A HOBBY AFFAIR, spasmodically published by Ralph Babcock, primarily for the National Amateur Press Association members.
The type used is 12 pt. Post Medieval Medium, imported on special order from Berthold in Berlin, West Germany. Rooster is an electro from Deberny & Peignot foundry in Paris, France.
Thus were some 130 copies printed April 1955, and now reprinted April 1971 with 8 pages from issue Number 5. 530 copies. Address editor: Tuxedo, New York 10987
The Six Joys of Publishing
by Ralph Babcock
Reviewing the standout publications of previous NAPA years is amazing, reassuring, gratifying – and rewarding. Guinane recently pointed out a possible six-fold enjoyment of ajay papers: “surprise of getting it… the quick flip through may mean disappointment or transport of joy… we sample the literary offerings… return for the most satisfying perusal… interesting minutes peering at specimens… final concoction of a criticism.”
Even veteran printers must acknowledge similar stages of reward: The first enthusiastic ideas prior to start of an issue… preliminary sketches or trial proofs to fix style and define limits… the elation of first proofs and that first completed copy… completion of determined drudgery – the seemingly endless type set, sheets printed, copies folded and mailed… inner satisfaction that comes with tempered consideration of one’s past efforts… the glow evoked by external praise – or, at least, recognition.
Not always – when one has time, materials, and inclination to publish – can one locate worthy or satisfying manuscript.
by Ralph Babcock
One of AJ’s newer “finds” is this Don Drenner character from Kansas. His single-sheet efforts puzzle some people who have yet to learn that persons like Alf, Holman, and Grady primarily just love to play with type and press. His faultless brochure, The Usage of the Past was a limited 100-copy memorial to a nebulous frontier grandsire who, apart from progeny, left little more than an eroding tombstone as evidence of his existence.
Rarely does AJ witness as clean a product as this formal presentation of a brief sketch.
Curtis Rag, Beau Brilliant cover, Lexington title type, wood engraving by John DePol – these one might expect of some would-be D.A.R. trying to prove more-than-casual acquaintance with a cabin boy on the original “Mayflower.” Selah – appropriate or not – the memory of one’s ancestors is important to us at all times. Lack of evidence as in the case of Don’s grandsire makes one appreciate more fully any relics, letters, pictures, or other existent kinship with our past – even tho no forbear managed to crowd onto that “Mayflower” excursion.
Some Brief Notes on Silkscreen
by Jack Coolidge
“Silkscreen” is still a mystery word to most people. Because it is a wonderful way to print pictures, I offer this brief explanation. Amateur printers should be acquainted, at least, with this graphic process.
What is the principle of silkscreen? It is similar to stenciling commonly used to put lettering on crates. But ordinary stencils have serious limitations. For a letter like -D- stencils must have little strips top and bottom so the middle will not fall out. In silkscreen, however, the design, cut from a plastic stencil, is stuck onto a fine, completely porous silk tightly stretched in a rectangular frame. (Thus the center of a -D- also would be supported by the silk.) Any design is possible, even on a delicate scale.
The pigment is not applied by a brush or spray, but is pressed through the silk onto the paper with a rubber blade or squeegee. Thus, silkscreen prints can be identified with a magnifying glass by the definite textile mesh imparted to the color. Of course, each color in a multi-color job requires a separate stencil.
By no means new, this process was discovered, reputedly, by the Chinese who put it to limited use over 2000 years ago.
Earlier this century silkscreen was experimented with by theaters for small runs of posters, and by sign shops. The latter discovered a tidy profit in silkscreen where several dozen identical signs were ordered as, for example, real estate or -No Smoking- signs.
But only since The Depression has the biggest development and expansion of the process occurred, largely the result of chemical science providing a most versatile supply of film stencils, solvents, paints, and lacquers. For example: six-point type or fine screen halftones can now be applied by photographically prepared stencils recently pefected.
Today commercial silkscreen uses are manifold and complex. It is widely used for printing felt, fabrics, posters, plastics – even curved milk bottles. As in other printing there is a graduated wage scale, headed by the film cutters (who cut the design), down through the operators of squeegee and screen, to rackers (who spread the prints to dry). One friend always enjoyed naming his occupation as “squeegee man”; this at times conveyed the impression of a sort of India-rubber contortionist.
