Thursday, 7 November 2013

Hugh Barclay on chapbooking, printing, & the Canadian archives

“Hugh Barclay’s Insights on ‘Chapter books’& Making Chaps”
Edited from correspondence with Joseph LaBine

—Sept. 24, 2013—

…I would offer to come down and speak to a group about private press books, broadsides and ephemeral as I'm sure they would find it interesting. I look forward to receiving a few of the chap books Flat Singles Press has produced. You may find this interesting; the phrase chap book refers to a thin book by today's standard. However, the phrase has roots in a time when books were published and sold in Britain by the chapter. These were, by nature, thin books and were sold by nice chaps door to door. The house wife could afford a few cents to purchase one and buy the next chapter the following month. I think that some of Dickens' serialized books were sold by this method.

Many of these are concepts that I have never consider. Often I consider a text as a definitive element and rather than a continuum. I see books as a package for ideas and as such my goal is to design a package to express those ideas. Books are open-ended problems, being those problems that don't have a right or wrong answer or a better or worse element. These ideas make me think that we should invent a new phrase for narrow poetry books as Chap-ter books clearly refer to prose. Of course this is a mammoth undertaking to re-educate the world but that has been part of my life's work.
In my opinion, there are only three ways to learn; read a book, have someone demonstrate it to you, or simply jump in and get your feet wet by doing the thing.[1] The latter is by far the best way to learn, however, when it comes to setting type and printing, these activities have a habit of becoming addictive because this is where you get your "highs."
In addition, a composing stick doesn't have a spell check or auto correct. Furthermore, when you attempt to tell others what a great activity setting type and printing on handmade paper is you will find that they glaze over or look at you quizzically as if to ask, "You stupid man, haven't you heard about a word processor"?  Now I've hogged the floor which I tend to do (sometimes).

—Oct. 10, 2013—

I was just out for dinner and this gave me an opportunity to think of some other things that might enhance this discussion of chap books. You may be aware that the National Library of Canada considers anything with eight pages or more a book. We all use the term chap books to refer to these thin books.

Under the Library Act, I am obliged to submit one copy of any book I print if the print run is under 100 and 2 copies if it is over. I have done this consistently, for two reasons: the author deserves to be in the National Library and to do otherwise is saying to the author I don't think you belong in the National Library. The second reason is that any book is part of the mosaic of Canadian culture and the job of the Library and Archives is to preserve our heritage, at least until Stephen Harper became Prime Minister. I am quite aware that most of the private presses don't submit books and this is because feel that they are losing money. However, that is their business. I expect that many of Phil Hall's Flat Singles Press books were never submitted to the National Library and the result is that they are lost forever. Does the Press submit books now?[2]

[1] The thing Barclay refers to here is the actual Chandler & Price manual typesetter he uses to make chapbooks for Thee Hellbox Press.
[2] An excerpt from the “Colophon” section of Thee Hellbox book, X, best illuminates Barclay’s argument regarding the National Library Archive. He writes “The Canadian government has slashed funding to Library and Archives Canada to such an extent that it no longer has the ability to function. Archival material is being refused. I have waited six months to receive a simple acknowledging receipt for legal deposit books. I understand that one is required to wait six months to see an archivist. The wait times must be frustrating to researchers, academics and graduate students. This is our heritage that is being lost. Press for responsible government” (Barclay with Hall and LaRose).

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