My novel of early printing has appeared in beautiful dress on both sides of the Atlantic, and foreign editions coming next year will offer other feasts for the eyes. But one binding, it must be said, trumps them all.
I received it while on tour in California, thoughtfully swaddled in bubble wrap and pre-packaged for the journey home. Flush from a wonderful literary lunch at the Montalvo Arts Center, I was utterly unprepared for the extraordinary objet de luxe I would unwrap.
Master binder Peggy Gotthold, half of the Santa Cruz, California, fine printers Foolscap Press, had been secretly hand-binding a special presentation copy of “Gutenberg’s Apprentice” for several months. (I say ‘secretly’ because I had been working closely with Foolscap, who printed the lovely letterpress keepsake for the novel; I’ve been friends with Peggy since we both apprenticed at the Yolla Bolly Press decades ago.)
Like the novel, it’s a kind of Bible in a box. The box containing this unique copy is covered in black moiré and sectioned to open flat onto textured white linen linings that feel equally ecclesiastical. The book itself is bound in full black leather with raised cords along the spine; its title and author are stamped in gold textura letters on that spine, on inlaid leather squares of ruby red. In the hand it feels exactly like a finer version of a Bible or pocket encyclopedia that once held pride of place in many homes. What most brought tears to my eyes, though, were the designs that Peggy also tooled in red on the front cover and the back. The front reads “Incipit” in Gutenberg’s own letters, Latin for “Here begins”—a sentiment that applies as much to my own writing life as to every book of Scripture. The back cover features the beautiful double shield that was Peter Schoeffer’s printer’s sign, and for many years the emblem of the Frankfurt Book Fair.
In the hand the book is elegant, compact, with ivory endpapers of Fabriano Roma that blend perfectly into the subtle, handsome pages of the Harper hardback. It should come as no surprise that I think books are for holding, and the better ones will hold through time. The Gutenberg Bible certainly did—and in its own modest way, my beautifully bound new book promises the same.