A Spink Sampler
by Harold Segal
THIS issue is dedicated to the memory of Helm Spink, who passed away September 20, 1970. It is meant as something more than a tribute to an old friend. It is a sampler of the wisdom and clarity of the man whose 47 years in the hobby enriched us all – and through us will yet enrich another generation of those bound to the enjoyment of the National Amateur Press Association.
Searching through our files for quotes from Spink’s articles, it dawned on us how applicable many of these comments are this day, this very minute. His counsel on printing and typography, on editing, and the democratic processes of our association are no longer available. But delve back, until 1928 when he first became official editor, and check his opinions against current situations.
In the June 1967 National Amateur, Ralph Babcock wrote an eloquent summation, “Footnoting the ‘Practical Spink’ Legend.” We are glad it was published in his lifetime. It’s an overworked, abused cliché, but we think it quite true, he was a legend in his own time.
New (and old) members, read on and enjoy! The craftsman, the constitutionalist, the editor speaks.
The Type, the Paper, the NAPA
by Helm Spink
The Scarlet Cockerel, May 1965:
*Editor’s note: This was apparently written about 1936.
THERE is no ideal amateur paper, and never will be. You couldn’t put everything that is desirable in one paper, any more than you could all the qualities of your many friends into one person. My best friends in amateur journalism are Vondy, Haggerty, Lovecraft and (I hope) you. Can you see a composite person possessing the qualities of these four, with a little of Moit and Suhre and A. M. Adams and William R. Murphy thrown in?
Amateur journalists aren’t divisible into printers, prose writers, politicians and poets. We are human beings, patch-work style, with a little of this and a bit of that in our make-up. Some amateurs who never owned a press are more critical of the typography than those of us who earn our bread and butter in printing plants. And we who are printers aren’t so absorbed in the printing that we can’t enjoy a paper that’s cruelly compressed between type and tympan.
It comes back to the question of personality. You can’t define an ideal person. There ain’t no such animal. Some people are delightful companions, some are dull. Why? Are all the delightful ones alike? Of course not. The only thing that’s important about an amateur paper is that it be interesting. God save us from the dullards.
The Constitutionalist, May 1963:
THERE was and is no question of the convention’s authority to reject illegal ballots – or illegal portions of otherwise legal ballots. Illegal ballots are rejected every year – from members who have failed to pay dues or to be active or to sign the ballot or to get it to the church on time. Illegal votes, which the convention rejects without hesitation, are those cast for non-members or ineligible nominees. Certainly the Newark convention was right to discard the votes cast for Sally O’Rear for executive judge, as she was ineligible, but the convention erred, said the judges, when the proxy vote for secretary-treasurer was discarded.
The judges speak with authority. It is their duty, when asked, to correct the errors of the preceding convention, just as it is the duty of the following convention to review the decisions of the judges and to correct their errors.
I have a good deal of sympathy for the executive judges. Theirs is the task of reconciling most of our serious disputes, and this is never easy. Though it is not difficult to interpret the written constitution, it is almost impossible for the judges to remember all the unwritten rules that have come to be part of our body of laws. Let me illustrate.
Some years ago I was president of the National for a few hours. I resigned to the convention, and the convention elected my successor. One member protested that this action was illegal because the constitution provides that such a resignation be made to the judges. The fact is that the judges have no power to do anything at a convention except to report on what they have done. Between conventions the judges take over most of the powers of a convention and may reverse the previous convention’s actions. When the convention is in session, it takes over all the powers of the judges.
As I have been known to say before, our system of government is ideal for a small group of intelligent persons. The reasons are obvious. The National is governed by its members – by its writers, its publishers and its printers. Anyone may be a member unless he has proved himself unworthy of the privilege. Authority is placed temporarily in the officers elected by active members. (The only inactives who may vote are life members, but nearly all life members who do vote are active.) Whether elected or appointed by the president, all officers are answerable to the president, who customarily serves for one year but may be removed by the judges.
Amendments to the constitution can be adopted only by the voting membership. The convention is not a legislative body; the judges have no legislative powers – that is, neither can amend the constitution. But both can establish precedents which, if unchallenged, may and do attain the force of law.
So it is important that we scrutinize any unusual action of a convention and, if it violates any of our laws, written or unwritten, challenge it by an appeal to the judges. If a bad practice goes unchallenged, it may be repeated and cited as a precedent by a subsequent convention. A bad decision by the judges should never be allowed to stand; it may lead directly to another bad decision by a later board of judges.
