Books On Books Collection – Alain Hurtig

Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard (1914/2012)

Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard (1914/2012)
Stéphane Mallarmé (text), Alain Hurtig (design), Catherine Belœil (art)
Online and downloadable files for printing at L’Outil Typographique. Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA). Accessed 28 January 2022.
Screenshots: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of Alain Hurtig.

Much has been made of Mallarmé’s precision or preciosity in the marked-up proofs of the deluxe edition of Un Coup de Dés. Also, as many scholars, hommageurs and facsimilists have attested, a suitable substitute for the Firmin-Didot typeface that the poet specified for the deluxe has been hard to find. Master typographer Alain Hurtig, however, puts “suitable substitute” into perspective with his essay “À propos du Coup de dés de Stéphane Mallarmé“. The essay offers single pages and double-page spreads set in Bodoni Antiqua (Berthold), Legato, Clifford and the Hoefler & Frère-Jones digital revival of Didot.

Clockwise from the upper left: Bodoni Antiqua (Berthold), Legato, Clifford and Didot.

It seems unlikely that Mallarmé pored over the Didot firm’s type books to choose the Firmin-Didot face, but there is nothing precious about specifying a typeface. Different faces have different personalities. Hurtig enables us to see rather than imagine the effect of choosing the business-card-like Legato — not that that would have been a choice for Mallarmé. Nor would the Clifford, although a plausible (if squat) choice with its contrasting thin and thick strokes. The opportunity for the most extensive comparison comes with Hurtig’s two complete settings of the poem — one in Bodoni Antiqua (Berthold), the other in HFJ Didot. Below, for comparison, is the poem’s central double-page spread — the COMME SI … COMME SI verses.

Above: Bodoni Antiqua (Berthold). Below: Hoefler & Frère-Jones Didot.

Of these two revival faces — Bodoni Antiqua (Berthold) and HFJ Didot — Hurtig himself prefers Bodoni. Bodoni is one of the more attractive alternatives for facsimilists. Neil Crawford chose it for the edition created with Ian Tyson, as did Gary Young for his edition with D.J. Waldie. Hurtig even provides a comparative view of three versions of Bodoni:

Hurtig’s explanations of deciding the trim size and adjusting the size of fonts and spacing fascinate. Likewise his choice of Bodoni because it

s’imposait avec élégance, il rythmait les phrases en les faisant incroyablement vibrer et remplissait de sa grâce les immenses blancs de la double page — ces espaces que, selon Mallarmé, “il n’est pas moins beau de composer que les vers” [Hurtig, 2012]

[imposed itself with elegance, it gave rhythm to the sentences by making them vibrate incredibly and filled with its grace the immense blanks of the double page — these spaces which, according to Mallarmé, “it is no less beautiful to compose than the verse”.]

My vote, however, would be for the HFJ Didot. It has a more upright, steelier and brighter aspect, fittingly constellatory. In other online comments, Hurtig points out, however, that the HFJ Didot is not the Firmin-Didot of Mallarmé:

Le didot d’Hoefler n’est évidemment pas celui choisi par Mallarmé, et pour cause : un siècle les sépare — et Hoefler a, dans son dessin, évidemment tenu compte des conditions modernes de composition et d’impression : au plomb, son travail ne tiendrait probablement pas une seconde, et moins encore sur les papiers utilisés à l’époque. [Hurtig, 2018]

[Hoefler’s Didot is obviously not the one chosen by Mallarmé, and for good reason : a century separates them – and Hoefler has, in his design, obviously taken into account modern conditions of composition and printing: with lead, his work would probably not hold for a second, and even less so on the papers used at the time.]

While carefully experimenting with the choice of faces, Hurtig has no qualms about jettisoning Odile Redon from his edition. He does not like the Redon prints et en plus il est mort (“and besides he’s dead”). Combined with his finer typographic points, Hurtig’s substitution of prints he commissioned from Catherine Belœil heeds the call to which facsimilists and hommageurs such as Jean Lecoultre, Alessandro Zanella and Jacques Vernière, Honorine Tepfer, Robert Bononno and Jeff Clark, Virgile Legrand and Hervé Di Rosa, and Sam Sampson have also responded: to look afresh and even radically at Un Coup de Dés.

Further Reading

Bodoni’s Bicentennial“. 14 December 2013. Books On Books Bookmark.

Robert Bononno and Jeff Clark“. 26 October 2020. Books On Books Collection.

Hervé Di Rosa“. 20 April 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Jean Lecoultre“. 28 March 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Sam Sampson“. 17 April 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Honorine Tepfer“. 7 April 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Jacques Vernière“. 9 February 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Arnar, Anna Sigrídur. 2011. The book as instrument: Stéphane Mallarmé, the artist’s book, and the transformation of print culture. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Pp. 231-35, 348n.

