The Museum Meermanno, known as The House of the Book, focuses on written and printed books of the past and present.
Up until 20 February, 2011, the exhibition named The Ideal Book will survey a relatively small, yet exceedingly dynamic, creative and influential part of Dutch book culture. As may be expected The Ideal Book is also available in printed book format.
One section of the exhibition relates to contemporary books, such as those printed today by the Bonnefant Press, run by Hans van Eijk. These include translations of Virgil by Irish poet Seamus Heaney or poetry by Italian Paolo Ruffilli, both incorporating exceptional screen prints by Dutch graphic artist Jan Hendrix.
The title The Ideal Book refers back to the name of a well-known essay from 1893 by English designer William Morris, in which he explained how he came to the rules on print as used at his own Kelmscott Press. Hugely influential, private presses spread through Europe, with the first appearing in the Netherlands in 1910 - The Silver Thistle.
The early presses often used specially created fonts and were printed on extraordinary paper. Dutch pioneers showcased in the exhibition include J.C. Bloem, J. Greshoff, P.N. van Eyck and J.F. van Royen and the story continues via internationally known artists such as S.H. de Roos and H.N. Werkman to the enthusiastic and pragmatic printers who operate on the margins of the book trade today.
The Ideal Book project, including the exhibition, the website and the book was undertaken over a four year period by editors Paul van Capelleveen, curator modern printed books (special collections) at the National Library and also curator modern collections at Museum Meermanno Huis van het boek, and Clemens de Wolf (now retired), who held a leading position in special collections and collection care at the National Library for many years.
Although the concept of private presses often conjures up visions of a traditional craft, the book demonstrates how the opposite is, in fact, true – the story is one of change. The early private presses had their own type designed for them, with an emphasis on typography. The war years saw the private press being used for secret printing by the resistance, and the post-war period experienced a growth in the use of illustrations and colour. Since the 1950s there have also been artists who, aside from printing their own etchings or lithographs on presses, have used typography and the printing press to present their work in the form of limited edition books. The Ideal Book explains how nowadays there are more artists than typographers involved in this type of book production.
Today there is both the option of digital printing and the trend for young typographers to want to look back at older methods of printing. Printing presses are becoming rarer and harder to repair, and these factors will, conversely, add to their appeal for graphic designers. Such machines are able to produce 'the ideal book', yet have that slight human touch which a digital printer cannot replicate.
The English edition of The Ideal Book will be presented at the Codex Foundation International Book Fair in Berkeley, California in February this year, where Paul van Capelleveen will feature as a keynote speaker.
The Ideal Book. Hundred-year private Press in the Netherlands 1910-2010, runs at the Museum Meermanno Huis van het boek until 20 February, 2011.
Click on the images to enlarge
Main image: Pepel Press, 2004
Other images: 1. The Ideal Book, 2010; 2. Paolo Ruffilli, Nell’atto di partire. In het vertrek. In de Bonnefant, 2003; 3. The Spectator, 2002; 4. Silver Thistle, photo KB (Jos Uljee); 5. Silver Thistle; 6. Carlinapers, 1980
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