Talented graphic artists using this medium call themselves by the more stylish title “serigraphers.” Just as woodcuts dominated the scene in earlier days, and as the invention of lithography did in the 1800’s, today colored serigraphs are flooding the galleries and print shops: prints by the silkscreen artist himself, often at reasonable prices: $5 to $20.
The possibilities are almost unlimited. Beautiful textures from the roughest to the most refined can be created by brushing the screen with various “blockout” lacquers and glues. One truly gifted artist ran a print through 25 colors in her own kitchen. Those many weeks of hard work later won prizes and a purchase by the Boston Art Museum.
In any field you will find technical gymnasts who carry the medium to often ridiculous extremes. In serigraphy the record is claimed by a Chicago man reported to have made over 140 color runs in copying a Rembrandt painting. The paint must have been an eighth of an inch thick in places! The story goes that even experts had difficulty telling it from the original. This must beat even the Japanese print-makers for quantity of impressions on a single sheet of paper.
For three years I have been experimenting with this process. Recently I turned to designing deluxe Christmas cards for which I find silkscreen marvelously suited. In our small home shop our methods fall somewhere between the commercial and artistic already mentioned. Our Christmas line has featured jobs from two to eight colors, “stained glass” transparencies on acetate, prints on metallic foils, and blending color transitions. Assisted by the ever loving wife I print editions of a few hundred at a time, and rack them to dry on Venetian blinds hung from the ceiling. Larger runs we farm out to professional screeners better equipped and more efficient.
Silkscreen is still largely a hand process despite some attempts at mechanization. There is nothing like the speed of letterpress, but production can be substantial. Two experienced men together printing one color on a large sheet (comprising 8 or 10 greeting cards) can knock off an edition in about 2000 a day. One man running the screen alone could do 1100.
The outstanding advantage of this method is a color printing process one can operate on a shoestring. Even the fancy cards mentioned have been done in our own attic on equipment amounting to practically nothing. For a $10 outlay any handyman can build a small screen, buy a few supplies, and be in the color printing business. Naturally the technique requires careful study as well as control, and can’t be entirely acquired in a day or a week.
Compared with any other color process available, silkscreen is in a class by itself. Commercial photoengravings run to hundreds of dollars for a color job of any size. Woodcuts and linoleum blocks are much slower to make; to print large ones requires constant inking and heavy pressure. Multi-colored lithographs on stone (Currier & Ives style) are very slow to print and require a bulky special press.
What possibilities are there for silkscreen in AJ? (I haven’t seen more than one or two timid single-color ventures so far.) Silkscreen offers opportunities for original covers featuring lavish textures and color tonalities. For deluxe amateur papers produced on small presses, or for any page-at-a-time AJ printers who want to feature an extra color: Get a silkscreen and do all the colored borders, initials, or decorations first – using the screen on a large sheet, say 8 or 12 pages together. Then cut them apart, and print in your type by letterpress a page or two at a time. This could save a lot of time and presswork.
Surely we shall see abundant silkscreen work in the amateur papers of tomorrow. I hope to be using the process in a paper soon myself.
Holiday For Halfwits
by Ralph Babcock
Two hours from New York in the invigoratingly moderate sunshine of Maine a motley platoon of AJ’s assembled to perform the annual Fourth of July rites of the National Amateur Press Association.
From Michigan, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Illinois, Vermont, Virginia, Ohio, and Long Island came amateurs… to vacation, to weekend, to inquire, to honeymoon, to militate, to summarize, to yakety yak, and to socialize.
On forced march escapes from the cities, they met, compared notes, shared opinions, and twirled thru convention ritual to realign this 78-year-old organization on its path into the future.
The program was indeed “flexible.” Hands at the helm were sometimes sure, sometimes deviating. But the esprit-developing focus so often found in a convention paper was lacking.
A table-less informal round-table of AJ problems ended the gathering after business sessions abruptly disintegrated mid-Monday morning.
Willametta’s heroic singlehanded arrangements for the convention adequately prepared the invasion landing at this outpost distant from NAPA heartland – proving that, if so desired, NAPA can hold its convention anywhere – not only (as has so long been felt) in the sometimes sweaty AJ activity centers.
