From the press at the sign of the scarlet cockerel & leaden slivers
Allen Crandall: An Improvisation
by Thomas B. Whitbread
NOT OFTEN is it possible for a man to achieve even an approximation of what he would like to do while on this earth. Many writers have said this. Few writers I have read have said it as well as did Allen Crandall while he attempted his own approximation of excellence. Even in the title he gave to his cumulative attempt at excellence Crandall said it, implied it. Improvisation.
This “personal amateur journal,” first issue “a quarterly,” second “a Hobby Horse,” third “a journal of no importance,” one of the best papers published in the National Amateur Press Association from Autumn 1944 to April 1948, seemed always essentially what its title implied. It seemed, and – in the many senses in which what seems (expressions on faces, appearances on stages, intonations on the page) inevitably is – it was improvisational in substance, design, appearance. This was half its charm. The rest resided in our appreciation that the appearance of improvisation was controlled – not calculated, not mechanically ordered, but controlled – by an inherent love of beauty and sense of form. The Cloister, roman and italic, in various sizes; the cuts, ornaments, linoleum blocks by his son and his wife, in April green, December mauve, pumpkin-time orange; the fine impressions of type-form against old bond paper, despite a bullsnake in the e-box and rollers “badly pitted by cockroaches and silverfish”: these technical accomplishments charm the eye so that the mind is ready to be charmed. And the words ready to charm it seemingly ramble with inconsequence through which the vital, bitter, intensely caring spirit of Allen Crandall shines like sweet wildfire.
Crandall cared about excellence in the words of others. He was one of the few writer-editor-printer-publishers among us who not only was not afraid to quote at length from authors he liked, but had things to say about them worth hearing, things that expressed his hatred of hypocrites, his love of openness in men. He quoted Burns, Tennyson, LeGallienne, Brooke, and much of Prospero’s speech, “Our revels now are ended,” after which he wrote the following, in answer to those adolescent adults who try to prove Bacon wrote Shakespeare:
“Does it really matter who wrote the immortal dramas? Sufficient unto all is their magical survival. Give me Hamlet, give me Macbeth, give me Othello, give me everything Shakespeare wrote and something maybe he didn’t, and the boys and girls can play tiddle-dy-winks with their anagrams, cryptograms, ciphers, symbols and the whole abracadabra to the end of Time.”
A liberal Democrat, an ex-metropolitan newspaperman and sometime Manhattanite, living in the other Manhattan of “that hub of provincialism and standpat Republicanism, Kansas,” Crandall read the autobiography of “a Hercules among such Lilliputians as McKinley, Harding, Coolidge, Hoover” – William Allen White, who “could always be depended upon to support the Lilliputians” – and then wrote of White’s book:
“Words, phrases, whole pages and chapters of it soar and sing and lift the drooping spirit of man, and one recalls again and again their sparkling beauty and effervescence. What a shame that the man sacrificed his life to the fleshpots instead of devoting it to literature!… Bill White was the most likable of men, saw with a clear eye his own failings, and so many, many times in hours of stress was on the side of the angels.”
Crandall had things to say about Shakespeare, about White, about the often unhappy way it seemed to him the world was going. He was unafraid to say them. He was equally unafraid to say what he had to say about amateur personalities and whatever they produced. Improvisation 8, for April 1948, is “Dedicated to the Memories of Edkins, Thrift, Cook, Batchelder, and ‘Tryout’ Smith.” And in #3, for April 1945, implicitly following Alf Babcock and anticipating Milt Grady, he calls Burton Crane “In many ways… my favorite amateur.” Why? Because Crane never takes himself “too seriously.” He has “humor,” he has “irony.” The Twilight of the Gods atmosphere that at times tinges the air of Improvisation, equally in the lament for the death of F.D.R. in #3, the salute to the ended Aonian in ‘45, the unpunctuated Edenic parable (but not the inevitably time-punctuated and beautiful reminiscences of his Kansan youth) in ‘48, is often undercut by the ironic humor of Crandall himself. This is an ironic humor that sometimes approaches savagery: the tensely hopeful, longingly hopeless savagery of the idealist who can’t help comparing what is with what might be. Note these comments by Crandall on amateur papers:
“The Junior Press, very neatly printed, whose editor never learned to write, but nevertheless has a life-gleaned fund of interesting information to draw upon.”
“The National Amateur, for some years excellently printed by Russell Paxton, but its beautiful typography heartbreakingly spoiled by its perpetrator’s ignorance of English usage and lack of feeling for words.”
