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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.