Wessel & Lieberman Booksellers

Jan 23

The Broadside
Soon after the invention of printing with moveable type, broadsides helped spread literacy to the lower classes, the topical ballads that formed their earliest content serving as the news stories of their day.  At first a ballad or two occupied a full folio sheet, featured a crude woodcut, and was hawked in the streets for a penny.  Later the pages were cut lengthwise and the songs appeared on narrow strips. Often they were posted in pubs, where literate customers would teach the illiterate the words by singing them to a familiar melody.By Shakespeare’s time the writing, printing, and selling of broadsides was so widespread that the Bard could satirize the custom in the character of Autolycus, the roguish ballad monger and petty thief in A Winter’s Tale.[[MORE]]  Benedick, the “confirmed bachelor” in Much Ado About Nothing, swearing that he will never fall in love, authorizes his male friends to “pick out mine eyes with a ballad-maker’s pen and hang me up at the door of a brothel-house,” that is, to make him into a broadside, if he breaks his vow. After the abolition of the Star Chamber in 1641, when registering printed matter ceased to be closely scrutinized, broadsides spread like wildfire throughout England. By the beginning of the nineteenth century a virtual industry had sprung up around their creation and distribution.The Seven Dials district of London, romanticized by John Gay in The Beggar’s Opera, became home to the free-lance poets, job printers, and ballad-sellers engaged in the trade. Printers John Pitts and James Catnach competed for the surprisingly lucrative market for topical songs. After a particularly gruesome murder, the street poets would set the gory details to verse, the printers would rush the verse into print without much consideration for accuracy or layout, and the resulting broadsides would be issued by the thousands—and sometimes tens or even hundreds of thousands. According to the scholar Leslie Shepard, “A street hawker could live for four to six weeks off an important murder.” Catnach once printed five hundred thousand copies of a ballad in eight days! Four or five million broadsides were sold annually in England’s capital in the early 1800’s.

Of course, the size and content of broadsides diverged widely from the original music lyrics and long strips. The Declaration of Independence is a broadside, as is the Mormon declaration of independence of the 1850s and the similar Irish declaration that started the Easter Rising in 1916. Their size ranges from postcard to poster. Following tradition, however, the content of modern broadsides still tends towards poetry and politics. The medium is well-suited to quick reading in a public place.The revival of interest in fine press printing in the early twentieth century led to a broadside renaissance, reinforced by the political activism of the 1960s and beyond. Now galleries sponsor exhibitions of contemporary broadsides, prizes are offered in contests, and book artists have lent their expertise to further enhance the genre. It is now common to find recently printed broadsides with very sophisticated illustrations, innovative typography, handmade paper, mixed media, and literary texts. A single sheet that once sold for a penny now sometimes commands over a hundred dollars.After five hundred years in existence, the broadside has gone upscale.                                                 ~Jim JonesTo browse our large selection of broadsides please visit our website, or click here

The Broadside

Soon after the invention of printing with moveable type, broadsides helped spread literacy to the lower classes, the topical ballads that formed their earliest content serving as the news stories of their day.  At first a ballad or two occupied a full folio sheet, featured a crude woodcut, and was hawked in the streets for a penny.  Later the pages were cut lengthwise and the songs appeared on narrow strips. Often they were posted in pubs, where literate customers would teach the illiterate the words by singing them to a familiar melody.

By Shakespeare’s time the writing, printing, and selling of broadsides was so widespread that the Bard could satirize the custom in the character of Autolycus, the roguish ballad monger and petty thief in A Winter’s Tale.

