CODEX IX – 2024 Book Fair, etc.

CODEX IX – 2024 Book Fair, etc.
Percussive Roman "Spelling Alphabet" game pieces as individual tokens
Screen capture - photo of me at CODEX by Chris Stinehour

A few weekends ago, CODEX IX was held at the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center, in Oakland, CA. The weather transpired to be cold and rainy while offering up very high winds, just to add a little drama to the proceedings. Vendors and buyers showed up and shivered nonetheless. It was the 4th time I've had a table at CODEX. Most of what I showed has been in process since 2015, and highlighted a couple of my discoveries from the origin of this blog.

This year my chapter on Joseph Seavy's watermark illustrated manual, The writer's assistant: containing copies in water lines, for the improvement of youth in penmanship was published in Papermaker's Tears V. 2 by The Legacy Press. I've written about Seavy here in the past; and this book presents my work to date. I made replica sheets of paper with the watermarked letterforms for each copy of the book. The watermarks were 3D printed at MagnoliaEditions, which has been instrumental in allowing me to produce my ideas.

Replica of watermarked copysheet of Joseph Seavy's The Writer's Assistant

While that has been the focus of much of my research and craft effort, I've worked at a conceptual/functional art piece called Percussive Roman the whole time. It is a post-digital monotype impression system that is ideal for one-off printing. In 2019, Don Farnsworth at MagnoliaEditions agreed to trade my bookbinding skills for laser-cutting my letters into maple dowels.

Sewing Don Farnsworth's paper into a folio sized sketchbook, 2019

Each wooden letterform is inked individually, then placed on the substrate and is printed by means of a hammer blow. There's no way to duplicate printing impressions with this method. Type is usually a positive form that prints the letter, leaving the negative space the color of the ground. Percussive Roman reverses this order, printing a 1.75” round of color while the 60pt. The unprinted letterform is surrounded by the ink. The letterform is always true to the type design, but its surrounding area varies with each impression.  

Percussive Roman printed on Magnolia Editions handmade paper

The combination of variability, reverse-ground printing, and the random nature of a percussive strike make for an infinitely random printing artifact. And a lot of fun!

Tagua nut disk with Percussive Roman M laser cut into the surface, painted black

My research into Cresci's writing manuals led to designing Percussive Roman. When Magnolia produced the first set of type in wood, we made a version of 1/2" disks with the letters right-reading. I wasn't excited by them, nor was anybody else. So, that idea gestated until weeks before this year's CODEX event.

On my original 2015 trip, I called up some ivory letters from Princeton's Cotsen Library. I'm still excited by making tactile things – even if they aren't books. This year, Nicholas Price at Magnolia helped me get the digital files in order to make vegetable ivory Alphabet Realia coins. Then he laser-cut the letters into the tagua nut disks. I took them home and did an intaglio wipe with acrylic paint to color the letters. I'm satisfied with this version – I want to touch them, play with them, maybe even arrange them into words!

19th C. ivory disks – letters catalogued as a "spelling alphabet" Cotsen Children's Library
Percussive Roman laser-cut into tagua nut or vegetable ivory

I don't think I'm done with these letters, or Percussive Roman in it's thingness. I'll still use the typeface to make prints and mark things.

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