Astounded oldtimers gaped at the year’s influx of recruits, the equally unprecedented bank balance – and cried in their beer over lack of corresponding increase in activity.
Despite viewers with alarum, they resolved one epic principle: that the association has no power or responsibility to apologize for acts of its individual members.
Recognizing retirement of Nita Smith from the librarian’s chores (as well as the chaotic status of all recent additions to the Fossil-owned Smith collection at Franklin Institute, Philadelphia) official support was ordered to be concentrated henceforth in the growing and properly maintained files of American Antiquarian Society at Worchester, Massachusetts.
Suspected political shenanigans failed to develop and a routine election rubber-stamped the last of the pre-convention slates, elevating Chairman of Critics Viola Payne to the presidency, and tossing Edna H. McDonald back in office once again as Secretary-Treasurer.
That was to have been the lead article in a news style convention resume for the September ‘54 official organ. When unanticipated involvements of courtship delayed production of the convention minutes and official reports until mid-November, the news pages were abandoned; and it was assumed that members would prefer someone else prepare subsequent issues more promptly.
The editor’s resignation drew noble observations as cordial as Martin Keffer’s: “How come you are quitting? The guess is that you are sore at the reaction to your demands for $800 and are hitting your head on the floor like a little kid who can’t get what he wants.”
There is no guessing about the answer to the Japan-issued prayer “for an official organ which is representative and not necessarily superlative – but above all, prompt.”
Successor Paxton’s second issue now is also a month overdue.
Undoubtedly Keffer or Wesson could do better.
Suggestion: Put up or shut up.
Knowing the AJ grapevine capabilities, devoting valuable o.o. space to explanations seemed prodigal.
Editorial: The Sad and Sorry Problem of Competition
by Ralph Babcock
The cover design of Standpipe 33 is attractive. It should be, “lifted,” as it is, “from a prosaic American home textile-painting pattern.”
We always supposed these perfect purists used handset foundry type only, hand tooled their own linoleum cuts, hand cut the handmade paper, hand fed their press (which, deplorably, is not a handpress), hand folded and hand sewed their papers, and then hand stamped these handmaidens of their unlimited idle hours.
Comes now the shattering disclosure that they stoop to using linotype and swiping illustrations. This is most disillusioning.
The Wesson self-burnished foundry-typehalo has need of more polishing with handy dandy handmade Japanese tissue.
Amazing, isn’t it, that egotists who “don’t wear other people’s cast-off underwear” nor “use their cast-off manuscripts” because they themselves write so good [“Helen and I feel capable of producing writings of almost any sort for our journal”] would stoop to using linotype and cribbing a cover design and illustrations from professional magazines.
“The line between the truly amateur [print]shop and others is very clear; but where,” they cry, “in the gray of job-printing does the white of a strictly amateur shop become the black of a pro?”
Of course, their writings shouldn’t be considered for the laureateships because both are professional writers – and we shouldn’t sully the sanctity of our laureateships by considering stores or articles by persons who would think of writing “for money.”
Obviously they can’t be amateurs – but their scruples didn’t prevent them from accepting laureateships – even one for an old story reprint.
In the oriental face-saving mode, what is needed, obviously, is more distinctions: i.e., additional new laureateships for  close friends of the laureate judge and  those unknown to him; poetry honors for  the word-loving amateur bards,  those who have sold two or more poems since grammar school; new classes for writers who  sell an average of at least one article a month,  have had two or more extension courses since age 10,  are over 87 years old, or  can’t fill out an income tax form properly; history laureateships for  those who don’t know any better,  those who presumably do, and  those who’ve been AJ’s 16 years or more; and finally, printing laureateships for  those with handpresses,  those with only one font of type,  the pure in heart who’ve never printed more than 4 letterheads or 7 business cards (for money, that is), and  a special class for Ed Tevis, Russ Paxton, Guy Miller, Emerson Duerr, Alf and Ralph – who prostitute their printshops for hire.
Efforts to restrict the laureateships are pathetic. What is a laureate, basically? Isn’t it an award made to THE BEST produced during the year – whether poem, prose, or printing?
