Field Trip to Coach House Press
One of the most surprising things about this business, which we've been in now for only about two years plus, is getting to know our local and Canadian entrepreneurs, distributors and businesses. Many of you, especially in Toronto, are familiar with Coach House Books, our favourite independent small publishing house. One of my favourite books of all time is published by Coach House Press, titled All My Friends are Superheroes, and not just because of Super (the dog).
You may recognize these notebooks, made with Canadian paper and bound here in Toronto at Coach House, on our shelves or as your browse through our online shop. In 1965, Coach House was started by Stan Bevington with a Challenge Gordon platen press. In this coach house here, he started printing poetry and writing and I guess he just never stopped, printing for such renown Canadian authors such as Michael Ondaatje and Ann-Marie MacDonald. Over the years, Coach House has gone through some major business events, including a move and a change of ownership and management, but they're now back in their original coach house, and still printing innovative and experimental poetry and literature. Coach House is not only surviving against the major publishing houses out there, they are publishing titles that are receiving national and international attention, including And the Birds Rained Down by Jocelyne Saucier, translated by Rhonda Mullins, a CBC Canada Reads book for 2015, and a finalist for the 2013 Governor General's Literary Award for French-to-English Translation.
It's been a long time since I was a teacher and have been on a field trip. Those were the days, clogging up the streetcar with 30 rowdy students and a slightly nervous looking parent volunteer. I am counting down the days until our field trip to Japan... Today, with baby in hand, we paid Coach House a visit, and John DeJesus, manager was kind enough to show us around a bit today. If you ever need to somewhere with smell of paper and ink and the sound of metal presses humming away, this is it.
John walked me through the steps of making the book, from the giant films and aluminum plates, but I was clearly slightly woozy from all the smell of the ink (this stuff is definitely more potent than the stuff we're selling), as I only vaguely remember some of the steps, and probably not in the right order.
This place is overflowing with these beautiful old machines, letterpresses and folders and linotype makers. Some of them are no longer in use, but some of them are still churning out pages of books that might end up on your shelves.
John must have some pretty good liability insurance, because he let me use his double guillotine book chopper to trim some books. I would have to describe it as an intense experience, because I'm pretty attached to my fingers, literally and emotionally, but it's got a crazy triple safety system where you need two hands and a leg to operate the blade. I should have had Jon take some video of me in action, but I'm pretty sure this wasn't a good time to freeze under pressure.
This place kind of reminds me of our shop, with stacks of boxes and cardboard everywhere, although obviously they're a much more organized and well-oiled machine. They've got paper before printing, paper just printed on, paper folded, paper with glue, paper bound in books.
Ugh! One day I'm moving into this room and never leaving. This is one of the amazing old historical buildings and businesses here in Toronto. In the physical structure of the buildings all joined together, you can see both the story of Coach House Books and their expansion over time, the old machines and processes, alongside some pretty incredible new technology for printing books (and even solar panels!). I can't imagine what sort of machinery and humming goes on in the major publishing houses, like Penguin or Random House, but I loved seeing how this independent book publisher is thriving.
***We actually stopped by to pick up something we had John bind for us, and we're pretty excited about it. John has had a bit of back and forth with us as he's worked his magic and we finally opened up our boxes today. We're still working on the photography, but we'll be getting it up and I'm hoping to have more pictures for you tomorrow! Don't touch that remote :)