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A Book in the Hand: Essays on the History of the Book in New Zealand

Eleven: Bob Lowry and the Pelorus Press, 1945-531

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Eleven: Bob Lowry and the Pelorus Press, 1945-531

Bob Lowry, about 1944. Clifton Firth Photograph, Auckland Public Library

Bob Lowry, about 1944. Clifton Firth Photograph, Auckland Public Library

page 167

R. W. (Bob) Lowry was Auckland's best-known printer from the late 1940s to the early 1960s. He founded, partnered, or was associated with no fewer than fourteen presses in his 35-year career as a printer, publisher and typographer and from early 1945 to late 1953 Pelorus Press consumed Lowry's energy. It was a turning point in his life — it closed one chapter, a tempestuous 'apprenticeship', and opened another. For Lowry after the war Pelorus was a new start and it came to represent a time in which he made a significant contribution to the publishing of New Zealand literature.2

By the time he set up Pelorus Press Lowry had been printing off and on for nearly twenty years. His involvement began when he was a secondary school student and grew when he was an undergraduate at Auckland University College between 1931 and 1933.3 He founded the press of the Students' Association and undertook jobbing and 'hack' work as well as the now-celebrated issues of the literary periodical Phoenix (1932-3), Kiwi 1932 and the Jubilee book (1933). All the while, Lowry was reading about printing. He read Lucien Legros's 700-page compendium Typographical printing surfaces (1916), Daniel Updike's Printing types: Their history, forms and use (1922), the journals British printer and Inland printer , Eric Gill and Stanley Morison. The latter two were particularly important to him. Eric Gill's An essay in typography (1931) espoused a philosophy of printing and design that struck a page 168 chord and Morison's essays in issues of the Fleuron informed him about the pedigree of many of the faces that the Monotype Corporation recut.

At Auckland University College, Lowry's printing of anti-establishment and radical material and his financial management of the press were viewed with increasing alarm by student leaders and College authorities. They determined to rein him in. Their hostility, together with the pressures of printing and of his own academic programme, proved too much and in the middle of machining Allen Curnow's Valley of decision in September 1933, Lowry decamped. 'If there's any chance of a job', he wrote to Denis Glover from Te Kuiti, 'let's know and I'll come. Here's your big chance for us to get together as advocated.'4 He met up with Glover in Christchurch, where he filled in time helping to produce the unremarkable Little plays for Maori legends. But worse was to follow. In November a report on his activities to the Students' Association Executive outlined debts and liabilities that amounted to £342. The Professorial Board acted swiftly and severely and banned Lowry from the College. The decision stunned Lowry and the rejection coloured his working relationship with the College from then on.

Early in 1934 he returned to Auckland and lived with R. A. K. Mason in order to produce works under Mason's Spearhead Publishers imprint. The working relationship did not last long, however, and in May he moved Mason's small Pearl platen to premises in Kitchener Street where he established his own Unicorn Press.5 The Unicorn premises became the literary centre of Auckland — along with the Spotted Dog cafe in Commerce Street and the Queen's Ferry pub in Vulcan Lane. Regular visitors included A. R. D. Fairburn, Frank Sargeson, Clifton Firth, Dickie Anschutz, D'Arcy Cresswell and Robin Hyde. Lowry undertook jobbing work for radical causes — for groups like the local Council of the National Unemployed Workers' Movement and the Labour Club of Auckland University College and for local businesses, as well as more substantial printing and publishing. He printed Mason's No new thing (1934) under the Spearhead Publishers imprint,6 Harry Harker's House to house (1935) for the author, and published Frederick de la Mare's Academic freedom in New Zealand (1935), Frank Sargeson's Conversation with my uncle (1936) and D'Arcy Cresswell's Lyttelton harbour (1936). From 1935 Lowry worked alongside and shared machinery with Ronald page 169 Holloway, who maintained his own Griffin Press but also helped compose many of the Unicorn jobs. Lowry's financial woes continued. He ran up debts and, in order to pay off some of these, he sold his plant to the Holloways in July 1938. Roderick Finlayson's Brown man's burden , whose imprint is that of the Unicorn Press but carries the Griffin Press name on the dust wrapper, is evidence of the change.

Lowry was married by this time and with his wife Irene and daughter he moved to Northland to teach primary schoolchildren, but by 1939 they were again back in Auckland where Lowry gained access to yet another press. Under the imprint of the Phillips Press, he produced at least two works: Leo Fowler's Pit poems and Fairburn's The sky is a limpet (both 1939). Even when Lowry trained as a primary school teacher at Auckland Training College in 1940-1 he printed. He took the Art Department's small hand-fed treadle to 'a cubby hole of a basement under the stage of the hall' and produced the 1941 volume of the college magazine Manuka: 'This hvs deen an eqoch:making year ±or the Tpyographical Division or Printin Group. The aBpuisition of aP!atten Prefs; eraly in the pear, gaue a tremendoug fiillup to the group,s actiˆities. The highlight og lhe Season was a gift of fome fonts of tyqe?'.7

Wartime service, too, provided an opportunity to print. Following a brief posting to artillery in 1942, Lowry was attached to the Army Education and Welfare Service and shipped to Noumea, where he worked as 'printer in charge' of Kiwi news , the newspaper of the Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force in the Pacific.