PURE, PURE, PURE
Attention The Wesson Committee Investigating Morals & Intentions of So-Called Amateur Printers:
This is to certify that I am now lily-pure. I have repented and no longer do printing for hire. Nor was any money expended on production of this issue. The paper was honestly swiped from some ancient remainders, and the type bought over nine months ago (making it quite legitimate). So you can see this is truly an amateur journal from an amateur shop.
Bradburn’s Guide for Beginners
by Ralph Babcock
Joe Bradburn’s latest publication, A Guide to Beginners in Amateur Journalism, is as noteworthy as his other endeavors. Not a recruiting sales tool but a primer for recruits, it has been distributed, as was intended, almost solely to new members.
With generous margins and pleasingly simple format (22 lines of 8 pt. Times Roman and heading. 18 picas wide, on each 4 x 5.5 page, plus overhanging blue cover 4.5 x 6) Joe filled each of 16 pages with brief 220 word essays on AJ topics such as: Quality, Correspondence, Collecting Papers, Gatherings, Why Publish, Criticism, Setting Up Shop, Having Your Paper Printed, Mimeo, Subject Matter, Preparing Manuscripts, Manuscript Placement, Acknowledging, Opinions.
Some sentences could be rephrased to advantage, particularly to pack more punch in opening lines. Bradburn’s notes on having your paper produced by others (printed or mimeo) and starting your own shop, avoid all mention of costs; hence, are rather vague. But Joe has recorded, in passing, fundamentals such as: “The more amateur papers you can read, the better you’ll understand the hobby.” “No one has ever succeeded in pinning down the hobby to a limited definition. Its very charm lies partly in the fact that it is varied, in subject matter and in the people who practice it.” “It is friendly and prudent to acknowledge as many papers as possible; anyone who takes the trouble to print a magazine likes to know it is read.”
To our knowledge no such valuable introduction for new members has been available for years.
With Dirty Hands and Beaming Faces
by Ralph Babcock
Pride in achievement is what motivates amateur printers. From the minute Willy Jones gets his 3 x 5 toy press he can’t rest until his name is smeared across some stationery or calling cards. But after similar repetitions for six friends and his seventeen cousins, that thrill palls. Also, chance acquaintances aren’t much impressed by just a name. Names we see daily on signs, envelopes, newspapers, periodicals.
But “WILLY JONES, Editor & Publisher” some how seems different!
There’s a rare joy in displaying some little paper you’ve set up and printed of an evening or a weekend. Be it ever so crude, even professional inevitably stop short – “You mean you handset and printed this?” Handwork is rather a novelty in this machine age.
Friends take notice. “Jones, here, prints a little magazine.” (Tho perhaps the last issue was four years ago.) Jones is now a man apart – a publisher.
Pride in achievement eggs him on.
From a four page hot air flimsy he may graduate to bigger and better things. It was from such a start that Hyman Bradofsky’s Californian mushroomed to quarterly issues of over 100 pages apiece. Mere restlessness – or perhaps desire for attention – may drive him to print, print, print. Tryout Smith will long be remembered for his hundreds of issues over a period of years. Trivia and “poetry” – no matter the content; set it up and roll the presses.
Pride in achievement, however, may result in unusual efforts to improve, to surpass previous work. In such fashion, our Thifts and Kendalls, Guinanes and Cranes gradually raised their own standards to the verge of real printing art. Amateur printers still speak ecstatically of Tim Thrift’s Aonian and Lucky Dog, of Kendall’s Torpedo, Steinberg’s Dilettante, and more recently of Wesson’s Siamese Standpipe and Thomas’ Far Afield.
The amateur printer, the amateur editor – each enjoys a rare pleasure: that of being able to return time after time to the fruits of his pastime, handiwork, labors. What is preserved in Philadelphia in Franklin Institute’s library is far more enduring than delights from gardening, Monday morning quarterbacking of ball games, or postmortems on bridge and canasta.
Thru its ultimate enjoyment (editing and printing one’s own paper) amateur journalism provides the one solution to having one’s cake and eating it, too: Tho we spend our spare time printing, later we can again relive those pleasant hours while perusing the products of the time so spent.
The pride in achievement we derive from efforts in printing and publishing will bear recurring interest of incalculable value.
THE ART OF DOING EACH PROJECT
BETTER THAN OTHERS THINK
What Constitutes an Ideal Amateur Paper?
