Category Archives: Wayzgoose

Get Out There, it’s Your August Book of Days

You’d think I’ve been on summer vacation, what with your Convivio Book of Days calendar for August coming so late, but no. Life has just been hectic, nonstop, go go go, which is not the way August is supposed to be. August is supposed to be sandwiches at the picnic table out back and trips here and there, big trips or maybe just little excursions. And so that’s the August we’re giving you this month on the calendar. Cover stars include my mom, Millie, and my Aunt Anne, when they were little girls. The year is 1930 or so and they are sitting in the backyard with Grandma, eating sandwiches, just as August beckons us to do.

It is the month of Lammas, which has passed, but still to come are Obon, the traditional summer holiday of Japan, which in some prefectures comes in July and in others in August, but I have always been more of an August Obon kind of guy, for that is the time we celebrated it here (though even that has changed). And still to come as well is Ferragosto, the holiday of Italy that comes with the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, the Fifteenth of August. It is the day that same grandma of mine was born, back in 1898. Each year for the Assumption we would eat the traditional cucuzza longa, the odd long squash that actually is a gourd. So far this month I’ve had no luck finding it in the markets but my hopes are high, for there are still a good many days to go before the 15th.

And later this month, the Bartlemas Wayzgoose, a day of great importance to all of us book artists. Whether we be papermakers, letterpress printers, or bookbinders, St. Bartholomew is relevant to us all, and so his feast day is one we have been known to honor and honor well. Locally, here in South Florida, the place to do this this year is at the Jaffe Center for Book Arts in Boca Raton, at Florida Atlantic University’s Wimberly Library. We’ll be part of the big Library Wayzgoose Festival that is taking place there on Saturday, August 25, from 10:30 to 5:30. One of my favorite printers, Ben Blount from Evanston, Illinois, will be featured with print shop demos and a gallery talk, and there will be live music all day (I know, libraries are supposed to be quiet… but not on Wayzgoose day) and we’ll be making printers caps from paper and there will be games and fresh baked artisan breads for sale from Louie Bossi’s in support of the Jaffe, and the works of about 20 local makers and small creative companies like ours will be on display, too, for your small-shopping pleasure. It’s going to be a lot of fun, which is only natural: “Wayzgoose” is a fun word to say, so what else would it be but fun? The St. Bartholomew’s Day Wayzgoose connection to book artists goes back many centuries… something I’ll certainly tell you about on the blog later this month. For now, get out there and enjoy what’s left of summer. It won’t be long before we start thinking thoughts suited to cooler months.


Of Candlelight & Paper: The Bartlemas Wayzgoose

Most all the printers I know (and as a letterpress printer myself, I know a lot of them) are a salty bunch who are never lacking for good stories, creative profanity, and a hankering for a beverage with spirit. And here, on this 24th of August, comes a spirited celebration just for us printers. It is Bartlemas: St. Bartholomew’s Day, known also as St. Bartlemy’s Day. It is the traditional date of the celebratory printers’ Wayzgoose. Wayzgooses (Wayzgeese?) nowadays are celebrated all year round at the various places where letterpress printers congregate (we’re taking part at a Wayzgoose in Boca Raton, Florida, on October 14; you should come!)… but years and years ago, Bartlemas and the Wayzgoose went hand in hand.

The Wayzgoose is a particularly English celebration, one that comes out of the shifting of the seasons. By the time we reach Bartlemas in the seasonal round, we are a full eight weeks past the summer solstice. Sunlight is waning: the autumnal equinox is just a month away. With it, day and night are equal, and once it passes, darkness overtakes light. In the days before glazed glass windows, Bartlemas was also the signal that it was time to paper the windows in preparation for winter. Once the windows were papered, it was also time, once again, to illuminate the print shop with lanterns and candles. For papermakers and printers both, Bartlemas was an important time of year. Not to mention the bookbinders, as well: St. Bartholomew is a patron saint of book artists and bookbinders. This comes from his martyrdom: St. Bart was one of the original Twelve Apostles, and he met a bitter end, flayed alive and crucified upside down. The flaying has made him a patron saint of butchers, tanners… and the bookbinders, too, for they typically bound books in leather. He is also a patron saint of cheesemakers and beekeepers: the honey harvest typically begins at Bartlemas. In Cornwall, mead is blessed on this day.

But back to the printers. Randall Holme, in 1688, gave us this description of the Bartlemas Wayzgoose:  “It is customary for all journeymen to make every year, new paper windows about Bartholomew-tide, at which time the master printer makes them a feast called a Wayzgoose, to which is invited the corrector, founder, smith, ink-maker, &c. who all open their purses and give to the workmen to spend in the tavern or ale-house after the feast. From which time they begin to work by candle light.” It is, no doubt, a day with a long history of tavern printshop talk and robust drinking songs, hearty laughter and good cheer. For all involved in the Black Art: printers and printers’ devils both.

