The finished covers, as they accumulated, left me in something of a quandary. With their brilliant pillar-box red, they looked splendid as they were – so should they be left like that?
The cover of a book has more than one function. In practical terms, it is there to protect the book it contains, but from earliest times it has been a way of proclaiming the value or importance of its contents (or, at a time when only the rich could afford books, the wealth of its owner). In these days of crowded shelves in bookshops the cover’s first function is to make you pause and persuade you to select that one particular book. Personally, I do not need a book to identify itself – indeed, I am probably more liable to take down the book that looks mysterious because it has a plain cover, or none, simply to see what it is. But then I am one of those who, in second-hand bookshops, will always home in on the book that is placed sideways, upside down or the wrong way round in the perpetual hope that it might be something special others have overlooked.
(as an interesting aside, my friend Jackie Morris managed to persuade her publisher to reissue some of her magnificent books with no wording, only the cover art – but then they are something special)
So should McAvinchey have more than just a plain cover, albeit one in brilliant pillar-box red? There was a practical consideration here – ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ is a saying precisely because we do judge a book by its cover, so covers should be well done. There is probably nowhere that misaligned or poorly-executed lettering stands out more than on the cover or spine of a book and frankly I doubted my ability to do it well enough. Though the whole book-making exercise had been a whirlwind of acquiring new skills, there are times when you have to accept your own limitations.
Then I recalled a post on Facebook by the aforementioned Jackie Morris praising the products of The English Stamp Company, which had produced some spectacular stamps to her own design that she used in signing her books. Would they, I wondered, work on bookcloth? So I asked Jackie to try one out for me, on a proof copy of McAvinchey, which she very kindly did:
Although I considered straightforward lettering, I decided I wanted something more enigmatic, something that might make people ask, ‘I wonder what that is?’ I toyed with various possibilities, but it was my daughter Kate who came up with the ideal solution:
[for those unacquainted with the tale, both Walter Scott and the Scott monument figure prominently in it]
I e-mailed Kate’s artwork to the English Stamp Company and duly received the following:
1 x Image Custom Stamp 80mm x 79mm (ImageStamp) Wood-handled stamp Wood-handled stamp Cost each: £29.50
1 x Extra Large – Black (X82) 141 x 108mm Black 141 x 108mm Black Cost each: £10.00
1 x Encore – Gold (UM10) 75 x 45mm Gold 75 x 45mm Gold Cost each: £6.50
Order Total: £46.00
(for those of you interested, that raised the ‘recovery cost’ to a penny under £9 a book, and the consumable cost to somewhere around a fiver (actually just over, but then I didn’t use all the ink)
In practical terms, the stamp posed a couple of problems. The first was to ensure some consistency in locating it on each cover, and to that end I designed a simple guide from a spare cover board:
The second problem was inking the stamp. I had ordered two ink pads – a large black one and a smaller gold one, without thinking how I would apply them. I knew that I wanted some gold on that red cover, but at the same time I reckoned the Scott Monument should be black (reflecting the sooty appearance it had in the days of my youth, though having been cleaned since, it has some hints of golden sandstone). At first I thought in terms of two stampings, one with gold for the foliage/clouds and one with black for the main body, but I was wary of blurring the image by overstamping it.
Eventually I saw that a more radical solution was called for, so I cut off the lower portion altogether. I found in practice that there was no need to mount it, since it could be easily applied as it was. I have to say that there was something oddly liberating in butchering the stamp in this way – it wouldn’t serve my purpose as it stood, so I adapted it.
The end result was fairly satisfactory, but considerably less than perfect. I liked the gold, but felt that the monument outline could have been blacker and sharper – too much of the fine detail was lost. I do not think this was the fault of the stamp as much as my inexperience in the choice of ink.
As the ink took time to dry, the stamped covers accumulated rapidly, like giant square-winged butterflies.
Then I hit on an ingenious solution, that not only let me hang them compactly but made it easy to keep track of the order they had been stamped in so I would know which should dry first.
Handy things, clothes-horses.
Next up: Casing-in