Category Archives: Copperman’s Day

Plough Monday & Copperman’s Day

Plough to Oven

Last week, St. Distaff’s Day signaled back to the workaday world for the women, and with the arrival of the Monday after Epiphany we have the official back-to-work-after-Yuletide day for the men: this is Plough Monday. There is a ceremonial ploughing of the ground on this day, which very often, in days of dirt roads, would be in the very road that ran through the village. The ploughs would be 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.

When it comes to the 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. The sun is gaining strength by then, with considerably more daylight on the 2nd of February than there was on the 21st of December.

There is another old tradition in Holland on this First Monday after Epiphany, little known, but important to those in the print trade (and to us here at Convivio Bookworks, for we are, at heart, a print shop): It is Copperman’s Day, a traditional Dutch printer’s holiday in which the printshop apprentices would be given the day off so they could work on a project of their own. The small prints that were a result of the day were typically sold for a copper apiece.

We’ve been working at reviving this fine tradition and for the past few years have been creating a Copperman’s Day print. To date, they’ve all been mini-prints, the size of a standard postcard, printed letterpress by hand from historic wood and metal types. Each color a separate print run. It is slow and steady work and it often takes us more than a day to print them. In 2014, we printed our first Copperman’s Day print, which reads Take Joy. Last year’s, the second Copperman’s Day print, reads Take Peace. If these two lines sound familiar to you, you already know what this year’s print will read. All three of our Copperman’s Day prints so far are inspired by a Christmas Revels reading originally penned in 1513 by Fra Giovanni Giocando, who, on Christmas Eve of that year wrote a letter to his friend, the Countess Allagia Aldobrandeschi. In 1978, Fra Giovanni’s letter was distilled to its essence for the Christmas Revels performance at the beautiful Sanders Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Here it is:

I salute you. There is nothing I can give you which you have not,
but there is much that while I cannot give,
you can take.

No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today.
Take heaven.

No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present instant.
Take peace.

The gloom of the world is but a shadow.
Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy.
Take joy.

And so at this Christmastime,
I greet you, with the prayer that for you,
now and forever,
the day breaks
and the shadows
flee away.

And so we have beseeched you these past two years to take joy, to take peace. And now, we suggest you take heaven. Let our hearts find rest in it today. We’ll be working on this year’s Copperman’s Day print as best we can this day. We’ll let you know when it’s available for purchase. (It will most likely be ready later than today and it will be a bit more than a copper, sorry!)


Image: Detail from “Kronengrasse in Stockach” (Crown Alley in Stockach, which is a town in the district of Konstanz, Germany). It’s a series of tiles on a wall of a building there (the shop of a pretzel baker, I’d guess), photographed by Frank Vincentz in 2011 and used by permission of Creative Commons.


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Our Second Annual Copperman’s Day Print


Sometimes it takes us a very long time to complete even a simple project. This has been the case with this, our Second Annual Copperman’s Day print. It is a three-color print job, so it wasn’t exactly the simplest project (each color is a separate print run). Be that as it may, we would have liked to have had this one completed a few weeks ago.

This project was begun on Copperman’s Day, which is an old Dutch printer’s holiday that falls each year on the Monday after Epiphany, which this year was the 12th of January. Printers’ apprentices in Holland would get the day off on Copperman’s Day to work on their own print projects, which they would sell for a copper apiece. And while we began in a timely fashion, a series of unfortunate events kept the project from reaching completion until only a few days ago. And here, finally, is this year’s Copperman’s Day print.

As luck would have it, our message this year for Copperman’s Day of “Take Peace” comes right on the heels of Concordia, the ancient Roman feast of harmony and goodwill. The message itself continues the theme of our inaugural Copperman’s Day print from last year, which read “Take Joy.” These suggestions are direct from 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.” These things are up to us to choose, all a matter of perspective.

