Fall 2008 Meeting Report

Toronto, Ontario
October 31, 2008

Picture a perfect late fall day. Early morning was cool. We gathered for our business meeting in the Department of Art Library at the U of T. We were fortified, of course, with coffee and fresh sticky buns courtesy of Vice Chair Margaret English’s favourite sticky bun bakery. At the meeting’s conclusion we went outside to find that the weather had turned quite balmy. It was ideal walking weather, and we enjoyed making our way to each destination. Margaret organized three tours for our Chapter members. She focused on the book as vehicle for art, as a craft form, as an artistic expression. It was refreshing to spend a day with analog – and downright traditional – materials.

Coach House Books
bp nicol Lane

Tucked in a lane behind Huron St., Coach House has been producing fine small edition books by Canadian authors and poets for decades. Our tour started in the attic, a space under the old coach house eaves crammed with pictures, books, ephemera accumulated over the history of the press and its employees. In the corner sits a venerable large purple-upholstered Magic Sleeping Chair purported to have the ability to put its occupant to sleep. None of us tried its powers!

Christina Palassio, Managing Editor, displayed recent publications and related anecdotes about the company’s history and its illustrious authors. She led us through the production areas of Coach House, showing the process of typesetting and printing, to folding and gluing the final publication.

Massey College
Robertson Davies Library

19th cent. hand press

Massey College owns a spectacular study collection that focuses on the art and history of the book form. Librarian Marie Korey led our group through a collection of impressive and wonderfully ornate 19th century iron hand presses accumulated by the library between 1953 and 1971. To complement the presses, cases of type were also collected from printing shops such as Cooper & Beatty, divesting their stock as newer methods of printing developed.

This is a collection for the purpose of research and teaching traditional methods of paper-making, typesetting, printing and book construction. Indeed, this resource gives a very good sense of how a printing shop might operate.

We enjoyed the chance to closely examine samples of 18th and 19th century printing. The library also collects manuscripts and manuals about printing and book publication, fine printing and production printing, part of the Ruari McLean collection.

Ondaatje Hall at Massey College
Librarian Marie Korey gives a tour of the study collection

On our exit from the College, Ms. Correy took us to the Ondaatje Hall, the dining hall for residents. A cautionary quote from George Santayana encircles the light-filled room.

“Happiness is impossible and even inconceivable to a mind without scope and without pause, a mind driven by craving, pleasure, and fear.” G. Santayana.

University of Toronto
Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library

It is an amazing experience to leave the street and enter the Fisher. One leaves the bright noisy St. George Street and enters a silent vaulted nave of the Library with five glowing galleries of books overhead.

We were met by the Fisher Library’s Director, Robert Landon who led us through a special exhibition of photographs and artifacts from the Fisher’s archive, on the subject of Canada and the First World War. The exhibition was fascinating for its variety of ephemera that portrayed the human realm of war: cookbooks, letters home, war posters, and popular novels about war heroes. The University of Toronto’s war effort was also described with photographs of a training camp of tents pitched in rows on Hart House Circle. Poignantly, trench-digging practice was part of the regimen for trainees on the grounds of the University.

Our sincere thanks go to those who took time to meet with us and show us these fascinating collections related to the art of fine publishing! Time spent as we meandered from site to site of each collection offered a terrific way to socialize with our colleagues in the Chapter, too.

Submitted by Lesley Bell, December 2008.

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