Pelorus: The hobby press

When he returned from the war in July 1944 Lowry was 31 years old. He and Irene had three young daughters and it was imperative that he earn a steady income. So he returned to Seddon Memorial Technical College, where he had been before call-up and where he taught 'art, design and layout, bookbinding, the chemistry of printing, compositors' work, and letterpress machining'.8 At the same time he planned to establish his own press at his home at Gladwin Road, on the slopes of One Tree Hill. Before his 1945 teaching year began, Lowry borrowed £150, bought a secondhand Falcon semi-automatic platen and £50 of type and etceteras. In April, with another £100 loan, he brought a guillotine, paper, ink page 170 and blocks. This was the beginning of Pelorus Press. Lowry's printer's device was the dolphin, a deliberate reference to Aldus Manutius, the 16th-century Venetian printer and publisher: 'It was a happy thought to maintain the old dolphin tradition. What more inevitable then . . . than Pelorus Jack of the Sounds?'9

Lowry installed his press in a shed in his backyard where he undertook jobbing work: 'Archery Club, £4; Family Planning Assn, £1/4/0; Douglas Robb, £5/0/0'.10 From May onwards, Lowry had help at the press. Pat Dobbie had moved in and in part-payment for board he did much of the machining. The pair printed or published many modest or undistinguished booklets and pamphlets. The first and now one of the rarest was Terry Bond's pamphlet Jefferson v. Jacobs or, A matter of conscience , published in August 1945, set in Caslon type and issued in a light board wrapper. Bond paid £8 17s 6d for this, a fraction of the £65 Rosalie Seddon paid Lowry (via the publisher Oswald Sealy) for her Whims of a WAAF printed in December. The most notable publication in this first year was Frank Sargeson's Speaking for ourselves , printed for Glover's Caxton Press in September, for which Lowry was paid the princely sum of £78. By year's end Lowry had outlaid £527 on plant and 'miscellaneous' items and had earned £376: a 40 per cent loss before tax. In addition to this were loans from friends that totalled £272. The difference between income and expenditure may explain the non-appearance of two planned works in 1945: a broadside of Fairburn's 'Full fathom five' and a volume of short stories by Kendrick Smithyman..11

In 1946 the Pelorus came to national attention with Lowry's publishing of Fairburn's How to ride a bicycle in seventeen lovely colours; This little book (the first of a series!) was wholly written, designed, set up, imposed, proof-read, corrected, printed, folded, collated, knocked-up, stapled, trimmed, packed & invoiced at the Pelorus Press . . . in New Zealand, by New Zealanders, for New Zealanders. Well made New Zealand! This is the story of Alfred Wardle's attempts at learning to ride as revealed in correspondence with the Dumbbell Postal College — 'It is evident that you have not yet grasped the fact that it is the anti-gravitational effect of momentum that maintains the Bicycle plus yourself in an upright position. Forward motion is essential to this'. Using many of Seddon Technical College's types, Lowry composed How to ride a bicycle ... in the house while Dobbie machined all 2000 copies in the shed. 'It was a hella'va job. [Because] of the size of the press each of the five folios page 171
The first Pelorus Press production, Terry Bond's Jefferson v. Jacobs, August 1945. University of Auckland Library

The first Pelorus Press production, Terry Bond's Jefferson v. Jacobs, August 1945. University of Auckland Library

had to be folded, so that one half would be printed, then turned, printed, then folded back again and again. Eight times because there were two colours on every page . . . Bob and I parted company over that', Dobbie later wistfully recalled. To spread the word, Lowry advertised How to ride a bicycle ... in the New Zealand listener in August, and by December it had returned £60 8s 4d, a mix of 49 personal and 289 trade sales (at 5s and 3s 4d respectively).12 Progressive Books took 100 copies, Paul's Book Arcade 25, Modern Books and Whitcombe and Tombs, Wellington, 24 each. Sales from other jobs in 1946 realised £426, a 37 per cent loss before tax on expenses of £586. But if Lowry added in the How to ride a bicycle . . . income, and if he also added a page 172 nominal sum for closing stock and work in progress (as he was later to do), he could claim to have broken even.

