John Shoesmith is the Outreach Librarian at the University of Toronto’s Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library. He was the curator of the exhibition and catalogue, “A Death Greatly Exaggerated: Canada’s Thriving Small and Fine Press,” which ran at the Fisher Library May-September, 2013.
Barbarians on the West Coast: An examination of British Columbia’s fine press publisher Barbarian Press
Jan and Crispin Elsted, co-founders of the Canadian fine press publisher Barbarian Press, are not your typical book makers, but rather are original throwbacks. Eschewing most “modern” book-making means – using computers for every stage of a book’s production, in other words – they produce from their farmhouse in Mission, British Columbia, some of the finest handcrafted, letter pressed works in the world. Barbarian’s books are a true collaboration: design and typesetting are generally done by Crispin, the presswork by Jan, while both share publication decisions and text editing.
The press’s publications range from new English translations of poetry and prose from various languages, along with original poetry in English, to bibliography, illustrated classics, typography, and books on wood engraving. Its work with contemporary wood engravers has led to four highly prized books in its Endgrain Editions series. It also runs a successful teaching program from its base in the lower mainland of B.C, that has been instrumental in creating a vibrant Canadian west coast fine press and artist book scene.
Perhaps no book epitomizes Barbarian’s aesthetical ethos than its Play of Pericles by William Shakespeare, published in 2010. Ten years in the making and the triumph of the press, this ambitious book features approximately one hundred original engravings by British engraver Simon Brett that interact seamlessly and originally with the text. Using Barbarian Press’s archival fonds held at the University of Toronto’s Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, this paper will profile Barbarian Press, and examine in greater detail the making of the sumptuous award-winning masterwork Play of Pericles.