The following article was originally published in Bartkowiak’s Forum book art (23. Ausg. (2005/2006), p. 130-134) with a bilingual summary and illustrations. It is here reprinted [i.e. in the Brandywine bookman’s vade mecum, 5 (2006)] in slightly amended form as a bit of soap-boxing on behalf of our printing history—and its lack of documentation—for the small circle of friends and supporters of the Brandywine project who receive the Brandywine bookman’s vade mecum but may not have access to the Forum itself.
My world is inhabited by libraries. I live circumscribed and within a few minute’s drive of five major research libraries containing in all 15 million volumes—and more. Whether you are looking for information on the religious practices of the Inca or the design of Innuit string figures, there will be material readily to hand. If not, then it will be available without too much trouble via inter-library loan. The question that I asked myself over 30 years ago was: How is it possible that you can choose to study a subject no matter how obscure and there will be material available on it in some public repository locally; yet it is virtually impossible to study in detail many aspects of the printing and allied trades—printing, paper, type… in short, the study of “printing history”—of Sydney, New South Wales, or even of Australia as a whole?
The printing and allied trades are not some mystical craft enterprise, nor obscure activity shrouded in the mists of time, but were, and remain, one of the key social, cultural, political, and economic drivers of our times. They are the handmaidens of culture; yet their own culture is little known... and less valued. How many of our state and national libraries collect this kind of material in depth for the purpose of recording the history of printing of our times? To this extent the history of printing—in Australia and probably elsewhere—can be called the “secret history of printing”.
First I wanted to change the unchanging; then decided that the What if? option would be the more useful path to take. As in: What if? I could create such a resource myself? What would I do? What would such a library or special collection be? What would it contain? How would one identify and collect this material? What would these processes entail? What would be its point ?!
Brandywine started in 1976 as the Branntwein Presse, a small, irregular, and erratic private press. Publications followed under the imprint of the Brandywine Press and material continues to be produced today, distributed through the Blackdawn Press imprint, but now only for very limited private circulation. A small personal reference collection grew into the so-called Brandywine Archive. It was called an “archive”—much to the consternation of archivist friends—because it was never intended to be a library, nor follow any library practices, philosophies or procedures. A what if? “institution”. What if? libraries, researchers, people, society in general, really did have an interest and a commitment to the collection—and especially to the preservation—of information about the history of the printing and allied trades? Substantive information in the form of the book as artefact. The library as fantôme.
Thirty years of questioning (questing). Research expeditions to København and to the Kaikoura Coast… and many parts between. Visits to companies, collections, librarians, researchers, collectors, and to eccentrics of all persuasions. An object of the generosity of some, the ridicule of others. Thirty years of research and investigation, something between bibliographical anthropology on the one hand, performance art on the other… and a bit of the print archaeologist on the third. And, yes, you do need three (sets of) hands and more to accomplish any of this. Many projects have been undertaken over the years, publications produced, material examined, described and collected, and adventures embarked upon. However during this time there has been a steady shift away from the traditional role of the collector/researcher/librarian towards an Ideology of Pure Source Material (IPSM). From the question of “What resources are needed?” it has become increasingly obvious no-one is that much concerned to collect and preserve our history while it can (or is it “could”?) still be found, collected, and preserved. Remember that we are living through a period of revolutionary change as great as, and possibly greater than, anything in Gutenberg’s time, or since, and that it equally will, in time, be studied as a field of research second to none. That a whole industry, a whole culture, should vanish before our eyes within the space of one short lifetime leaving so little trace is little less than disgraceful.
This evolving focus of Brandywine has come to be known as the Shadowland Project: An attempt not only to collect and describe, but also to develop, a viable model for the identification of primary source material for the theoretical study of the printing and allied trades now as an historical phenomenon, an industry and culture whose impact on all aspects of human social, cultural, political, and economic advances is unparalleled. What kind of material will future researchers and historians be interested in examining? Libraries tend to (over)collect the world of books published and for sale. But what about the “Other”, that documentation which constitutes the bibliographical underclasses of our time? The nature of these items is hard to define, its component parts difficult to identify, and its extent impossible to quantify. Most never existed publicly and thus often don’t survive… If they do, it is in only one or a handful of copies, these held in obscure libraries, museums, company archives, or private collections. They appear rarely in national bibliographies despite mission statements to the contrary which expound an obligation to collect in depth material for the history and culture of a region. Such primary source material is neither ephemeral nor is it printed ephemera but constitutes the so-called grey literature. Its quantity is vast, in inverse proportion to its representation in established collections.
Categories for the printing and allied trades include:-
In fact anything which can help us to describe the day-to-day work of the printing and allied trades at any given point in time... be it 1900, 1950, or 2000. These resources, categories, printed books and pamphlets, journals, kits, swatches, circulars and newsletters, manuals, videos, calendars, samples, CD-ROMs, and broadsheets inhabit the inconstant littoral of our social, cultural, political, and economic continents. They provide a kind of parallel dimension, or world, a shadow-land, whose presence is occasionally felt by us the way the sea occasionally gives up an amphora, or the decomposing remains of some ill-fated voyager. A small tribute to the exigencies of trade, the ebb and flow of life.
To conclude, a plea: As a private or institutional collector, to what extent are you interested in the detritus of this our printing history? Then again, how much of this kind of material produced in the past 50 or so years is held in your collection, or by your library? Or have thou too stood by and watched a once great and vibrant culture be consigned to the shadow-land, a land where great deeds and epic myths are the half-remembered tales retold by a few old men over a pint in the pub?
PS: Donations of any material—including any of the above—are always welcome, and never discarded… Or at least always forwarded to a good home.
J. Wegner, Librarian
PO Box 419, Eastwood NSW 2122, Australia