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Arion Press article from Los Angeles Times today (long)
- To: BOOK_ARTS-L@LISTSERV.SYR.EDU
- Subject: Arion Press article from Los Angeles Times today (long)
- From: Susan Swan <Bindery88@AOL.COM>
- Date: Tue, 17 Jul 2001 13:15:52 EDT
- Message-Id: <200107171716.KAA19902@palimpsest.Stanford.EDU>
- Sender: "Book_Arts-L: READ THE FAQ at http://www.philobiblon.com" <BOOK_ARTS-L@LISTSERV.SYR.EDU>
THERE'S NO STOPPING THOSE LETTERPRESSES..
Arion Press' survival bodes well for fine printing in the age of
e-books and high-tech information.
MARIA L. La GANGA, TIMES STAFF WRITER
SAN FRANCISCO --
The recent saga of Arion Press began in cliche and ended in comeuppance.
1999: Dot-com frenzy threatens historic publisher. 2001: Dot-coms dive;
With roots stretching back to the early years of fine printing in San
Francisco, Arion Press was deep into its most ambitious project--a
limited-edition pulpit Bible--when the eviction notice arrived in August
1999, endangering the undertaking.
The South of Market neighborhood where Arion shared a building with
Driveway.com, an Internet provider of data storage, had gone crazy. Start-ups
flush with venture capital were pouring into formerly cheap buildings where
artists and light industry had earlier flourished. Rents soared. Andrew
Hoyem, Arion's founder, scrambled to find a new home for tons of historic
equipment, monotype machines and letterpresses, a type foundry, a book
bindery and one of the most extensive collections of type fonts surviving
today--which alone weighs 40 tons. For a while, it looked as if one of the
last integrated foundries and letterpress operations might close.
But 18 months and $1 million in moving costs and lost business later, Arion
settled into a new home in the Presidio, a storied former Army base turned
national park and some of this city's most coveted real estate.
There, Arion employees continue to hand-bind the 1,350-page Bibles at a rate
of three to four a week. They are about to begin work on Arion's 62nd book,
"Arcadia" by British playwright Tom Stoppard. Arion's former home at 460
Bryant St. stands vacant. Driveway.com's old offices are closed. Dot-coms
here continue to drop like flies.
"I think one could easily become sanctimonious" about Arion's endurance and
dot-coms' difficulties, acknowledges Crispin Elsted, an executive board
member of the international Fine Press Book Assn. and co-owner of Barbarian
Press in British Columbia. "Private press books will still be on people's
shelves and in libraries long after any one day's dot-com has died the death."
Beautiful Books and Their Makers Endure
This is a tale of what endures. The last new, new thing is in trouble, but
some old, old things--beautiful books and the people who make them--are going
Five hundred fifty-five Internet companies have shut down worldwide since
January 2000, according to Webmergers.com. But Arion Press is one of hundreds
of small, fine presses in America today handcrafting limited-edition books
for discerning buyers--volumes that often experiment with materials, form and
content. The work of nearly 100 such presses, members of the Pacific Center
for the Book Arts, is on display at the San Francisco Public Library.
The Book Arts Web site lists more than 500 links, from the American Academy
of Bookbinding and Barbie Boops Home Made "Mini Books" to Xlibris and
Zybooks. Academics may wring their hands about e-books and the future of the
book as we know it. But there are more traditional tomes in print than ever
before and more publishers creating them, according to the reference guide
"Books in Print."
The San Francisco Center for the Book, a nonprofit organization that teaches
book arts, opened late in 1996 with a mailing list of 700, offering 10
classes. The mailing list just hit 8,000, and its 250 classes annually in
such topics as bookbinding, paper marbeling and letterpress are full.
"At a time when there is a controversy about the future of the book, quietly,
if you look around, not only are there more books, but there are more people
engaged in printing and binding books in small editions," says Steve Woodall,
education director for the San Francisco center.
Which may be one reason Arion Press survived its eviction.
The history of fine printing in San Francisco goes back 125 years, to this
graceful city's frontier beginnings. Edward Bosqui, the first fine printer of
note here, came to international prominence in 1877 with a book called
"Grapes and Grape Vines of California."
Many others followed, and in 1919, Edwin and Robert Grabhorn moved here from
Indiana and established themselves as the most influential printers in the
nation. Grabhorn Press closed in 1965.