Cohn, Robert Greer. 1967. Mallarme’s masterwork: new findings. The Hague: Mouton.

Hurtig, Alain. 28 March 2012. “À propos du Coup de dés de Stéphane Mallarmé“. L’Outil Typographique. Accessed 25 January 2022.

Hurtig, Alain. 11 July 2018. “Remarques typographiques“, responding to Laurent Bloch’s “Le Poème de Stéphane Mallarmé: Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard. Son exégèse et sa typographie”, posted 11 July 2018, modified 29 September 2020. Accessed 26 January 2022.

Books On Books Collection – Isabella Checcaglini and Mohammed Bennis

POÉME: Un coup de Dés jamais n’abolira le Hasard (2007)

POÉME: Un coup de Dés jamais n’abolira le Hasard (2007)
Stéphane Mallarmé, Isabelle Checcaglini and Mohammed Bennis
Four volumes in slipcase. H380 x W280 mm, 40 pages per volume. Edition of 99, of which this is #57. Acquired from J.F. Fourcade, 7 January 2022.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Ypsilon Éditeur’s editions of Un coup de Dés jamais n’abolira le Hasard bring together for the first time the three prints from Odilon Redon with the deluxe edition layout intended by Stéphane Mallarmé. Also for the first time, we have a translation into Arabic. Below, the central double-page spread of the poem is displayed in the French and Arabic editions to show how their mirror images of the layout heighten its movement.

In the additional French volume and its Arabic counterpart, Checcaglini adds a brief history about Mallarmé and Vollard’s plans for the deluxe edition and helpfully includes correspondence among them and Odilon Redon. Although the earlier edition published by Mitsou Ronat & Tibor Papp in 1980 does include Redon’s prints, they are placed in a separate folder along with other visual and textual tributes. The Redon prints may not be among his best, nor do they include the mooted but undiscovered fourth print, still at least we now have the three and the poem in relation to each other more nearly as intended, which makes it possible to compare and contrast this deluxe edition with the outpouring of works of homage to Mallarmé’s poem. Even with the prior absence of that chance, few if any of those hommageurs would be unaware of Redon’s images. Jean Lecoultre (1975) notes how his publisher’s solution to handling his soft varnish etchings honors the intended separation of text and images. By contrast, Christiane Vielle (1989) challenges Mallarmé’s layout and his unit of the double-page spread by altering the spatial relationships among lines, hiding text beneath panels and juxtaposing her artwork with the text.

The added volume with Checcaglini’s synopsis also includes a three-way dialogue among Mohammed Bennis, Isabelle Checcaglini and Bernard Noël about the light that the translation sheds on the poem.

Checcaglini’s edition also claims to have most closely reproduced the Firmin-Didot typeface that Mallarmé wished for his deluxe edition. The search for absolute fidelity to this font that has been unavailable for at least a century has been an obsession since the discovery of the poem’s proofs corrected and annotated in Mallarmé’s hand. The Further Reading provides a start for anyone inclined to join the search.

Further Reading

“Mitsou Ronat & Tibor Papp“. 16 November 2020. Books On Books Collection.

Honorine Tepfer“. 7 April 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Ian Tyson & Neil Crawford“. 7 February 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Arnar, Anna Sigrídur. 2011. The book as instrument: Stéphane Mallarmé, the artist’s book, and the transformation of print culture. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Pp. 231-35, 348n.

Cohn, Robert Greer. 1967. Mallarme’s masterwork: new findings. The Hague: Mouton.

Hurtig, Alain. 28 March 2012. “À propos du Coup de dés de Stéphane Mallarmé“. L’Outil Typographique. Accessed 25 January 2022.

Marchal, Bertrand. March 2015. “Petite Histoire du Coup de Dés“. Transversalités: Revue de l’Institut Catholique de Paris, No. 134: 109-113.

Books On Books Collection – Jean Lecoultre


Jean Lecoultre
Double canvas slipcase/folder enclosing a folded-paperbound book. Slipcase: 340 x 260 mm; Book: 330 x 250 mm, 62 pages inclusive of the 5 foldouts. Edition of 115, of which this is #78.
Acquired from OH 7e Ciel, 10 March 2022.
Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of Jean Lecoultre

Among the many distinguishing features of Jean Lecoultre’s homage to Stéphane Mallarmé’s poem, three of the most striking are the typeface, the paper and the images. In deliberate ways, each differs from the deluxe edition that Ambroise Vollard and Mallarmé planned after the poem first appeared in 1897.

Sabon is the typeface, designed by Jan Tschichold in 1964 under commission from Walter Cunz of Stempel. The Linotype, Monotype and Stempel foundries released it jointly in 1967, which makes its use only eight years later a little bit daring. Only a “little bit” because anything more modern (say, Garamond) would have been preferable to Mallarmé rather than the Elzevir chosen by NRF when it published the 1914 edition. Lecoultre and the publisher Galerie Edwin Engelberts followed the 1914 layout but, thank goodness, not the typeface. Sabon’s thin and thick strokes do not contrast as much as those of Didot, and it does not have the same verticality. Although rooted in Garamond, Sabon comes closer than Garamond to the narrowness of Didot. Walbaum might have been a still closer option, but with its more substantial thin strokes, Sabon has to have been a more suitable choice for the handmade paper in this work.