“I wish Alf would cut his Cats to four a year, send them to the entire membership and thus achieve the influence in the Association his energy and enthusiasm warrant.”
No wonder Crandall was a Critics Chairman less honored in the preach than the non-observance. Except by those few who in steady respect for and quasi-occasional display of intelligence, in devotion to our hobby as an art, in love of excellence, are spiritually our many.
No cow was sacred to Crandall. Not even Vondy, whom he “attempts to answer” in Improvisation 2, 1st Quarter 1945:
“Yes, we knew there were numerous organizations devoted to the rescue of Europe’s unfortunates… ‘Mr. Crandall,’ you say, ‘is just not widely-enough informed.’ Could be. Out here in the sticks we sometimes miss a twist or turn in the day’s news. But we did observe that Mexico and Central America accepted more refugees than our great big rich warm-hearted Big Brother Uncle Sam. While we were rescuing a few thousands, the ‘Aryan’ beasts of Central Europe were clubbing, hacking, poisoning and torturing to death three million Jews and tens of thousands of the politically and culturally elite of other nationalities in the countries they occupied…. ‘Mr. Crandall is just not widely-enough informed.’ Could be, But read Vondy and Bellette. She is a delightful person and her paper is one of the best.”
Even Jim Guinane, the closest thing to a saint the National has had since Edkins, perhaps because of the mystery of his distance from America and the combinedly chatty and magisterial tone of his essays, doesn’t escape the clear and perceptive chiding of Crandall:
“Like the rest of us, he’s sometimes wrong, as when he writes about Freitag or criticizes Tony Moitoret for including material in Tick Tock alien to the interests of the amateur world. Is anything alien to us? Let’s have poems, stories, essays, history, biography and autobiography that excel their counter-parts in the professional world… And Freitag? He’s easily the present amateur world’s leading creative writer. I’ve read many of his seemingly artless tales, and when you and I, Jim, are able to evoke, as he does, so much of the mystery and the pity, the beauty and the terror, the wonder and the glory of life, we may consider ourselves something more than idle scribblers. But you are on your way, Jim. Discipline in the use of language, a natural feeling for words, will come with time and steady practice.”
The whole idea of sacredness was alien to Crandall. He was too close to the nettles as well as the flowers of the soil, the conformities as well as the symphonies of cities, to have other than a relativistic, skeptical view of the humanistic values. This gave his judgments their cleanliness, his praise its sincerity. When he said he liked something, we knew he meant it.
“This fellow Alf is also one of my favorites. He is panned right and left for his irresponsible boyishness and his eccentric typographical outbreaks. Therein lies his charm. In an atmosphere where we’re all too deadly solemn, Alf’s antics are a healthy tonic.”
“No. 17 of the irrepressible Ralph’s Scarlet Cockerel was worth waiting four years to read. He wasn’t taken in by the gilt and brass of army life, of which he writes with ironic fearlessness.”
“And speaking of laurels, why haven’t any gone to Lois Grimes? All her stories and sketches have snap, bite, substance.”
“The Stripling, a first number with more real meat in it than any other amateur paper. Fine stories, intelligent discussion, good writing throughout.”
We’re all too deadly solemn. Ironic fearlessness. Snap, bite, substance. Real meat. These are real words, written because he meant them by a real man.
This is the same man who wrote: “I’d rather read the poorest of the four-pagers than the vicious slop in the multiple-circulation slick-paper commercial weeklies.”
And: “I’m not a gregarious animal. I don’t care for crowds. I’ve seen too many milling millions, seeking in their very gregariousness an anodyne for boredom.”
And: “But sometimes I wonder, do these old men, who make the wars and send the young men to die in them, have no heads, no hearts, no imagination?”
And “The spirea are billows of white foam, the lilacs purple clusters of breath-taking fragrance. To the south of the house the peaches are a forest of pink. (Perhaps, as in previous years, the frost will nip them in the full flower of their beauty.)”
I have quoted so extensively from Improvisation because I know no better way to convey the quality of the man who, between 1944 and 1948, produced eight of the most valued items in my collection of amateur journals. Each is unique in content, cover, form. Yet these eight issues form an identity, an impressive personality, typographically, artistically, and verbally individual. Allen Crandall’s Improvisation was one of the National’s best and most idiosyncratic journals in every conceivable respect: and he did it, all, himself.
