Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Hornbook FAQs

Why do you make Hornbooks? Largely because I'm a history student. Hornbooks represent America's first school text "books". Long before the Battledore, the Chap Book, the McGuffy Reader - there was the Hornbook. The tradition came over from Old World Europe, where these devices date to the middle ages. They represent Old World artisan-ship from a time when things were made by hand, one at a time.

Are your Hornbooks for sale? Yes. While usually a "batch", or production run is the result of an order or several orders, there are usually some left over which are available. If enough orders are requested, I'll double the batch. More than likely sixteen would be about the maximum number that I can produce at one "run". That would represent about two weeks production time.

All Hornbooks are priced at $35.00 plus $5.35 for shipping. (Price updated 11.3.2013 due to increase cost and Flat Rate shipping.)

Orders can be placed by posting an e-mail to me at: paperwrenpress@gmail.com

Pmt can be made by personal check or PayPal. Please note that PayPal incurs a $2.00 charge for use of their service, thus total for Hornbook and shipping via PayPal is $42.35

(update 9/27/2014: Coming Soon! look for Hornbooks to be offered from Paper Wren Press' Etsy Shop!  These will be linked from our website at www.paperwrenpress.com )

Are your Hornbooks a specific copy of any particular specimen? No. The local printers of the 1600's or 1700s - printers did not proliferate in the Americas until the very early 1700s - followed a familiar Old World pattern which was traditionally used. It was more of a format with variations unique to each printing house, and dependend upon what "founts" and cuts were available to them. Almost all followed the tradition of the "Criss Cross", the "Cross Row" of the lower case alphabet. Most started the lower case row with the cross and upper case A, followed by the lower case alphabet. Nearly all utilised the Exorcism ('in the Name of the Father . . .' ) and the Lord's Prayer. The fonts used, point size, the types of crosses or the number of crosses varied. Some used borders, some did not. If I were a printer in 1730, and I was asked to print a few Hornbook pages for the local artisans cutting the wood and heating the horn, these are what I would have produced, proudly displaying the brand new Caslon faces from England. I probably would not have had a superabundance of type available, so I would have distributed the type back into their cases when I was done. So the next time I was asked, the Hornbook would have looked a little different.

Photos of originals show a sort of frame around the printed sheet on most Hornbooks. Why is that? Yes, and you'll notice mine do not. Those old Hornbooks actually used animal horn as a protective covering for the printed page affixed to the board. This thin piece of heated, smoothed and cut horn was held in place by what was usually a lead frame. There are two issues here: the lead and the horn. You might note from the photos on line and in books that the horn is usually missing. Or very deteriorated. Horn is organic and is subject to rot. I chose not to use a frame simply because of the modern day fear of lead. Especially since these Hornbooks may - as their predecessors - find their way into the hands of kids. Museum or private gift shops may have a problem with the use of lead, too. I opted instead to use another form of protection which, though not as ancient as cut horn, still goes back about a century and a half: decoupage. There are several techniques used for this process, originally layers of varnish which were dried and sanded. I use a water based sealant, each thin layer polished with steel wool, the last coating cured for a few days, then sanded and polished by steel wool. The water based sealant does not adversely affect the paper, and is extremely durable. This last batch utilised copper tacks to hold the paper in place. There are examples of Hornbooks that do not use frames, thus the use of frames to hold the horn was not universal. Personally, I think the Hornbook looks better without a frame, which tended too be too large for the diminutive size of the book itself.

Who buys Hornbooks these days? So far, it's been a matter of letting folks know what a Hornbook even is! What used to be a ubiquitous part of childhood has now slipped from social memory. So far, Museums, folks who like Colonial and Early American accents for their homes, Home Schoolers and some private schools have been interested or have placed orders. Although, admittedly, I don't ask. But the niche market I am aiming at would be the above. The gift shop attached to the Oldest Schoolhouse in Old St. Augustine, Fl. has expressed interest in carrying these Hornbooks. Thus, as folks become aware of the Hornbook, I suspect more folks may wish to have one. The chalk-and-slate board of your great grandfather would have been the "Hornbook" of it's era. Both carry the same early schooltime aura and legacy. Heh, just thinking about it, I used a slate and chalk pencils made by Pelikan when I went to primary school in Germany in the middle 1960s! The slate was ruled on one side, quadrille on the other. That's where I got my history-streak!

Hope this page has been a little more point specific and helpful.

Good Providence in all your endeavours!


Saturday, April 17, 2010

Hornbook Production Part 3: Finishing the Process

One popular wood used in the period of the American Revolution was cherry. Clear Pine actually bears a grain resemblance to cherry, so cherry stain seems appropriate. The eight blanks stained very nicely. Funny how that even though these blanks were cut from the same cut of Clear Pine, each one looks different from the other. There are no two Hornbooks alike.

