Julien Renard, Antiquarian bookseller and publisher
Text of address to the Book Collector’s Society of Australia (Victorian Branch) on 30 July 2004
GOOD EVENING, ladies and gentlemen,
I thought I should start by giving a very brief personal history, showing how I got started in this activity. I was born in Melbourne, and went to school in Melbourne and then in Surrey, England for my final five years, when my father Gaston Renard moved his business there as some of you will remember. At the end of my schooling the family returned to Australia and I went to the University of Melbourne where I trained in Geology and worked as a geologist for two years. At the end of this period, realising that I was perhaps not well-suited to geology, I planned to travel and see the world for a year or two, when my father made his one and only suggestion to me that I should join his business.
So, in 1976 I commenced working for Gaston Renard, who was then having his book catalogues printed by small offset. This was quite a cost to the business, and after I had been working for my father for a few months one of my friends from my geology student days acquired some small offset equipment which he was using to print price lists and brochures for his father. On occasion I helped him with various aspects of the production and it soon dawned on me that I should be doing the same thing with my father’s catalogues. I broached the idea to my father, stressing all the advantages, fast turn-around, cheaper price, keeping the money in the family, etc., etc. but he would have none of it. (In retrospect I can understand why—the catalogues were a critical part of his business, vital for cash-flow, and I had no experience in printing). However I was determined, so I went ahead anyway and purchased the necessary equipment, set up the printery in a spare bedroom of my house and announced at the appropriate moment that
I was ready to do the next catalogue. Over the weekend I worked like crazy and printed it and my housemate very kindly collated the sets on the Monday which he happened to have off, and on Tuesday I delivered the catalogue. It was not by any standard a high quality effort but was probably no worse than the worst of those previously printed by commercial outlets, and in the event was (just) good enough to get approval for the next one. So, Buccaneer Press was born and we continued to print the catalogues and other commercial work for the next dozen years or so. Being intimately involved in the production process (in the early years I did it all) I soon developed a keen interest in the history of printing technology and added significantly to the reference library on printing and book production collected by my father.
In the early 1980s I took over the book business from my father and in the years leading up to the bicentenary, as a dealer in both Antiquarian and new books, I was approached by a number of publishers with requests for advice on suitable items to republish for the approaching bicentenary. I mentioned White’s Journal of a Voyage to New South Wales (1790) with its 65 superb coloured plates (in its deluxe original version) to anyone who would listen, but unfortunately there were no takers. I had no plans at that time to do any publishing myself.
In 1988, as one of these bicentenary projects, Oxford University Press printed Baudin in Australian Waters by Jacqueline Bonnemains, and as part of their publicity material they produced laser colour photocopies of some of the drawings published in their book. I was struck by how well these reproduced the general appearance of watercolours, better in fact than they appeared in the book. Also in 1988, I managed the auction of David Bremer’s collection of Australiana and in the catalogue we reproduced some coloured plates from some of the rare and valuable items in the sale. The photography and colour separations were done by Show-Ads, a specialised pre-press company who did a lot of high quality work for the advertising industry. I got a special deal, but for eight plates the cost was $3500. This did not include the printing cost. One of the items which we reproduced was a coloured plate from Atkinson’s Account of the State of Agriculture and Grazing in New South Wales (1826). This book was a superb copy in original boards and very delicate and had to be carefully photographed while I held it open. It was impossible to avoid having my thumb in the way, but this was no problem for Show-Ads. They then possessed state-of-the-art digital image processing machines (computers) which cost $5 million each (they had five of them at the time!), and were able in a matter of seconds to remove my thumb and clean up other unsatisfactory aspects of the image. This perhaps does not seem so impressive today, but at the time it was revolutionary and I was mightily impressed at what could be done with digital image manipulation.
