Off the Shelf: Wendell Berry’s ‘The Wild Geese’ From Black Swan Books

Readers of Pinstripe Pulpit well know that I am an admirer of the writing of Wendell Berry, the letterpress printing of Gray Zeitz at Larkspur Press, and the bookselling of Michael Courtney at Black Swan Books. It is always a happy confluence when the three come together.

Wild Geese title

This past year, 2014, was the 30th anniversary of Lexington’s Black Swan Books. I recently wrote a feature article at KYForward about Michael’s commemoration of the event with a new Larkspur Press letterpress printed broadside of a poem by Wendell Berry.

A broadside is a single sheet of paper printed on one side and meant for framing. The anniversary broadside features a poem by Kentucky writer Wendell Berry whose works are a specialty of Courtney. Black Swan’s broadsides are printed using century-old equipment by Gray Zeitz of Larkspur Press in Monterey, Kentucky. The work of Berry and Zeitz is in such demand that half of the copies of the anniversary broadside were sold within the first two weeks.

The broadside edition of ‘The Wild Geese’ is limited to only 150 copies, each of which is signed by Wendell Berry and numbered. Broadsides also serve as celebration of letterpress printing itself. You can see and feel the texture of the mouldmade paper, the bite of the type in the dampened printed paper.

Courtney Wild Geese

And with limited editions printed from handset type, there is a natural scarcity. Like true “first editions” of old, once the type is broken down and returned to its drawer, that exact edition can never be recreated. Thus a moment in time is captured–preserved–but it cannot be remade.

“What we need is here.”

Wild Geese colophon

Douglas Southall Freeman & Lost TIME

BSB stickerMy friend Michael Courtney at Lexington’s Black Swan Books has been touting his new promotional stickers, and recognizing it’s a rare day indeed when you can get something free from Michael, I figured I had to acquire a couple.

You also never know what you’ll find setting on Michael’s counter. There amidst the old volumes and miscellaneous papers was an old TIME magazine from October 18, 1948. The cover caught my eye,. It featured revered Southern historian Douglas Southall Freeman. Freeman was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his multi-volume biographies of George Washington and Robert E. Lee (don’t miss Dr. Sean Busick’s thought’s on Freeman’s Lee). Freeman also wrote a multi-volume companion series to the Lee biography, Lee’s Lieutenants, a set of which I picked up years ago for a pittance at a library sale. It’s the rare historian who makes the cover of TIME magazine, and the rarer historian who ought to. If any historian should ever be on the cover, Freeman was the man.

Freeman Lee's LieutenantsOld magazines are paper time capsules. Not only are the articles valuable to the historian, but the advertisements often give an even clearer window into the society that would produce such a magazine. The cars, the movies, the clothes, even the shoes, speak of a far different level of taste and manners. If I could drive an Austin car, wear old American made Florsheims, dress in a Timely coat, and go to the theater to watch Jimmy Stewart in Rope, then I would be well equipped, indeed.

I tried to get Michael to sell me the magazine to no avail, but I did leave with some stickers. While he was talking I snapped some shaky pictures. Enjoy the time capsule.

Freeman cover

British Walkers ad

Florsheim

Hanan Shoes

Wright

Timely Clothes

Pontiac

Austin of England

Boeing

Grumman

Rope