Coach House Books and the art of bookmaking

Last week I toured Toronto's iconic Coach House Books and learned the art of bookmaking. For a print-on-demand girl, it was a mind-blowing experience.  

What was once quite literally a coach house for horses, the Coach House Books building sits as a hidden gem nestled in a downtown Toronto back-alley, relentlessly running its printing presses and pouring out artful and thoughtful literary work. The main coach house holds the wonderfully ancient printing machines while the adjoining building holds uncountable boxes of books. Coach House Books is a publisher and printer, specializing in poetry, narrative non-fiction, and art books.   

Here is a photo essay of my tour. 

Zephyr paper, an unbleached milled paper from Quebec, is the standard stock used. The paper, along with the Canadian textfaces, gives every publication a decidedly Canadian touch.

 Canadian typeface

The Linotype machine, built in 1917, was the first to mechanize typesetting by melting liquid hot lead into a "slug" with raised letters to form the text for printing.

 Linotype machine

The Gordon Press was used at Coach House Books to print its very first book, Wayne Clifford's Man in a Window. It's operated by hand and foot and affectionately referred to as the in-house Stair Master exercise machine. It now serves to score covers. 

The Gordon Press 

The Heidelbergs, twin offset printing presses built in the 1960s, are still used for short print runs. They are sheet fed, one at a time, and print in black and white (north press) and in colour (south press), with an artful mixing of inks and a mastery of in-house repair work.

 Heidelberg Press

Heidelberg Press

Heidelberg Press inks

Heidelberg Press

Heidelberg Press tools

The Baum Folder machine, built in the 1950s, is where the paper-to-book magic happens. Incredibly, it folds large printed sheets into sixteen orderly pages.

The Baum folder 

The Baum folder

Coach House Books folded paper

Coach House Books walls lined with books.

The Coffee Room is a multipurpose room on the second floor, filled with the publisher's archives and ghosts. Many a great literary figure ate, drank, slept, danced, and pontificated in this room.

 Second floor and attic of Coach House Books

What an enlightening experience to see the art of bookmaking. Thanks to Alana, Tony, and Heidi for the tour!   

Stacey D. Atkinson is a freelance editor and author of Stuck, a novel she published via her independent company Mirror Image Publishing.

2 comments

  • Suzanne Purkis
    Suzanne Purkis
    Thanks for sharing your experience! I missed the tour, so it's nice to hear all about it – and particularly nice to see all your photos.

    Thanks for sharing your experience! I missed the tour, so it's nice to hear all about it – and particularly nice to see all your photos.

  • Stacey
    Stacey
    Thanks, Suzanne. It really was a great tour!

    Thanks, Suzanne. It really was a great tour!

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