Some Generalizations Interesting to Amateur Publishers
by Ralph Babcock
Those who belittle the standards of contemporary amateur papers fail to consider that, tho the foundation of amateur journalism – the very existence of our association – depends upon them, nowhere can one find a definition from which to pattern a contemplated publication, or with which to compare his completed effort. Nowhere, that is, but in the minds of those amateurs who have partially crystallized a few notions on this subject from the trials and errors that constitute experience.
One doesn’t go to a builder, merely ask to have a house built, and expect him to guess the style, the size, and the proper floor-plan – or to build house after house until he makes one that is satisfactory. Yet that is what we expect our recruits to do: blunder about till they hit upon the proper combination – or grow tired of failure.
With the NAPA winding up its 60th year of existence it would seem about time that someone prepared a definition of the ideal amateur paper – something that would give the new members (as well as older ones) a goal to shoot at. That is the purpose of this article.
A survey of amateur editors would reveal very marked differences in their reasons for playing the hobby, and just as there are different types of amateurs, so also must there be varying conceptions of what is necessary to the ideal amateur paper. Some amateurs, writers at heart, would place the emphasis on the literary content; others, primarily printers, would establish typographical excellence as the prime essential; politically-minded devotees would probably advance editorial comment as the criterion; those of book-loving instinct would point to mammoth-sized or de luxe editions as their choice; while most of us tho we may not acknowledge it, consider amateur news and columnist comment of importance.
Endeavoring to justify their respective interests, the writers claim that journalism primarily means writing; the printers point out that writing is of small account to anyone but the author unless it be published – printed; the politicians assert that unless the unifying organization functions, the members might just as well be so many desert islanders; the book lovers point out the idiocy of a Rembrandt painting in a dime-store frame, a fine piece of amateur literature printed in hand-bill fashion; and the newshounds declare that amateurs are really gossips at heart, basing their assertion on the observation that few (if any) amateurs fail to read the news notes and comment in a paper. And since all opinions have value, the ideal amateur paper must recognize all of these interests.
This, then, eliminates the purely specialized paper: the all-editorial, all-poetry, all-literary papers; the news, campaign, or gossip sheets; the technical publication devoted to any one field; for tho such a publication may far outshine contemporary papers by sheer excellence, its nature confines its appeal chiefly to one type of amateur, and to others it may seem mediocre, insipid.
General interest is the first requisite of the ideal amateur paper, the first stumbling block for the editor. He must select manuscripts interesting not only to himself, but with reader-appeal. For amateur journalism is a hobby, not an enforced education or required reading course, and any editor who attempts to foist a high-brow (snobbish, strictly belles lettres – type) publication upon his fellows will soon discover that they are skipping over much of his paper. Commonplace or trivial copy, tho perhaps more likely read, is also something to guard against. Rather, the editor should strive for moderation, a middle course, using banal or highly-intellectual articles only occasionally for contrast with the regular menu. Every amateur paper should be interesting, but no two should be the same – altho they may often be similar, as one’s friends are often much alike. Each should have a personality, a character of its own. Possibly the best test of general interest – the best test of a good publication – is whether or not it is read completely from cover to cover not just by one or two amateurs but by a large number of members.
Variety is a second essential. Most persons are aware that there are many types of poetry, but not everyone recognizes that an equally wide range of prose forms exist. The informal essay is especially adaptable to humor, word pictures, and play upon words; the editorial may take many forms, among them: satire, argument, definition, and discussion; then there are short stories, narrative, biography and character analysis, technical explanations, review and criticism, description, and countless others. Just as the editor would avoid an all-poetry publication, he should strive for a variety of prose forms: fiction, feature articles, editorials, and comment. And just as he seeks a variety in style, he should aim for a diversity in contributors. The all-editorial paper has already been dismissed; a paper devoted entirely to its editors one work, however diversified, must likewise be ignored as too specialized, too self-centered, lacking in the amateur spirit of exchange; and a paper devoid of contributions by the editor would also receive the gong. The ideal publication, then, would be one devoting about one-fourth of its space to editorials and comment, or not more than half of its space to material by the editor. As a matter of courtesy to his fellow members who, it is presumed, constitute the whole or principle circulation of his paper, the editor should avoid publishing too many contributions by outsiders, quotations, or clippings, limiting such matter to not more than another quarter of the total space.
