De Kunera Pers

In 1922 J.F. van Royen thought that ‘press and publishers’ were clearly ‘united in one person’ and he felt the need for ‘a new symbol’. In March he wrote to Lucien Pissarro: ‘I should like to alter the name of my Press. The name of Zilverdistel has too much connection with the former period’. He changed the name to the Kunera Pers.

Pissarro made a new printer’s mark: first it was a rectangular sketch based on Van Royen’s information about Saint Kunera and the town of Rhenen, then in July and August 1922, he designed a circular version in which he incorporated Van Royen’s detailed criticism. Van Royen wished to immortalize a harmonious evening on a ferry near Rhenen in the spring of 1921. The ‘perfect harmony’ of colour, light, ‘the soft motion of the boat, the sounds of the evening and the inner emotions’ he compared to the harmony pursued in book art.

In the first prospectus, new poetry by J.H. Leopold was announced but this collection was slow to materialize. Van Royen worked alone (and when he had time) at the press and produced only five books over 20 years: J.H. Leopold, Oostersch (colophon 1922, published ­January 1924); François Villon, Oeuvres (colophon 1926, published December 1926); Arthur van Schendel, Maneschyn (colophon May 1927, published February 1928); Charles Péguy, La tapisserie de Notre Dame, 1913 (colophon 20 April 1929, prospectus June 1929); and P.C. Boutens, In den keerkring (colophon September 1941 to February 1942, published mid-1942). Four of these editions were composed in Distel type.

The old short story of Maneschyn was the only text in Zilver type. The book is austere, printed in black, with an ornate initial W; it was supplied in a red leather binding. The Kunera Pers was no longer the only Dutch private press when it appeared. The Heuvelpers had joined it and bibliophile editions published in series, such as Palladium and Halcyon, were included in the genre of private press books. Van Royen received help with Maneschyn but in the account entry, ‘wages’ remained unspecified.

De Kunera Pers

De Kunera Pers

 

Even though Van Royen was not at the press every day, his thoughts were. ’s-Gravesande saw Van Royen in the Royal Theatre during the performance of Mariken of Nieumeghen. This drama in verse also contained prose pieces and when asked about his opinion of the show, Van Royen replied: ‘Nice, but I constantly think about how I would print these verses and prose’.

The publisher was most active in the second half of the 1920s. Family members often recollected this active period: ‘When on a Sunday the whole house resounded with the rhythmic dull thump of the ink-roller on the ink-table, interrupted by the soft rumble of the rolling in of the type-table under the platen, the 2 heavy clicks when pulling the platen-arm and its return and finally turning out the type-table again and opening the paper frames, when my mother regularly refreshed us with glasses of hot milk and biscuit rusks; for my father, my mother and later my oldest sister and then again sometimes later for me and my younger sister, these were happy hours filled with excitement at each of the 125 sheets, each inspected piece by piece by my Father – sometimes with just a glance,’ related his son Sebald 40 years later.

‘The endless effort to control the temperature and humidity of the paper in order to ­always get the needles on which the paper was fixed ­exactly in the same hole. Winter evenings, entire Christmas days spent in countless hours carving initials in endgrain boxwood’. The children ‘breathlessly’ watched as he ‘got the print absolutely even – on strips of paper, thinner scraped paper, cigarette papers – ­adjusted the equipment – made all preparations necessary to start up the Sunday press turning. As a boy I once tried to photograph my father’. His father was bent over the type material, or shifting something on the tympan: ‘it is a picture of my father, happy with his press’.

De Kunera Pers

De Kunera Pers

 

Sebald justly mentioned his older sister Uus, who (at 19 years old) also worked independently in the ­composing room and printing shop. On 3 March 1926, she signed her own print, a letter to ‘Dear Jet’, which was not very professionally composed and printed: ‘I’ll show you how far my composition skill already extends’. She had previously composed texts, including a poem by Nikolaus Lenau, ‘Die drei Zigeuner’. ‘Father always checks the print and he always finds a whole lot of errors at once! It’s not easy to do it well!’ Uus wrote that she ‘fiddled about’ with the type on her own, ­because ‘the boss of the shop is terribly busy and has no time for the press’. Uus was appointed ‘secretary of the press’. She composed the letter in Zilver type.

Van Royen counted on the help of his family and set out special guidelines for them, such as the ‘Rules for the use of spacing before and after the punctuation marks in “P.C. Boutens,In den keerkring”.’ For certain punctuation marks (e.g. :, ; and -) one point had to be inserted and for others, more than one. Technical guidance focused on the spacing (‘always press down well’) and on an accurate selection from the typecase: ‘Note well the difference between ij or y’ and ‘Note extra well that a O is not upside down’. The printshop became a family business. —National Library of the Netherlands

2017 History of Graphic Design

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