I was born in a printing shop. Well, not really born in a printing shop, but dad was a printer and from the time I was born till my parents separated when I was seven, there was a press in the basement or garage. I still remember from when I was five or six going to the typesetter on the second floor that always had the iced oatmeal cookies or the big plant downtown with the whole row of giant horizontal cameras. I loved the smell of ink and the clickety-clack of the 1250 offset press. What a way to grow up! When I was eight or nine dad opened up a genuine storefront printing shop and called it Sommer Graphics. He specialized in menus for finer restaurants around town which is probably where I acqured my taste for expensive food. In my early teens I was occasionally allowed to help, with pay, around the shop. I learned how to saddle stitch booklets, gold stamp, run a small press, and putz around in the dark room.
Then dad got sick. he sold the shop and spent a year recovering. Afterward, he went to work for someone else which disappointed me terribly since I couldn’t wait to turn sixteen and be able to really work in my dad’s shop. In my junior I spurned the college prep track I was on and went in for a trade in what else… Graphic Communications. When dad heard of this he told me “don’t make it a family business.” which still strikes me as odd since there are so many men that would give everything to have a child follow in his footsteps. At any rate, I proceeded through the program excelling in layout, production bindery and equipment maintenance.
Then dad got sick again. Really sick. Two weeks before graduation, he died. So now the shop was gone and dad was gone and since I came of age at the exact same time as Kinkos, I moved on to other things…
I’ve always been a collector. As soon as I was old enough to notice, I started keeping pretty things from nature. Colored rocks, different leaves, and anything with more than four legs. About the time I was eight, I discovered that things in the mail came with little stickers on them. Different stickers. Thus, a stamp collector was made, and what is more natural to collect with postage stamps than coins? I mean, they come from the same store, right? While browsing one day in a thrift store with mom, I found a folding camera cheap, just like dad’s. (The one thing he collected long ago was antique cameras). I was hooked, which started an exciting new chapter in my life, that of an antique scout. In my search I found that cherry wood and leather bellows cameras were not the only things the Victorians made beautifully well, and one thing lead to another and by my mid-twenties I had and antique house full of 19th century antiques.
At about the same time I found my first antique camera, mom gave me an old book, Seaside and Fireside Fairies, published by L. B. Lippencott, copyright 1864, and I was amazed. A book that was 120 years old! How could anything be that old? Again, I was hooked and now have nearly five thousand volumes. I’m out of space and what to do? This brought me back to something that took a long time to develop but now is in full bloom. In the late 80’s I worked as a porter for an out-of-state antiquarian book dealer at book fairs. He would send me a bus ticket and I would meet him in whatever town he was in then and set him up and tear him down and carry all his boxes of books. Well, one time he had a cigar box, and as he didn’t smoke I asked him why. He told me to open it, and inside I found the most beautiful gems of books I’d ever seen. He had thumb Bibles, and almanacs, and Dew Drops. As part of my payment for the weekend, he gave me one very old and tired thumb Bible and again it was a start I didn’t think much about until a year later. I met this odd little old lady who had her huge collection of miniature book on display. She spoke of a miniature book she wrote years ago, and being enchanted, I asked if she would sell me one. Sadly they sold out years before and she had only one in her own collection. After that, I would buy miniature books when they found me but didn’t go looking for them. Except one. It took me twenty years to get that darn book, but once I did, I off running. It’s been almost six years now since The Little Cookie Book came to me. Today I am a member of the Miniature Book Society, have a collection of several hundred miniature books, and lecture about miniature books.
And I’ve come full circle form that dream of being a printer with my dad to publishing my own miniature books with the help of my sons here at Booksby Press. Our quality isn’t great now – but we’re learning. Just wait and see what’s next!
That’s about all I can stand of myself so I promise my next blog will be more scholarly. As a tease, I’ll tell you it will be “Grace Drayton and miniature books”.