⬆ The image is Lead Graffiti’s collection of It’s a Small World from issue #2 through 2018 (missing about 3 issues).
You can click here for the story about the 3 projects we’ve contributed to It’s a Small World.
article by Alan Brignull
IN AUTUMN 1964, William F. Haywood of New Jersey wrote an article for THE FOSSIL about the co-operative annual It’s a Small World, which had just reached its tenth issue. His piece finished with optimistic thoughts for the future: “As long as there are amateurs with something to say about printing and enough ambition to produce their inserts there will be annual editions of It’s a Small World.” I wonder whether he could have imagined that a similar article would appear half a century on, following the appearance of the 61st annual edition. There have been other collaborative periodicals like this, Home Shop Printers, Ink Cahoots, Treasure Gems and Small Printing for example, but none that I am aware of have lasted for so long.
The project was first conceived in 1952 when Bill was hospitalized for surgery. He was corresponding by mail with fellow amateur printer Reg Hollins of Sutton Coldfield, England, who was also in hospital undergoing a similar procedure. They agreed to spread the word and recruit participants in their respective countries, leading to the first issue in 1955, which included pages from ten printers: five in Britain, four in North America and one American in Japan. Over the subsequent years it has grown, the most recent issue having 29 contributors. The high point of about 40 per issue occurred in the 1990s. Over the years more than 250 printers have sent pages. Starting in issue number 20, Bill Haywood listed an “Honor Roll” of those who had contributed to ten issues or more; then there were nine names on the list but this year’s has 61, an indication of the loyalty which this publication inspires. Top of the list is Frederick Gage with an incredible 51 annual contributions, but David M. Norton and Rich Hopkins are close behind with 50 and 49. Inevitably the list includes many printers who have passed away but leave their printed work to inspire us still. I enjoy leafing through old issues, learning and getting ideas from the printing of people whom I will never meet.
Assembling the 2015 edition took about two weeks: (a) A heap of parcels from around the world. (b) Pages ready for collating. (c) Pages collated and stacked. (d) Covers and prelims added. (e) Binding. (f) Completed books.
The nature of the contributions has changed only a little since the early issues. Pages of body text are becoming less common from the letterpress printers but some beautiful typography is appearing from skilled computer users. Mike Elliston’s dictum was that it doesn’t have to be letterpress but should look like it: not only is it a small world, but a traditional one. The subject can be anything of interest to printers which is the contributor’s own work and hasn’t appeared elsewhere. The 7 by 5 inch format has remained unchanged since the beginning, even if fewer people are observing the recommended margins nowadays.
“Tauber Tubes” were used to bind the first four issues (plastic rings similar to a single section of a comb binding) but subsequent issues have been perfect bound, first with a paper wrapper then with separate covers and spine tape. The quantity of each page requested at the beginning was 250. With only ten contributors at first, I wonder what happened to all the others; it is possible that a lot of back issues were destroyed on Bill’s death for the early numbers are now not at all common. The quantity was later reduced and currently stands at 125. There is no “entry fee,” the whole project being financed by voluntary contributions from supporters. It’s a Small World has no cover price and is not sold; it is distributed to current and recent contributors, and those whose record of support has gained them an effective life-subscription.
Bill continued to produce IaSW single-handed (Reg Hollins had to drop out after a few issues) until 1995 when he felt the need to retire because of eyesight problems and arthritis at the age of 79. From issue 42 the coordination and production passed to Mike Elliston of Basildon in England. At that time the membership had become almost entirely American; of 40 contributors in 1995, Mike was the only one from Europe, though there were two from New Zealand. Under Mike’s leadership the balance slowly swung back across the Atlantic and this year’s issue was once again evenly divided between Britain and America, plus one each from New Zealand and Costa Rica. I would like to spread the range but it does seem that this sort of amateur journalism is a phenomenon of the Anglophone world.
Mike produced 16 issues until, in 2011, he too felt obliged to retire and appealed for volunteers to continue the tradition. At the time, I had reached 15 on the Roll of Honour and was already happily running another printers’ postal bundle called the “Letterpress Exchange Group” so I offered to take over. So far I’ve done four issues and am still enjoying it. To quote Bill Haywood from 1964 again, “It has been a pleasure to discover new contributors and to receive many heart-warming compliments from hobby printers who have received the little books”. It has also been rewarding to play a part in continuing such a longstanding project with its roots before my lifetime. I hope that, when my time comes to retire, I can find a suitable successor so It’s a Small World may even reach its century.
If you are interested in contributing, please contact Alan Brignull at 33 Heath Road, Wivenhoe, Colchester CO7 9PU (UK) or email him.