The finances of the private press


In the bibliography of his Essex House Press (1909), C.R. Ashbee was the first to write about the finances of the private press. He was aware that while the first ­generation of private press publishers had sufficient ­financial resources or support, ‘The question involved is, what future lies before them? How are they to be maintained and at whose charges?’ How was the ­balance between idealism and finances kept even on the scales?He mentioned ‘my own time and my partner’s, which was not paid for at all’, and also noted that ‘thousends of proofs’ might amount to ‘one specimen page’.The Kelmscott Press’ Chaucer edition ‘did not pay’ and Ashbee asked, ‘Who is to pay for the ­continuous production of good work?’

Four snapshots can be taken of the finances of the Dutch private press: the financing of De Zilverdistel around 1915; the financing of De Heuvelpers in 1930; the financing of Sub Signo Libelli around 1975; and the required start-capital for a contemporary press.

The capital for De Zilverdistel

In the early days of De Zilverdistel, the publishersmade no major investments for they bought no press or typefaces. The printer’s invoice could remain unpaid for a while – Joh. Enschedé & Sons granted De Zilverdistel three months’ credit– and could be paid off once copies were sold. Van Eyck frequently had to send reminders to customers and authors who had purchased extra copies (Geerten Gossaert, Jan van ­Nijlen). He made cost calculations to determine the print run of Verwey’s Het eigen rijk and besides printing costs, paper, prospectus and shipping, also allowed for bookshop discounts of up to 40 per cent.Subscriptions were of great importance for the calculation of the final price. De Zilverdistel was an ‘extra income’ for Van Eyck.

The arrival of Van Royen brought a different financial policy. The cost price rose. De Zilverdistel could no longer afford cancellations. In August 1915, Van Royen urged the young collector Victor van Vriesland not to let his subscription lapse and allowed a deferral of payment. After all, he belonged to ‘the few in our country who are interested in the art of the book’.The second year of the war was a period of high investment for De Zilverdistel: a printing press was ordered from England and Van Royen had two typefaces designed. He was a smarter accountant than Van Eyck, for whom his statements were incomprehensible. While Van Eyck was still living in Rome the war prevented his contractual right to a share of the profit (150 guilders) from being sent. Van Eyck could not understood the ‘bits and pieces of bills’, but did see that the trade was stopped by the war: ‘We will not hear from our French, Belgian, German and Austrian customers for the time being’.

Van Royen had to keep accurate accounts because he was entirely supported by W.A. Engelbrecht’s cheques for the equipping of the press. Each time a bill for the press was received, the patron made over the amount from Rotterdam. ‘I have opened a credit post in my name in my firm’s books. Please send the statements to Mr. C de Groot at my office, who currently manages my private affairs’.The cost amounted to ­­approximately 5800 guilders (about €55,000) over three years between September 1914 and April 1917. In return, Engelbrecht received the right to receive copies: ‘A copy for you and one for each of your sons, following our agreement’.Van Royen thanked him for ‘the financial help you have so generously and considerately given’.His friends, however, thought that Van Royen would now become ‘a famous and rich man’.

Besides the cost of the press and typefaces, Van Royen also kept overhead costs in mind such as fire ­insurance. In the early 1920s, the press was insured for 800 guilders, the printing furniture for 280 and the type for 5,820 guilders.Van Royen’s ledgers show that ‘De Zilverdistel was basically a financially healthy ­enterprise’. The non-Dutch texts sold the best. In total, several hundred guilders was divided annually ­between the partners.The level of payments is ­misleading due to the rising cost of living during and after the First World War. They were extra earnings. From the beginning of the Kunera Pers on, costs and returns were only incidentally kept. (PvC)

Accounts book De Zilverdistel, December 1914-March 1915, p. 2-3. MM: VR 84 A 1. (MM)

Accounts bookDe Zilverdistel, December 1914-March 1915, p. 2-3. MM: VR 84 A 1. (MM)

The finances of De Heuvelpers

De Heuvelpers began as an ‘uncommercial affair’ and when the economic crisis of 1930 hit, ‘we had to cease our activities’.The investment by Paul May was 10,000 guilders, of which 6000 was intended for a press, type and other materials. De Roos would receive 1000 guilders per year for the ‘artistic direction’. The assumed profits would be used firstly to pay off interest on the ‘loan’ from May and then be divided equally ­between De Roos, May and Menno Hertzberger. Upon closing down, De Roos could use the Meidoorn type, but the sale of the type would benefit the liquidation.