Just like soldiers at attention. Took me the better part of Tuesday Afternoon to get through all these, and another few hours to sufficiently dry. One thing that I noticed that I thought was odd: usually, stain raises the grain fibre. This is why a lot of the New England cabinet makers used to wet down their wood, then sand. The carpenter that I learnt from called it the "hackle". Raised grain is a raised Hackle. These blanks had no raised Hackle after staining. Thus, re-sanding after the staining was minimal.

Very satin smooth. It pays to work with good woods. The stain is darker on the end-cuts, naturally, owing to stain absorption.

The next step is to apply the copper nails and printed text. Now, here is where I depart from the original Hornbooks by necessity: the original Colonial Hornbooks used a Leaden Frame and a small sheet of Horn for the covering. I could have done the leaden framing, BUT . . . I am offering these Hornbooks to Homeschoolers, Public Schools and Museum / Private gift shops. I do not wish to run afoul the FDA or the State of Florida, or expose any of my clients to any potential health risk related litigation. So, the Lead Framing is omitted in favour of a non toxic water based sealant that applies like Envirotex, but must be painstakingly applied in thin layers, sanded, re-coated, sanded, re-coated, at least six, and as much as ten layers. This process is called Decoupage, and is in itself a process that goes back about a century and a quarter.

This is the Decoupaging process line, taking up a part of my kitchen. The front, top, bottom, and sides of both paddle and handle are coated and dried for half an hour. After the half hour, the layer is steel wooled or sanded. After the coatings are built up to my satisfaction, they are wet sanded, and polished with steel wool. The whole process can take about three days, unless you dedicate an entire day, sun-up to sun-down, then it might take two days.

Here is a closeup shot of the "cross row", showing part of the Lower Case and Upper Case rows. The paper is behaving, and actually starting to appear like "skinside" Vellum! The Sealant is giving the paper an almost translucent effect and "floating" the printed images similarly to how pounced vellum gives an almost floating effect to gall-iron based inks.

Here is a close-up of the Scottish Thistle Border motif. This font came from Quaker City Type Foundry of Honeybrook Pennsylvania. Bill Reiss has awesome turnaround and a great selection of classical figures and ornaments. Another foundry that I use is the foundry that - according to the old Hall of Printing that used to be at the Smithsonian - supplied both them AND Colonial Williamsburg, M&H Foundry, San Fransisco, California. Much of my "house-founts" come from both M&H and Quaker City. The tall "s" that you see is an M&H casting.

There you go. Tall 's' figures. I secretly wish that I could use them in all my publications, but the 21st Century eye gets tripped up by them. In fact, so did the 20th and the 19th century eye, they dropped this convention right around 1800. This was also the time that Caslon began to fall out of favour with American Printers, being substituted with the less delicate, bolder Bodoni faces.

Well, I am now about one week into these Hornbooks, the last remaining step of the process is the wet sanding, and polishing.  More to come.

Stay tuned.


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Hornbook Production Part 2.

This is the completed Forme. There were several edits, one 'd' was inserted upside down, a few coppers had to be inserted into one of the 'Criss Crosses' to enable a tight lock-up. Oh, heh, yeah, I forgot one of the letters of the alphabet. Figures.

This is the chase lock-up. You cannot tighten the lock-up too much or too little. Two little and the forme spills, and you have a very frustrating pied pile under the press . . . in the oil. Too tight, and you can potentially warp your chase such that it cannot rest level against the press' type bed. BTW, you Kelsey aficionados: notice what I am using as an imposing surface for my 8x12 chases? None other than the type bed of a 9x13 Kelsey. Best portable imposing "stone" I've ever had. And the rails serve as convenient handles!

Here is the progress in mid-run. I have one copy laying on one of the unfinished blanks to serve as a sizer. There have been some design changes in this batch of Hornbooks to bring it nearer to it's 17th Century origins.

A closer look at the unfinished blank and print resting atop. This gives me a pretty good idea of the finished product. One consideration is the placement of the nails that hold the sheet. It cannot be too close to the edge of the wood, and must also be slightly angled inward.