Image: Ancient Printing-Office engraving from The Every-Day Book by William Hone, London, 1827.



Bartlemy’s Wayzgoose


WAYZGOOSE is a fun word that gets tossed around a lot in printing circles, usually marking a big celebration involving presses. But the word, beautifully obscure as it is, does have one particular day associated with it: St. Bartholomew’s Day, the 24th of August… also known as St. Bartlemy’s Day, or Bartlemas. St. Bartholomew is one of the patron saints of bookbinders. Indeed, of most anyone associated with the book, so he has become a patron saint of book artists, in general. I may be a writer, but I come to words through the book arts, so these are my people: we are papermakers, book designers, printers, and bookbinders, and St. Bart watches over all of us and our crafts.

We know very little about Bartholomew the man. He was one of the Twelve Disciples; that much we do know. He may have traveled to India, to the area around Bombay. Tradition says that he met his end in Armenia in the first century; he is one of the legion of saints who met gruesome deaths for their beliefs, and his was about as gruesome as it gets. You may want to skip the next sentence if you don’t want to read about it…. Here goes: St. Bart was flayed alive, and as if that wasn’t harsh enough, he was then crucified upside down. If you skipped that sentence, it’ll make no sense, really, why he is patron saint of bookbinders, so go on, go back and read it. Done? Okay, good. That flaying made St. Bartholomew a patron saint of butchers (and there were many in my family, for generations back in Italy on my dad’s side) and of tanners… and of bookbinders, who very often bind books in leather. (It all makes sense now, doesn’t it?)

Then there are the papermakers, whose Bartlemas traditions have more to do with the subtle daily shifting from summer to winter. While the bookbinders were honoring St. Bartholomew with their leather bindings, the papermakers were marking St. Bart’s Day in an “out with the old, in with the new” fashion, using up the last of their summer pulp in the vats by making paper not for the print shops but rather for folks to use to seal off their windows for the coming winter. Glass windows came into vogue much later; earlier on, it was waxed paper that was used to keep out the elements. Once this St. Bart’s window paper was made, the papermakers went back to making paper for the printers, clearing out the vats and recharging them with new pulp made from rags that had been retting all summer long.

And finally, the printers. The printers are the life of the Bookish Bartlemas party, for it is the printers who celebrate the Wayzgoose, a particularly English custom with a direct link to the waning summer. All summer long, they’d been setting type by sunlight. But come St. Bartholomew’s Day, that sunlight was fast decreasing; we are, after all, a full two months now past Midsummer. That longest day each June is followed always by increasingly shorter days, increasingly longer nights, as we proceed on that annual trek toward Midwinter. The Bartlemas Wayzgoose came about as a marker of days: It was the day each year when printers typically returned lamps and candles to the print shop, when they began again to set type with the aid of lamps. A good print shop proprietor would bring in not just the lanterns and candles, but some good food and strong ale to boot. His crew might get the day off and a little extra pay, as well, which was typically spent on a goose to roast for the table (which is one theory of the source of the word “Wayzgoose”). In some places, mead, the delightful intoxicating beverage made from honey, was the beverage of choice. Especially in Cornwall, where a Blessing of the Mead ceremony takes place even today at this time of year. Continuing the road of connexions, our friend Bart is also a patron saint of beekeepers. As we continue to gather our stores for the coming winter, it is traditional, too, to bring in the honey crop on his feast day.

It’s a couple of years ago now that I first read that the Jerusalem Post, on August 27, 2010, reported that Johannes Gutenberg’s 42-Line Bible, the first book printed from moveable type, was completed on St. Bartholomew’s Day in 1454. I’ve tried finding other sources to back up this claim, but I have to date had no luck. Still, I like the idea of this and if it is indeed true, this may have something to do with the day becoming a matter of such importance to printers and bookbinders. No matter what is fact and what is legend, our view on the day is simple: Bartlemas is a day for celebrating the core traditions of the book arts: papermaking, printing, and bookbinding. If you are a maker involved in these noble arts, as we are here at Convivio Bookworks, perhaps you’ll mark the day by making something suitably bookish. And if you are not a maker but a book arts enthusiast, your job today is to appreciate a good book. Perhaps you are preparing a traditional Rare Bartlemas Beef for your supper tonight, heady with nutmeg, ginger, mace, cinnamon, and cloves. And perhaps your Bartlemas is simply an excuse to pour some ale or mead. No matter your role or how you celebrate, we wish you a Happy Bartlemas, and a Happy Wayzgoose. If there ever is a day in the round of the year for bookish folks to shout Huzzah and cheers!… well, this is it.


Image: “Typesetter at Enschede Haarlem” by Charles Frederick Ulrich. Oil on panel. 1884 [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons. Perhaps it’s Bartlemas Day? Perhaps there’s mead in that cup? The lamp’s not lit but the windows are open.