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Jan 08

The Press of the Kelmscott PressOvershadowed by the November sale of a copy of the Bay Psalm Book, another auction in New York ten days later illustrated much more recent—if not equally important—printing history. Christie’s handled the sale of Improved Albion Press #6551, the very machine on which William Morris printed The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer in Hammersmith between 1894 and 1896.[[MORE]]    One of the most beautiful books ever printed, the so-called Kelmscott Chaucer, designed by Morris and illustrated by the Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones, runs to 556 pages 11 x 17 inches in size. The typeface and luxuriant page borders render the Middle English text virtually unreadable. Without crossing the boundary into the realm of artist’s book, Morris’s creation nevertheless achieves the enviable status of book as art.    How the press came to America is almost as interesting as the works printed on it. Fearing that the seven-foot-tall machine would be taken out of service and placed in a museum, the eminent American type designer Frederic Goudy bought it and had it shipped to New York in 1924. Thereafter, the press played a central role in the renaissance of fine printing in America.    From Goudy the Albion went to Spencer Kellogg, Jr., founder of the Aries Press. From 1932 to 1941 it was owned by Melbert B. Cary, director of the Continental Type Founders Association and proprietor of the Press of the Woolly Whale. On this press Cary fabricated one of the great hoaxes of the modern book business, The Missing Gutenberg Woodblocks, some of the illustrations of which were designed by Fritz Kredel, whom Cary had helped to escape from Nazi Germany.    In 1960 the fine press printing couple J. Ben and Elizabeth Lieberman acquired the machine, which they used in the operation of their Herity Press. To Americanize the British press the Liebermans had a small model of the Liberty Bell mounted on top. It was their son, a law professor at New York University, who offered the Albion for the most recent sale after he realized that it was too physically demanding for him to operate.    The winning bid at the December 6 auction—$233,000—came from the Rochester Institute of Technology’s Cary Graphic Arts Collection, endowed by the same Melbert Cary who had bought the press eighty years earlier. And Goudy’s hope that the press will remain in use will be fulfilled by the new owner, which offers an extensive program in printing technology and history. The Cary Collection also features many Kelmscott Press volumes, as well as the archives of the Press of the Woolly Whale. (Cary’s extensive collection of playing cards went to the Beinecke Library at Yale, thanks to his widow, born Mary Flagler, a Standard Oil heiress.)    Unlike the Bay Psalm Book, which fell short of pre-auction estimates, Improved Albion #6551 brought far more than the predicted $150,000 to the seller. And also unlike the Bay Psalm Book, which will be displayed in a very expensive vitrine in some lucky library, the Albion will continue to serve the function for which it was intended: the back-breaking work of fine hand printing.                                                                                                                                                                                                                 ~Jim Jones

The Press of the Kelmscott Press


Overshadowed by the November sale of a copy of the Bay Psalm Book, another auction in New York ten days later illustrated much more recent—if not equally important—printing history. Christie’s handled the sale of Improved Albion Press #6551, the very machine on which William Morris printed The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer in Hammersmith between 1894 and 1896.