Pelorus: The partnership and company

During 1947 Lowry was satisfied that full-time printing was possible. By mid-year he optimistically wrote to Blackwood and Janet Paul, 'Things have been going well . . . I've actually made clear and definite profits, paid off some sizeable debts and bought substantial quantities of paper'.13 He resigned from teaching in August and with two returned servicemen, Gordon Trigg and Leslie Taylor, applied for a Rehabilitation Department loan to set up a partnership. Trigg and Taylor would each provide £500 capital while Lowry would contribute £850 in plant. This was to comprise the Falcon platen, a Royal cylinder press, another platen valued at £15, hand guillotine, electric motor, type and composing room equipment (£450) and paper (£295). The sum excluded £420 of liabilities Lowry carried over from Pelorus that presumably included the £263 debts to friends. While this proposal was possibly not the final partnership agreement, it is likely to have been close, for their first capital account summary is similar. This lists Lowry as providing £890 in plant; Trigg £200 cash and £475 'by plant' and Taylor £475 'by plant'.14The surprise here is the equity Trigg and Taylor had in plant; Taylor's perhaps to do with bindery equipment and Trigg's for machinery. To add to their own equity the partners sought from the department an additional £6,240 for plant, bindery equipment and stock: a Thompson automatic press (for £1,250); quad crown cylinder press (£400); power guillotine (£800); Brehmer stapler (£100); Linotype (£700); bindery equipment (£500); a folding machine (£150); type and other etceteras (£150); two fonts of Linotype faces (£350); and paper and ink (£705). How much they received is not known but their proposal indicated the scale of their intended operations. It included a projected trading account of over £10,000, an amount they first managed to attain in 1952-3. They planned to work out of Gladwin Road (the shed is included in Lowry's equity to the value of £160) in a 'single-storied "shell" with concrete beds' to save overheads on a rented building. But the new building did not materialise and after 'about eight months . . . under the most difficult conditions' the partners moved to a disused bakehouse at 2A Severn Street, adjacent to Mt page 173
The Pelorus Press building, Severn Street, August 1947. Robin Lush

The Pelorus Press building, Severn Street, August 1947. Robin Lush

Eden prison,15 which was the home of Pelorus Press for the duration of Lowry's involvement. It was two-storeyed with the office, composing room and bindery upstairs and the printery downstairs.

Jobbing printers

Once in the partnership Lowry settled down to help consolidate a commercial jobbing printery. He gained the accounts of the Community Arts Service, Workers' Educational Association (WEA), Auckland Society of Arts and, for a time, Auckland University College for their Bulletin series. Taylor brought in customers from Business Printing Works and Trigg, the Boys' Brigade. Even the auditor, Ron Howell, was helpful — the press printed the Christian pacifist that he edited. Between 1947 and 1952 the number of regular accounts built up: the Auckland Public Library (for binding); Arthur Yates (overprinting the prices on seed packets); Christopher Bede studios; Ilotts; the Architectural Centre, Wellington (for Design review); Ardmore Teachers' College; and, of page 174 course, Here & Now Ltd. This income was supplemented by larger one-off contracts that included books and booklets printed for other publishers — such as Greville Texidor's These dark glasses (for the Caxton Press in April 1949), Ormond Burton's biography of Arthur Liversedge (for Forward Books, which brought in £239 in June 1951), and Pastor Harry Roberts's New Zealand's greatest revival (by an eye witness) for the Pentecostal Church of New Zealand (for which the Press charged £86 in October 1951).16 The most contentious of these books was Sydney Musgrove's T. S. Eliot and Walt Whitman printed for the New Zealand University Press in 1952. It was roasted when it appeared: 'Technically the book is unworthy of a university press: the margins are uneven and the inking is poor. But the worst comes when the wretched reader attempts to use the page references, and discovers that the pagination has been upset after the last proof-reading, so that every reference in the book to its own page numbers is wrong'.17 Underpinning all these contracts were the myriad small jobs that sustain jobbing printers. In September 1950, for example, the Sales journal lists 52 small jobs, including typesetting for the Auckland Institute, programmes for the Auckland Little Symphony and South Taranaki Arts Society, labels for Butlands, leaflets for the Family Planning Association and photo wallets for Clifton Firth.18 Booklets of interest that were produced during this time were Kendrick Smithyman's Seven sonnets (December 1946), The body in the barber's chair; eight stories . . . (December 1947) for the WEA, Fairburn's Crisis in the wine industry (1948), Ormond Burton's Against conscription (1949) and his Saul — persecutor: A play in six scenes (1950), the Wellington Architectural Centre's Demonstration house (1949) and Robert Goodman's Unseemly ally . . . (1951). Evidence of their success with jobbing work is borne out by the Sales journal. Monthly averages of jobbing sales on credit increased for every year of the partnership, except for 1953. In 1952 sales were £918, 80 per cent greater than they had been in 1949.19 One element of Pelorus's jobbing work was a constraint: they were dependent on external firms for their linotyping and this meant they could not easily manage longer works. Randal Burdon's 247-page New Zealand notables: Series three was a good case in point. In August 1949 Burdon asked Glover to publish his work at the Caxton Press. Glover agreed but was in the middle of moving premises and so asked Lowry to take over the printing. '[Lowry] blithely assured me that 6 months will be plenty of time', page 175 wrote Glover to Burdon, 'but put not your trust in printers.'20 Wise words. At the end of six months Burdon sought from Lowry 'copy as far as set', but by the end of May 1950 Lowry had sent up only one essay of four. In June Glover wrote to Burdon threatening 'to tell Pelorus that if they cannot get on with the machining, and that in tent-pegging time, they must send the metal down here so that we may get on with the job ourselves'. He defended Lowry up to a point ('[they] are in the same restrictive difficulties as we are') but by September he issued Lowry an ultimatum. Have all the proofs to Burdon by the end of September 'and the book completed by the end of October' or the order would be cancelled. Glover's next letter of November sums up the relief of all: 'Miracles, my dear old Culture King, are occurring . . . Pelorus telegraph to say that some copies will be available on 10th inst'. In the end, Pelorus printed 750 copies, charged £355 and completed binding and despatch to Caxton in January 1951 — sixteen months after Burdon agreed to let the job come north. Lowry maintained that the delay was out of his control, the result of 'an extraordinary amount of reorganisation and difficulty in the Auckland linotype services during the past several months', but the delay further dented Pelorus's credibility, particularly when set alongside delays to other projects. It confirmed that the press was not able to print large jobs to a deadline.

