printing Posts

“It Is An Exciting Age”

Over a decade ago I did a regular column for Business World. It was on the business of publishing. Here is the original url.


Professor Werner Rebsamen always wanted to see “the other sides of the mountains”. His luck came, when he was picked from over 50 candidates to work as a master bookbinder in the US. Binding gilded Bibles in leather required the highest skills. In 1973 he set-up the first in-line printing and hardcover book binding system. He became a professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) teaching all aspects of print-finishing.  In his 26 years at RIT, together with graduate students, he conducted many research projects, industry seminars and received a patent for a lay-flat binding method. In 1994, he received the Technical Leadership Award from NAPL, the “Oscar” of the Graphic Arts industry. Being “retired” since 2001, Rebsamen is still active as a trade consultant and as technical director of HBI (Hardcover Binders International). But whenever he finds time, in winter, he enjoys downhill skiing, during other times gardening, sailing and travelling around the world. His slogan: “The one who shares knowledge learns the most!” In an interview with Jaya Bhattacharji Rose, the veteran bookbinder talks about his journey through the trade, the innovations that have taken place over the years as well as the challenges traditional printers and binders face with the advent of e books.

How and when did you decide to enter the trade of bookbinding?
In 1950, when I was 14 years old. That is the age in Switzerland when most of us had to decide on a career. My father was a plant superintendent of the largest trade bindery in the country. He tried to talk me out of becoming a bookbinder, citing “too many headaches etc.” Out of our class of 48, only two were allowed to go to the university (paid by the government) All others were sent to trade schools. After you earn a journeyman degree, you work for a living and attend the evening schools, go for your master. That takes over five years.

You are credited with a lot of innovations in this field. One of the most important ones has been to introduce mechanisation in book-binding in the 1970s.
Most likely, your question makes a reference to setting-up the world first fully automated book manufacturing facility, printing and hardcover binding 70 books a minute. But throughout my career, I have always looked at various tasks and asked myself, is there a better way to do this? I “invented” many items, especially in the manufacture of leather bound Bibles. But the best known may be the idea of RepKover, a lay-flat method of binding. That patent did pay good dividends. (It’s expired now)

What is the total volume of business internationally and in India? What are the key features?
Virtually, every printed product needs to be converted into a marketable form. This is what we call Print-Finishing. I am a technical person, yet you do ask a marketing question. I am sure there are sources, which could give you marketing data about print-activities. These days, skilled craftsmanship is rare. But luckily, our machinery engineers, in close cooperation with binders, have built machinery and systems that make the task of print-finishing and binding much easier. We all have seen it at Welbound Worldwide in Kerala.

When we met in Kerala for the National Book Printer’s Conference, you said you conducted workshops at your laboratory. Were there any constructive suggestions of these engagements between printers, book binders etc.?
Most mistakes in printing or binding are made in the planning stage. So, next to teaching courses for under — and graduate students, we conducted industry seminars. The BMI Book Manufacturers’ Institute (Palm Coast in the US) financed 50 of these three-day seminars. I conducted another 50 plus on print finishing. These, apart from many articles published, generated many good dialogs between the publishing production managers, printers and binders. In these workshops, participants could bind a hardcover book. People still talk about these educational events.

You have been in this business for over sixty years. Now we are the cusp of another major revolution in publishing – a tangle between electronic and print publishing. So what is the future for print?
Our business is changing fast, yet it offers new opportunities, especially with digital printing. Business is changing. Some segments such as the photo books are not growing, they are exploding. I wish I could again be 40 years old; it is an exciting age, full of great, new opportunities.

Where do the challenges lie for binders, printers and publishers?
Many trade bookbinders added digital print equipment. Publishers are catching on systems such as Amazon. In the past, we used to fill warehouses with books. Now, we first sell a book, get paid for it and only then print and bind it, often one at a time. Lightning Source for example prints and binds 50,000 plus such books every day.

How should traditional printers be prepared for the demand in e-books?
As presented, traditional titles did grow 5 per cent from 2009 to 2010. Non-traditional titles grew 169 per cent and those are only the titles listed as ISBN (International Standard Book Number, the unique number accepted globally to denote a commercial book). E-books will affect larger runs of traditional titles. Clearly, this was a trend recognised at the last BMI meeting just a few weeks ago. Now I got an invitation from them to address this topic at their next meeting in Palm Beach, Florida.

Given the new trends, do you think that the book binders business will decline as is being ominously predicted?
Oh no, those who sell binding equipment all over the world, report good business, especially for on demand printing and binding.

