, meaning one person did everything: made all the paper for the edition; designed, cast, and set all the type; created every illustration and ornament; every punch, plate, die-cut, and embossment; wrote the book; laid out the book; and in the case of these two volumes, separately printed an exact, often multicolor, example of his father’s design work and print work — both literary and commercial — reproducing his father’s watermarks, letterheads, book title pages, and advertisements, and then pasted or bound them all into these two volumes. And through these reproductions he told the entire history of his father’s work. And they both did it alone.
So I visited the Hunter home and studio and met Dard III, who is cataloging and preserving his father’s and grandfather’s work. Dard III is also an amazing individual and still continues to run the shop, though his primary focus now seems to be on architectural preservation. He was very generous with extraordinary stories about his once-famous grandfather and father, and I spent the day in awe of their legacies.
I bring up the Hunters because that day contrasted greatly with the rest of my week at the university press I direct. I’m not sponsored by old newspaper money; in fact, quite the opposite. Under the pressures of a neoliberal bureaucracy, I run a university press on the vapors of financial support, and I’m hostage to a ruthless market ruled by a monopoly retailer, a monopoly wholesaler, and consolidation and oligopolies everywhere I look. I was having a discussion with some university press colleagues over email, and we were mourning the loss of the library market, the system that once supported the work of university presses through the purchase of our content, and through which the free-rider problem could sort of be addressed, because if your institution didn’t have a press, at least through purchasing our books, you supported the humanities’ scholarly communications system. Now, libraries are rushing to consolidate, just like commercial publishers and printers. Big Five and Taylor & Francis, meet the Big Ten. Everybody’s consorting, it’s all the rage. How fast can we get to 50, 30, a dozen, one print book for the whole country?
So, in total contrast to the one-person book projects of the Hunters, we’re headed toward the no-person book. These pressures on university presses make outsourcing, automating, and exclusively print-on-demand (POD) or digital delivery more and more necessary. I had a meeting last week with my production department about five of our last eight born POD front list titles where the copies that were sent to the office all had consistency flaws. Pages trimmed off square, pages drifting to the top of the page, covers off register, and you could see it get worse with successive copies. This was not what I signed up for when I chose to work in the world of books. I mentioned to some colleagues the other day that I’ve reached the acceptance step of processing the death of the library market. I don’t publish for them anymore; I publish for Amazon now. I got a little pushback on that, saying that the process and content isn’t changing, just how readers are accessing the content. Perhaps that’s true, but if the readers who used to borrow from a library are instead occasionally purchasing from Amazon, that changes everything about the quality of the physical book. It also impacts pricing, cost recovery, formatting, windowing, and even copy and cover design. It influences a trade list editorially, or if or how you should even attempt one. When I started in publishing, those considerations were very different because we thought we were publishing primarily for putting books into hundreds of libraries all over the world and hopefully a few bookstores and personal libraries. We cared about legibly stamped spines, sewn signatures, archival paper standards. We had staff asking why we’re even doing dust jackets because the librarians just throw them away. Now we ask what the thumbnail will look like, is it readable that small? Screw the archive, glue those signatures, POD everything that isn’t nailed down. How quick can we get the digital to market? Why do we even need print when we have Ctrl+P? It’s a race to the bottom.
Dard II, when working on his book about his father, sometimes wrote from the type drawer as he set the type. That seems insane to me. He’s thinking about what he wants to say and pulling and setting the type simultaneously. I can’t even imagine how the mind does that because it’s composing backward. Dard III told us that this led (or lead) to a few typos that Dard II got some scathing criticism for and which really bothered him. Here’s an example of one of those typos, though in this case (last line on the page, duriug), it’s an upside-down letter, which is not a typo we’d ever see today, but it well illustrates the danger in composing from the type drawer. Here he set the n upside down and missed it, probably because the word had a u in it and he was proofing backward. I think there’s an important lesson there about skipping steps. In this case copyediting was done by the author, typesetter, and printer, which seems akin to a doctor treating herself, or a lawyer representing themselves.
Another story Dard III told us concerned his grandfather’s printer’s mark. A printer’s mark is just what you think it is: a mark left by the printer to note that they printed that volume, like a signature or a logo. Using them was pretty common before offset and digital printing. Now we have barcodes on the last page indicating what POD plant it came from. Dard’s printer’s mark was very unique, and I’m sure there are other elements of it, the significance of which are lost to the ages, but one element was that, as he completed each of his one-person books, he would add a leaf to his printer’s mark. Here’s an example of his mark, and what’s really interesting about this version is that the last leaf representing that very book is falling off the branch. Dard III told me that his grandfather did that because he thought it would be his last book, and indeed it was. I found it a bit of a melancholic story, but I could really relate to that falling leaf. Every book we begin work on, I wonder if it will be our last physical book, and if so, how long will it last, and when will the pages begin to fall out, and when will the colors on the cover begin to change?