There are three design changes. First, notice the Thistle border. This calls to a Scotts background.  Of course, you know that Scotland was saved from her Norse Invaders by the lowly Thistle? Actually, the ancient symbol was the bent, or broken thistle.  The second change was the addition of the crosses. This is a significant inclusion in that these "printer's crosses" were almost universally used on Hornbooks, even in Europe. These crosses were built up from the upper case letter 'I', either locked together with quads around an ornament as seen here, or mitred together. These were known as "Christ Crosses", which over the years became called the "Criss Cross". At least one appeared at the top, usually before the first letter 'A'. Many used two, bracketing the alphabet in a more pleasing symmetry. The third change is the upper case 'O', using instead a more authentic 24pt. Caslon upper case letter. As mentioned, on my last run of Hornbooks (which was my first run, produced before I had more research information) - I used an ornamental 36pt. Goudy monotyped ornamented 'O'. The letter is beautiful. But it dates to 1920. Not very colonial.

Today is printing day. I'll be running as many of these as I can. The next stage will be staining the blanks. After that, the mounting and decoupaging of each Hornbook. Then they go to the client(s).

Stay Tuned.


Q5 Studio and Pretty Good Letterpress

Another Hornbook Production.

Another production run of authentic early American Hornbooks! After receiving an order for four, I decided to do an actual production run. What is a production run? Well, for one thing, it involves me putting on my woodworker's hat and locating the proper wood. Since these books typically took a student through all their early years of primary education, the wood has to be somewhat durable. But to keep costs down, I have to find a cost effective wood stock that would be both affordable for the client, yet durable for use. In a sense, in my mind's eye, I see these "books" as actually being used for their intended purpose. In this case, I traditionally use clear pine. Not construction grade, but furniture grade.

The process begins with cutting the wooden "blanks", which involves three basic processes: (1) cutting the wood into 3.5 by 8 inch squares. (2) Then running these squares through an angled table saw to notch out the handles. (3) Then sanding. What this photo shows are the blanks cut, but not filed and sanded as of yet. The sanding takes the longest time. After this, I might add a fourth procedure, that of staining the wood if called for. Sealing waits until the text is nailed to the blank, whereupon the whole is decoupaged together. Originally, animal horn was heated, separated, cut and affixed over the text with a lead frame held in place by nails. I omit the lead because these are being offered to schools. As it is, many of the samples I've seen used nails only without the frame, so either way is authentic. Animal horn is subject to decay and rot - which is why the actual 300 year old specimens that exist are almost never intact. Thus, I use a decoupage process which is safer, longer lasting, yet retains the look of antiquity. The nails used with this run are copper. Iron was used as well as brass rivets, but copper oxidizes with that ancient greenish tinge, which is classic. These will age very nicely. Especially as the wood reddens with age.

At this point of the process, I begin the composition of the text which will be eventually printed and affixed to these blanks. The font used is authentic to the era, an early 18th Century Caslon, supplied by M&H Type Foundry, San Fransisco. The type is composed in three sections, or "charges". When the composition stick fills, the type is removed and lined up on a "galley" tray. After all the charges are compiled, and are ready to be mounted into the press's chase - which is an iron frame that holds the type in place - the assemblage is called a 'Forme'.

This is the first charge. Two more to come. The tool on the left is a slug cutter, which trims leads to the proper width.

This is a photo of the blanks and the finished product which I ran back in the early 1990s when I owned and operated "Heirloom Press" out of Palm Harbor, Florida. The design on these new Hornbooks will differ slightly to incorporate the "Printer's Cross", or the "Christ Cross", which became known as the "Criss Cross". These are crosses composed of four upper case 'I's, sometimes mitred, or sometimes composed together with a centre ornament. Also, the upper case letter 'O' in the Lord's Prayer is more authentic. Formerly, I used an ATF Goudy ornamental cap from 1920. This go 'round, I'm using a 24pt Caslon Capital, of the same era as the rest of the composition. Of course I include the archaic tall 's', which looks like an 'f'. These were used prior to 1800, a throwback to the ancient blackletter types. The tall 's' was used for the letter 's' at the beginning and middle of a word, never at the end.

That's were I am now. Printing will commence on the following day. It is a complex composition which can take a long time to arrange so it holds together in the chase without spilling out. It's a skill the curve of which I still reside. All in all, these eight Hornbooks should take me about five days to produce, including the various drying times. But it is worth it.

Hornbooks represent to me not only a valuable and important part of United States History and the first Colonial Societies that laid the foundations of our representative Republican Democracy, but also a product made in the United States, made using the original and authentic processes with American materials, using vintage iron presses, using a time honoured process requiring an unusual amount of attention and care to produce a quality product. This was the Hallmark of American Industry at one time. I intend to perpetuate that legacy. Q5 Letterpress' Hornbooks will never be made in China!

That's it for now. More to come. Stay tuned!

Good Providence to you in all your endeavours!


Q5 Studio & Pretty Good Letterpress
G. Johanson, Printer