In the early 1990s I acquired a copy of Lewin’s Birds of New South Wales, 1813 edition. Ideas regarding the suitability of laser and digital technology for reproducing the handcoloured plates began to take hold in my mind. While I still owned it I began a few tests on the feasability of making high quality reproductions—colour fidelity, clean original appearance and faithful overall impression. I had some success, but the technology, although vastly reduced in price from that current in 1988 was still prohibitively expensive—especially for the extensive printing and reprinting that would have to be undertaken to get the reproductions correct. The basic cost however was very much reduced from that in 1988—much of the digital manipulation could now be done on a PC. Unfortunately the large amounts of memory required for high quality work were still a few years away from becoming affordable, and the software still required further development before it could be said to be easy to use for extensive and intensive work. However the seed was sown in my mind, and I began to harbour desires to get into publishing myself. Off and on over the next few years I continued to experiment with the developing technology and I also began to think about creating electronic versions of exploration works—searchable texts, complete with maps and illustrations, that could be put on CD-Rom and run from a personal computer. As the years passed however it became clear to me that all this would remain just a pipe-dream as long as I had a fulltime (plus) job running a bookshop. In the year 2000 I got lucky. With the rise of the Internet, we sold books like hot cakes and an American company who thought this phenomenon would last forever and thought that they could capture and control it agreed to buy my entire stock and database.
Now I would see if I could become a publisher! With a partner I developed some unique software to handle historical texts, especially exploration and voyage narratives and by early 2002 our Book Explorer CD-Rom series of Australian Explorations was born. This software reproduced the text of original editions presented page by page exactly as in the original edition, but highly customisable, in the font and at the size of the user’s choice.
Several different search facilities were available and special attention was paid to dates. Potentially of great use to students and scholars, as well as sufficiently user-friendly to allow reading on-screen, the works included all the illustrations and maps of the original editions, all able to be zoomedin for inspection of fine detail. Amongst the first few titles was White’s Journal, complete with the 65 coloured plates from the deluxe issue of the first edition. These coloured plates had never before been reproduced in colour (apart from the odd one or two); even though both the reprint editions— one by Angus & Robertson in 1966 and one by Arno Press of New York in the Physician Travellers series—had been taken from coloured copies—the quality of the reproductions was dreadful. (See Figure 1 for an example from the Arno Press edition). At this point it dawned on me that I had captured the text of White’s Journal and also had scans of all the illustrations—it wouldn’t take much to produce a fine book … 15 months later …
The first problem I encountered was that it took vastly more labour and attention to detail to produce colour images to a high standard for a printed fine book than for an electronic work where the images would only be viewed on screen or printed out for illustrative purposes only. In the end I spent 10-15 hours on each image, painstakingly cleaning up all the blemishes and adjusting the colour to match the original. This was extremely tedious but rewarding work—the final result was always a great pleasure to behold.
At a late stage in my preparation for the printing, a fine, clean copy of the original uncoloured issue became available and I decided to include in the Special and Deluxe versions of our new edition a set of the uncoloured plates. These required nearly as much work as the coloured ones and in fact in some respects were more difficult to reproduce accurately, but again
I think the result was rewarding. (See Figure 2 for an example of how the uncoloured plate should look). So in all, for this book I worked on 131 images including the small illustration (attributed to John White himself) which is on the original title-page.
If I might comment on the original work, it is well-known that the paper of the coloured copies is different from that of the uncoloured copies, but it was interesting to see that the original coloured copies were printed in different types of ink, generally a brown black quite different from that used for the uncoloured copies—a deep blue-black. It was also apparent that slightly different tints of ink were used for the different plates, having a tint appropriate to the subject—one might have a more brownish tint, another greenish, another bluish, etc.
It was interesting in my research to find a copy of the original edition in the State Library of Victoria (the Currie copy) which had the artist’s name on every plate—this had not before been noticed, and it enabled some argument about the identity of the artist for a number of plates to be settled once and for all; in our new edition I included in the list of plates the names of all the artists. It also became obvious that for reasons unknown the artist’s name was erased and re-engraved a number of times on at least some plates. (See Figure 3).
I will turn now to some of the difficulties I encountered in producing the book. By far the biggest problem I had was with the printing. I had a few years before purchased a large format colour laser, a Tektronix 780.
