Category Archives: Copperman’s Day

Cast Sorrow Away

It’s the 22nd of February, and in Ancient Rome, this day would bring each year the Feast of Concordia: a feast of goodwill and harmony. It is perhaps a sign of our times (or of our natures) that the word concord does not get used very much these days, and even accord is a word we hear rarely; yet we are all too familiar with the word discord. Concord is agreement, harmony, unanimity… and discord? Well, we all know about that.

The concept behind Concordia is simple: gather family and friends for a meal and at that meal, settle all disputes. It is a day to make amends for wrongs done, a day to reconcile differences. To put discord to rest and to nurture concord. To do this over bread and wine is a simple, humble act.

If there is discord in your life, perhaps this is the ritual needed to turn that into concord, to activate peace and harmony. To be sure, the concord involves a willingness from both parties, and someone, of course, must have the courage to take the first step. But being willing to let go of bitterness and to activate concord is a dramatic change, and even if you find the other party unwilling, you have given yourself a great gift in releasing the power the discord has over you. That is the gift of this day, the gift of Concordia. And so we wish you harmony and goodwill. And perhaps it is auspicious that our annual Copperman’s Day print is finally ready, for the message, I think, has some relation to all this: there is no joy in discord, but there is plenty of sorrow to be found there. This year’s Copperman’s Day message is simple: Set sorrows aside. The text is from a song recorded by the Boston Camerata for their collection, An American Christmas, which was in heavy rotation here at Convivio Bookworks while this letterpress project was in the works. The song, called “A Virgin Unspotted,” is found in Wyeth’s Repository of Sacred Music, Part Second (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1820). There are two repeating, alternating choruses:

Then let us be merry, cast sorrow away:
Our Saviour Christ Jesus was born on this day.

Aye and therefore be merry, set sorrows aside:
Christ Jesus our Saviour was born on this ‘tide.

Though rooted in a religious text and song, our Copperman’s Day print message is truly universal and non-denominational. As for Copperman’s Day: it is an old Dutch printer’s holiday, falling on the First Monday after Epiphany each January. It was traditional on this day for printers’ apprentices in Holland to receive the day off to work on their own projects––usually small printed keepsakes that they’d sell for a copper. And though we began our print on Copperman’s Day, I didn’t finish the printing until a week or so ago, and the cutting was just done on Friday. We are belated for almost everything these days.

If you sent us a Christmas card, this print will soon be on its way to you in exchange. And if you’d like to purchase some of these or any of our other Copperman’s Day prints that we’ve made through the years, click here to shop. This is the seventh in almost as many years (I couldn’t quite muster the energy to create one in 2018 and 2019). These miniprints happen to be standard postcard size. Each is printed by hand from historic wood and metal types in multiple, separate print runs on the Vandercook 4 printing press in our Lake Worth studio on recycled French Speckletone papers.

SPECIAL DEAL! Order 3 or more of our mini prints (Copperman’s Day prints, B Mine Valentines, and our famous Keep Lake Worth Quirky prints) and use the code COPPERMAN when you check out; we’ll take $5 off your domestic order to help balance out our flat rate shipping charge of $9.50. Of course, you can spend $60 or more in our shop and earn free shipping, too! Click here to shop Copperman’s Day… and here’s to concord and to casting sorrow away!



Be of Good Cheer

Here it is: Our Copperman’s Day print for 2020. We are both slightly late (Copperman’s Day was a week ago Monday) and it’s also been a while since we last printed one of these annual prints. This time of year can be a little rough on me. My dad had his stroke on MLK, Jr. Day in 2017, and the last Copperman’s Day print I made, which was that year, conveyed the words Wes Hel: an older version of Wassail, the old drinking toast that essentially means Be of Good Health. My small way of helping to insure Dad’s good health. A year later––a year after Dad’s passing––I began setting type for Copperman’s Day, 2018. But I didn’t quite have it in me to print it. Same in 2019. But here we are today, in January 2020. I worked on Copperman’s Day resetting that same type I had begun to set two years ago, finished setting it a day later, and each night after I printed a different color by hand on the Vandercook 4 in our shop. By Friday I was done. I guess you could say this print took three years to make. I like it very much, and I feel like my father approves of it, too, and wants us all to take its advice to heart, and to Be of Good Cheer.

