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  • Peter Koch Printer: Embodied Language and the Form of the Book. A Descriptive Bibliography (1974–2016) by Nina M. Schneider
  • John Bidwell (bio)
Peter Koch Printer: Embodied Language and the Form of the Book. A Descriptive Bibliography (1974–2016). By Nina M. Schneider and others. Berkeley, California: Editions Koch, Stanford University Libraries. 2017. 3 vols. 185, 173, 125 pp. $225. isbn 978 0 9112 2160 2.

Nina Schneider’s detailed account of Peter Koch’s printing career is the main ingredient in this three-volume exhibition catalogue. Each entry includes a quasi- facsimile transcription of the title-page, dimensions, pagination, contents, descriptions of bindings, a transcription of the colophon, and a thumbnail illustration. There are more than 170 full entries plus shorter sub-entries describing related material, variant bindings, and journal issues. They take pride of place in the first volume, preceded by a section of full-page illustrations and followed by indexes of names, titles, and subjects. The other two volumes contain essays about Koch’s work, autobiographical reminiscences, a statement of design principles, a facsimile of one of his books, and colour reproductions of title pages, two-page openings, bindings, broadsides, and ephemera. If you want to learn more about Koch, you can consult his editorial correspondence, business papers, financial records, proofs, paste-ups, and project files in archives at Stanford University and the University of Delaware, the two collections occupying more than two hundred linear feet of shelving.

It is hard to imagine a more thorough record of a private press. Even three volumes may not be enough to trace the trajectory of this Bay Area fine printing impresario, an entrepreneur who could be organizing start-ups if he wasn’t making books. He started out in Montana with a ‘cowboy surrealist’ little magazine and then moved to San Francisco, where he studied under the MacArthur prize-winning typographer Adrian Wilson. His breakout publication was the 1987 Point Lobos by Robinson Jeffers, a benchmark author for California printers. He has produced [End Page 410] books and broadsides with poems by Robert Creeley, Robert Duncan, Thom Gunn, Gary Snyder, and W. S. Merwin. To print Joseph Brodsky’s tribute to Venice, he borrowed a press and set it up on site so he could undertake the letterpress portion ‘in the shadow of Aldus Manutius’. He commissioned Greek typefaces for a translation of Parmenides, handmade paper for a translation of Heraclitus, and ceramic caskets for a translation of the Cynic Diogenes in hand lettering debossed on lead tablets. Seeking to revitalize the San Francisco fine printing scene, he founded the Codex biennial book fair and symposium, now an international forum for the book arts in its seventh iteration. Peter Koch Printer is his most recent project. It will cost you $225 if you pick it up at his studio, $234 if you buy it on his website, or $274 if you ask for it to be shipped abroad.

This exercise in book arts autobibliography partakes of a long tradition. The Kelmscott Press came to an end in 1898 with a list of its publications by Sydney Cockerell. Likewise the Ashendene Press went out in style with a handsome folio bibliography (1935) including specimen pages, collotype illustrations, and a valedictory essay by the proprietor C. H. St John Hornby. California printers adopted the same formula for bibliographies of the Grabhorn Press (1940; supplemented 1957 and 1977), the Allen Press (1981; facsimile 1985), and the press of Adrian Wilson (1983). In England the best modern examples of this genre are the Whittington Press bibliographies (1982 and 1996) compiled by David Butcher, who produced for Whittington equally ambitious bibliographies of the Stanbrook Abbey Press (1992) and the Weather Bird Press (2018). Russell Maret’s remarkably candid commentary about design ideas and production problems complements Nina Schneider’s commendably thorough descriptions in Pressed for Time: A Descriptive Bibliography of the Work of Russell Maret (2014). Here the private press aesthetic is at its best in a stately volume containing captivating information about experimental book structures, splendid proprietary typefaces, innovative illustration techniques, and Sisyphean feats of presswork.

By producing their bibliographies themselves, printers can celebrate their longevity, promote...


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