Tektronix is a company which specialised in high precision measuring instruments and the same approach was evident in their printing machine. This was a high quality machine, but rather slow (about 1 to 2 sheets per minute) and the printer salesman thought that for the volume of work required it would take too long and the volumes I had in mind would exceed the duty cycle of the machine. So he sold me a newer and faster model—quite a salesman, hey! In the meantime the printer division of Tektronix had been sold to Xerox so the new machine was now made by them. Fortunately I resisted the temptation to trade in the old one, because the new machine proved to have severe difficulties. The first was that it would not reliably print the images with large areas of colour on the paper stock I had chosen after extensive tests with the original printer and had by now purchased. So
I had to revert to the the 780 for printing the images—212 copies times 67 images (including facsimile title-page) plus 50+ copies of 65 b/w plates. It was slow, but generally very reliable, and in practice its productivity was higher than that of the newer printer with all its problems. I was however able to use the new printer for the text. In tests it seemed to print well. However I soon found problems with registration of the second side of the sheet and I had to make some modifications to the machine to get it to register correctly and even then had an extremely high rejection rate. These problems were not apparent with the earlier and supposedly less advanced machine and my modifications really just added back functionality which had been eliminated in the name of progress. In my design of the text I had incorporated a nice rich red for the dates and a deep green for the species names in the appendix, so that most pages of text were predominantly black, with a little colour—one would have thought not an atypical use for a colour laser. However without getting too technical this meant that the image drums for the colours were not being sufficiently lubricated and I started having additional problems with colour consistency further increasing the rejection rate. In the end I had to purchase a second lot of paper—almost as much as the first order—and I bought the last stocks in the country—as usual as soon as you find a good product it is discontinued.
I might say that this was an excellent, archival quality Australian sheet (from Shoalhaven) with an attractive “vellum” finish. You can still buy the smooth finish, but no longer the vellum.
All these problems however meant that I had to inspect every sheet closely and collate the sets by hand, rather than let the machine do it automatically,vastly increasing the labour over what I had reckoned on. In the event this was a highly instructive and rather humbling process. As Antiquarian Booksellers, Gaston Renard has always been proud of the fact that we do a detailed collation of every secondhand book we sell. What I mean here is that we “check the collation”, page-by-page and plate-by-plate. I have done this myself for many thousands of books over more than 25 years, so I am very quick and good at it, and I have a good eye and an inbuilt, almost unconscious ability to count, both in single pages or leaves or in twos, fours, etc. I also had a fanatical desire that this book should be as near perfect as I could make it—it was after all my first effort and I wanted it to be a success. So I was very, very careful about inspecting the printed plates for blemishes such as stray spots in the non-image areas and in inserting plates correctly oriented and in the correct places. What I discovered however was that even with the most stringent care and attention it was possible to insert plates wrongly, or even not at all, and that after looking at hundreds of pages it was impossible to see small blemishes that were immediately apparent on later, more relaxed inspection. A sort of inability to see akin to snow-blindness set in. Now some of the seemingly inexplicable faults found in otherwise perfect old books began to make a little sense— even with great care and high standards of production it was quite possible for errors to slip through. I found the same thing with the binder, my initial anger and irritation at seemingly stupid errors gave way to a new understanding that even with the best standards and intentions humans doing repetitive hand-work are more likely than not to make errors which at a later time seem inexplicable and evidence of sloppy workmanship. However it is necessary for high quality work for every book to be checked again and again at each stage to ensure that the errors are caught and rectified. In the end I was forced to carefully “collate” (in the antiquarian bookseller’s sense) each finished book, and that is now a routine part of our production methods, time consuming though it is. I mentioned before that as booksellers we have always collated every secondhand book that we sell. I now believe in the light of my experiences that it is also necessary to do the same for new books. I also believe that as collectors you should always collate all your purchases – antiquarian booksellers are not infallible, and the act of checking the collation may tell you a lot about the book you might otherwise not have noticed – it can add significant interest to a collection of books as artifacts – that is manufactured objects, whether that manufacture is predominantly by hand—as in its original meaning, or by machines.