In 1926, De Roos bought two presses for around 2900 guilders. Extra costs were made for travelling to London and for reinforcing the floor of De Roos’ home. The 84 punches and 115 matrices cost 589 guilders, casting the Meidoorn cost 742 guilders and for the type design De Roos received 300 guilders.In addition, there were other items of standard printer’s equipment including a composing rack, hand-inking rollers, chases, a snake slip and an ink stone. All in all the outgoings came to 5600 guilders. This converts to an investment of nearly €40,000. There was a return of nearly half when in 1935 the Meidoorn was sold to Duwaer for 2000 guilders (c. €17000), who also bought the remaining paper for 100 guilders.

Only incidental financial data survives from De Heuvelpers (mostly calculations in draft). It is impossible to determine how much more than the 2000 guilders was redirected to Paul May, probably only three times a depreciation rate of 100, while he still had a maximum of 4000 guilders set by as a reserve at the disposal of the press. In any case, the first edition (Spinoza) cost 1789 guilders to produce (75 for editors’ fees and 714 for composing and printing).The costs for paper and bookbinding are unknown, as are the ­depreciation rates of the equipment and interest ­payments to May. The fee for De Roos was 250 guilders and there were remaining costs of 78.34 guilders.The sale price (32 in cardboard, 38 in vellum) could have yielded a maximum of 3200 guilders if 100 copies had been sold, but in 1935 there were still 27 unsold. ­Perhaps it broke even.

For the second edition (Heine) some calculations have been kept; composing and printing cost 371.25 guilders. The paper was estimated at 60 guilders and there were 20 initials which were estimated at 30 guilders. De Roos would receive 200 guilders and May, interest payments of 100 guilders. The item ‘depreciation of equipment’ was 112 guilders and for ‘unexpected’, a further 50. The binding costs was minimal at 606.25 guilders. Total estimated production costs: 1529.50 guilders.There were 110 copies on the market for 12.50 (cardboard) or 17.50 (in vellum). In June 1929, 51 copies had been sold; in 1935, 35 were still remaining. The profit could have amounted to 1,375 guilders. It seems that there was no balanced budget made and that May’s reserve was quickly eaten into.

For the third edition (Rossetti), a short list of the prospectus costs remains (63.30) and the profit can only be estimated. There were still 29 copies in 1935: the profit was at most 1980 guilders. A calculation for the fourth and final edition (Fromentin) survives. The total cost was estimated at 3646.99 guilders, but ­depreciation and interest are not included.The profit could have amounted to a maximum of 1375 guilders: 47 copies remained unsold. This is an incomprehensible business management and the result was that basically Paul May subsidized these editions with the remaining thousands of guilders. (PvC)

Investments in Sub Signo Libelli

In the late sixties, Ger Kleis bought his first press, a Boston hand-operated platen press for about 200 guilders (later given away). He received some type material as a gift. Various investments followed after the establishment of a workshop in Geesbrug (Drenthe) in 1974. He bought wooden type from an antique shop and handmade paper. In July 1977, he bought a new press from Schenk in Leiden, a 1910 Diamant treadle-press for 1000 guilders (another 300 for a rack and transport). A second treadle-press was bought from Schaaf in Dokkum for 236 guilders. A hand-operated cylinder press was bought for 1750 guilders in the summer of 1980 at Wessanen Wormerveer.

Kleis kept the accounts in a financial archive (1975–1993) and in addition, between 1975 and 1980, he maintained a ledger with expenditure and income. The reporting was mainly aimed at gaining insight into the income of the press with a view to new investments. In 1999, he explained: ‘You want to cover your costs, and it is good when you have money over to buy new materials. Clichés, for example, are very expensive since the new environmental laws. And you want beautiful paper, really beautiful paper is not cheap. If you had to take time into account, then those books would be totally prohibitive. It is an investment. I have perhaps invested some sixty thousand guilders on presses, type and materials’.