Screenshots of adaptations: Didot © Apple; Sabon © Adobe, Linotype and ™Monotype; Garamond © Microsoft; Walbaum © Linotype and Monotype; comparisons made possible by Identifont.

Georges Duchêne (1926-2012) (Moulin de Larroque and Moulin de Pombié) fabricated the paper (vélin de cuve) especially for the project. The paper bears Duchêne’s watermark as well as a rough “tooth” (surface texture that grips the ink) and uneven deckled edges. With his semantic and typographic innovation, Mallarmé intended to draw attention to les blancs (the spaces around the lines, phrases and single words). With its smoothness interrupted by bumps, its simultaneous softnesss and stiffness, the paper draws the eye and touch even more to the space around the verses.

The surface must have presented a challenge for the technique of “soft varnish” etching used by Lecoultre. Crown Point Press defines it this way:

A process that involves applying a beeswax ground made soft by the addition of tallow or petroleum jelly evenly over a heated plate with a brayer. After the plate has cooled, the artist draws on paper laid over it. The soft wax comes off on the back of the paper exactly where the artist has pressed, exposing the metal in the pattern of the grain of the paper. More pressure in drawing removes more wax and produces a darker line after the plate has been bitten. In general, soft ground lines look like lines made by the drawing instrument, usually a pencil or crayon. Soft ground can also be used to take a direct impression of any flexible material—a fingerprint, a leaf, a piece of cloth, for example.

The technique resonates metaphorically with Mallarmé’s dictum peindre non la chose mais l’effet qu’elle produit (“to depict not the object but the effect the object produces”). The technique allows Lecoultre to depict the fine details of easily identifiable objects (a stone, fingerprints, a rope and more) and less easily identifiable ones (a blurred wall and windows, a pair of draped rectangular columns being sliced by a cheese-cutter-like cable and so on). Identifiable or not, the objects yield to the effects their juxtaposition, layering and blurring produce.

Lecoultre is also Mallarméan in his mastery of the technique. In an invitation booklet included with the book, Pietro Sarto, who pulled the prints, points out that, due to its delicacy, the soft varnish technique is most often associated with spontaneity and the chance effect. In Lecoultre’s case, Sarto makes the startling revelation that, for some of the images, the plates went through thirteen states. Thirteen chances for precision to be marred. Lecoultre even extends his chance-taking to the paper in pursuit of effect: note how the image of the rock bleeds across the deckle edge. The strange juxtaposition of objects and the way some objects seem to float on the page (or fall off it) — these also mirror Mallarmé’s arrangement of words and lines among les blancs of the pages, the precision of his images and the suggestiveness of his metaphors.

Finally Lecoultre and his publisher strike out in a novel direction with the number and placement of the prints. Unlike Mallarmé/Vollard’s plan to segregate the poem from Odile Redon’s three to four images, Lecoultre integrates his seven with the poem. This entails “bookending” the poem with two double-page spreads, each taken up entirely by a print: one spread before the half-title and one after the final page of the poem. For the remaining five prints to appear on double-page spreads, the publisher urged the use of five foldout pages. This solution, which Lecoultre approvingly embraced, simultaneously challenges and celebrates Mallarmé’s unit of the double-page spread.

Further Reading and Viewing

Jean Lecoultre: l’oeil à vif : peintures & dessins, estampes. Genève: La Dogana ; Vevey: Fondation William Cuendet & Atelier de Saint-Prex, 2021.

Baldwin, Andrew. “Soft Ground Part 1” and “Part 2“. Trefeglwys Print Studio, Wales. Videos accessed 26 March 2022.

Carr-Pringle, Sam. 18 July 2018. “The Softground Etching Process“. Crown Point Press. Video accessed 26 March 2022.

Cheyrou, Françoise. 25 March 2015. “Georges Duchêne, Maître Papetier, Pionnier du Papier d’Art“. Esprit de Pays. Accessed 24 March 2022.

Johansen-Ellis, Mariann. 24 January 2012. “Basic Softground Etching“. Denmark. Video accessed 26 March 2022.

McNeil, Paul. 2017. The Visual History of Type. London: Laurence King. Pp 48-49 (Garamond), 106-07 (Walbaum), 90-91 (Didot), 378-79 (Sabon).

Monotype. ND. “Sabon“. Accessed 26 March 2022.

Truszkowski, Robert. 7 September 2020. “Soft Ground pencil drawing“. University of Regina. Video accessed 26 March 2022.