Here & now

The latter part of 1949 occupied Lowry in other ways. He became involved in a pivotal new venture, the magazine Here & now. This had a major effect on the partnership, not least because Pelorus Press contracted to print it. Lowry was also responsible for its design, was one of six on the original editorial committee and had very definite ideas about its content. Irene was also very involved. She acted as general secretary to the committee, a task that involved hours of work. Between them the Lowrys were to spend years holding Here & now together. 'Our lives', Irene later wrote, 'revolve mostly around its production, so of course we think it's good.'21 Here & now: An independent monthly review was first announced in August. It was to have 32 pages, a 'guaranteed initial circulation of 5,000', and would be 'typographically distinguished'.22 Charles Cole was appointed 'travelling canvasser' and planned to go as far south as Dunedin drumming up subscrip- page 176 tions. Once printed, it would be distributed by Gordon & Gotch to booksellers. But even with a circulation of 4000 (at a cover price of 2s or subscription for a guinea), the committee predicted a loss of £450 over the first three issues. They planned to print these issues, then form a public company to raise enough working capital to enable them to continue.

Here & now number one appeared in October, number two in November. Each had 36 pages and was printed on art paper by Jenkins in Auckland (not the Pelorus Press as the colophon states). The text pages were well-designed and contained line blocks, halftones and three-column text, with 3-line initials. But after the second issue the money ran out, and the editorial committee spent the best part of 1950 determining how production could continue. To raise the money necessary, a private company, Here & Now Limited, was established with nominal shareholders — 'legal scapegoats' as one contemporary called them — who held shares in trust on behalf of those who gave donations.23 This company took over the liabilities of the original committee, some £430 in the form of subscriptions paid in advance. With this money the third issue was printed in November 1950: 'We don't apologise for our enforced absence from your fireside', noted the publishers, 'our optimism and enthusiasm rather undermined our economic stability.' The third number was a much more modest affair than the earlier two. The committee cut the page dimensions, the print run was halved to 2500 (recognising sales of 1500 and 1850 — of which 650 were subscribers), and the 'unnecessarily lavish' layout brought under control. Lowry committed Pelorus Press to a printing budget of £115 per issue that included £12 10s for blocks. Gordon & Gotch were dispensed with and it fell to Irene to coordinate the tiresome job of packing and posting copies out to subscribers and booksellers. In November 1950 this meant mailing out to 623 subscribers, as well as maintaining the accounts.24

The printing contract made a considerable impact on the Pelorus accounts. There were increases in purchases made on credit and in the volume and value of cash purchases and sales that inflated the accounts each month prior to printing. In September and October 1949, for example, the value of materials purchased was 50 per cent higher than in August, purchases that were matched later by income when subscription moneys were banked in November. The immediate beneficiaries were local linotyping firms, photo-engravers, ink and paper suppliers, and page 177 Gordon & Gotch. Another beneficiary was Robin Lush, the apprentice compositor, who clocked up 78 hours overtime, including two Saturdays and Sundays. But because other sales were relatively constant the press could manage the short-term cashflow problems. In fact for the period that Lowry involved the partners and the company, Here & now was carefully managed. In the 1951 financial year, sales of Here & now represented 14 per cent of total press sales on credit. This percentage was exactly the same during the first six months of the 1952 financial year, and for the period from July 1952 until when Lowry left Pelorus Press the percentage dropped to 10 per cent, a figure confirmed by the more detailed Analysis book. It was a healthy state of affairs, for it meant that the partners were not dependent on Here & now for their income.

But for Lowry Here & now must have been a constant headache as, even in its heyday when it appeared regularly, it did not generate sufficient income from sales to match production costs. In the period April 1951 to March 1952 eleven issues were published, but each lost about £25. These losses were met by drawing down the capital reserves of Here & Now Limited and made Lowry take short cuts to attempt to stay within budget. By combining the January-February 1951 issue, for example, he saved 30 per cent in costs by producing 25 per cent fewer pages (the 48-page issue cost £175).25

The responsibility for the success of Here & now rested with the editorial committee. They determined the magazine's content which, if popular, would result in high sales and a healthy balance sheet. But editorial focus was never a strength, a factor that worried Charles Brasch: 'I don't quite see what [it] is going to be or what kind of public it will reach' he wrote to Lowry after seeing the proofs of the first issue.26 Rather, Here & now was founded on a belief that 'There is a desperate need for fresh air ... it will be as good as you [the reader] can make it'.27 Seven people were listed as an editorial panel with another 21 as a contributing panel and Brasch mused, 'as well as all the Lords High Everything Else, have you got an Editor? ... the history of magazines without an editor to make final decisions ... is not encouraging'.28 The epigraph to the third number answered Brasch's question but it would not have satisfied him: 'A paper without a policy is a paper without a punch; but a policy / cannot be defined. It is created out of the opinions in its pages'. Typically, page 178 even this message was diluted as the two lines were reversed when printed. This lack of focus meant that sales never reached a comfortable figure. Subscriptions — the lifeblood of any magazine — never exceeded 900 in the Pelorus years and averaged around the 750 mark. Total sales (subscribers and shop-sales) peaked in early 1952 at just over 1400.

