The Holy Gospel According to Saint Mark

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Every year, North Central Publishing Co. in St. Paul, Minnesota would produce a fine press Christmas book. Number thirty-two, printed in 1978, was a letterpress edition of the Gospel of Mark. This slender, magisterial volume, casebound in gold cloth emblazoned with the Lion of St. Mark, is a testament to the printer's art.

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It measures 8.5" x 12.5". The type is set in 16 pt. Perpetua, generously leaded. Thanks to the colophon, I can tell you the text came from Baskerville's 1769 edition of the King James Version and the type was hand set by Al Muellerleile with help from John Poeschl and Clyde Anderson. Frank Kacmarcik made the illustrations based on drawings in the Holkham Bible. It was printed by North Central on Curtis rag paper. Only 1200 copies were produced. This is #59.

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Reading from this volume is a tactile experience. The texture of the thick rag paper, the kiss impression of the lead type — it's very physical in a way that is unique to such books. Running your finger over the page, you can feel the letters, feel the line of artwork pushed into the paper. 

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I suppose if you're setting lead type by hand, the Gospel of Mark is the ideal choice, given its brevity. Above, you can see my namesake trimming his quill, preparing for work. Whenever I wax eloquent about the possibility of Scripture "portions" as a solution for the modern paper crisis — less pages allowing for fewer, thicker pages with increased opacity — there's a hew and cry about how essential, how utterly necessary it is to have the whole of the Bible in the palm of one's hand. The last thing in the world I want to do is talk you out of this view. I will happily keep all the Gospels and New Testaments and Epistles to myself. 
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Last year, after a lifetime of designing digitally, I enjoyed my first taste of setting type by hand and printing via letterpress. While the process is satisfyingly addictive, I can't imagine hand-setting an entire page of type, let alone an entire Gospel, no matter how short. (These days, you can output polymer plates from your design files and use them for letterpress, a luxury that didn't exist in '78, and probably wouldn't have appealed to the men of North Central if it had.) 

As with the Arion Bible, there's a scribal quality to a letterpress edition like The Holy Gospel According to Saint Mark. You turn the pages and think, "This was done by hand." And it was done beautifully, too. Like the chapters in the Mardersteig New Testament, these feature raised capitals in bright red. The chapters themselves are announced by lines of text in letterspaced small caps.

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When you read the KJV from such a format, you inevitably find yourself reading aloud. That's what the authorization in the Authorized Version was all about: appointed to be read in churches (i.e., publlcly, out loud, where the melodious phrases show themselves off to best effect). To me, that's a ringing endorsement. This volume clothes the shortest Gospel in a veil of majesty, befitting the chronicler whose emblem became the winged lion.

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9 Comments on “The Holy Gospel According to Saint Mark

  1. It’s quite elegant. Did North Central produce the other Gospels in other years?

  2. There you go again. At least the Verona New Testament was a linotype large run, but this is a small press run. It will be harder for me to track down. ABE has a single unnumbered printer’s copy. Stop doing this before I kill again.

  3. Hey Mark – I just posted about this on your FB page a few weeks ago. Did you already have this or did I inspire you to get it?

  4. I must have missed that, Brian. I picked this up last autumn while in St. Paul. Michael, I don’t know whether they produced other gospels or not, I’m afraid.

  5. I just found this at an antique store in Stillwater, MN. I knew right away that this was a great piece of handmade book craft. I immediately thought of you and your blog because it was designed so well. I checked it out and they never made any other Gospels or complete books of the Bible like this as far as I can tell.

  6. Whenever I wax eloquent about the possibility of Scripture “portions” as a solution for the modern paper crisis — less pages allowing for fewer, thicker pages with increased opacity — there’s a hew and cry about how essential, how utterly necessary it is to have the whole of the Bible in the palm of one’s hand.
    The Hebrew Bible (and its Greek and Aramaic translations) were stored as scrolls at the time of Jesus (and this is still the case for Jewish Torahs and Megillas used for ritual use). So, it is a little odd to hear that having separate books of the Bible printed is not kosher now!
    I believe that editions such as these are primarily intended as reading editions, not reference editions; and reading editions of the Bible, like most books, are read a chapter at a time. If one does not need to cross-reference with other Scriptural passages, what is the problem with reading the Bible in separate volumes? (If the concern is that some parts of the Bible may be more read than others, I think that battle is already lost — I’m pretty sure that Genesis is read more often than Chronicles!)
    I readily admit that having complete Bibles in a single volume is convenient in many situations; and it seems that Mark (Bertrand, not the named author of this gospel) may own at least one or two (or several dozen) of these. But for reading comfortably, these luxurious books focusing on just a part of the Bible are awfully nice.
    Insisting that a Bible always be printed in a single volume is like insisting that any theatrical group that puts on a single play by Shakespeare must put on all 36 plays printed in the First Folio. I’m happy that there are numerous editions of the Complete Works of William Shakespeare available, but my favorite presentations of Shakespeare attempt to only present one (or sometimes a small number) of plays per book.

  7. Regarding the hue and cry, I have enough good Bibles on my phone that I have lost almost all of my enthusiasm for for single volume paper Bibles. So long as the paper Bible I am reading from contains the passage I want to read, why carry around all the rest? If I feel a need to refer to a passage that isn’t included in the volume I am reading from, I can look it up on my phone.
    The multi-volume option solves more problems than just paper. There are a great many little compromises in formatting, layout, and font selection that are commonly used to make Bibles easier to carry, and harder to read. Switching to a multi-volume format makes those compromises unnecessary.

  8. I know that it is a realy great piece of handmade holy book craft.its design so simple and well i also want to make like this handmade craft its realy interesting because bible always printed in a single volume i checked many other bibles but i never seen like this,
    thank you for share asuch a nice post.

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