Manhattan Book Fair

THERE WAS A STRANGE ENERGY at the Manhattan Book Fair on Saturday, March 10, and it happened right out of the gate.

Ray and Jill took 4 new books to show :

  • How Ink Writes Poetry, which has no words yet plenty to say;
  • Electric Fire from the Clouds, a collaboration where each page of every book visualizes and chronicles Ben Franklin's famous kite experiment in a completely different way;
  • Abecedaritype, presents an alphabet illustrated with type; and 
  • Chesapeake Meander, another collaboration which combines verbal, visual, and physical meandering in its construction.

All were produced just since last year's book fair, which is a feat in itself. A couple of them followed a visually similar, yet unusual path, creatively speaking. We were asking considerably higher prices for these books than our other books, and we were wondering how people would react.

Looking from our corner back up through the 40 tables of fine press books.

Looking from our corner back up through the 40 tables of fine press books.

Money. Talks.

Early in the day we were visited by a book collector who had bought from us a couple of years ago. He is a pretty rapid shopper; he sees something he likes and just goes with it. "What's new?" he asked. Jill quickly pointed out our 4 newest books with probably only a single sentence highlighting each one. He picked one up, glanced at it, and said he would take it and would come back later to pick it up. We fired up our new Square credit card gizmo. Bang. $350. He said he would look it over in detail when he got home.

Our Hoe iron hand press

That quick sale episode was quickly followed by another attendee who stopped by to talk. He mentioned he was from Portland, Maine. Ray said that we had bought our Intertype linecaster and R. Hoe iron hand press in Portland. "Who did you get the press from?" We told him, "Scott, a book dealer."

He casually said, "I owned that press before Scott."


"Any chance you know where it was before you?" 

He said, "Sure" and proceeded to tell us about Fred Anthoensen, a Portland printer who owned the press before him. After finishing his degree in Printmaking,  In 1979 Vile took a job at The Anthoensen Press which had its origin as Southworth Press back in 1875. A few emails to libraries who possess archives of these presses didn't fill in any holes in the story.

Actual records for Hoe iron hand presses don't seem to be in existence, but manufacturer date guesses for their presses are generally based on an average of 125 per year. This puts the manufacture of our press around 1868, 7 years or so before the start of one of its early owners. So, it seems likely that there was a life for that press before even Southworth Press.

The Anthoensen Press again

Then about an hour later an entirely different and unconnected person stopped by our booth, apparently not interested in our newer work. He was kind of complaining about the non-classic feel to most of the work at the MBF. He was looking at one of our Moments Carved in Paper books and said, "I like books like this." We think he meant solid rectangular blocks of type on pages. He then mentioned he collected work by Fred Anthoensen.


How do you catalog a book like "Electric Fire?"

Another excellent discussion came from a legal cataloger. When she explained what she did, Ray mentioned that someone earlier had suggested that cataloging our newest Electric Fire from the Clouds would be torture because every page of every book is different. We then proceeded to get an excellent teaching moment (actually a student moment for us) about various styles of cataloging and legal libraries.

The conversation was so much fun Ray gave her a copy of Moments Carved in Paper no. 2, on his favorite story about each of his parents. She was a bit surprised by the offer, and took the book with a fabulous smile, leaving us with a great story. Ray started to immediately wonder how one of our books would look in their library if Robert Mueller contributed the words.

How does the title How Ink Writes a Subpoena strike you?

One book, two kudos

One of our books, How Ink Writes Poetry, generated some interest, but two incidents were significant. The first came from a book dealer who is headed to the Oxford Book Fair in England in 2 weeks. He didn't want to buy the book ($350), but just wanted to borrow it to take to the Oxford fair to "stir (he used a different more colorful word) things up." We were surprised and intrigued by the request, so Ray said, "OK."

So, How Ink Writes Poetry goes international! We're asked that the borrower take a photo of someone looking at the book in Oxford to prove that it happened and also to post here to broaden this story a bit.

For the second significant incident, you need a bit of background info. How Ink Writes Poetry has spawned a series of follow up collaborative books that we are hoping leads us to Stephen Hawking. Ray heard someone at some time say, "Always aim high." So this is where Ray is aiming. What needs to happen is Lead Grafiti needs to produce about 4 editions of this book, which will hopefully lead to a successful Stephen Hawking collaboration request.

Now back to the MBF. Sorry to drop names, but Mark Dimunation, Chief of the Rare Books and Special Collections Department at the Library of Congress, came over and sat with us for a good 30 minutes. He always has great stories about books, book artists, printers, and book collectors. We were howling with laughter at one of them, which I may try to get his permission to tell sometime in the future.

Anyway, we were talking about How Ink Writes Poetry and mentioned the goal of connecting the series with Stephen Hawking. Mark was excited and not for a moment gave us a how-stupid-can-you-possibly-be look. We were talking about trying to connect with Delaware Poet Laureates and former VP Joe Biden as possible stepping stones to the Hawking request. When we mentioned we had thought of him as one of the steps. Mark's eyes lit up. 

So we asked Mark, he accepted, and now we just need to get the new book going.

In a strange aside, Stephen Hawking passed away 4 days after the Manhattan Book Fair. Read our story.

Going out with a bang

This, the 4th Manhattan Book Fair we had attended, was a killer day with good sales, great conversations, more old history to add to the Lead Graffiti story, and then Ray needed to go to the bathroom.

This is where Ray gets a reality check.


"I got a paper towel, picked up the card, discarded it, and tried not to take it personally. At least it wasn't IN the urinal," Ray says. Even with this it was still a good day. Come visit Lead Graffiti at the next Manhattan Book Fair, probably in early March 2019, and see how this continues.