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Dec 06

The Beats
In a recent review in The New York Times, A. O. Scott describes a new film as “a peek at the genesis of a movement that would become a matter of cultural controversy and, eventually, academic study.” The film is Kill Your Darlings directed by John Krokidas, and the movement is the Beat Generation. Krokidas’s film joins two other Beat-related movies that debuted in 2013, an adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s late novel Big Sur, and the long awaited cinematic version of his iconic On the Road, directed by Walter Salles, who also made The Motorcycle Diaries.[[MORE]]When I began my own academic study of Kerouac in the mid-1980s, I did it because I thought he was an interesting writer—perhaps not a novelist of the first rank, but someone worthy of serious scholarly attention. Like many other members of my generation, I had first read Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, LeRoi Jones and Lawrence Ferlinghetti in college in the late 1960s. I had no idea then or when I began my academic study whether interest in these writers would persist. In fact, as the field of “Beat Studies” took shape around the turn of the millennium, I became convinced that they were already passé.Then a few years ago my wife-to-be asked me to give a lecture on Kerouac in her American literature class at Seattle University. I did so reluctantly, fearing the energy drain familiar to classroom teachers who discuss subjects of personal interest. Much to my surprise, the students not only paid close attention, but some of them had read other Beat writers like William Burroughs and Gregory Corso. They still found Ginsberg’s combination of experimental form, gay rights and radical politics appealing. From their comments during and after the class, I became convinced that the Beats had taken another step towards classic status: They were being read by a new generation, a third remove from their own.About six years ago I began a snail-mail correspondence with one of the few living witnesses of the Beat era in the late 1940s and 1950s, Carolyn Cassady, author of Off the Road and second wife of Beat avatar and male muse Neal Cassady. In our exchange of letters, which ended with Carolyn’s death in September at the age of 90, I learned more of the human cost of the Beat mythology. During the later stages of my scholarship I came to share her skepticism about the legendizing of the Beats. As she told me in one letter, Carolyn didn’t even like their writing. We differed there: I admire much Beat writing for its energy and innovation. Where I draw the line is at their continuation of the pernicious belief that authors should not be held to the same ethical standards as everyone else.In December 2012 I was fortunate enough to attend the Seattle premiere of Salles’s On the Road. After the showing I complimented the director on his ability to make the rather shallow female characters of Kerouac’s novel into full-fledged human personalities. And while I personally enjoyed the film, the casting of which was geared toward a twenty-something audience, I wondered what that demographic would make of so much seemingly pointless excitement. In 1947, when Kerouac began the first draft of On the Road, it made sense that after half a decade focused on systematic destruction and death, young people should place a high value on pointless fun, reveling in the pure exuberance of life. But somehow that exuberance seems out of place—even quaint—amid the pervasive irony of the new millennium. Watch an older Beat film like The Last Time I Committed Suicide, a paean to the teenage Neal Cassady, and you’ll see what I mean.Dr. Johnson said famously that a classic is any book that is still being read a hundred years after it was written. By that standard Howl, On the Road and Naked Lunch have made it half way, much to my surprise. Perhaps these recent films are merely a tribute from older directors to the writers that influenced them, but perhaps they’re a sign of the true staying power of a literary movement that was so faithful to the Zeitgeist of the 1950s that their representations of it have become universal. Of course, the world is now even more full of social revolutions, and every classic has both anticipated and grown into the ages that followed its first publication, making itself, in the words of Edward Albee’s character, “a historical necessity.”Harry Potter Meets Allen GinsbergWhen I heard that Daniel Radcliffe had been cast as Allen Ginsberg in John Krokidas’s Kill Your Darlings, the latest in a spate of Beat-related Hollywood films (beginning with James DeFranco’s Howl, continuing with Walter Salles’s On the Road, and preceded immediately by Michael Polish’s Big Sur, a sumptuous representation of a late novel by Jack Kerouac), I was skeptical, to say the least, skeptical that I could ever see Radcliffe as anything but the adolescent magus.On the other hand, if you think about it, the analogy between the fictional character and the real-life poet is not that far-fetched. Both Harry and Allen had unusual parents. Both believed in the power of words—spells being a kind of poetry and vice versa—to change their society. And both were outsiders who became the ultimate insiders. Columbia University was (and perhaps still is) a kind of Hogwarts, cranking out its own kind of post-World War II wizards.There’s no Hermione for the gay Ginsberg, of course, but Lucien Carr, the character around which Kill Your Darlings swirls, acts as capricious love interest, filling her shoes as well as those of the redoubtable Ron Weasley. Dumbledore is represented in the Beat film by the eminent critic Mark van Doren, disguised as Professor Steeves. And if William S. Burroughs isn’t the prototype for the dryly drawling Snape, I’ll eat my grey fedora. By the way, Ben Foster, who portrays WSB (characterized perfectly in the movie as “an artist whose medium is himself”), nails the acid Midwestern flatness of the voice behind Junkie and Queer, novels set just shortly after the time of this film.The role of Voldemort falls to the unfortunate David Kammerer, who met both Burroughs and Carr in St. Louis and then spent the intervening years until his untimely death stalking Carr and finally goading him (it appears) into murder. This tragic (and I use the over-used term advisedly) figure represents the worst that can happen to someone considered a deviant by an oppressive society: he becomes the victim of what the newspapers called “an honor slaying,” and his (blessedly heterosexual) killer serves just eighteen months in jail.Having said all this, I hasten to add that my low expectations were completely dispelled by Radcliffe’s stellar performance. Just after completing the last two Harry Potter films, he somehow managed to transform himself effortlessly into an American gay radical poet, nude sex scenes and all. Interestingly, Kill Your Darlings uses the real names of the models for its characters (excepting van Doren), so Radcliffe also moves from playing a character of fantasy to portraying a fantastic character who actually strode the sidewalks of the Upper West Side. It must be one of the most remarkable transitions in cinematic history. Daniel Radcliffe turns out to be a real actor with a future as bright as Harry Potter’s.I’ll end on a side note. The content of the Beats’ gruesome coming-of-age story was originally treated in an unusual collaborative novel called And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks (don’t ask about the title), in which Burroughs and Jack Kerouac wrote alternating chapters. This book, which treats Lucien Carr’s murder of David Kammerer surrealistically, circulated in manuscript in Bohemian circles in Greenwich Village at least until the mid-1990s, when I still heard rumors of it around Washington Square. It was finally published only in 2008.P.S. On November 19, 2013, the U.S. Postal Service released a series of eight “forever” stamps featuring eight still photos from the Harry Potter films.                                       
                                                                                            ~Jim Jones        

