Vance Gerry & The Weather Bird Press

Vance Gerry pochoir

Vance Gerry pochoir

In 2017 the Whittington Press will publish Vance Gerry & The Weather Bird Press in an edition of about 235 copies, illustrated with many of his linocuts and wood-engravings, for which we have the original blocks at Whittington. There will be a selection of his finest pochoir illustrations reproduced by giclée, as well as some line illustrations, and reproductions of a few of his watercolours. The text is based on interviews he gave at the University of California in 1989, together with a selection of his letters from then until his death in 2005 to fellow printers and booksellers, and a few personal reminiscences from those who knew him well. It is followed by a checklist of his publications produced over a period of more than forty years compiled by David Butcher. The book is designed as a tribute to a printer whom we hold in the highest regard, but who is too little known even in his native California.

Vance Gerry began printing in 1963 at the Peach Pit Press. Five years later he changed the name to the Weather Bird Press which he ran in South Laguna, California from 1968. Until his death in 2004 he produced a steady stream (he’d have preferred ‘trickle’) of some of the most understated, beautifully printed and ravishingly illustrated books from any private press, ever. Vance’s lightness of touch, his incomparable facility as a draughtsman, the slightly starved look he gave to the inking of his type, the quiet humour of his writing (when the mood took him), combine together in books that have few parallels elsewhere.
He was undisputed master of the medium of the pochoir, or stencil, technique, and the editions he issued of these, and the other books, are therefore small. The most modest and retiring of men, self-deprecating to the point of carelessness, his work is familiar only to a handful of aficionados over here and in the USA. Nor was he the most diligent of salesmen, and it was often difficult to discover what might be about to come off the press.

The lightness of touch in his work was reflected in his quietness of speech, easy-going humour and modest demeanour. In 1989 he took part in the UCLA Oral History Program, and what follows is a small extract from his interviews with Rebecca Zeigler, published in 1992 as Vance Gerry and the Weather Bird Press. The decade following on from these interviews resulted in some of his most colourful and engaging work, and they form an interesting background for what was to come. By allowing Vance speak for himself, we have attempted to capture at first hand some of that rare personality and talent.

(specimen page)

VANCE: My mother, Clella White Gerry, always took me to the library. She always read; I always read. Although mostly just novels. So the library was not a mystery to me. I was never frightened. In fact, I still feel more comfortable in a library than perhaps anywhere else. I learned to read in spite of being a bad student, but I had no interest in a book as a manufactured object of art. It wasn’t until I worked for Grant Dahlstrom that I began to see. He would point out things about books. And even though I wasn’t interested in printing a book at the time I worked for him, I think his influences were probably all stored away in my mind, and when I did get interested I could draw on those experiences and what he had taught me – I mean, without teaching. It was a work situation; he was not a teacher. It was just what you picked up. He was a book-oriented printer, I would say. Even though he would do a lot of commercial work, his printing instincts were from the book rather than from the advertising world.

I got to be interested in printing when I worked for him. Although I had gone to work for him because I needed some money. This was during the war, and young people could get jobs because everybody was off fighting the war. The men weren’t home, so boys could get jobs. And I could have the money which my father wasn’t going to give me. I mean, no one’s father gave them money in those days. The only way you got money was by working for it.

vance gerry wood-engraving

The edition will provisionally consist of 235 copies set in 13-point Poliphilus type and printed on Zerkall mould-made paper:

40 ‘A’ copies bound in full leather, with a portfolio of some 21 booklets and items of ephemera found in Vance’s shop after he died – most were unbound and we have bound them up in his usual understated style. They perfectly catch the essence of his style of printing and illustration. With a separate facsimile of Vance’s Jazz Instruments, generally regarded as the finest of his pochoir books, and a descriptive booklet of high resolution black-and-white photographs of his workshops in their various locations in Southern California. All in a leather-backed solander box. £2,500 OUT OF PRINT

40 ‘B’ copies bound in quarter leather and one of Vance’s patterned papers, with some 12 items of ephemera, and a facsimile of a pochoir item, in a slipcase. About £950

155 ‘C’ copies bound in cloth and patterned paper, in a slipcase. About £250

Contact us to reserve your copy.

A Miscellany of Type

Miscellany of Type

‘The Typographical renaissance inspired by Stanley Morison in the 1920s, and made real by the technical resources of the Monotype Corporation, left the world of printing with a typographical heritage unique in its five hundred year history – in its diversity, its soundness of design, its scholarship, and its sheer technical brilliance’.

When, in 1985, we acquired the Oxford University Press’ collection of Monotype matrices, we had, when combined with our own collection built up since 1980 when the printing industry was in the throes of its wholesale clearout of anything to do with hot metal, one of the most complete Monotype collections anywhere.

Clearly some sort of celebration was needed, and so the Miscellany came about, one of the most complex and ambitious projects undertaken at Whittington. The purpose was to celebrate Stanley Morison’s and Monotype’s legacy in as pleasing a form as possible. Hence each face took as its text an extract from one of our books, or from our annual Matrix, and ran it consecutively through the sizes, starting with the largest we had in that particular face, usually with attendant wood-engravings, line drawings or typographical ornament. Thus the book could be enjoyed for its content, visual and textual, as well as for its typography, and avoided those dreary lines of caps and lower case prevalent in most type specimen books. It also had the merit of showing off blocks of type in various sizes and leadings.

Miriam Macgregor set most of the display sizes, and where she stopped, often mid-sentence, Peter Sanderson our Monotype operator took up the baton and began setting the largest composition size, usually about 18-point, that we had in that particular face, going down usually to 12-point.

The beauty of OUP’s collection was its depth. Each face came in a complete range of sizes, including the rare large-composition sizes, which often achieved sales of barely more than single figures from Monotype. In each size are complete sets of accents, swash letters, ligatures, and alternative sorts. Few printers would have bothered with all those, and many probably went unused until they came to Whittington. They are now a priceless and unrepeatable asset, in constant careful use by our operator Neil Winter. They represent the high water mark of the Gutenberg Revolution.