The archives show that at that moment he had invested more than 80,000 guilders. Up to 1999, there were almost 50,000 guilders as income, but the financial administration over the years from 1981 is incomplete; there are no income statements and so the picture is distorted. The period of 1974–1980 appears to be more fully financially accounted for and was a period of expansion and maturation. Between 1974 and 1980, the total costs of Sub Signo Libelli were 44,226.37 guilders. The sales income from the publications came to 37,911.14 guilders.

Converted to current rates, the investment for those years was €40,675.84 and the income €35,332.09. Over seven years, that is a personal contribution of €5,000, or about €60 per month. In this light, a private press is not an expensive hobby; that is to say, a private press without its own typeface. After the Second World War, no Dutch private press has been able to commission the design and casting of a privately used type. Apart from the material costs, personnel costs had also become too high; cutting the punches was too time consuming. It is estimated that about two punches can be made per day, and that for one body size of a type needing about 120 punches, 60 days are required.These costs are too high, especially now that the craft of punchcutter has nearly died out.

The moveable property – press, type – represent the highest costs for the private press (even for Sub Signo Libelli). Since 1978, higher amounts have also been asked by the illustrators and bookbinders, but these are always passed on in the prices of the publications. In the early days, many different types were purchased, partly for small amounts at local printers and partly to order from the large foundries of Tetterode and Joh. Enschedé & Sons. Hence these amounts vary between 20 guilders in 1975 and 3887.14 guilders in 1980. Other expensive items were the guillotine (1979, 750 guilders) and specially designed printer’s marks by Helmut Salden (1977, 200 guilders).

In the first years, expenses were higher than income. In 1975, 1000 guilders were spent with only half returned as income. In 1976, almost 5000 were spent and once again half returned. In 1977, expenditure grew to more than 8000 and again half returned as income. In the first years in particular the investment by the printer grew exponentially. In 1978, for the first time a profit was recorded (c. 1500 guilders), primarily through the sale of Komrij’s Capriccio which could count on a wide national interest. From then on, income and expenditure remained fairly even.

The amounts for insurance and accommodation are unknown and so excluded from the calculation, as are the values of the type and the printing presses. After 2009, Kleis sold some of these moveables, but the interest in private presses and typefaces were so much reduced that these were sometimes ‘free to take away’ after Kleis ensured that the material had found a good home with a fellow printer. Over the years, Sub Signo Libelli has achieved no net profit but also no great loss. The business side of the press is neutral; less comfortable than De Zilverdistel, more successful than De Heuvelpers. The peak years of the press ran parallel with the great interest in bibliophile editions in the late 1970s and early 1980s. (PvC)

Accounts book Sub Signo Libelli, 1977.

Accounts book Sub Signo Libelli, 1977. MM: SSL FA. (MM)

The equipment of a modern private press

What would it cost now to begin a private press? One indication is the 2008 sale inventory of the Spectatorpers of Bram de Does.The price list provided an insight into the necessary investments. A Victoria platen press was €500, as was a Vandercook cylinder proof press (1960). One could take away a proof press for €80, a motorized guillotine for €200 and a lead cutter for €70. Other equipment (gauge, hackler, lead plane and imposing surface) together cost €90. Typefaces (from Joh. Enschedé en Zonen, Amsterdam Type Foundry and Stichting Lettergieten) were expensive: Romanée (1,126.6 kg, €14,666); Romulus Roman (72 kg, €1080); Romulus Open Capitals (21.7 kg, €434); half-bold Monotype Spectrum (67.5 kg, €455); Bodoni (540 kg, €1620); Henric Lettersnider (156.4 kg, €4782.40); Rosart (39.7 kg, €1248.40); and other types (102.6 kg, €1294.60). All the type together cost €25,580.40.

There was furniture to house the type: racks (€516), galley boxes and rule cases (€468). There were 140 sorts of ornaments with matrices (€2825), music type (573 kg, €1960), copper lines (€609), 150 vignettes and wood engravings (€200) and ‘spaces, quads, long lines, reglets, a range of spacing materials (French and other furniture, hollow quads)’ for sale. Among the diverse items were ink and composing sticks (€666). Three packets of Zerkall Edelweiß Halbmatt cost €500, and amongst other items was Nepalese paper; the total paper stock was priced at €1152.25.

The Specatorpers as a whole could be taken over for €35,416.65, but an excellent printing shop could be set up for €10,000. An amateur printer would have a good start on a budget of €1000.Even so, only part of the inventory had been sold a year later. (PvC)