A year later, Grabhorn entered into a partnership with Hoyem. Grabhorn died
in 1973, and Hoyem later renamed the operation Arion Press after a legendary
Greek poet saved from drowning by a dolphin.
The book that cemented Hoyem's reputation was his 1979 edition of "Moby
Dick." Each letter was hand set, and it was printed by letterpress on pale
blue paper with a whale watermark designed specifically for the project.
Letterpress Dates Back to Gutenberg
Most commercial books today are made by offset printing, a faster, cheaper
and less labor-intensive process. In contrast, the letterpress process goes
back to Gutenberg and the first book ever printed with movable type, which
led to the mass production of books.
Individual elements of lead type are set, traditionally by hand, into a form.
They are then inked and pressed into a piece of paper. The result is printing
that can be seen and also felt, for the lead letters bite into the paper,
leaving an indentation filled with ink.
Arion's "Moby Dick" was bound in Moroccan goatskin and enhanced with
engravings by artist Barry Moser. Just 265 were printed. They were sold for
$1,000 at the time. According to Biblio magazine, "Many authorities rank this
edition of 'Moby Dick' as one of the two or three greatest American fine
Hoyem had long dreamed of publishing a limited-edition folio Bible; the last
great Bible, a King James Version by Oxford University Press, had been
printed in 1935. He embarked on the project in 1998. The bad news from his
landlord came in 1999.
"Here he was being evicted at the moment that he was doing the Arion Bible,
which will go down in history as one of the great instances of printing in
the history of the book," says state Librarian Kevin Starr. "If the story had
ended just that way, with Andrew Hoyem having to leave San Francisco, it
would have been a disgrace and a tragedy."
Local newspapers took up the cause, and book lovers across the country rose
to Arion's aid. The National Trust for Historic Preservation designated Arion
an "endangered cultural treasure."
A lawyer negotiated--for free--an extension on the lease, so the press could
at least finish printing the limited run of 400 Bibles, which range in price
from $7,250 to $11,000. The state library has purchased a copy, which is on
display; other customers include churches, libraries and Bible collectors.
The move itself cost $500,000. The company usually publishes two to three
limited-edition books each year, which are sold to subscribers, who pay
$1,000 to $1,500 annually.
During the two years that Arion spent wending its way through the eviction
crisis and working on the Bible project, it was able to publish only three
books. Controller Charles Martin figures the company lost about $500,000 as a
Arion moved to the Presidio in February and hopes to get back on track this
year, producing "books of the highest quality," Martin says. "There's always
a place in the world for quality."
Today, the three-story brick building at 460 Bryant St. is empty, awaiting
seismic retrofitting and a new owner. A small, faded sign is taped inside a
dirty window: "Arion Press and M&H Type have moved."
A larger green and white sign bids all who might be interested in the
property to call Bob Van Breda at TRI Commercial realty. Van Breda will not
comment on Arion's eviction and the building's current state. Its owners
could not be reached for comment.
The block is a thicket of "For Rent" signs. Gazoontite.com's former corporate
offices across the street are closed, a "For Rent" sign plastered across the
company's logo. Gazoontite nearly filed for bankruptcy last fall before it
was taken over by a group of outside investors. The Web site and affiliated
retail stores continue to operate. No sign of Driveway.com remains.
Driveway stopped offering storage to noncommercial customers earlier this
year. Its Web site still operates. Unable to secure additional financing in
the sluggish economy, the company downsized, said Chief Executive Philip
Constantinou. When the lease ran out at 460 Bryant St., Driveway moved back
to its previous smaller quarters.
Internet Boom Led to 'Exuberance Penalty'
Tim Miller, president of Webmergers.com, says Internet companies are down,
but they're far from out. In the shakeout that began in earnest late last
year, only 5% to 8% of the Internet companies with substantial funding
failed, and 5,000 to 10,000 are still in operation.
But South of Market today is evidence of what Miller calls "the exuberance
penalty" being paid by those who latched on to the Internet boom with little
thought of the bust that always follows in the cyclical world of new
In the slower-growing world of the book, where many small publishers don't
quit their day jobs, there is no exuberance penalty because there is not much
exuberance, just the slow, quiet labor of love performed with eyes on the
past and hopes for the future.
Arion Press has a five-year lease at the Presidio and is raising money
through its nonprofit foundation, the Grabhorn Institute, to help ensure its
"Maybe it's stubbornness," Hoyem says. "We have kept going. We haven't made
much money. People work here for low wages. But we make books that people
want to buy."
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