I have a cousin who lives in South Plainfield, New Jersey, on top of a hill. He has a windmill that pumps his water. He has an orchard. He has an estate-keeper with family living in a house at the foot of his hill. In his large house he has a Swedish housekeeper. He loves playing the piano, and in late middle-age about 25 years ago, he gave up the practice of law, never having married, and has played the piano each day, especially in winter, even more hours than before he gave up the law. He still plays very well. His first name is Porter. Each time I have visited him on his hill he has wrested my suitcase from me, despite my opposition, saying, with large guffaws, “I’ve been a Porter longer than you have.” In the early 1950’s he visited my parents’ home in Amherst, Massachusetts, while I was attending college. One evening, after he had played Chopin (mostly Nocturnes) on our upright, I brought the conversation round to amateur journalism. He was interested. I showed him numerous journals, among them Scarlet Cockerel, Masaka, Alf’s Cat. He liked Burton Crane’s “Salome and Her John.” He liked one sonnet by William T. Stone. He liked a short story, I forget which, by Vondy. But of all I showed him he liked Improvisation best. I was glad, because in my septuagenarian cousin I valued qualities I value in Allen Crandall: sincerity, honesty, ironic humor, love.
A Sun-Haze of Memories
by Allen Crandall
FOR 20 YEARS I have been writing, printing and selling little pieces of flotsam from my private press when, suddenly in April 1944, one of my customers in Los Angeles brought to my attention the existence of a number of amateur press associations. I promptly joined two of them: the National and the American. Except for my interest in Helen Vivarttas Wesson and her husband Sheldon, my association with the American was perfunctory and brief.
Not so with the National. I received a warmhearted letter of welcome and a bundle of papers from Willametta Turnepseed, then editor of the quarterly organ, The National Amateur, soon to be president of the organization for two terms. The very name of the lady almost induced me to take down my volume of Burns’ poems and start spouting Scotch in the inimitable Scots’ manner.
I learned that the National Amateur Press Association had been in existence since 1876, organized in Philadelphia by a group of ambitious young writers and printers. I was doubly interested, for at the moment I was helping a 90-year-old Kansas merchant write his autobiography, and W. H. Sikes had attended that Centennial celebration in 1876. Although he knew nothing about the newly organized press association, his reminiscences of the Centennial Exposition helped focus the events of that far-off time.
From my membership in the National Amateur Press Association comes a sun-haze of memories delightful to recall. I am sure a more congenial group of people never existed anywhere else. Almost immediately upon my joining, I started publication of a little journal which I called Improvisation. It was a very personal sheet, evoking my own experiences in place and time.
I was deluged with letters from all points of the compass: delightful letters from people who knew how to impart magic to English expression. I wish it were possible to write brief vignettes of scores of distinguished men and women, boys and girls, in the cloistered world of amateur journalism; but it would take volumes to even skim the surface of things.
The monthly bundles, mailed from a central mailing bureau were, for the most part, full of froth and fustian. But alongside the puerility were beautiful magazines from the hands of master craftsmen, filled with engaging poems, essays, stories, sketches, comment and reminiscence. It was a pleasure to have in one’s library such gems of writing and printing as Masaka, The Aonian, Lucky Dog, The Monasticon, The Ghost, Siamese Standpipe, The Scarlet Cockerel, Bavardage, Olympian, Cubicle, Campane, The Feather Duster, Far Afield, Stripling, Reverie, The Spectator, Spigot, The Victorian, Churinga, Alf’s Cat, Cemetery Rabbit, and many more.
Supplementing the magazines was an extensive correspondence with such long-time amateurs as E. A. Edkins, Tim Thrift, Rheinhart Kleiner, W. Paul Cook, C. A. A. Parker, George Freitag, Earle Cornwall, L. V. Heljeson, Edna Hyde McDonald, Marvin Neel, Lois Grimes, Willametta Turnepseed, Sesta Matheison, Leon Stone, Robert Holman, Harold Ellis, Robert Telschow, James Guinane, and numerous others.
My six or seven years in the hobby were years of unalloyed pleasure. From all quarters I was overwhelmed with kindness. I was urged to run for editor of The National Amateur and for president. I did become chairman of the Bureau of Critics for one glorious year, and achieved a rather pedestrian success in abusing the effusions of the writers and publishers.
Why, then, did I drop out of this absorbing hobby? Well, most of these magnificent amateurs have gone to their last sleep, those remaining have lapsed into silence, and this lame duck has a wobbly right hand that now precludes the setting of type. But, taking a long backward look through the mists of the years, I can only exclaim with Miranda:
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world
That has such people in’t.