Copperman’s Day falls on the Monday after Epiphany each January. It’s an old Dutch printer’s holiday celebrated mainly by the apprentices, who would have the day off to print whatever they wanted. The resulting prints would be sold for a copper. We sell ours for 300 coppers (3 bucks), but, you know, paper and ink don’t cost what they did centuries ago, and a week’s worth of labor doesn’t cost what it did back then, either. 300 coppers is a real bargain, if you ask me. And we have an additional special running, too: order three or more of any of our letterpress mini prints––all of our Copperman’s Day prints to date, our B Mine Valentines, and our famous Keep Lake Worth Quirky prints––and we’ll take $5 off your domestic order. This, to help balance out our flat rate $8.50 shipping charge, because even though a flat rate shipping charge of $8.50 is pretty damn good, we know it’s not such a bargain if you’re buying just a few small flat paper items. If you’re doing some Valentine shopping, though, or picking up a few other things, we do, as usual, offer free domestic shipping when you spend $50 or more. (Folks in Canada and Mexico and elsewhere on the planet, write us at and we’ll figure something out for you, too.)

Over the course of a week of printing nights, I was accompanied by a sleepy cat always nearby and some pretty wonderful music: Valse de Noël: An Acadian-Cajun Christmas Revels, and Elizabeth Mitchell and friends singing and playing on The Sounding Joy: Christmas Songs In and Out of the Ruth Crawford Seeger Songbook. Copperman’s Day is very much an extension of the Yuletide season for me, tied as it is to Epiphany, and for a couple of guys who just decorated their tree on Christmas night, well… we are subscribing this year to the old tradition of keeping the greenery up until Candlemas. Our tree is still glowing on this cold Lake Worth night, and all here remains calm and bright. The cat is asleep on a wool sweater, and here I am, connecting with all of you. We are, most definitely, of good cheer.


St. Distaff & the Ploughboys & the Coppermen (& Copperwomen, too)

There was a time when folks would be off from the major part of their labors for all of the Twelve Days of Christmas. When they went back to work once Christmas had passed, it was not without some fun and ceremony. For the women, it was traditionally the 7th of January; for the men, it was whichever Monday happened to follow Epiphany. Every now and then, both would fall on the same day, as is the case this year… and so we step out of the Christmas season today and back into ordinary time with two traditional English holidays known as St. Distaff’s Day and Plough Monday. It also happens to be an important day for printers like me: Copperman’s Day; more on that later. First, St. Distaff and the Ploughboys (which I’m going to add to my list of good potential band names).

January 7
The English have a long history of creating saints’ days for saints that never existed at all. St. Monday was the name given to the long weekends sometimes taken by shoemakers, and St. Tibb was often used as a metaphor for never, as in, “Hey, I lent you a shilling last week; when will I get my money back?” “Worry not, I’ll be sure to have it back to you by St. Tibb’s Day.” Which is all well and good until the lender realizes that there is no St. Tibb’s Day. Neither St. Tibb nor St. Monday ever existed, and nor did St. Distaff. The distaff, however, was a central tool to what was considered in those days “Women’s Work”: the spinning of wool or flax to make fiber for weaving into cloth. The distaff and spindle were the tools that preceded the spinning wheel, and rare it would have been to find a woman who knew not how to use them. We get the word spinster from this, which was once was a recognized legal term in England to describe an unmarried woman, and the terms spear side and distaff side were also legal terms to distinguish the inheritances of male from female children. It was on St. Distaff’s Day, the 7th of January, that women traditionally returned to their spinning. Meanwhile, the men were still underfoot in the house. Their job on St. Distaff’s Day was one of mischief, with the goal usually being to set fire to the flax the women were spinning. The women were wise to this custom, though, and typically kept several buckets of water nearby. Very often, it was the men who got the worst of it: to have a bucket of water dumped on you in the cold of January… for sure, St. Distaff’s Day lent a bit of excitement to the idea of returning to ordinary time. On years like this one, however, when both St. Distaff’s Day and Plough Monday fall on the same day, the men had customs of their own to attend to.