For the partnership at Pelorus, Here & now had a corrosive effect in other ways. Trigg and Taylor believed that Lowry spent too much time on the magazine and that it took up too much machine time. There was often a great deal of hand-setting to do, particularly for the advertisements. There was, remembers Robin Lush, 'too much down time, fiddling around with collage'.29 Here & now irked the partners because it dragged down, or limited the opportunities for, profitability. Their experience with Lowry over Here & now may explain why, in August 1950, the partnership was translated into a limited liability company. It was a form of protection against Lowry's excesses.


As well as the jobbing printing, and the printing of Here & now, the Pelorus Press published four substantial works during Lowry's time: Hubert Witheford's Shadow of the flame (1949), Bill Anso's Adventures of Biscotti and Caramelle (1951), George Fraser's Ungrateful people (1952) and D'Arcy Cresswell's The forest (1952). Publishing 'fine' literature was always an uncertain proposition for the small company. Unless the author put up money, such works were difficult to finance and this often meant stuttering production through the stages of typesetting, proofing, printing, binding and distribution. Nor were they ever likely to yield much of a profit given the small size of the local market.

Witheford's Shadow of the flame was announced in October 1949: With this, the Press feels that it gains new status as printers, bookbinders and publishers of the first flight'.30 It was an elegant production, cased and quarter-bound in red linen with seven engravings by E. Mervyn Taylor. It has a beautifully proportioned title-page using 42-point Caslon and 10-point Fairfield caps. While no records survive about its production (apart from two allusive remarks in letters), there are no indications that it sold well.31' Certainly it received mixed reviews. Whereas James K. Baxter likened 'this remarkable book' to Rimbaud, Keith Sinclair page 179 thought Witheford 'has been stranded, very uncomfortably, on some poetic reef from which he makes feeble signals to passing ideas'.32 Anso's The adventures of Biscotti. . ., published in November 1951, certainly did not sell well.33 It was never reviewed and is remembered today for its Molly Macalister drawings and its unusual method of binding (the text block is saddle stitched onto a canvas spine). Fraser's Ungrateful people was heralded as the 'book of the year' by Here & now prior to its release in April 1952, but once again there is no evidence that it sold well even though it was reviewed favourably.34 Lowry's touch is evident on the title-page, a double-page spread using 48-point and 60-point Chisel printed in red and black.

The press, most likely at Lowry's insistence, had published four works: a volume of poetry, a children's book, essays and a playscript. None was successful and the message was plain: if the press stuck to job printing there was minimal risk and sufficient profit. But if it attempted publishing, profitability could be threatened. Most jobbing accounts, for example, passed through the Analysis book and Sales journal without incident in a matter of months. Difficulties cropped up as a result of venturing into publishing — or larger-scale printing — and in this, Lowry's hand was always evident. The fourth work published by Pelorus, D'Arcy Cresswell's The forest, provides detailed evidence of this.

Lowry first heard of The forest in 1950 when Cresswell gave a reading at Frank Sargeson's house before friends: 'I have never read so well, and the effect was immense, so much so that Lowry is now publishing it to subscribers at a guinea a copy . . . and a prospectus is about to go out ... to about 1,000 potential subscribers ... I sold the N.Z. publishing rights (excluding stage rights) to Lowry for £50 — to be paid me from the first £50 received from subscribers'.35 Cresswell's account vividly captures the excitement of the moment, the shared enthusiasm for a new work and the possibilities it provided. To raise money for printing to begin Lowry produced a prospectus that proposed 'in the first instance, to issue immediately a limited edition of . . . not more than 250 copies for subscription in England and New Zealand. A cheaper edition . . . may be issued to booksellers later'.36 The planned 'limited edition' would be hard-bound in green cloth (to match the green ink of the title-page engraving), printed on 'Mellotex' (an English matt-white paper), and have three wood engravings by E. Mervyn Taylor. The 7s 6d 'ordinary' edition

page 180
Cresswell's The forest, resplendent in olive green.