Vigilance is indeed the price of liberty.
The National Amateur, December, 1945:
EXCUSE me if you have heard all this before. I know nothing new about typography. What I have to say is for the young printer who is planning or preparing an amateur paper and only incidentally for the veteran typographer who may take pleasure in disagreeing with me.
Perhaps you have yet to select the body type for your paper. Readability is what you want to consider, and this is not quite the same as legibility. Choose a type that’s restful, and lead it so that you have at least as much space between the lines as you use regularly between words. Some faces provide that space by long ascenders and descenders, but most need one point or more between lines.
To get the most out of any type, you need to know about spacing, which is not so simple as it looks. Perfectly regular spacing is obviously impossible unless you leave your lines unjustified, and no printer does that except in search of novelty.
Justifying, as you surely know, is the changing of the space between words to fill the line so that it will “lift” when the form is locked. If you have seven words in a line and lack one em of filling it, you may justify it by exchanging the six regular 3-em (three to an em) spaces for en quads. Usually you don’t have such luck, but experience will soon make justification a much quicker operation than it sounds.
In practice you don’t often put exactly the same space between all words in a line, but you conceal the variation as best you can. How well you do it is the measure of your skill as a compositor. Spaces that are not far apart (separated by a word of four letters or less) should be uniform. If a long word falls in the middle of a line, 3-em spaces might be used before it and 4-em after it; the eye would never note the difference. If the letter w should end one word and v start the next, less space between these words would be desirable. Similarly, little space is needed after a comma – only a hair-space or a cardboard in a tight line, and no space at all if it is followed by quotes. With most faces 6-em spaces (and even thinner) are permissible occasionally; the maximum should be less than an em.
I differ with many of the craftsmen on the matter of dividing words. Admitting that a considerable variation is undesirable, I prefer it to be repeated divisions, especially on syllables of two or three letters. Never divide on a one-letter syllable, and never permit more than three consecutive lines to end with hyphens.
(Parenthetically, I should like to remind you that commas and periods go inside close quotes, always. Other marks of punctuation should be put outside if they are not properly part of the quotation.)
Spacing difficulties are all due to lengthy words or short lines. Usually the amateur publisher can rewrite his copy to eliminate words that won’t fit, though the size of his press or paper may force him to use a short line. If you have a choice, make the line long enough to accommodate two lower case alphabets (52 characters) of your type. An easy guide is: use 6-point for a 12-pica column, 8-point for 16 picas, 10 for 20, and 12 for 24. A slightly shorter line will not present great difficulties; a longer line needs extra leading to be readable.
In making up pages, don’t be deceived into thinking that every article must start at the top of a page. It’s that foolish notion which produces perfectly idiotic “jumps.” Heads in the middle of a page need a pica or more of space to separate them from the preceding article. Use a dash or a rule, if you like, but the best separator is plain paper.
An article that covers several pages should not start near the bottom of a page; heads preferably go above the middle and closer to their own stories than to the one preceding.
Of course you know that a “widow” or an “orphan” is the last line of a paragraph standing alone and forlorn at the head of a column. If it is less than a full line, don’t leave it there, ever. If a full line, it can stand but will reflect upon your ingenuity.
Knowing almost nothing about presswork, I shall limit myself to this advice: Don’t try to print a full chase. And I do have something to say about margins: They should be progressive, the “gutter” margin (next to the fold) being the least, the top slightly more, the outside still more, and the bottom greatest. On a 5×7 page I like those margins to be 4, 5, 6 and 7 picas, the type measuring 20×30. This is just a suggestion, not a procrustean.
The National Amateur, June, 1954:
PRESSWORK is a science. Typography is an art. Bad presswork is due to ignorance, haste of indifference. Any intelligent person with good vision and some patience can learn to be a good pressman. Nobody, and I mean nobody, can be a good typographer unless his reaction to the printed page is emotional. He must abhor bad typography. To see type badly used must hurt him. To see it beautifully and appropriately employed must thrill him.
But let us not delude ourselves. The creation of art is secondary. The real purpose of printing – and please let us never forget it – is to communicate, or to help in the communication of thought. Printing is merely a tool – and can be a pathetically futile one without the aid of a good grammar, punctuation, diction and style.
