Pennyroyal Alphabet


An Alphabet. Wood Engravings by Barry Moser, Calligraphy by Yvette Rutledge, Printed by Harold McGrath.  Pennyroyal Press, Northampton, MA.  1986.  Edition of 150.  Artist’s copy, signed by Barry Moser.


Technical Description

Full terra-cotta orange goatskin binding sewn on two flattened cords with waxed linen thread, rounded and backed to 90 degrees, then laced into boards; the top edge was gilt before sewing (rough edge gilt) using a wheat starch size; double core headbands were sewn with silk.  The spine was lined with Japanese tissue, then with suede and sanded smooth, then a hollow of Ruscombe Mill Chateau Vellum (a handmade linen paper) was attached.  The covering leather is from Pergamena in New York.  The covers are tooled in 23K gold leaf with black hard grain relief leather onlays, a single gilt rule ending in a dot on the board edges, and a gilt frame around the endpapers.  The endsheets are Hahnemuhle Ingres paper, marbled by the binder.  The book is housed in an archival full cloth clamshell box with leather label on the spine.  Bound in 2013.



I wanted to emulate the marriage of the classic and modern elements of the book’s design and topic.  As an abecedarium and a book using the golden ratio for page layout, the tone is traditional, but the illustrations, and the play between letter and illustration, and the astonishing quality of printing, complement each other to make the text a monument.

The woodcuts range from the political, such as the illustration for H, hogwash, which is a woodcut of Ronald Reagan, or a Ku Klux Klan member for the letter Y, yahoo, to the immensely intriguing, such as R, for runcible spoon, the entry that the design is based on, or the plain, such as B for book. 

The intention was to make something tactilely engaging, beginning with the covering leather’s interesting grain and natural defects, and the relief onlays of hard-grained morocco, to reflect of the textures of the illustrations.  The seemingly simple design mirrors the seemingly simple layout of each page, having only a letter & a word or an illustration.

The marbled papers are meant to be abstractions with an atmosphere of calligraphic flourishes, echoing the letters and inviting the reader to continue on to the contents.



Front paste-down and fly-leaf, marbled by the binder.


Rear paste-down and fly-leaf, marbled by the binder.


Title page.


Yvette Rutledge’s calligraphy for “r”.


Barry Moser’s engraving for “r”, a runcible spoon.


Detail of headbands, headcap, top gilt edge, and tooling on the board edges.


Detail of the “relief” onlay on the front cover.







One comment on “Pennyroyal Alphabet”

  1. Sweet, Sam! I love what you are doing with paper marbling. So perfectly restrained. Love this binding.

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