The Lady Was Twenty-One: The Press of the Pegacycle Lady

by Victoria Dailey

[The following is adapted from a short lecture given by the author at the Beverly Hills Public Library on the subject “Booksellers as Publishers.”]

The Press of the Pegacycle Lady.

The What?

The Pegacycle Lady.

I am often asked: What does it mean? Well, its meaning is as obscure as its origins, but as clearly as I can recall, the Lady took shape in the early 1970s when antiquarian bookseller Bill Dailey bought a handpress and a few fonts of type and began to print little odd broadsides and a small book or two. He was working for Jake Zeitlin at the time–there are not many speakers on bookselling and publishing in Los Angeles who can avoid mentioning Jake and his Red Barn within their first few sentences–I among them.

At any rate, Bill thought up the name Pegacycle Lady, but even he remains uncertain of its meaning beyond it being a poetic sounding name that combined Bill’s fascination with the feminine and the mechanical. I entered the picture in 1972 and became Bill’s first apprentice and, in short order, his partner; I also became Jake’s gallery assistant.

So the Pegacycle Lady was conceived at the Red Barn, spent her early years in Laurel Canyon, where Bill lived, and then spent her time on Genesee Avenue in West Hollywood where Bill and I moved when we were first married. We also quit Jake’s and set up as booksellers on our own. From the very beginning, bookselling and publishing were the mainstays of our lives. We were crazy about books, and lived the motto of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America, “amor librorum nos unit”– the love of books unites us. After buying and selling books all day long, we found that nothing seemed like more fun than to print them at night–the Pegacycle Lady was definitely a creature of the evening.

Eager to join the ranks of our literary and artistic idols and produce well-designed books on obscure topics, we soon published a poem by Jack Hirschman, a local poet who had gained some notoriety for being kicked out of UCLA in a now forgotten scandal. Jack was living the life of the poet maudit, the outlaw poet, an existence out of Rimbaud, and we liked him. He wrote an entrancing, powerful poem about the death of President Kennedy, The R of the Ari’s Raziel, and we published it in 1972. We handset the type, printed it, and hand sewed all 100 copies into wrappers. I still love this book with its handmade look and the mystery and majesty of the poem.

Two years later the Pegacycle Lady published another book with Jack. We all loved the French late-19th century poets–Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Mallarmé–and Jack did a beautiful translation of Mallarmé’s prose-poem Igitur, which was also the first translation into English. We knew Wallace Berman, who was also into the same visionary sort of stuff, and he supplied the evocative cover illustration. Wallace was a remarkable artist who died tragically in a car crash in 1976 on his 50th birthday, and I feel we were truly lucky to have published one of the few books he illustrated.

Another early Pegacycle Lady effort was a book of poems by the local poet and eccentric Bernard Forrest. Bernard had been an aerospace executive and had retired into lush creativity in Benedict Canyon in a house filled with ferns and orchids. Her Foot in My Hand is the sweet title of this book, and I still often quote the memorable title poem: “She put her foot in my hand/ I said my dear Are you still doing that/and she smiled wanly.”

Bernard made watercolors that we tipped into each copy as a frontispiece, and on ten special copies Bernard made watercolors that we used for the covers. We printed the text in the typeface Goudy Bold, which we found strong and well, bold, and we were proud of this little book. I’ll never forget when, at a Rounce and Coffin Club meeting we told another printer that we had printed an entire book in Goudy Bold. He reacted with disdain and horror and said: “An entire book in Goudy Bold! How hideous!”

Another book of this period, one of which I am extraordinarily proud, is the Marquis de Sade’s Letter from the Bastille, written to his wife, which we published in 1975. This book had its origin at Zeitlin & Ver Brugge, where the actual letter came into Jake’s inventory. The rock star Graham Nash was in the shop one day and expressed an interest in the Divine Marquis. I brought out the letter, which Graham promptly bought. Upon learning that it was an unpublished letter, he expressed an interest in seeing it published, and, being a publisher, I offered our services, and the project was born.

We had a beautiful facsimile of the letter made, and a friend of Bill’s and mine, a professor of French at Berkeley, offered to do an accurate translation. I set all the type, Bill printed it, and we designed a title page in two colors. What was the most fun was making beautiful paste papers for the covers, and each cover was unique. One of our most elegant productions, this book is one with which, after all these years, I find no fault.

We usually printed our books in rather small editions, from a very small run of 50 to what we considered a large run of 350. Our largest output of the 1970s was Steve Martin’s book Cruel Shoes, published in 1977 in an edition of 750. At the time, Steve was just on the verge of his fame, and we thought 750 would be the right number to print; in fact, we thought we would have a good surplus.