The Beats

In a recent review in The New York Times, A. O. Scott describes a new film as “a peek at the genesis of a movement that would become a matter of cultural controversy and, eventually, academic study.” The film is Kill Your Darlings directed by John Krokidas, and the movement is the Beat Generation. Krokidas’s film joins two other Beat-related movies that debuted in 2013, an adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s late novel Big Sur, and the long awaited cinematic version of his iconic On the Road, directed by Walter Salles, who also made The Motorcycle Diaries.

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Nov 22

Early American NovelsTwenty years ago, after reading Revolution and the Word, Cathy Davidson’s masterful study of the economics, reception, and impact of American novels published before 1820 (Oxford University Press, 1986), I  vowed to myself that I would read the first one hundred novels published in our new republic. [[MORE]]    I haven’t finished yet, but I made a good start with what is now generally recognized as the first American novel, The Power of Sympathy by William Hill Brown, which appeared in 1789. Isaiah Thomas, patriot, printer, historian, and founder of the American Antiquarian Society, published the book anonymously because the story was a thinly disguised version of an infamous scandal in Boston high society. Brown’s authorship of the novel was not discovered until over a hundred years after his novel appeared.    My edition of The Power of Sympathy was bound together with The Coquette by Hannah Webster Foster, a book published in 1797 that went through thirty editions by 1840. Like Brown’s, Foster’s is an epistolary novel “founded on fact,” and also like its predecessor, it presents its sentimental story as a cautionary tale aimed at young, strong-willed female readers. Samuel Richardson’s Pamela and Clarissa heavily influenced both these early American works.    Next I picked up Charlotte Temple by Susanna Rowson, a tale of seduction in which the disgraced heroine literally dies in the gutter. Well into the nineteenth century romantic young women in New York City were still leaving flowers on the fictional gravesite of the title character, who was supposed to be buried in Trinity churchyard at the west end of Wall Street.    For something fun I sped through the four volumes of Modern Chivalry, an American version of Don Quixote, in which an irrepressible Irishman, Teague O’Regan, who makes life complicated for the idealistic Captain Farrago, plays the Sancho Panza character. The author of this delightful story, Hugh Henry Brackenridge, was a Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice who once rode to the assizes naked, having rolled his suit up in his bedroll so that it would be dry when he appeared in court. Perhaps he was emulating the man of La Mancha.    One of the most forward-looking books I read is called The Algerine Captive, which tells the story of an itinerant Yankee doctor, Updike Underhill, who signs on as ship’s surgeon on a slaver bound for West Africa, is captured by Barbary coast pirates, and sent as a slave himself to Algeria (thus “Algerine”). Before Underhill is ransomed and returned to the States, he is exposed to the basic tenets of Islam in a very sophisticated way by one of his fellow captives. America’s first professional playwright, Royall Tyler, wrote this fascinating novel about our country’s initial relations with the Muslim world.    The most canonical of the early novelists is Charles Brockden Brown, America’s first gothic writer, whose seven novels usually revolve around some unusual human phenomenon. He was influenced by William Godwin, and in turn probably influenced Godwin’s daughter, Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein. I began with Wieland, in which the title character hears mysterious voices projected by the ventriloquist villain, Carwin.    Recently, I found an ex-library copy of Oscar Wegelin’s Early American Fiction 1774-1830, a bibliography published in 1929. Wegelin lists most of the works treated by Davidson, although he still attributes The Power of Sympathy to Sarah Wentworth Morton, a popular Boston poet of the 1780s, and scholars have since identified some of the anonymous authors. Thanks to Davidson, many of these early novels have been brought back into print.    Going thorough the list, I see that I still have a long way to go to fulfill my vow. Time’s a-wasting. Next up, the debut novel by America’s first professional novelist, James Fenimore Cooper’s Precaution (1820), written as the result of a bet with his wife that he could outdo any of the British stories she was always reading.                                                                                                                 ~Jim Jones