The following essay by our esteemed Cleveland friend, Helm C. Spink, originally was written for and appeared (without by-line) in his employer’s publication, The William Feather Magazine. Mr. Feather graciously permitted re-publication of this copyrighted material with full credit to the talented author.
Helm Spink’s comments on freedom, altho written over a decade ago, are well worth repeating in 1965.
In America: Freedom of Choice
by Helm C. Spink
IN AMERICA we say what we think. We speak and write and print our frank opinions. So long as they are not slanderous or indecent, nobody can stop us. Congressmen listen to us, and if we represent the majority, we actually make the laws. If we are in the minority, we still may criticize – everybody from our next-door neighbor to the President of the United States.
In America our votes count. If we get tired of the party in power, we vote the rascals out.
In America we work where we like. If there is a better job on the other side of town, or a thousand miles away, we are free to take it. If it is a job we can do better than the other fellow, we get it.
In America we buy what we like. If one store does not have it, we go where we can get it. If we’re treated discourteously in one store, we find a friendlier store across the street.
In America we do as we please – so long as that does not interfere with the other fellow’s right to do as he pleases. We are free – but not free to take away the freedom of others.
In America we believe in freedom – and in opportunity. We believe that everybody should have the right to get ahead. We believe that talent and skill should be rewarded – that everybody, whether musician, mechanic, stock boy, or store manager, should get better pay for better work and greater recognition for greater achievement. We believe that the more efficient waitress is entitled to the bigger tip. We believe that the more efficient merchant is entitled to the bigger profit. We believe that the actress who draws the crowd to the box office has earned her fabulous salary.
In America we do not start wars, we finish them. We go to war reluctantly. We do not like to see men killed. But we do not like to be pushed around, and we can fight when necessary – with strength, courage, skill, and amazing ingenuity.
In America we still believe in the future. We know that we have only started. We are proud of what we have done so far – proud of our material achievements and of the venturesome spirit that typifies us – and we know there is no limit to what we may do so long as we are free.
Our Ex-Presidents of the NAPA
by Ralph Babcock
SLIM IN STATURE, but nevertheless a stalwart pillar of NAPA, Helm C. Spink once seemed like our original career officer. He joined the NAPA in 1923. Was Recorder ‘24. Historian ‘26-28. Editor ‘29, 30, and 35. Critic ‘31, 32, 46. Judge ‘36, 41, 43, 44, 47. Mailer ‘58.
Helm was the younger son of Dr. Thomas Spink, onetime President of Indiana APA whose Star (1880) and Monthly Reporter (1883) drew 160 exchanges. Dr. Spink (1865-1931) practiced medicine 30 years in Washington, Indiana. In 1921 his sons, 15 and 12, purchased a used printing outfit for $20, and shortly Helm was printing The National Amateur.
His earlier papers, Hoosier Amateur, L’Opinion, Parenthetically Speaking, Constitutionalist, were not pretentious. More than one issue appeared on a postal – a not infrequent practice in those days.
Although a diabetic kept alive by daily insulin, he ate well, was an incessant pipe-smoker, and had learned about mint juleps in Kentucky as a young composing room foreman (1931-36).
For nine years he assisted William Feather (a former AJ) in the latter’s Cleveland house organ printing business, as managing editor. Later he edited a radio news program, and was a free-lance typographer. “An orderly worker who believes in getting things right,” all too little of his talented writing appeared in AJ papers. Apart from official criticism (usually about printing) his best bit was The Politician, 1947.
Spink’s most impressive publishing effort was The Conapan, twelve quarterly 12-16 pp. 5X7 issues of which he partly set and printed for the Cleveland Offspring of NAPA 1942-45.
Helm was “life-blood of the Conapa” he helped to organize after the 1941 convention had fanned interest in the area. They typified him as “a gracious quiet guy with mischievous gray eyes who makes you talk. Heckler! An infectious laugh. Critic – always unsatisfied.”
Before death of Cleveland’s inactive dean, Warren Brodie, sorrel-topped Spink had so won his respect and confidence that he had key and free access to Brodies’ famous Arcade printshop. (This he later purchased.)
On the Brodie Press Helm co-published Vondy’s Wag, maintained and printed NAPA membership lists (and covers) free for the official organ for eight years (1942-50), issued Conapan and a score of other papers, hosted Babcock into three wartime Scarlet Cockerels, and helped make possible Cleveland convention papers: Moving Finger 1941, Immobile Finger 1945, Convention Worker 1950. Failing sight forced sale of the Brodie equipment in 1957.