I will now make a few remarks about the binding. This was structurally designed by Ted Congdon at Whites Law Bindery and myself to be strong and functional as well as handsome. We used Australian goatskin, what is usually termed morocco, taken from feral goats of the Snowy Mountains region. These were selected as having strong hides, relatively large as needed for such a large book, and relatively unmarked being generally free of barbedwire scratches, tick bites, etc., as commonly found on goats from lowerlying country. With the droughts and many bushfires of recent years these skins have now become very scarce and future goatskins will have to come from farm goats. The gilding of the edges and gold-blocking was done with genuine 23 and 24 carat gold, the 24 carat however was a little too soft although giving a beautiful rich colour. Because of the limitations of size on my printing equipment, the book was produced as single sheets and Ted devised an ingenious method of sewing and lacing to make a strong binding which still opened well. The final result was I think, very pleasing, and the book went on to win two gold medals at the 20th National Print Awards, and as a result Gaston Renard was awarded a Certificate of Manufacturing Excellence and inducted into the Victorian Manufacturing Hall of Fame (with quite a good lunch at Parliament House).
I will now turn to our second book, a reprint of the first separate work on the Australian Aborigines. We bound it in emu and kangaroo leathers.
The spines come from the leg of the emu and the fore-edge is vegetabletanned kangaroo, with a printed cloth for the sides. (See Figure 4). The colour scheme was intended to represent Australia, with its red and ochre centre and the green coastal strip, while the kangaroo and emu are a reflection of our coat of arms. For this book I experimented with a new technique for facsimile reproduction. Instead of photographing or scanning the text and reproducing it in the traditional way, a process that does not produce a very satisfactory result if the original is not well-printed and well-preserved, I recreated electronic versions of the original fonts using font design software and then reset the text to exactly match the original. This was a time consuming process, but ultimately rewarding as I hope this comparison shows. (see Figure 5)
During my research of this book (see Figure 6) I uncovered a copy in the Mitchell Library in its original wrappers, shown here (See Figures 7 and 8) and it is interesting to note that this wrapper (the ONLY one I have been able to trace) is dated 1814. This is the date of the main work, and is, I suspect, the actual date of issue of the Supplement in spite of the date on its title-page. I used the border design in my new edition for the cover. This was done by creating a font of the two different blocks used in the original— a median block and a corner block—by rotation the eight types required for the border can be obtained. The silhouette of Aborigines is taken from the plate Climbing Trees. (See Figure 9).
I will comment briefly on the origin of the images—these have been tentatively attributed to John William Lewin—firstly by Rex Rienits and more recently by Jonathan Wantrup. I don’t believe they are by Lewin— there is no stylistic resemblance to any other work by him and there are significant errors in the depictions of plants and animals, errors which Lewin would not have made. I think it is most likely that the images were created by John Heaviside Clark, a commercial artist who lived in London and never visited Australia, by imagination and from the text. A careful examination shows that there is nothing of any substance in the images which is not in the text, but there are anecdotes and circumstantial details in the text which are NOT in the pictures. I therefore believe the text is the primary source. Just where the text comes from is unclear—it contains anecdotes not in any other printed text. I suspect that it has some connection with William Bligh to whom the book is dedicated—perhaps it was worked up from notes supplied by Bligh. Another point worth noting is the absence of the boomerang in any of the images—a rather striking omission in a book devoted to unusual hunting pursuits from around the world. The Port Jackson aborigines did not possess the boomerang, so an early source is suggested (prior to Barrallier’s Journey to the Blue Mountains ). This of course might suggest a source other than Bligh—it is still a wide open question.
The production of this book was relatively straightforward—the Deluxe copies were printed on large paper and included a suite of uncoloured plates from the rare uncoloured issue, and the Specials were housed in a handsome cloth double slip-case with an extra suite of the plates enlarged by 25%.