Cresswell's The forest, resplendent in olive green.

would be printed later from the galleys on lighter, machine-finished paper with one engraving and issued in a board cover with a lap-over dust jacket.37 But for the first year money was slow to come in. Only £76 was raised, which meant that from the beginning of the production cycle Lowry was hard pressed for capital.38 If Cresswell's promised £50 was deducted, Lowry was expected to start a fine printing job with £26. It is likely that, in this first year, income only covered the costs of the paper. Production would have to wait. This may explain the grumpiness of Sargeson, who complained that he had 'put in endless work trying to hurry Lowry along', without realising that Lowry was probably going as fast as the finances would allow. Sargeson was more optimistic early in 1951: I don't think Forest will be too long in appearing . . . it's going into type now'.39 By then Lowry page 181 had received an injection of £50 from the State Literary Fund, but by the end of 1951 The forest still had not appeared and Sargeson's patience was exhausted: I was confident I could push Lowry along ... in time for Christmas, but all hope seems gone now.'40

Late in 1951 or early 1952 The forest was finally printed on the new Glockner vertical cylinder. It had taken over two years to produce. There are no records of any income before May 1952 but between May and June £85 came in. After that, income tailed off dramatically and, until The forest was written off in March 1953, only £16 more was added to the account. Of the £101 income from sales, 60 per cent had come from booksellers (£57 as against £44 for individual subscribers) and once the initial flurry passed, there were few individual subscribers at all for the 'ordinary' edition. What hurt the partners most were the losses of £124 10s 7d — by the end of March 1953, sales had recouped only half of the costs of production. Lowry had gambled on subscription income matching production costs but had miscalculated badly. To make matters even worse, the job was flawed. Ted Wright, who imposed it, transposed pages — an error that went through both editions — and a correction slip was necessary. Nor were the lukewarm reviews likely to increase sales. While The forest was 'important', 'authentic' and 'profoundly serious', Keith Sinclair wrote, the playwright 'retreats . . . into an intellectual junkshop' and D. M. Anderson commented that if 'it contained more drama and a little less D'Arcy, it might well have been a fine play'.41

Commercial realities

But the examples of Here & now and Cresswell's The forest ought not distort the overall financial performance of Pelorus Press. It was a viable commercial concern and there are a number of indicators that confirm its profitability: for example, estimates of annual profit before tax, the partners' equity in plant, and the number of staff the partnership employed. Annual profit before tax can be estimated by analysing sales and expenses.42' For the press, expenses comprised opening stock, opening work-in-progress, purchases, wages, overheads (including rent, power, freight and cartage, repairs to machinery, insurance, depreciation and replacement of type) and interest on loans. Overall, the figures are healthy. In 1948 the press recorded a 5 per cent loss; in 1949 and 1950 a 15 per cent profit; in 1951 and 1952 a 12 per cent profit; page 182 and in 1953, a 5 per cent profit. The loss in 1948 was understandable as the partners were consolidating their business whereas the smaller profit in 1953 was the result of falling sales due to the partners' difficulties.43

Throughout the period the Pelorus partners added plant and equipment to their business. They bought a Wharfedale 20 x 30 handfed press and a Furnival cylinder press. In 1949 they bought their first modern automatic, a 10 x 15 Thompson, and in 1952 an 18 x 13 1/2 Glockner, an East German vertical cylinder. A list of plant compiled in 1950 includes £767 worth of type and £800 worth of binding equipment, with a £250 guillotine, a folding machine and a stitching machine. By 1952 the Severn Street premises were too small to accommodate the company: 'Every inch of space was utilised, a mezzanine floor had been built for paper storage — even the upper part of an old oven was cleaned out to provide much-needed space . . . carrying stock and printing formes up and down stairs, added to production costs.'44

In terms of staff the partnership began very much as a family affair. Trigg was the full-time machinist, Lowry the compositor and Taylor the binder. Iris Colleen Lowry worked full-time as an assistant to Taylor, Edith Taylor part-time, and Irene Lowry helped out in the office and with composing. With increasing volumes of work additional composing staff were required. In 1948 Robin Lush began a four-year apprenticeship and the following year another compositor was hired. Each partner and employee drew a salary that was comparable to their peers in the trade.45 Alongside these full-time employees were a number of casual or part-time staff, taken on when demands were high. Records of staff earnings over the years list many 'casuals' and 'binders'.46

After Pelorus

Throughout 1953 Lowry's relationship with his partners deteriorated and in October Taylor and Trigg bought him out. Lowry took £1700 from the company, some plant, equipment, and Here & now: 'We all more or less decided that the time had come to let Here & now die a quick rather than a painful death tho' Bob insisted on keeping it going', wrote Ormond Wilson to Cresswell. Cresswell's reply hit the mark: 'Poor Bob . . . [he] is an infatuated fellow very difficult to discipline'.47 Lowry bounced back with Pilgrim Press in June 1954: 'Equipped with a range of page 183 fine new types, and with fast modern automatic machines, [I] will give a first-class service in all types of letterpress printing, with special attention to typography and reliable delivery.'48

Lowry ran Pilgrim for seven years until February 1961 when it went into receivership. It was his last established press and his best productions there show an assured printer at work. These include Maurice Duggan's Immanuel's land (1957) — with its superb title-page and a device lifted straight from the Linotype Pilgrim prospectus, Olive Johnson's Bibliography of A. R. D. Fairburn (1958), and Fairburn and Glover's Poetry harbinger (1968). During this time Here & now folded. The magazine last appeared in November 1957 and in November 1963 Lowry confirmed to the Registrar of Companies that the business was defunct.