15 Jan 2021

Guest blog: “Popular PRINTS of BENGAL” by Prof. Aloke Kumar

( I spotted the following  post on Prof. Aloke Kumar‘s Facebook wall regarding an ongoing exhibition in Calcutta. With his permission I have reposted it here with additional images from his own collection.)  

An exhibition of lithographs and oleographs from 19th and 20th Century Bengal presented by Ina Puri from the collection of Sanjeet Chowdhury has been mounted at the Harrington Street Arts Centre.

Such exhibitions are mounted to showcase a particular school of Paintings or Prints, to take pride in a collection created over years, to sell the artworks and to make it available to general public for appreciation and educative value. In my youth I saw these prints usually garish and stylised pictures of gods and goddesses and mythological scenes. They were sitting, framed, among the deities of Grandma’s puja alcove. Or lending period flavour to some battered publication as a quaint colour plate.

However on visiting the well curated exhibition at such a well-appointed unique gallery I was taken aback by the thin visitors in the exhibition. What a waste! There is still time. The exhibition is opened till 14th February. There is a Sunday in between. Do rush to the Centre. You will never get an opportunity to witness such a collection. Since I possess a collection similar to this one, I am telling you ,do make a pilgrimage.

I appreciate and enjoyed it so much for the aesthetic qualities of the exhibits as for the manner in which it has been presented, themed and placed in the right context the form that once could be seen in households slowly disappearing.

Since these prints have of late become collectibles worthy of being exhibited, they have acquired an altogether different status that would not be wrong to describe as exalted. Ina Puri, art provocateur, treats them with the seriousness due to them in her authoritative introductory note which hangs on the wall.

She divides the prints into three distinct categories, depending on their provenance: prints from Chorbagan, Art Studio and from other Bengal presses. Fortunately for the visitor, the names of the artist, publishing house, and place where printed are stated on each print. At the tailend, there could have been a wall sign on the techniques of lithography, chromolithography and oleography, which will help viewers appreciate the exhibition better.

The history of these prints began in Calcutta around 1878, when a chromolithography press opened on Bowbazar Street, followed by Kansaripara Art Studio and Chorebagan Art Studio. What will interest the informed are prints by identified though less-known artists such as Bamapada Banerjee and Shital Bandopadhyay from Calcutta. The artists who created these were often trained in Western academism, yet the gods and goddesses churned out by the presses inhabited a mythical world beyond the bounds of realism. Many such prints were closely linked to the freedom struggle, depicting nationalist leaders like Bankim Chatterjee, as well as Surendra Nath Banerjee.

These prints were responsible for the decline of Kalighat painting and also in large part to its inability to continue to adapt and compete with incoming forms of cheap prints. In the early 20th century, German oleographic printing techniques reached India and printmakers were swiftly able to out produce Kalighat painters. Calcuttans

Ganga Presenting her son Devavrata Future Bhisma to his Father Santanu Lithograph Print by B.P-Banerjee 1923were seduced by the photorealistic quality of print images, another value instilled by the influx of European art. By the 1930s, there were few if any patuas were  still near the Kalighat temple. The majority sought work elsewhere or returned to the villages from whence they had come.

were seduced by the photorealistic quality of print images, another value instilled by the influx of European art. By the 1930s, there were few if any patuas were  still near the Kalighat temple. The majority sought work elsewhere or returned to the villages from whence they had come.

In the next phase those who felt the fear of losing Indian culture to British influence and rule would soon use these prints as a tool for elite nationalistic self-determination, setting in motion the culture of patronage that would both support and take forward this popular print art into the 21st century. The potential that lay in harnessing popular mythological images for a nationalist cause. They saw, in these pictures, the portrayal of a glorious past, the propagation of which would induce in the beholders a sense of belonging to a great and once glorious tradition. India began to be projected as a country that had, over the centuries, been oppressed by foreign powers which had eroded and manipulated her traditional values; her culture was portrayed as one which, though failing in material advancement, had an inherent metaphysical strength and which enabled her to absorb past and present invaders. This was a rallying call to muster popular support for an independent India, the India for which gods and national heroes had struggled from time immemorial.

When Europeans came to India, the indigenous printmaking industry primarily comprised block printing on textiles. With the introduction of new modes of printing, including etching, lithography, oleography, intaglio and linocut. Indian artists were trained in the medium by the colonisers. It was introduced in the Government College of Art and Craft too. But back then, printmaking was encouraged to build the workforce and for technicians needed to sustain the print industry, not as a fine art.