While Fossils Secretary 1948-49, Helm married Bernice McCarthy (niece of the Haggertys, and another family AJ) after they attended NAPA’s Los Angeles convention.
Never self-seeking, and in spite of triple service as Official Editor, Helm repeatedly declined presidential nominations. With Bernice NAPA Secretary 1949-52 and Librarian 1955-59, Helm stepped aside from the official limelight except for Critic duty, Laureate Judge ‘56 and Mailer ‘58.
Triggered by a 27-vote proxy bloc engineered by Vic Moitoret, 1957 Washington conventioneers gleefully added another 26 votes to elect Spink 52-23 over his old chum, retiring-Editor Duerr. Despite all Helm’s protests; adjournment, and his installation next day, followed. He resigned immediately, urging that Duerr be elected unanimously, which was done.
Sharing honors with Vondy, Cole, and Jim Morton – NAPA’s four most consistent convention-attending pillars – Helm’s knowledge of custom, history, and the constitution, and his clear thinking not infrequently prevailed over frenetic action. Excerpt from the 1956 Minneapolis report: “Spink convinced conventioneers the proposed [co-edited mailing] amendment was not necessary. So it failed by 4 votes.” The 1963 Cleveland gathering was his 28th convention in 38 years.
The new amendments prepared at Des Moines all seem quite desirable. Perhaps the most constructive is a proposal that conventions work over and approve new amendments – rather than each year wasting valuable official organ space and money on dozens of “bright ideas” that only a trio of newcomers or redtape-lovers enthuse over temporarily.
The Scarlet Cockerel, urges each of you to vote “YES” for adoption of all the amendments.
Dampening Paper Tames Texture
For Pastime Press-Bangers
by Ralph Babcock
“DO YOU have much trouble printing on Carousel paper?” Small World Haywood wants to know.
Trouble? Why kid anyone? No textured sheet like Carousel or laid Linweave Text, Artemis, Andorra, or even Strathmore Text will print like coated paper or the effortless English Finish in Bill’s Just Our Type. A joy to handpress bangers, EF demands infrequent re-inking, little impression.
If you’re Mr. Gotbucks, able to splurge in $25-or-so gobs (at 43 to 63 cents a pound) for sub. 60 Warren’s Oldstyle or sub. 70 Mohawk Superfine, you can play with beautiful paper whose natural built-in cushion minimizes need for more than a kiss impression.
Otherwise, unless one takes the time and trouble to dampen paper (as the oldtimers did), or prints by offset process, or from rubber plates, the only solution for printing text paper is to use stiff ink and sock it! Bond black is preferable; or even stiffer offset press black. Cheap job ink, or relatively soupy halftone black are a waste – on text stock.
One school of thought maintains that a fair amount of “sock” or “bite” actually enhances the real character of type in letterpress printing. For those who operate foot-powered presses, quite a result may be obtained by stopping the press each time on full impression, allowing it to dwell there momentarily. Slow, but rather effective on rough text paper.
Some pressmen use an oiled tympan topsheet over one sheet of EF, followed by a piece of .010” (or one or two very thick photo negatives), burying whatever buildup sheets and tissue seem necessary under this next to the metal platen. The acetate provides resiliency without any excessive punching showing.
An all-newsprint packing would be spongy. Before rubber diapers went out of style, a thin sheet of rubber sometimes proved helpful in handpress banging. When regular makeready paper (.001” thick) isn’t available, lens tissue, thin unprinted Xmas wrappings or even a single ply of Kleenex or toilet-tissue will serve for the thin patches needed to build up light areas in the printing. As in dampening paper, the key question is: How much is enough? Trial & experience are the only real teachers.
This issue was printed on dampened paper. Lifts of 10 to 15 sheets were covered with bond paper or paper towels, generously sparkled by a hand clothes sprinkler. More towels, sprinkle, another dozen sheets, etc. Lots of water: a cupful to 12 ounces to a ream; left overnight for the moisture to be absorbed uniformly, wrapped in a plastic drycleaner’s bag to avoid evaporation. Paper 10 inches wide grew to 10 ¼ when so dampended, in which condition: limp as tired old lettuce, this rough-textured Carousel was quite receptive to type impression with lots less ink and much less squeeze.
Trouble? Well, if fine results are what’s wanted….
Obviously no hasty commercial venture, Scarlet Cockerel 36 (handset in 11 pt. Wayside and handfed to a 10×15 C&P) presents the latest 1961 mss. in these 300 copies completed for the National Amateur Press Assn. by Ralph Babcock, Pottersville, N. J., May 1965