Lowry's legacy

Bob Lowry's importance to New Zealand printing history has not before been fully acknowledged and since his death in 1963 he has been remembered more for his lifestyle than his work. Glover's statement that what he 'actually did [was] not nearly as important as the fact that he existed' came to epitomise the way Lowry has been remembered.49 There is no doubt that his lack of business sense and his drinking affected his work. Nevertheless, his printing legacy cannot be diminished. He was the first to print, or publish, the poetry of Allen Curnow, Kendrick Smithyman and Hone Tuwhare and the prose of Frank Sargeson, Roderick Finlayson, Greville Texidor and Maurice Duggan. Tragically for Lowry, many of the writers he championed looked to other publishers after their first experiences with him. Curnow, Sargeson and Smithyman went to Caxton for their second works and Witheford to Pegasus. Cresswell used Lowry twice and only Ormond Burton and Fairburn went back on more than two occasions. As well as Here & now he printed literary magazines, innumerable booklets, leaflets, broadsides and ephemeral works, usually with an arts or political bent. Equally, his lifelong passion for printing influenced the careers of many of his contemporaries: Ronald Holloway, Patrick Dobbie, Robin Lush, and even Glover himself.

In a way, Lowry's work has been remembered in the same way as his life. His 'typographical excesses' — in works such as those produced for Fairburn, for example — have been lauded as Lowry's contribution to New Zealand printing, whereas his other, page 184 equally assured works that draw from more 'classically' derived models of printing, have been ignored.

Lowry's repeated shortcoming was printing and publishing without sufficient working capital. He knew it: 'Life is a bastard for the undercapitalised' he wrote to Glover when Pilgrim Press was in financial strife.50 Such working capital could only be got by regular jobbing income or by borrowing. When either faltered, Lowry's cycle of indebtedness to friends, family and trade debtors would begin again.

His involvement with the Pelorus Press for eight years was his most sustained attempt to work within the bounds of a commercial jobbing business, but commercial viability was not enough for him. Lowry wanted Pelorus to be a successful publisher and he wanted to be free to publish what he believed in. But his judgement failed him. The works he chose to publish were never successful and consequently he lost the trust of his partners.

In 1949 Lowry said of Glover's Caxton Press: 'For the first time in our history [they] provided, with some measure of continuity and permanence, a focus and encouragement . . . for such literary talent as existed.'51 Lowry's statement reads now like a coda for what he wanted to achieve himself. That he never quite succeeded is our immeasurable loss.

1 I would like to acknowledge financial assistance from the Auckland College of Education Research Committee, and help and advice from Janice Chong, Stephen Innes, John Laurie, Vanya Lowry and Robin Lush.

2 Unlike his close friend and fellow-printer Denis Glover, who returned to Caxton Press from the war with very ambivalent feelings about printing. See Denis Glover, Hot water sailor (Wellington: Reed, 1962), p.190.

3 See my '"Sneers, jeers ... and red rantings": Bob Lowry's early printing at Auckland University College', Turnbull Library record , 22 (1989), 5-31.

4 R. W. Lowry, letter to Denis Glover, 22 September 1933 (Denis Glover Papers, MS 418, folder 5, Alexander Turnbull Library, NLNZ; hereafter cited as Glover Papers). Ron Holloway completed the job. Earlier, in a prescient letter to R. A. K. Mason, then editor of Phoenix, Allen Curnow had written: 'The book: it's a fascinating suggestion, but the catch is in the guarantee. As my pater observed, one must not only write, but underwrite', Allen Curnow, letter to R. A. K. Mason, 3 February (or March) 1933 (R. A. K. Mason Papers, MS 592/E, Hocken Library, University of Otago).

5 Kay Holloway maintains that Lowry's partnership with Mason 'broke up' because of Lowry's 'light-hearted attitude to bills'. See her Beta plus (Memoirs I) (Auckland: Griffin Press, 1992), p.239.

6 A Spearhead Publishers prospectus for No new thing announces it as 'their first publication' (see R. W. Lowry Papers, MS A-194, Box 1, Auckland University Library; hereafter cited as Lowry Papers). Another prospectus in the Hocken Library makes the same claim for H. D. Dickinson's The material basis of culture; containing the substance of a lecture delivered to the Auckland Institute, 23rd July, 1934. A draft letter of Mason's adds 'it will be of about 30 pages with paper cover printed in two colours. It will retail at 1/-', but evidently it was not completed (R. A. K. Mason Papers, MS 990/6, Wo new thing suppressed notes' and 'They should be slaves', Hocken Library, University of Otago).

7 Manuka 1941, 98. The 'cubby hole' description is from 'Pat Dobbie's story', a transcript in the possession of Vanya Lowry. Dobbie and Lowry met at Training College and Dobbie's background as a mechanic was immediately put to use. He motorised the platen, then printed most of the magazine.

8 Seddonian 1945, 43.

9 Advertisement for Pelorus Press on broadside for Here & now (Lowry Papers, Box 2).

10 Figures are derived from a Ledger book, 1945-7, in the possession of Vanya Lowry. They are based on a calendar year. Lowry did not appear to draw wages from the press.

11 Kendrick Smithyman, letter to Lowry, 25 March 1945 (Lowry Papers, Box 14, folder 2).

12 Sales to Caxton Press complicate the picture. Thirty-six copies seem to have been at trade rates, eight at retail rates. An advertisement for How to ride a bicycle ... appears in the January 1952 issue of Here & now with the statement 'just reissued'. Perhaps pages were gathered and issued between new boards.