Early American Novels

Twenty years ago, after reading Revolution and the Word, Cathy Davidson’s masterful study of the economics, reception, and impact of American novels published before 1820 (Oxford University Press, 1986), I  vowed to myself that I would read the first one hundred novels published in our new republic.

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Nov 15

Ed Ruscha and The Book


 ”I like the idea of a word becoming a picture, almost leaving its body, then coming back and becoming a word again”~ Ed Ruscha

Midwesterner Ed Ruscha burst onto the Los Angeles art scene in the mid-1960s with a series of books of photographs, beginning with 26 Gasoline Stations. He is now a world-renowned painter, photographer, and book artist. Thanks to a loan from the Broad Art Foundation, fans in the Northwest were able to see a handful of Ruscha’s newest work at the Portland Art Museum in the summer and fall of 2013.[[MORE]]Hidden away in the walkway between the two wings of the museum, the works exerted a special underground charm. The first was a large square of vellum—an unusual medium for art these days—with the opening words of the Book of Genesis (and of St. John’s Gospel) inscribed in acrylic in large red letters. The capital I runs the length of the page, which is marked off in pencil as though it awaited the addition of a text block. The whole piece reminds one of a medieval manuscript in which the rubricator has unaccountably preceded the scribe. A second piece, a diptych with actual hardbound books embedded in the canvas, displays Ruscha’s well-known sense of humor. The right hand canvas bears the words “The Right People,” while the one on the left reads, “Those Other People.” Next came a monumental painting representing a book resting on its spine with both covers splayed open and the pages held together to reveal beautifully marbled end-papers and gilded fore-edges. The title of this piece is Gilded, Marbled, and Foibled. Finally, visitors to the exhibit were treated to a series of six paintings, again on vellum, this time circular, each with a quotation from James Frey’s 2011 novel The Final Testament of the Holy Bible. Ruscha has become a champion of Frey, commissioning a painting from him and producing one himself to commemorate Frey’s public humiliation (along with publisher Nan Talese) on the Oprah Winfrey show. An unexpected bonus for book lovers came in a photography exhibit upstairs, where a copy of Carleton Emmons Watkins’ elephant folio Photographs of the Columbia River and Oregon (1867) lay propped open in a vitrine.                                                                                   ~Jim Jones

To view the Ruscha material we have in stock, please check here

Ed Ruscha and The Book

 ”I like the idea of a word becoming a picture, almost leaving its body, then coming back and becoming a word again”~ Ed Ruscha

Midwesterner Ed Ruscha burst onto the Los Angeles art scene in the mid-1960s with a series of books of photographs, beginning with 26 Gasoline Stations. He is now a world-renowned painter, photographer, and book artist. Thanks to a loan from the Broad Art Foundation, fans in the Northwest were able to see a handful of Ruscha’s newest work at the Portland Art Museum in the summer and fall of 2013.