The exhibition depicts a rich heritage replete with heroic legends from ancient epics, which were deeply ingrained in many layers of the Bengali psyche. The sheer reverence and admiration for these legends could be readily manipulated into fervent passion. The transformation of this passion into uniform images that could be easily replicated and widely distributed became one of the most potent
weapons in the hands of those leading the nationalist movement. In these pictures, the gods were equipped with nationalistic paraphernalia and national leaders were projected almost like celestial beings.

Prints distributed during the last phase of the struggle for independence were printed using the half-tone technique. New developments in printing technology also resulted in a change of aesthetics. The size of the prints tended to be smaller than that of the oleographs. New techniques dispensed with the highly glossy quality of the earlier prints. Now printed in only three colours — a far smaller palette as compared to the fourteen or seven colours of the oleographics prints — they had a somewhat drab appearance, rather like newsprint. Since many of these prints were made in small workshops, the artists worked them like collages of newspaper picture clippings, introducing a fair amount of their own folksy iconography

At the end of the 19th Century, a printing industry devoted to the production of pictures of deities and mythological themes was established. Being mass produced, they were the most visually influential medium of visual communication of the then socially and culturally fragmented Indian society, subsequently becoming a vehicle for political propaganda as well.

The show unfolds a fascinating narrative in terms of iconography and ideas, techniques and styles. There are a few realistic portraits in monochrome from the late 19th century that reveal sound training and are printed by Calcutta Art Studio. Art is preserved so to say, by other presses, too. Like Chorebagan Art Studio, Kansaripara Art Studio and Imperial Art Cottage which seem to have catered to different taste, both religious and pop.

So while Radha and Krishna in shimmering clothes with improbably lavish folds are placed in landscapes that quote miniature stylisation, the curvaceous Pramada Sundari in a diaphanous sari preening herself before a hand-held mirror ‘ a gesture enshrined in the lexicon of the Indian arts through sculpture, painting and dance-brings to mind Kalighat pat. Though perspective isn’t quite mastered, an appetite for elements of Western art seems evident.


Images : Images are from the Exhibition titled : Popular prints of Bengal being held at Harrington Art Centre.

Those individual and unframed for reference and for a closer perspective are from the collection of Prof. Aloke Kumar

12 February 2017 

Robin Sloan, “Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore”

Robin Sloan, “Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore”

That is super-depressing. If I made five million dollars selling books, I’d want people to carry me around in a palanquin constructed from the first editions of The Dragon-Song Chronicles. (p.99 )

Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
Web-designer Clay Jannon is a victim of the recession, desperate for a job when he discovers Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. The management is looking for a clerk to manage the musty and mysterious bookstore on the night shift. It suits Clay perfectly little realising what he is committing himself to. From there unravels a fabulous, charmingly told, rich with details and imaginatively narrated, a story about a young man’s quest in unravelling the mysteries of the bookstore where he works. It is a delicious and intoxicating mixture of good fiction, fantasy, mystery, and most definitely about contemporary publishing, its history and the impact of technology over time. There are delightful conversations about bookstores, technology in print and publishing, ebooks and print books. For instance:

“I was under the impression they [young people] read everything on their mobile phones.”

“Not everyone. there are plenty of people who, you know– people who still like the smell of books.”

“The smell!” Penumbra repeats.”You know you are finished when people start talking about the smell.”


Robin Sloan wrote this novel while working as Media Manager at Twitter. It was inspired by a friend’s tweet that read ““Just misread a sign for a 24-hour book drop for 24-hour bookshop. My disappointment is beyond words.” He wrote it down and it became a 6,000 word short story a few months later. He published it on his website . Eventually it was the prototype for this novel, a 2012 New York Times Bestseller title.

It is a satisfying read because the storytelling is intelligently done. It is an absorbing account of a secret society called the Unbroken Spine that has a cult following. Its members are determined to unravel the 500-year-old “Founder’s Puzzle”. Unbroken Spine was established by Aldus Manutius, fifteenth century publisher, who “believed there were deep truths hidden in the writings of the ancients– among them, the answer to our greatest question…– How do you live forever?” Upon his death Manutius left behind a book called Codex Vitae — book of life. It was encrypted and the key was given to only one person: his great friend and partner, Griffo Gerriszoon. A book that lingers with you for a long time afterwards is a treasure, Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is one of those. 

There is a link that I came across. It is an online space about everything and anything related to the novel.

Robin Sloan Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore Atlantic Books, Great Britain, 2013. Pb. pp. 290

1 Sept 2013


Web Analytics Made Easy -