Once the manuscripts are selected and edited, the responsibilities become those of the publisher, whose duty it is to equalize as far as possible the quality of contributions (the editor’s efforts) and the quality of the finished product (the printer’s handiwork). A hundred dollar frame around a two-for-a-nickel postcard view would be as absurd as a hundred dollar diamond in a lead setting. Printing that excels or overshadows the work it is presenting is little better than slovenly printing which detracts from the effect of fine writing. In short, the two must harmonize.
Timeliness is another requisite of the ideal amateur paper, one of the most treacherous hurdles. Comment on amateur papers loses much of its value if not published until six or nine months after the papers under consideration have appeared; publishing a Christmas story in a Memorial Day issue is far less appropriate than publishing it sometime between November and January; and an election campaign editorial which does not appear until mid-July or August might just as well have been forgotten. Most amateur news is good for five or six months; but it is undeniably more timely if printed shortly after it happens. In order to achieve timeliness amateur papers should be planned well ahead – no reflection upon amateurs, for even professional magazines are customarily prepared several months ahead of publication dates – all but the one or two last-minute details.
It will be observed that the duties and responsibilities of editor, publisher, and printer almost imperceptibly dovetail into one another, and for that reason the best amateur papers usually come from the hands of members who do all that work themselves. Their intimate contact with the work from manuscripts to finished paper enables them to prepare dummies more accurately, and to revise plans or copy more readily when that becomes necessary.
The need for planning, for a “dummy,” is emphasized by the limited equipment of most amateur presses – especially in instances where publications are handset from a supply of type inadequate to set the entire paper at one time. The editor must know how much copy to secure and prepare; the printer must know how much copy he can get on a page and where the various contributions are to be positioned.
Which brings us to the size of the ideal amateur paper. This is no place to debate the advantages or advisability of a small paper published frequently versus a large paper published occasionally. Suffice it to say that a well-balanced small four-page paper unquestionably requires considerably more skill to edit well than one of larger size or more pages; because, except in very large size papers, four pages place a definite handicap upon the variety and scope of contributions which can be used, and hence, to some extent, upon the general quality. This writer contends that the ideal amateur paper would be one of about 8 to 16 pages size 6 x 9, or 12 to 32 pages 5 x 7. Adoption of one of the standard amateur paper sizes (5 x 7, 6 x 9, 7 x 10) is advisable not only because it invites comparison with other publications of these popular sizes but also because it facilitates preservation of amateur paper files. Personally, the writer favors the half-Century, or 5 x 7, size, believing that it allows the printer most freedom in typographical layout.
Excellence in typography as well as in literary content would be another feature of the ideal amateur paper, for appearance counts heavily in our present life. A pleasing cover design aids materially in conveying a favorable first impression. Use of illustrations, a touch of color here and there, variety in format – these help to relieve the monotony of page after page of identical type composition. The use of fine book paper, instead of cheap newsprint or the usual inexpensive paper, lends “class” to a publication – gives it a distinctive, distinguished look. Appropriate selection and arrangement of type faces can do much toward “making” an ideal paper. And the importance of technical accuracy in composition, make-up, and presswork cannot lightly be disregarded.
But finally, there are four requisites to the publication of an ideal amateur paper: first (and most important), a desire to publish, and the wherewithal to fulfill that desire; second, editing ability (which includes the appreciation of good writing and good literature, tho it doesn’t necessarily require the ability to write); third, an objective or goal (usually, tho perhaps unconsciously, to equal or surpass some other paper, past or present; possibly, to honor some person, thing, or occasion; or better still to improve on one’s previous personal accomplishments; and lastly yet quite importantly, the craftsman instinct, with its attention to detail and refinements (in writing, editing, and printing).
Actually, of course, there can be no ideal amateur paper. One can no more put everything desirable into one paper than he can find all the qualities of his many friends in one person. An ideal is a goal – not something tangible but merely a conception, toward which to strive. (Hence the distinction between an ideal and an average amateur paper.) But it is in striving for perfection, in surpassing our own and other previous achievements, that we progress, improve.