Our third book was a type-facsimile of Watkin Tench’s Narrative of the Expedition to Botany Bay, first published in 1789 and many times reprinted in that year or soon after, but then not reprinted until 1938 by the Australian Limited Editions Society. There have been some recent editions of varying quality, but the book has never been reprinted in its original form since 1789 so I thought it might be interesting to reprint the First Edition exactly. I used a commercially available Caslon typeface (Adobe Caslon Pro), a quite close match to the original and set it line-for-line to match the first edition. In the course of my research I uncovered an unremarked proof illustration (See Figure 10) in the Grimwade copy of the Dublin edition at the Baillieu Library—this did not belong to the work, but eventually with the aid of the superb staff of the Mitchell Library it was tracked down to an issue of the Ladies Magazine, issued in 1790 by G. Robinson. This magazine, by then in its 21st year, contained a brief article on Botany Bay illustrated with this plate. In the Mitchell Library also was uncovered an extremely rare pirated edition of Tench’s work, this having a frontispiece which was previously unremarked (See Figure 11). This appears to be unique and is a rather charmingly typical illustration from an 18th century chapbook. These illustrations, together with a map from a contemporary French edition of Tench’s Narrative and a portrait from a contemporary miniature are included in our edition.
For this book I wanted to keep the cost down as far as possible so the majority of the edition was bound in a handsome blue cloth, while the Deluxe copies were bound in half ox-hide with moire cloth sides. In the end, I had enough paper left over from my reprinting of White’s Journal to use for this book, which was section-sewn in gatherings matching the original first edition. I had no particular problems with this book until just before delivering the folded and collated sets to the binder, I discovered a typographic error (a missing hyphen) and then realised that I had failed to finish checking the hyphens at line endings forced by conforming to the original typesetting. A thorough check then turned up four errors, so I had to reprint the affected sheets, pull apart the collated sections and replace the offending sheets. A mind-numbing recipe for error! And sure enough, after binding, two copies had the wrong leaves inserted. Once again the necessity of collating (in the bookseller’s sense) my own books before selling them was underlined.
Now to forthcoming publications. Our next book will be a facsimile of James Edward Smith’s Botany of New Holland (1793-4). This was the first botanical book on Australia and contains 16 very fine coloured plates from specimens sent back to England by John White and John Hunter. Also in an advanced stage of preparation is a fine new edition of the rare anonymous account of Cook’s Endeavour voyage. This book, attributed to James Mario Matra, has in some copies a dedication to Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander.
It is claimed that this dedication was withdrawn after protests by Banks, but there are some peculiarities about the printing of the dedication which suggest this is not the full story—research is continuing. I have also found that there are variations to the text, some copies contain a cancelling leaf which omits certain passages critical of Cook. This book will be typeset in the attractive and distinctive 15th century Jenson types resurrected by William Morris and re-designed for the Doves Press of Cobden-Sanderson and Emery Walker at the turn of the last century. Adobe have revived it in a splendid electronic version by Robert Slimbach.
Some other works in preparation include: An interesting personal journal from the expedition to the Gulf of Carpentaria in HMS Firefly in search of Burke and Wills, not before published; a definitive edition of Lewin’s Birds of New South Wales, 1813; a fine facsimile of Lewin’s Insects of New South Wales (1805/1822); an interesting series of diaries from the 1850s detailing experiences on a voyage from England to Adelaide, a sealing voyage and an overland trip to the Bendigo goldfields, also not before published. In addition I have done some preparatory work on a substantial list of other prospective projects, so will have plenty to keep me busy for the forseeable future. I have found limited edition publishing to be a very interesting and rewarding activity and always get a great thrill as each project is completed. The editions of each work are limited to a total of 200 copies for sale divided into the standard Limited Edition, a Deluxe Edition with additional features or superior binding, and a very small number of copies of a Special Edition with further additional features. The books so far completed have found favour in the market and have sold well. A few copies of the Deluxe and Limited editions of each title remain available.
Further details of the books can be found on our website.
Julien Renard, Edition Renard,
Gaston Renard Pty. Ltd.,
PO Box 1030,
Ph 03 9459 5050
Fax 03 9459 6787