What we did not expect was that Steve would be a big hit on Saturday Night Live and that the book would be in great demand. We received thousands of orders, and had to throw them away. We were simply not equipped to deal with so much paperwork. We would have had to stop our own rare book business in order to reply to each of the thousands of requests, and we just couldn’t afford to do it. The popular world had descended into the antiquarian realm, much to our surprise.

As some of you may know, Bill and I were vegetarians for many years, and Bill has made a vast collection of vegetarian literature, with books from the 16th century to the present (Booksellers, apart from being publishers, can also be avid collectors, and I certainly am one as well.) We wanted to add some bit of vegetariana to our output, and we chose the very short and touching work by Annie Cobden-Sanderson, How I Became a Vegetarian, first published in a small edition of less than ten copies in 1908 by Annie’s husband T. J. Cobden-Sanderson, founder of the Doves Press. We chose to duplicate the original edition as best we could, and printed 100 copies in 1983.

Another author with whom we worked on several projects was Edouard Roditi, the most intelligent, literary and lively raconteur I have ever known. Edouard spoke dozens of languages, translated for international organizations, and published books on numerous topics from Magellan to Oscar Wilde, from the Kaballah to the Kasbah. We first met Edouard through John Martin, our good friend and founder of the Black Sparrow Press. Edouard always had dozens of little manuscripts in preparation, and we expressed a desire to publish one. Our first collaboration was his Meetings with Conrad, a reminiscence of his meeting Joseph Conrad when Conrad twice visited Elstree School, north of London, where Edouard was a student.

We also published a bi-lingual edition of a prose poem by the 19th century French poet and dandy Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly with an introduction by Edouard. This work, Laocoön, was inspired by the Greek statue in which a father and his two sons lose their epic battle with a gigantic serpent. In the spirit of the poem, and in honor of Barbey and Edouard’s dandyism, we printed 80 copies of the book on lemon-yellow paper and printed 20 more on blood-red paper. This may be the most eccentric book in the Pegacycle Lady’s unusual oeuvre.

By now you might be wondering about the economics of publishing weird little books in small editions. We wondered about it too. Economics just doesn’t seem to be a very useful part of publishing, so we ignored it. In the words of the Rev. Sydney Smith “there is nothing so fallacious as facts, except figures.” As we supplied the labor, which could never be adequately recompensed in any real world terms, our costs were in materials, which could be high, but that never really mattered to us.

Some books sold well, others languished for a while, but we published every book because we thought the contents were worthy of being given form. We became publishers because we loved books, and any profits we made were put right back into more type and more paper for the next project.

Another publishing adventure was Jay’s Journal of Anomalies, a quarterly journal written by Ricky Jay, the scholar and sleight of hand artist. In this case, we did not do the printing, but rather, engaged the services of Pat Reagh, one of the country’s finest letterpress printers. This was our first experience publishing something on an ongoing basis, and it was an experience of many dimensions. True to our antiquarian instincts, we prepared the Journal in a very old-fashioned way: it was printed letterpress on handmade paper, and the color plates, usually two per issue, were tipped in by hand, usually by my hands. The Journal met with much acclaim, and the original one hundred subscribers we had hoped for mushroomed into five hundred. Reminiscent of our experience with Cruel Shoes, we ultimately had to suspend publication because we could not keep up with all the labor-intensive work. It seems odd that a limited edition of five hundred would be overwhelming, but that is how it is in the private press world.

I suppose one of the hallmarks of rare booksellers as publishers is the limited edition. We know the length and breadth and depth of our market, and count ourselves successful if we can sell a few hundred copies. The mass market is for the mass publishers: the rarefied market is for the rare book publishers. Our goal is not quantity, it is entity, and by that I mean we aim to put into existence worthwhile books that depend not on a multiplicity of copies for justification, but on the soundness of their content and form. Many of our books have been acquired by university and museum libraries, ensuring that our books may be read by many, even if they do not exist in many copies. In this paradoxical way, less is more, and, now, I am more or less finished, except to say that the Pegacyle Lady, although she faded in 1992 after twenty-one years, left us with a beautiful corpus.



N.B. All works were printed at the The Press of the Pegacycle Lady unless otherwise noted. The list is in chronological order.

Whigham, Peter. Langue d’Oeil. 1971. 8 1/4 x 5 3/4 inches, (6)pp. sewn into gray printed wrappers. Set in Centaur with titling in Rivoli and Arrighi. Printed on Beckett laid paper. 60 copies signed and numbered by the author.