Just because a high-quality physical book is my priority, I realize that doesn’t mean it’s a priority of the institution I work for, certainly not libraries anymore, and definitely not for the market. I understand that they all want cheap — I get it. They want the lowest cost possible spent on the object, and some would prefer I stop producing that object entirely and instead just a file, a free file. But if we’re going to reduce the number of physical books that end up in circulation to one, can we at least consider quality and craftsmanship like we used to? Frankly, I’d rather build an exquisite, sturdy, single copy than 100 or 200 disposable copies that will yellow and fall apart before the end of the century. The Hunters’ books will still be here in 2100 in all their glory and flaws. Unfortunately, I don’t think I can say the same of mine.
10 Thoughts on "Guest Post — Dard Hunter and the Last Real Book: A Cri de Coeur"
Beautiful piece about a place well worth visiting. Thanks for pulling together so many threads and fibers of this story. Melancholy but critical in its concerns and conclusions. A lot of moving pieces and attitudes have to be shifted, jogged, and reimagined to remake the future of the book.
I appreciate this thought and the additional insight into Dard Hunter’s legacy. I have known of him and his work almost since I began printing over 50 years ago, less than 100 miles from Chilicothe, and I have tried in several instances to emulate it to the extent I could. I have produced 5 books or booklets which I researched, wrote, hand-set, printed by hand, and bound by hand, all in my one-person home shop. I did not, however, go as far as Dard in making my own paper and type. But each project was a restatement of my belief that such a unique effort contributes in a more obscure way to the preservation of the combined book arts. Thanks for the reminder of the importance of tha.
Thank you very much for this excellent post. I grew up in Columbus, and inherited some of my mother’s Dard Hunter books, she valued them and enjoyed being a member of the Aldus Society. Rare book departments at universities value these treasures and will hopefully preserve them for the future. I agree with you on the other economic points, these are difficult times. I’m currently reading “Book Row” by Marvin Mondlin and Roy Meador; you could write another article about that to educate us further, so this history isn’t forgotten.
So good, so timely, and great examples and explication. Situating Dard like this in the current neoliberal fantasy world is brilliant and makes the lesson stick. Thanks Tony!
Tony’s lament is one I can appreciate well, but the change and decline in the book market he complains about has its origin many decades ago and is not just associated with technology, though technology has affected the rate of change and decline. I trace this history in an essay I was commissioned to write for my Princeton class’s 50th reunion in 2015, where I used the example of Princeton University Press where I had been employed for 22 years as the vehicle for tracing the development of scholarly publishing over the previous half-century: https://scholarsphere.psu.edu/concern/generic_works/5712mg51h
In one respect it was not a good example: Princeton was the last press in the US to have its own printing plant. But that is also an advantage in relation to Tony’s lament. I witnessed how the craft of bookmaking changed over time at first hand. Princeton prided itself on the quality of its book production, and it was second to none in that respect, benefiting from one of the country’s most accomplished and celebrated book designers, P.J. Conkwright. It only sold its plant finally in the mid-1990s.
When I moved to State College, PA, in 1989 to become director of Penn State University Press, I aimed to bring that tradition of high quality bookmaking with me, even though Penn State did not have its own printing plant. We succeeded in that goal with the skills that Janet Dietz and later Jennifer Norton (a designer herself) brought to the position of production manager. One of the people who appreciated our efforts was Tony, then running his own bookstore downtown. When he could no longer keep his story open in the face of chain bookstores and then Amazon, we welcomed him onto our staff as marketing manager. And we’d like to think that we had something to do with teaching him more about the art of fine bookmaking.
Part of Tony’s lament points to the takeover of POD displacing traditional printing methods. Perhaps he will remember that when Amazon purchased BookSurge, a young POD company, and made it a subsidiary (later renamed CreateSpace), Amazon notified a lot of publishers including our press that, unless we agreed to use BookSurge as our exclusive supplier for POD, Amazon would de-list all of our titles from its platform. Jennifer Norton objected because BookSurge was not known for the quality of its POD production. But Amazon even then accounted for about 30% of our sales, so what choice did we have? This was Amazon exerting its power as the 800-lb. gorilla in the marketplace. This was only one of many examples of Amazon using its huge market power to dictate how the world of publishing should work. Unable to resist Amazon’s demand, I did at least pledge as a personal protest that I would never do any business with Amazon personally as a customer. When I looked at my bank statement last month and discovered three charges from Amazon to my debit card, I therefore knew immediately that fraud had occurred!
