Category Archives: Wayzgoose

The Printer’s Devil’s Wayzgoose

Summer is quickly waning. It’s still plenty hot here in Lake Worth (and it will be for weeks to come) but the kids are back in school for a couple of weeks now, and that is the surest sign that summer is near to ending. Another sure sign: the sun is setting much earlier now than it was just a month ago. The longest day that came at St. John’s Day in June is long past as we inch closer and closer to the balance of day and night that comes with the equinox of September. And today we have a reminder of this, steeped in tradition: It is St. Bartholomew’s Day––Bartlemas, a day celebrated less in churches so much as it is amongst practitioners of the Book Arts: papermaking, bookbinding, and most especially the one that is sometimes referred to as the Black Art: printing (more on that Black Art thing later). St. Bartholomew is a patron saint of all these noble professions (Post print addendum: actually, he is a patron saint only of bookbinders. See the next chapter, Here We Do Not Speak Evil of Anyone, for the clarification and my apology), and his feast day on the 24th of August brings the Bartlemas Wayzgoose, a particularly English celebration that comes out of this shifting of the seasons.

We know very little about the historical St. Bartholomew. 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. His martyrdom was a gruesome one––one that by association made St. Bartholomew a patron saint of butchers and of tanners and of bookbinders, who very often bind books in leather. I’ll leave the method of his martyrdom, based on those associations, to your imagination, but there, nonetheless, is our connexion to the bookbinders.

For papermakers, the connexion goes back to the days before glazed glass windows. Back then, it was waxed paper that was used to keep out the elements, and the arrival of Bartlemas was the signal that it was time to paper the windows in preparation for winter. 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 now the printers: Bartlemas, being a full eight weeks past the summer solstice, brought with it each year a certain reality: Sunlight, like summer, is waning, and the days are growing darker and darker. Along with the papering of the windows came the necessity of illuminating the print shop with lanterns and candles. A good print shop proprietor would make a celebration of the day. 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.”

To be sure, there was a good quantity of ale consumed as part of the 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 St. Bartholomew is also a patron saint of beekeepers, and 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 was on August 27, 2010, that the Jerusalem Post 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 try every now and then to find 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 and papermakers. Some say, too, that that first printed book explains why printing has a history of being called the Black Art. They claim that Johannes Fust, Gutenberg’s business partner, sold several of the printed bibles in France without explaining how they were made. When it was discovered that the books were identical copies of each other, Fust was accused of witchcraft and was briefly imprisoned for that crime. It was a different world back then, with information spread by rumors. It was the printing press, though, that ushered in an age of knowledge and literacy and enlightenment. Some would say, too, that we have reverted back to those medieval ways: there are those who claim time and time again that the printed word is not to be trusted, calling trusted information sources “fake news,” feeding us their own brand of information through social media, the 21st century equivalent of medieval rumor. 564 years after Gutenberg, we find ourselves suddenly no better than Johannes Fust’s accusers.

One thing is certain: if you are a book artist or if you are a book enthusiast, this is a very auspicious day for you. For this Bartlemas Wayzgoose, then, perhaps we have cause to celebrate the book and the people who make books: the papermakers, the printers, the bookbinders, the book artists. This Bartlemas, let us raise our glasses to St. Bart and to all of these good artisans… and to celebrate the printed word and make a pledge to value its importance to good living and to good citizenship. The printer’s devil and his Black Art might just be more important than we think.


Image: On the approach to my very first book arts class, which was at the Penland School of Crafts in July, 1994, I received a postcard in the mail from the instructor, Steve Miller. His class was my introduction to printing and the book arts, and I had a good feeling about it from the time I beheld that postcard with its illustration of a printer’s devil setting type in a composing stick. Now, these are the tools of my trade. Its ties wend back through time, back to the Mainz workshop of Fust & Gutenberg.

Won’t you join me at our own local Wayzgoose? It’s the Library Wayzgoose Festival and it’s happening tomorrow, Saturday August 25, from 10:30 AM to 5:30 PM, at the Jaffe Center for Book Arts and throughout the east third floor wing of Florida Atlantic University’s Wimberly Library in Boca Raton. Admission is free. You’ll find activist printer Ben Blount there from Illinois, offering print demos all day in the print shop and a gallery talk at 3 in the Book Arts Gallery. You’ll get to make your own traditional paper printer’s cap. The League of Women Voters will be there, ready to register voters. There’ll be live music from Humble Waters early in the day and later, from Ella Herrera. There’ll be a bevy of local makers showing and selling their wares at the Wayzgoose Makers Marketplace. And lots more. Rain or shine, inside the library, we’ll be kicking up some fun and honoring that Wayzgoose spirit all day. Come to the Convivio Bookworks booth and say hello. We can wish each other a Happy Bartlemas, you in your paper printer’s cap, me in mine.


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.