Rudhyar, Dane. White in the Wind. 1971. 5 x 3-1/2 inches, (4)pp. Handsewn in various paper wrappers. Set in Centaur. Printed on laid paper. 50 copies numbered and signed by the author.

Forrest, Bernard. Her Foot in My Hand. 1972. 8 x 5-1/8 inches, (14)pp. With an original watercolor by the author tipped in. Bound in buckram-backed boards marbled at the Press, printed label. Set in 14 point Goudy Bold with titling in Cooper Black. Printed on Hayle Mill hand-made paper. 50 copies signed and numbered by the author. Ten additional copies were printed and numbered I through X and specially bound in papers water-colored by the author.

Hirschman, Jack. The R of The Ari’s Raziel. 1972. 8-1/2 x 5-1/2 inches, (8)pp, hand-sewn into dark brown wrappers with printed title in red. Printed in 12 point Centaur, with titling in Goudy Bold, on Beckett laid paper. 100 copies signed and numbered by the author.

Antiquarian Lust [including] A Unique Copy, by Chiron. Scout-Out at Acres of Books, by Zaldi Waples. The Book Scout’s Bad Day, by J. N.-A. Pichauld. Libros Encantados, by V. Verseau. Angelopolis [i.e., Los Angeles], 1973. 8-1/2 x 5-5/8 inches, (4), 14pp. Set in 12 point Centaur with title in Goudy Bold and black letter. Printed on Beckett laid paper. 100 copies, of which 80 were sewn into red printed wrappers; 20 were bound in quarter cream buckram with red printed boards, unprinted red dustjacket. Each of the 20 special copies included a leaf of manuscript from one of the stories. A hand-colored prospectus was issued.

Mallarmé, Stéphane. Igitur. Rendered into English by Jack Hirschman with Cover by W[allace] Berman. 1974. 9-1/2 x 6-1/4 inches, (2), 21pp plus colophon. Set in 12 point Goudy Light, titling in Goudy Bold. Printed on Warren’s Olde Style paper. Bound in brick red paper with offset image by Berman pasted to front cover. 500 copies printed of which 1-100 were bound in boards; 101-500 were bound in wrappers. A prospectus was issued.

Lawrence, D.H. Consciousness. Privately Printed, 1974. 10 x 6-1/2 inches, (9)pp, title page printed in black and blue within a gray border. Bound in blue marbled boards, gray label printed in black and blue, gray endpapers, with dark blue Japanese tissue dustjacket. Set in Joanna types and printed on Arches Laid paper. 50 copies printed for John Martin of the Black Sparrow Press.

Marquis de Sade. A Letter from The Bastille Written to His Wife. Heretofore Unpublished. Now in the Collection of Mr. Graham Nash. Translated & Introduced by Mr. Gregory A. Pearson. Together with a Facsimile of the Original. Privately Printed, 1975. 10 x 6-1/2 inches, (11)pp plus (4)pp offset printed facsimile. Quarter buckram with paste-paper boards hand-made at the press, label printed in blue and black. Printed in Centaur & Arrighi types on Arches Laid paper. 150 copies printed of which 75 were for sale.

Pildas, Ave. Bijou, Twelve Los Angeles Box Offices. 1975. 10 x 8 inches, (8)pp introduction printed in Boule Miche and Goudy Bold, followed by 12 photographs, each laid into a printed folder. Cloth folding box with paper label. 25 five sets printed with each photograph numbered and signed by the photographer.

Bacon, Roger. The Mirror of Alchemy. 1975. 10 x 6-1/2 inches, (6), 18pp plus colophon. Set in Centaur and Arrighi types and printed on Arches Wove paper. 250 copies printed, of which numbers 1 through 10 were hand-bound in quarter morocco by Rene Patron, the remainder bound in buckram-backed marbled boards with printed label. A joint publication of the Press of the Pegacycle Lady and the Globe Bookstore

Cornfield, Jim. Fat Tuesday. 1976. 13-7/8 x 11 inches, (7)pp introduction printed in Goudy Bold, Goudy Heavy and Cooper Black on Strathmore Cover in blue and black. With 12 original photographs dry-mounted on 100% rag boards. Blue moiré silk folding box with printed label. Although the colophon states one hundred copies were made, only 25 sets were produced. Each photograph numbered and signed by Cornfield. Prospectus issued

Roditi, Edouard. Meetings with Conrad. 1977. 7-3/8 x 5 inches, (2), 18pp plus colophon. Gray Strathmore boards printed in blue. Set in Cochin types and printed on Warren’s Olde Style paper. 200 copies printed of which numbers 1 through 26 were printed on light blue paper handmade at the Ashling Mill in Ireland and specially bound in quarter velin with marbled boards. Prospectus issued.