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Nov 08

The Indulgence
  The word indulgence may ring a bell for people of a certain age who were raised Roman Catholic. A certain number of days, weeks, or years were granted for saying prayers or performing religious devotions. This time could be subtracted from the amount of time the redeemed sinner had to spend in Purgatory after death and before ascending to heaven.[[MORE]]
Now pretty much a thing of the past—even in the Roman Catholic Church—indulgences played a very important role in the history of printing. One of the first “jobs” that Gutenberg printed was the so-called Turkish indulgence, which the Pope’s emissaries sold to raise money to fight the Turks, who were invading Cyprus in the mid-fifteenth century.
The very first dated printing in England was Caxton’s indulgence of 1476, a one-of-a kind document printed on parchment and sold to a noble couple, John and Elizabeth Langley, for a donation to the church. This document lay undiscovered until the 1920s, when it was identified as binder’s waste in a book in the London Public Records Office.
Chaucer had earlier satirized the sale of indulgences in The Pardoner’s Tale, in which the title character admits that he regularly dupes poor churchgoers into buying indulgences. The pardoner kept a cut of the sales revenue and forwarded the rest to a bishop appointed by the Pope in each country or province of the Holy Roman Empire. This bishop, called a quaestiarius, then took his cut and forwarded the remainder to Rome to be used by the Pope as he saw fit. It was the original pyramid scheme.
In the early sixteenth century Martin Luther took exception to the corrupt practice of selling indulgences, which he characterized as simony, and so it is not much of an exaggeration to say that indulgences caused the Protestant Reformation.   
                                                                                                ~Jim Jones
Jim Jones is a Seattle-based writer and letterpress printer. He has created a parody of Caxton’s 1476 indulgence by combining his Roman Catholic background with a Buddhist text of his own composition. The result is a Lucida Gothic typeface printed on 9 x 12” sheet of handmade Twin Rocker paper with forced deckles, featuring an engraved capital in red that recreates the extremely faded calligraphy found in Caxton’s original piece..
                                                                   Price $35. Click here to order

The Indulgence

  The word indulgence may ring a bell for people of a certain age who were raised Roman Catholic. A certain number of days, weeks, or years were granted for saying prayers or performing religious devotions. This time could be subtracted from the amount of time the redeemed sinner had to spend in Purgatory after death and before ascending to heaven.

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Nov 07

Zoroaster’s Telescope

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Zoroaster’s  Telescope is a wonderfully strange book of oracle magic. Written in 1796 by André-Robert Andrea de Nerciat, a French author of Libertine genre, the text later appeared in a collection of German folk literature compiled by Johann Scheible from which this English translation was made.

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Mar 14

The Ballets Russes and Its World. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1999. First American Edition.
Jacket illustration - Leon Bakst costume design for Nijinsky for his appearance in L’Apres Midi d’un Faune

The Ballets Russes and Its World. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1999. First American Edition.

Jacket illustration - Leon Bakst costume design for Nijinsky for his appearance in L’Apres Midi d’un Faune

Oct 12



Killing Color by Charlotte Watson Sherman. Published by CALYX Books in 1992.
Cover illustration “I am Free” by Jody Kim
Cover design by Carolyn Sawtelle
Book design by Cheryl McLean

Killing Color by Charlotte Watson Sherman. Published by CALYX Books in 1992.

Cover illustration “I am Free” by Jody Kim

Cover design by Carolyn Sawtelle

Book design by Cheryl McLean



Lettered Creatures by Brad and Mark Leithauser. Published by David Godine in 2004.
Jacket illustration by Mark Leithauser
Jacket design by Carl W. Scarbrough

Lettered Creatures by Brad and Mark Leithauser. Published by David Godine in 2004.

Jacket illustration by Mark Leithauser

Jacket design by Carl W. Scarbrough