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Friday Book Design Blog: Faber Fine Press

Jonathan Gibbs

faber fine press machine Friday Book Design Blog: Faber Fine PressOne of the most pleasing things about good book design is that it is a cheap way of bringing good design into your house – rather like that other, rather less garlanded design staple, the tea towel. (Where are the awards for Best Tea Towel? I hear you shout. Wrong blog, I’m afraid.)

As illustrator Jeffrey Alan Love said on this blog a fortnight ago – when I talked to him about his work on Simon Ings’s Wolves – “I wanted to create a cover that people would want to live with, to have on their bookshelves facing out at home”.

There are posters of iconic book covers that you can buy – as well as the recent innovation of book text posters, with the entire text of a novel printed teeny tiny on it – but that shouldn’t stop us thinking of books as something that can live on our walls. I have some deep ‘box frames’ with old Penguin paperbacks nestled in them, and some books get turned cover out on our shelves.

For those with more money at their disposal to furnish their rooms, the destination of choice must surely be Faber’s new imprint, Fine Press, which is producing limited edition items that, thus far, most definitely deserve a frame and a prominent position on the walls.

faber four Friday Book Design Blog: Faber Fine Press

Clockwise from top left: Simon Armitage, ‘A Vision’, illustrated by Paul Catherall Daljit Nagra; Jo Shapcott,‘Sinfonietta for London’, illustrated by Amanda-Sue Rope; Alice Oswald, ‘Woods etc.’, illustrated by Jonathan Gibbs; ‘Transport for Londonstan’, illustrated by Bruno Mangyoku

The Press’s first four publications are a set of poetry broadsides – single sheet poems – written by Simon Armitage, Daljit Nagra, Alice Oswald and Jo Shapcott, and each poet matched to an illustrator, respectively Paul Catherall, Bruno Mangyoku, Jonathan Gibbs (no relation! although I do have some lovely books with his images on the front) and Amanda-Sue Rope.

Measuring 386mm x 312mm and retailing at a solid £120, these are not casual purchases, but then nor are they produced casually. They are hand typeset and printed by Hand & Eye on letterpress machines – which are probably what we think of when we think of traditional printing processes: inking and pressing down raised type onto paper. Suffice it to say, this isn’t how most books are produced these days  (although I did feature a letter press book on this blog: Olivia Laing’s Yellow Cab Quartet, printed by Anna Fewster).

Although this first series was outsourced, Faber hope to bring future productions in-house, not least because this was how the whole project was conceived. As described by Jack Murphy, Faber’s Production Manager:

We found a small handpress, a Model Printing Press No. 3, in Faber’s archive, which was used by Berthold Wolpe in years gone by. I’m in the process of renovating it and it will be installed here at our offices to print small things; cards, pamphlets and the like.

faber fine press prints Friday Book Design Blog: Faber Fine PressWolpe, for those that don’t know, was a German lettering artist and designer most often remembered as the creator of the Albertus font and the man behind the bright, punchy, type-lead look of Faber books from the middle of the last century. A hand press, as you might think, is a press operated by hand – and so quite small – Model presses being a brand that first appeared in the UK in 1877. The Number 3 had a print size of 6 by 9 inches.

While, as I say, these first broadsides are hardly aimed at the wider reading market, I do think it’s great that publishing companies are maintaining an interest in their own history, and the history of publishing itself. As well as renovating Wolpe’s old machine, Faber have bought a second, larger Korrex machine, and are working with the London Centre for Book Arts. Murphy goes on:

We hope that as many people as possible from Faber will use the press. Beyond that, there is also the idea of tying it in with the Faber Academy part of business, which offers creative writing courses. We’re thinking of ways to offer combined writing/printing courses. But ultimately of course, the aim is to produce work on these presses to be published under the Faber Fine Press marque.

We’ve got various plans for Faber Fine Press. One part of the project is to publish two or three projects a year of work commissioned specially for a beautiful, fine press treatment. These may be along the lines of the poetry broadsides, but might also be pamphlets, small books, posters or any other text that lends itself to exceptional illustration, design and print. I’m hoping the next project might be similar in format to the broadsides, but pairing some of the musicians on our Faber Social list to provide text in the form of lyrics or poetry, with illustrators/artists of their choice providing artwork. We’ve also got some more ambitious ideas for fine press projects which may take longer to come to fruition.

faber fine press 3 Friday Book Design Blog: Faber Fine Press

In an era of Espresso Book Machines, and print on demand in general, I like the idea of feckless Faber junior editors and publicity managers being sent down to the basement to get their hands dirty on a big old piece of machinery like this. All in the pursuit of beautiful words, of course.


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