In Mornful Numbers
by Sheldon C. Wesson
DR. J. BEN LIEBERMAN, sometime journalist and professor of journalism at Columbia University, now the nation’s chief advocate of “personal printing,” has raised the terrifying prospect that there will be a million private presses at work in the United States in ten years. By mere virtue of that big, round number, he says, printing will then be a “major hobby.” When he explained this campaign, at the recent AAPA convention in New York, he said that 50,000 would be what we call “amateur journalists.” And we’d better be prepared to handle the rush or the tidal wave will overwhelm and obliterate us – the “us” being organized amateur journalists’ associations, in the form that our hobby has evolved gradually over 100 years.
Those of us who are dismayed at the prospect and resist that flood, he angrily cried, are foully trying to preserve our “status” by “trampling” others down. That came as a shock to one who is actively working to help nine persons (outside his family) set up hobby printshops. It must come as a great surprise to hobby organizations whose main preoccupation for 100 years has been recruiting members, to perpetuate activity.
Yet, during our 100 years, it is doubtful whether the four to six national and regional ajay groups have ever been able to muster total membership of 1,000 at any one time (less after deducting multiple affiliations of individuals).
Experience has shown ajays that our type of personal help produces lasting printers of quality. The impersonal broadcast evangelical approach, via book and kit, will produce only numbers of converts to the craft.
Dr. Lieberman is now working full time for Personal Printing, Inc., which manufactures small printing “kits” for sale, starting under $10. His million printers will be encouraged to produce anything which involves the application of ink to paper via pressure: From books to political tracts to pickle-jar labels.
There can be no quarrel with his argument that, whatever the level of quality an individual may thus achieve, the practice of printing will awaken in him a sharper appreciation of all printing, and make him demand better printing, from pickle-jar labels on up.
But Dr. Lieberman fails to understand amateur journalism, our version of the hobby. He is annoyed that calendars, fancy cards, political tracts and printed oddments (called “keepsakes“) are not welcome in the ajay bundles. He resents my assertion that we won’t adapt our standards and our organizations to his huge numbers; but will want those who join us to accommodate themselves to us. Those who do not wish to do so, I feel, are welcome to form their own clubs, to exchange printed bits and pieces (be they labels or books) among themselves.
Blinders firmly set, Dr. Lieberman fails to relieve his own abysmal ignorance of the past before plowing to his goal, fails to see or is unwilling to see that amateur journalism is not just amateur printing alone. Of course, the hobby historically emerged from the boy-plus-press era; and today printing is still the principal substance of the hobby, though printers may in fact be a minority on the membership lists.
Experience has shown that not all printers, not all writers, not all poets who pass briefly across our lists of names have been equally attracted by the peculiar form of our hobby; nor has our hobby been attracted by all of them. And even within our ranks we are not all identical spirits. We are distinguished, in fact, by diversity of talent, of purpose, of approach and of practice of the hobby. All that binds us together spiritually – those of us who have lasted a few years or more – is an intangible mutual attraction for this hobby institution as it is. Each of us stays for different reasons, perhaps; but the reasons add up to what we call “ajay.”
Dr. Lieberman’s million, or even his 50,000, won’t change that.
DR. LIEBERMAN’S AAPA banquet talk, and the little impromptu debate in which he, Helen and I engaged afterward, were the subject of animated conversation as the Wessons (one-eighth of the banquet) motored homeward. This was probably the first time all five of us were talking on the same subject at the same time.
Shel,* who seldom emotes to the extent of eleven words in a row at home, produced this sober thought:
With the rapidity that printing is doing away with human labor, the private hobby press may be in a few years the only remaining user of hand-set type, or even of metal type. Otherwise, he said, “the press and movable type will be extinct within five decades.” (I disagree only to the extent of very small bits of wordage for reproduction purposes, for ads, labels, etc. But that is a technicality.)
Will it remain, then, as Shel argues, for amateurs and printing-artists to preserve the practice of platen printing with movable type? If so, we shall be truly the preservers of what Dr. Lieberman calls a “folk art.”
Surely the forced-draft growth of one million home printshops, as the result of mass production and promotion of inexpensive printing “kits,” will not create a “folk art” overnight, as the Doctor claims. That term implies strongly the flavor of history, of tradition, even of romance – and not of mass distribution.
Perhaps what I resent, essentially, about Dr. Lieberman’s “major hobby” is the synthesized, pre-packaged, fresh-frozen, TV-dinner approach: You, too – anyone – can be an “instant printer” with our predigested “kits.” (You, too, can be an “instant artist” by just adding water and stirring. Take the numbered tubes of color and daub them into the correspondingly numbered outlined areas and, lo! – a Mona Lisa.)
When hobby printing is reduced to that level, it will not become a folk art. It will become a disaster.
*Used hereafter in the Standpipe to refer to Sheldon P. Wesson, age 17, publisher of Jamboree; as distinguished from Wes, his father, Sheldon C. Wesson, age incredible.
And What of the Book?
DR. LIEBERMAN’S BOOK, Printing as a Hobby, is a highly simplified introduction to “personal printing,” brightly written. The author’s fervor for his own concept of the hobby, however, interferes with understanding.
It is difficult for a novice to distinguish his generalized advice and “how-to” information from his specific instructions for use of the ultra-simplified (flat-bed, hand-inked, make-it-yourself) Liberty Press.
Much better for the beginner who wants to skip the “toy” phase and go right into real printing are the profusely-illustrated high-school printing textbooks.
A Great Convention
THE AAPA CONVENTION over Labor Day Weekend was the most stimulating I have attended – of either AAPA or NAPA (excepting only my glorious first, NAPA in Cleveland, 1941).
Notwithstanding Larry Notman’s oafish comments in The Editor’s Hot Line, those three days were alive with bright talk, with ideas for squeezing more fun out of the hobby, and with the joys of meeting friends.
Notman’s disparaging remarks (to NAPA readers) were no compliment to Tom Whitbread, Verle Heljeson and Bill Groveman, members of both associations, who contributed their talents to the formal program. What was apparently meant to be Notman’s juvenile reassurance to the NAPA – that its members really didn’t help the junior group – turned out instead as a slap at the dozen AAPAns and double-members who worked on the big issue of Metropolitan Amateur in our double-membership printshop.
It is amazing that Larry should say “nothing of consequence” came out of the convention. He should know by now that AAPA meetings are, by rule and custom, purely social, educational and advisory. He should know, too, that AAPA officers left with ideas, suggestions and higher hopes after the talk-sessions.
September Song Song Song Song Song Song
by Helen Vivarttas Wesson
WHEN FATHERHOOD and photography were both new to Mr. Editor, Burton Crane sat through an evening of home movies of his Godson, Shel…. taking a bath at ten days, two weeks, one month
“Thank God,” commented Burton, “you don’t bathe him every day.”
Paraphrasing that famous quote, SCW remarked, upon seeing three identical photos of the Official Editor in the September National Amateur, “Thank God a hundred papers didn’t print the story.”
Siamese Standpipe :: DEC. 1964
MRS. EDITOR desires to disassociate herself from the typographical effects of this issue. As Art Director of Standpipe Editorial Board (an Institution of 23 years’ standing!) she considers 60-point Tempo Heavy, cast on a newspaper Ludlow, to be something less than graceful; and she coldly invited the Printer if he must be so gauche – to use some color that she would not dream of mixing for the Standpipe herself. She merely concedes that the Printer has achieved Impact.
Helen and Sheldon Wesson
Glen Ridge, New Jersey 07028