E M Ginger on Digitizing the Art of the Book

by | Jan 12, 2010

Detail: Peter Schenk, printer, 1761

Click to enlarge

At this weekend’s meeting of the Bay Area Independent Publishers Association (BAIPA), guest speaker E M Ginger of 42-line.com gave a remarkable presentation about the work she has been involved with over the past 20 years digitizing fine and rare books.

Ginger has worked with fine and rare books and scholarly material for over three decades as a writer, editor, typographer, designer and weekend printer. For twelve years Ginger was managing editor of Fine Print: The Review for the Arts of the Book.

She began digitizing books when she worked for Adobe Systems as a manager of the Adobe Originals Type Group as well as a writer, instructor, and printing and type historian. Ginger was the founding editor of Octavo where she conceived the Octavo Editions, and she developed and directed their publication for eight years.

She is also the author and editor of works on type, typography, and information design, as well as the editor of several award-winning cookbooks.

The History of Printing Brought to the Computer Screen

Initially I was skeptical that Ginger’s talk would be of interest to BAIPA members, since fine printing rarely comes up as a subject at these meetings. However, she won me over right at the beginning of the talk, when she said that she didn’t “think we’ve seen a book in digital form yet, and I’m not certain we ever will.”

A lot of typographic talent tries to get

the slideshow going.

Pete Masterson, E M Ginger, Joel Friedlander

(photo: Paula Hendricks)

However, I soon learned that independent publishers and authors share a fascination with the book as an object. In her presentation, Ginger showed slides of the editions she produced, mostly during her years at Octavo, which was started—and funded—by John Warnock, one of the founders of Adobe.

With a team of typographers, researchers, writers and artists, Ginger produced amazing digital editions of numerous fine and rare books. It’s hard to appreciate the level of detail and thoroughness that these editions embody. For example, some of the fine books have been completely translated from their original languages, and the translated text layered into the images to make the entire books searchable.

Every part of each book is imaged and digitzed, including the bindings, endpapers and blank pages. In this way a complete record will be available of these rare books, and accessible to researchers, even if the books themselves are unavailable. Here is the first edition of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, shown in the Octavo viewer:

Shakespeare's Sonnets, Octavo edition

Click to enlarge

It was also impressive to see the very modern, but classically-inspired, typography that accompanies all of Ginger’s work.

Also interesting is the inclusion of essays on printing processes and the physical characteristics of books that are included with many of the editions. Everything from Octavo and from Ginger’s current company, 42-line.com, is carefully designed, cognizant of the history of typography and book making, and extraordinarily tasteful. 42-line continues the work begun at Octavo, but now these editions and other curatorial services are offered to private parties.

A Long History of Letterpress

As I’ve said elsewhere, letterpress printing was the dominant form of reproduction for most of printing’s 500-year history, and it’s only since the mid-twentieth century that it started to fall into disuse. The incredible history of letterpress was how I first come in contact with E M Ginger, when she was the editor of Fine Print. My father and I were both subscribers, and letterpress-lovers.

If you have any interest in fine and rare books, or the presentation and display of books and artwork in digital forms, I recommend you check these out. You can see many of the editions at Octavo’s website. Even though no new editions are being produced there, all the finished projects are available for purchase: Octavo Editions

And don’t miss 42-line’s website, to see more of what types of projects Ginger is involved in now: 42-line.com

These are not only astounding resources for researchers, but dazzling examples of the best printing in the history of the craft, and a treasure that people will be studying for a long time to come.

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Joel

    Hey Christy, yeah, when did you get so interested in typography?

    The impression is from the type on the reverse. All type in the 18th century was “movable” type, individual letters cast to the same height and assembled in rows, backwards and upside down in a composing stick. Anyway, this sheet is interesting because it’s really not printed well. The ideal is to make as little impression as possible while still getting black type.

  2. Christy Pinheiro

    When did I become so interested in typography? That picture is really graet– you can see the impressions from the press (or was it moveable type?) on the paper. I love old books.



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