The library market when I began at Princeton in 1967 was large enough to support sales on average of 3,000 copies of most scholarly monographs. By the end of the 1970s that number had decreased to fewer than 1,500 copies, by the 1990s to fewer than 1,000, and since the early 2000s to fewer than 500. When I retired in 2009, the number was down to fewer than 300 copies. The initial impetus was not technology but the success of commercial journal publishers of STEM journals eating more of university library budgets, which reduced the amount left over to purchase books. That “serials crisis.” as librarians well know, has continued to this day, just evolving over time as technology changed modes of delivery.
Already in the early 1990s I started to champion, with colleagues at the Big Ten presses (in the CIC coalition (now the Big Ten Alliance) the idea of electronic monograph publishing, with an “open access” component. That story is told here: https://scholarsphere.psu.edu/concern/generic_works/x346dv41v While that library/press group failed to secure funding from the Mellon Foundation (which had just funded Project Muse and JSTOR), an essay I wrote about the concept of what came to be called open access influenced Frances Pinter to experiment with the idea at Bloomsbury Academic and then, later, Knowledge Unlatched. I went on, as president of the AAUP (now AUP) in 2007/8 to draft its Statement on Open Access, whose purpose was to promote movement in that direction among university presses in publishing monographs. I later had the honor of serving on the search committee advising Amherst College Press, the first fully open-access press in the humanities in the US, in the hiring of its first director.
But university presses, as Tony’s lament so well illustrates, have hung on desperately to a model that has outlived its usefulness and its economic viability. Saying that too many times I think is what led the AUP to kick me out of its listserv a few years ago despite my having won its Constituency Award that entitles me to certain privileges as a retiree to continued involvement in its business. Open access, especially if run on an endowment model (as Amherst does), is the real wave of the future. Consider how well it has worked for, say, the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. It can also respond to Tony’s lament about book quality. With open access, the content is free for any user to read. In some versions of open access it can also be free for the user to print it out and bind it to the user’s own specifications. If the user wants acid-free paper, a nice cloth binding, and even a customized cover design, the user can pay for it. Is not that the best of both worlds? With an endowment Tony’s press would not need to depend on annual skimpy subsidies to survive and reduce costs on production. Ohio State raises millions of dollars to support its football team. How about raising a million or two for its press? Having a first-rate press to represent its academic reputation should be more important to the University than its football team. But then we all know where the priorities in the Power Five conferences lie . . . .
Tony might also acknowledge that there still is a thriving business in producing high quality books for private collectors in the “limited editions” marketplace. The legacy of Dard Hunter is not entirely dead, if not possible to sustain in university press publishing anymore.
Also, most academic presses now restrict monographs in humanities to 300 pages or less, typically to something around 260. That trend may have begun 20 years ago but now this is the norm, like making the author pay for indexing. And, of course, tiny point sizes.
I kind of wanted to dedicate this essay to Jennifer Norton, primarily, because she taught me everything I know about contemporary book production, and why quality is important especially for scholarship. But I’m also indebted to my production manager, Juliet Williams, and really most if not all of the production departments of the AUP. They are our conscience as scholarly book publishers, and we’ve been shushing them for far too long.
And yes, Sandy, you were a great mentor, though more for copyright than book production. Jennifer was my mentor for that, as well as management, communication, and empathy. And just to clarify this from my perspective, while I really appreciate everything you did for scholarly publishing, copyright, and the Penn State Press, you were not excluded from the AUP listserv for your views on publishing models, you were asked to leave because of your insensitivity to other people.
I never claimed to have any expertise in design or production, Tony, just knowing what is good design and production when I see it. My role as director was to hire the best people who were expert in their areas of specialization and then support their work as they chose how to go about doing it–as I believe I did with you also.
I wonder how you know the reason I was banned from the AUP listserv because it was never conveyed to me. I was left to guess the reason. I have two questions, though: if I was banned for the reason you give, isn’t it odd that in the several decades before I was banned, no one ever complained to me about being “insensitive to other people” on the listserv? And isn’t it odd that I would be given the Association’s highest award in 1999 and then elected president in 2007/8 after serving two terms on the Board if I had a reputation for being so insensitive? No one ever gave me an example of how I had been insensitive, or to whom, so I remain in the dark to this day about what that might have meant. In any event, as happened to me also at Penn State Press, accusers never had the fortitude to identify themselves so that I could have the opportunity to defend myself.
Well made physical books can last for centuries if they are well cared for. I’d assume that was the intent of all who were involved.
The lifespan of a digital book is a bit harder to predict. Who is working on the ways and means for digital works to persist to their potential? Does anyone recognize a need to work on perpetuating digital as was so admirably done on behalf of physical books?
I gave a talk at a panel of the American Association o Law Libraries in 1994 on this question, and though well out of date now, you might find interesting what the state of play was back then.