This year’s Copperman’s Day print is made from historic wood and metal types, set by hand and printed on the Vandercook 4 proof press in our Lake Worth shop. Like last year, we are utilizing a variant of self determined pricing and splitting the proceeds with the Jaffe Center for Book Arts. We are raising money this year for the Jaffe Support Fund, which is the fund JCBA uses to purchase new books and broadsides from book artists around the globe for placement in JCBA’s permanent collection, an amazing resource for students and researchers in the book arts. The self-determined pricing allows you to purchase a Copperman’s Day print (or a set of them, should you wish to share the message with others) at varying levels of generosity toward the craftsmen and the Jaffe Center. You can purchase one for as little as a dollar (sorry, a copper is not worth what it once was!). And if our $8 flat shipping rate scares you, don’t worry, there are just two of us here operating Convivio Bookworks, and we have the ability to charge you considerably less for shipping if all you purchase today are diminutive prints like this. The $8 flat rate shipping is automatically attached to each order, but we will change it before we actually charge your credit card, and I assure you we will charge you a very fair price for shipping.

So a belated happy Copperman’s Day to you! Raise your glass with us tonight and take joy, then, and take peace. And we’ll give you three guesses as to what next year’s Copperman’s Day message will be.


Plough Monday & Copperman’s Day


With the Christmas season’s end last week, the women had their “official” and traditional Back to Work day last Wednesday, on the 7th of January, with St. Distaff’s Day. But tomorrow, the first Monday after Epiphany, it’s time for the men to have their own version of this. It’s Plough Monday, and there may be some ceremonial ploughing of the frozen ground on this day, but mostly it is the last of the Christmas ceremonies in this period of shifting out of Christmastide and into ordinary time.

Of course today we welcome a more egalitarian approach: why shouldn’t the men be at the spindle and distaff, if they so wish, and the women at the plough? Nonetheless, these are traditions that come out of a time of more traditional division of labor between the sexes, and we heartily encourage you to mix things up to your liking. Our goal, simply, is to help you be aware of days worth celebrating, of course.

And so on Plough Monday it would be not at all unusual to see a gaggle of men parading through the village with a plough, finely decorated. The men themselves would be finely decorated, too, in all manner of foolish costumes, hearkening the Feast of Fools aspect of the Twelve Days of Christmas that have just passed. One man will be dressed as the Bessy, an old woman, and whether he realizes it or not, she is the personification of the old hag of winter or the goddess in her crone stage. And the ploughmen may perform an old mummers play, filled with images of death and rebirth. Soon, of course, winter will pass and it will be time to plough the earth in earnest and these things all relate to each other. With the spring, the young goddess will be born again. Though all seems cold now, and dead, life will return.

There will be mysterious old dances and a good deal of noise in the banging of drums and the blowing of horns, and there will most likely be a collection box passed around to help pay for the sport (as well as a few rounds at the tavern).

A lesser known celebration on this same day is Copperman’s Day, particular to Holland, and known especially in the print trade. And since Convivio Bookworks is a place that is a printshop at heart, it is a day we hold in high esteem. On the first Monday after Epiphany each year, print apprentices would be given the day off to work on their own projects, which they would later sell for a copper.

Last year, we printed an inaugural Convivio Bookworks Copperman’s Day print, and we’re planning one for this year, too. This year’s is a continuation of last year’s theme, inspired by a Christmas Revels reading first penned by Fra Giovanni Giocondo. It is said to have been written on Christmas Eve, 1513, and in his letter, Fra Giovanni encourages us to take heaven, to take peace, and to take joy. Because when you get right down to it, life deals us what it will and it is up to each of us to decide how we respond. Even in times of darkness, we can choose to take joy, and so last year’s print was just that message: Take Joy. This year, we’re working on Take Peace. I’m working in historic wood type, though, and so far I’m having a devil of a time finding the two Es I need to spell “peace,” at least if I want to stick to my original design plan. On top of that, I do not have the day off from work tomorrow, as the old Dutch coppermen of yore did on the Monday after Epiphany.

So be patient, our annual Copperman’s Day print may take a few extra days this year. Be that as it may, we do encourage other letterpress printers around the globe to take part in this old tradition that we see fit for revival. It’s all about loving what you do, and sharing it with others. It’s all about taking joy.


Image: Procession of the Plough on Plough Monday, an engraving from The Book of Days: A Miscellany of Popular Antiquities by the Chambers Bros., Edinburgh, 1869.



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