By all means, let us create art when we can. Beauty can help too in communicating thought. But, along with entertainment, charm, attraction, it is a means to an end. The ultimate goal is enlightenment – the bringing of the author’s thoughts into the mind of the reader.
So type should be legible. Obviously. Voices should be audible. Is that all? Type should be pleasing, melodious, persuasive – if the reader is to hear the author’s voice. The reader must be invited to listen. If the typography is bad, if the diction or punctuation is confusing, the reader will not listen or will not hear.
But how do we determine what is bad and what is good typography? All I can give you is an educated opinion. Like all opinionated persons, I am prejudiced. What I give you is not necessarily the truth; it is the truth as I see it now. Good typography attracts favorable attention. It presents a usually pleasing, sometimes novel, interesting, but never confusing, picture.
Remembering that type of course should be read readily, let us step up from legibility to readability. Type is legible if we can read it; it is readable if we read it without effort. This effortless reading, however, is not altogether the result of choosing a good type face. The lines must be long enough to obviate frequent hyphens without too much variation in the word spacing – and short enough so that the reader does not have to search his way back to the beginning of the next line. A 5-em space (five to an em) is ample with most roman types, although 4-em is ideal. Between a comma and opening quotes no space is necessary. Between a period and a cap W or letter of similar shape no space is needed in a tight line. I like more space between sentences than between words, but that is frequently supplied by the period and the shape of the following letter.
Campane, October 1953:
THE TRUTH is that relatively few persons really belong in amateur journalism. Not more than one recruit in fifty is able to immediately like us, understand us and adopt our peculiar ways. Usually two or more years must pass before the new member feels at home. If he attends a convention the indoctrination period is shorter, but sometimes it is not until the third day (after he has survived endless chatter and debate) that he perceives we are not mad. He really becomes one of us when he sees that amateur journalists are persons who express themselves best in writing.
The idea that we all should be amateur printers is not new, but it is wrong. That word press in amateur press association does not and never did refer to the printing press. If our founders had intended to organize a printers’ association they would have called it so.
The National Amateur, December 1935:
The National Amateur should be edited from at least three viewpoints. It should remember the young amateur, the new member who feels strange and unfamiliar with our procedure and traditions; he should be enlightened, guided toward improvement in his work and led to feel the glamour of amateurdom’s past. Not forgetting the names that have stood loyally in the membership list, however, for ten, and twenty, and thirty years, the editor should try to make his repetition of facts as little boresome as he can, striving to hold the interest of those whose inclination is to sigh for days now gone. And because the official organ is preserved and consulted after individual publications have gone astray, the editor must keep in mind the reader of another generation who will want to know significant facts of the present day, who will rely on the National Amateur to record them, however obvious and uninteresting they may be for the reader at the publication date.
The National Amateur, June 1936:
IN AN EARLIER issue I touched upon the subject of how the official organ should be edited. As a swan song I should like to go into greater detail. The National Amateur, I would remind you, is not published solely for the readers of today. It has an obligation to the past and to the future, and no editor who ignores either can have a creditable volume.
The editor’s first obligation is to be lucid. Whatever else his official organ may do, it should convey information, and in such a way that the reader can grasp it without strenuous effort.
The second responsibility is to be prompt. It appears probable that the issue in which this comment will be printed is to be late – a serious fault which I warn my successors against.
Of third rank in importance I think is the duty to be interesting. This is not intended for humor; it is a serious sober task to keep our official organ from boring the readers. We repeat too many things; there is too much duplication and detail.
In close relation to that point is the further obligation to be brief. Officers’ reports and official business demand enough space when they are restricted to their purpose of conveying information. They should never be longer than necessity demands.
If the editor will keep in mind his readers of the future, he can avoid a great many mistakes. News, I have said before, should not be printed in the National Amateur unless it is of enough importance to be worth reading after it has ceased to be new. On the other hand, no event which is important should escape mention in the National Amateur, which should present to the future an accurate picture of its own time.
CAMPANE is published in the interest of organized amateur journalism and the National Amateur Press Association by co-editors Hazel and Harold Segal, Margo Gardens, Bristol, Pa. 19007. Hand set in Baskerville types and 475 copies printed on 60-lb. offset stock on an 1890 7×11 Pearl treadle press.
Articles discussing associational problems, critiques or recollections and research in the history of the hobby are constantly sought and welcomed by the editors.