Martin, Steve. Cruel Shoes. 1977. 7 7/8 x 5 1/2 inches, (8), 48, (3)pp. Gray boards backed in velin, pink printed label. Set in Futura. 750 copies printed offset.

(Hunley, Maxwell). Portrait of a Lady. 1977. 7-3/4 x 4-5/8 inches. Printed on blue handmade paper. Velin backed marbled boards. Five copies printed for the author.

Essick, Robert. William Blake’s Relief Inventions. Los Angeles: Printed for William & Victoria Dailey, The Press of the Pegacycle Lady, 1978. 12 x 9 inches, 38pp with 9 relief block illustrations of which 7 are printed in color. Quarter gray velin with blue Fabriano Roma handmade paper-covered boards. Set in Bulmer and printed on Rives by Patrick Reagh in an edition of 365 copies, of which numbers 1 through 15 included an extra suite of plates loose in separate portfolio, with slipcase.

Studley, Vance. Specimens of Handmade Botanical Paper. 1979. 10 x 6-5/8 inches, (8)pp text, 6 fascicules, each with 1 page text, 1 original etching, and 1 paper specimen. 50 sets printed of which 25 were in folding boxes with half linen spines, paper boards, printed paper labels, and 25 in half morocco boxes, marbled boards.

Brainard, Joe. 24 Pictures & Some Words. 1980. 5-3/4 x 4-1/4 inches. Red cloth, green printed label. 250 copies printed for Robert Butts, of which 25 copies were reserved for the publisher, and 25 for the artist, all signed by the artist-author.

Pinckard, W.H., Jr. A Note On Traditional Japanese Print Sizes. 1980. 12mo, 7-1/2 x 4-3/8 inches, (8)pp. Printed by Patrick Reagh on handmade Japanese paper, sewn into gray wrappers. 400 copies printed.

Baumann, Gustave. Frijoles Canyon Pictographs, Recorded in Woodcuts by Gustave Baumann. William & Victoria Dailey Antiquarian Books & Fine Prints, 1980. 8-3/4 x 8-3/4 inches, (40)pp, bound in cloth printed from woodblocks, paper label, with dustjacket printed from woodblocks (which were not issued with the first edition). Printed from Baumann’s original woodcuts of 1939, and with a new introduction by Victoria Dailey. Set in Bookman and printed on Frankfurt Creme paper by Patrick Reagh. 250 copies printed.

Previn, Dory. Aries. 1982. 10-1/2 x 6-3/4 inches, (5)pp, with an original etching on title page by Joby Baker. Handsewn into wrappers. 24 copies printed for the author on the occasion of her birthday.

Barbey d’Aurevilly, Jules. Laocoön. With a Translation into English by Harriet M. Carey and an Introduction by Edouard Roditi. 1985. 7-7/8 x 5-1/2 inches. Bound in black boards, paper labels. 100 copies printed, 20 on red paper, 80 on yellow paper.

Cobden-Sanderson, Annie. How I Became a Vegetarian. 1983. 7-1/2 x 5 inches, (8)pp, linen-backed blue paper boards. A quasi type-facsimile of the original edition of 1908, set in Centaur and printed on Hayle paper. 100 copies printed.

Metzner, M. Raven. The Suit and Three Poems. New York, 1990. 9-1/2 x 6-3/8 inches, (4), 26, (2)pp, with a photographic frontispiece by Sheila Metzner. Set in Futura and printed on Rives. Cloth-backed printed gray boards. Designed by William Dailey and printed by Patrick Reagh for Sheila Metzner in an edition of 150 copies.

Neruda, Pablo. Sky Stones. Poems from Las Piedras del Cielo, Translated by Peter Levitt. With Etchings by Vijali. 1990. 11 x 7-7/8 inches, (35)pp including 8 original etchings printed by the artist with the assistance of Sarah Todd. Printed in Gill Sans on Arches paper and bound in black cloth. 40 copies printed, each signed by the artist, translator, and printer.

Humphries, Barry. A Chorale for Coral. With a Portrait by Don Bachardy. Very Privately Printed, 1992. 9-1/4 x 6-1/4 inches. Offset portrait frontispiece of Coral Brown by Don Bachardy. Hand-sewn into orange wrappers. 75 copies printed.