Inspired by a growing appreciation of book arts and its own design heritage, UK publisher Faber has launched a new imprint supplying limited edition hand made products. We spoke to production manager Jack Murphy and senior designer Eleanor Crow about the venture…
In its 84-year history, Faber & Faber has published some of the world’s most iconic books and cover designs – from Berthold Wolpe’s typographic jackets for William Golding and TS Elliot to Shirley Tucker’s perfect work for The Bell Jar.
More than seventy years after Wolpe joined Faber’s art department (where he worked for more than 30 years) his hand press is being carefully restored and will soon be used to make products for Faber’s Fine Press.
The new imprint will release work that marries writing, design and illustration, printed in limited runs at the London Centre for Book Arts. Its first release is a set of four 30x40cm poetry broadsides (printed by Hand & Eye Letterpress while Wolpe’s machine and a Korrex proofing press are refurbished).
A limited run of 100, each broadside has been printed in colour and signed by the poet. Paul Catherall has illustrated Simon Armitage’s A Vision, Jonathan Gibbs has imagined Alice Oswald’s Woods etc, Amanda Sue-Rope, Joe Shapcott’s Sinfonietta for London and Bruno Mangyoku, Daljit Nagra’s Transport for Londonstan. The texts are from Faber’s back catalogue but Murphy and Crow are also keen to commission work from new writers and creatives.
The decision to set up a fine press imprint was in part inspired by a chance discovery of Wolpe’s Model Printing Press No. 3 in the Faber archive around three years ago. But it’s also an idea that Faber has been toying with for several years since the introduction of e-books failed to quell demand for printed products.
“We’ve been thinking about ideas along these lines for some time, based on the notion that those who still by physical books at, say, £18.99 may be happy to spend more and get something of a higher production and design specification, with some exclusivity involved,” says Murphy.
“This coincided with the renaissance in letterpress and other forms of traditional printing, [and with] Faber’s 80-years plus of publishing history, and its significant contribution to book design, it seemed natural for us to do more in the area. Many of the things we publish, like poetry and popular music books, lend themselves to this kind of treatment,” he adds.
Faber has long been experimenting with limited runs and hand crafted products – it released a beautiful set of specially commissioned poetry covers to celebrate its 80th birthday in 2009, and a series of generative book covers for out of print titles a year earlier – and Murphy says the new imprint will allow it to continue doing so “in a more concerted fashion.”
“We wanted to detach it from the front list publishing, so we could commission new, stand-alone work, both text and design. Also, some of the ideas we had didn’t fit into the general run of things as it stood, like the broadsides, some of the more involved book projects we have planned and indeed, buying a letterpress of our own,” he adds.
The market for high-end hand made products is fairly small – but it’s clearly there, says Crow. “People are very, very enthusiastic about it. I think it’s partly a reaction to the digitisation of publishing, but not entirely,” she says.
“Beautiful print…had been largely neglected for a long time before the coming of the ebook, [but] I think people who like well-produced printed matter, really do love it, and if more time and thought, better materials, great design and of course exceptional literature can go into a project, then the results are hugely rewarding,” she adds.
Poems selected for the broadside range were chosen as they have a strong visual element, rather than being philosophical or metaphysical, says Murphy. Crow then selected illustrators whose work would complement the text.
“Amanda Sue-Rope [was selected] for her subtle cityscapes conceived in semi-abstract patterns, blocks of colour and soft shadows; Bruno Mangyoku for his bold lively work and energetic compositions, which seemed an excellent pairing with Nagra’s poem; Jonathan Gibbs, whose sensitive wood engravings and fine lines matched the delicacy of Oswald’s Woods etc and Paul Catherall, whose clever two-coloured print evoked Simon Armitage’s vision of a balsa wood town plan. We gave the illustrators the poems, asked for a visual response, and they all came back with something brilliant,” Crow explains.
Once the printing machines are installed at the Centre for Book Arts, Murphy and Crow hope to produce between two and four new products or series a year and incorporate the presses into Faber’s training courses.
“We hope that as many people as possible from Faber will use the press – not just in production and design but throughout the firm…there is also the idea of tying it in with the Faber Academy. We’re thinking of ways to offer combined writing and printing courses and ultimately, the aim is to produce work on these presses to be published under the Fine Press marque.”
For more info about Faber Fine Press see faber.co.uk/finepress