First Monday after Epiphany
The men got a moveable date for their traditional Back to Work day. It’s a holiday that is noted as far back as 15th century pre-Reformation England as a religious festival in which money would be raised for the parish. Plough lights would be illuminated in the churches as a way of blessing the local farmers and their fields and crops. The parish was often the home of a community plough, as well, for farmers who could not afford their own. When the Church of England broke away from Rome, this was one of many practices that were deemed “popish” and left behind, but by the late 1700s, Plough Monday began seeing a revival, and a distinct shift from its origins. In its newer incarnation, there was a lot more ale involved. There would be a ceremonial ploughing of the ground, which very often, in days of dirt roads, would be in the very road that ran through the village. The ploughs would be blessed and finely decorated, the men would parade in costume, there would be music and mummers and plays and a great hoopla of noise and all kinds of good sport. There would be a collection taken up door to door to pay for the tavern bill that came after; those who were too stingy to contribute risked having the path to their door ploughed, as well. Best, then, to contribute a few pennies to their sport.

As for the men’s costumes, the sillier, the better, and for sure there is a bit of the Feast of Fools, which we saw during the Twelve Days of Christmas, that comes into play on Plough Monday. It is traditional for one man in each Plough Monday gathering to dress as the Bessy, an old woman who we can link firmly to pagan goddess celebrations: she is the personification of the hag, the old woman of winter who, in the seasonal round of the year, will transform come spring into the virginal young goddess. And spring is not that far away in this world of spiraling circular tradition: Come February 2, we are halfway between Midwinter Solstice and Spring Equinox, a day marked by the holidays Candlemas, Imbolc, and Groundhog Day. It is a day seen in the traditional reckoning of time as spring’s first stirrings, even if winter still holds a strong grip. Though it still be cold, the sun is gaining strength by then, with considerably more daylight on the 2nd of February than there was on the 21st of December.

Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, this same Monday after Epiphany was an important day in the printing trade. It was known as Copperman’s Day.

First Monday after Epiphany
The young Dutch printshop apprentices would be given the day off on this First Monday after Epiphany so they could work on a project of their own and show off the skills they’d learnt from the master printers. Copperman’s Day prints were typically small keepsakes sold for a copper apiece.

Seth Thompson and I have been printing Copperman’s Day prints from handset metal and wood types here at our Lake Worth print shop since 2014. Our first three were inspired by a Christmas Eve letter written by Fra Giovanni Giocando in 1513. In his letter, Fra Giovanni implores us to “take joy, take peace, take heaven.” The following year’s print featured an old toast, “Wes Hel,” inspired by Christmastide. That was the year my father had suddenly taken ill, and Wes Hel, the source of the later Wassail, means “Good Health.” We never did get around to announcing last year’s print, and it suddenly seems a bit late at this late hour as I write this to add it to the online catalog. As for this year’s print, what will it be? Ah, well, we’ll leave both last year’s and this year’s as secrets for now, secrets that I’ll reveal perhaps in the next Convivio Book of Days post, or certainly soon after.

All of the images in today’s chapter, including those below, are taken from a small paperbound chapbook titled St. Distaff’s Day, printed letterpress by Elizabeth Mann and Margaret Evans of the Froben Press in 1938. The lovely illustrations are all by Janet Doe; the one that opens this chapter is of a distaff. I love the illustration of Mann and Evans at the handpress, with all the skirts and aprons. I’m often printing in just a pair of shorts. Times have changed.