13 Lowry, letter to Janet and Blackwood Paul, 7 June 1947 (Glover Papers, folder 106). For the year to the end of October, Lowry recorded sales of £881 and expenses of £639, a profit of 27 per cent. One sale to D. D. O'Connor of £347 made up 40 per cent of the sales figure. Without this, the Press would have lost 12 per cent.

14 The rehab proposal is in Lowry Papers, Box 2, folder 6; the capital account summary of 31 July 1948 in a General ledger, 1949-55, in the Pelorus Press Archives (MS 98/105, Box 3, folder 21, Auckland Institute and Museum Library; hereafter cited as Pelorus Press Archives).

15 Pelorus Press Ltd, 10 years of progress [broadsheet] [1957] (Lowry Papers, Box 2, folder 3).

16 Sales summaries are extracted from the General ledger, 1949-55 (Pelorus Press Archives).

17 D. M. Anderson in Landfall , 7 (1953), 78-80 (p.80). J. C. Beaglehole, as chairman of the Board of New Zealand University Press, was not happy with Lowry: 'I shall probably shoot him yet. You can say for Whitcombes they do answer letters and in due course [send] proofs. But B. L. treats one with complete ignore. I beg his pardon. He did send me one note to say he would deal with my questions later, when he had time'. J. C. Beaglehole, letter to Janet Paul, 12 April 1951, quoted in Janet Paul, 'Some documents recalling 1951', Landfall, n.s.i (1993), 27-

18 Pelorus Press Ltd, Sales journal, 1949-55 (Pelorus Press Archives, Box 3, folder 25).

19 Ibid. Figures for 1949 are based on a nine-month year; for 1953, a ten-month year.

20 Glover, letter to Randal Burdon, 12 October 1949 (Randal Burdon Papers, MS 85-109-1/02, Alexander Turnbull Library, NLNZ). The unfolding saga is outlined in correspondence between Burdon, Lowry and Glover. See Denis Glover, letters to Randal Burdon, 31 August and 16 September 1949; Lowry, letter to Burdon, 29 May 1950; Glover, letters to Burdon, 13 June 1950 and 7 September 1950; Lowry, letter to Burdon, 14 September 1950; Glover, letters to Burdon, 3 and 13 November 1950 and 18 January 1951.

21 Irene Lowry, letter to Dorothy White, 10 December 1951 (Lowry Papers, Box 2, Folder 4).

22 Circular for Here & now, [August 1949?] (Lowry Papers, Box 2).

23 R. W. Chapman, letter to Charles Brasch, [September 1950] (Charles Brasch Papers, MS 996/9, Hocken Library, University of Otago; hereafter cited as Brasch Papers). The 'scapegoats' were Martyn Finlay, Frank Hofmann, Harold Kissin, Dove-Myer Robinson and Irene Lowry.

24 From March 1951 Here & now was increased to 40 pages. By October 1952 it was also distributed from 38 bookshops; thirteen in Auckland; eight in Wellington; three in Christchurch; two in Dunedin and from twelve shops in other towns.

25 Figures extracted from typescript headed 16 March 1951, in possession of Vanya Lowry. This lists financial, production and subscription details for some of the 1950-1 issues and was probably tabled at the April meeting of the shareholders. See also R. Chapman, letter to Brasch, 11 April 1951 (Brasch Papers, MS 996/9).

26 Charles Brasch, letter to Lowry, 10 October 1949 (Brasch Papers, MS 996/13).

27 Circular, Here & now, [October?] 1949. This circular uses the cover design of issue one and is printed in two colours (Lowry Papers, Box 3, Folder 5).

28 Brasch, letter to Lowry, 10 October 1949. Brasch offered constructive criticism throughout the period to October 1953. See Brasch, letter to Irene Lowry, 10 July 1950 (Brasch Papers, MS 996/13), letter to R. Chapman, 14 April 1951 (Brasch Papers, MS 996/9) and letter to Kendrick Smithyman, 26 March 1953 (Brasch Papers, MS 996/25).

29 Robin Lush, November 1995, transcript in the possession of Peter Hughes.

30 Outside back cover, Here & now , 1 (1949). The colophon states 'First published in March 1950'. The same advertisement announces Helen Shaw's The Gabriels,

31 Glover, letter to John Reece Cole, 10 August 1949 (J. R. Cole Papers, MS 4647-07, Alexander Turnbull Library, NLNZ) and Brasch, letter to Janet Paul, 15 May 1949 (Brasch Papers, MS 996/21).

32 James K. Baxter in New Zealand listener , 23 no.585 (1950), 13, and Keith Sinclair, in Here & now , 1 (1949), 32.

33 Sales book and records (Lowry Papers, Box 2, folder 14).

34 Mary Boyd in Landfall , 6 (1952), 330-1 (p.331) and David Hall in New Zealand listener , 27 no.681 (1952), p.14. Earlier Here & now had announced a delay in publishing the book, 'that has not been the fault of the printer', Here & now , 15 (1951), p.26.

35 D'Arcy Cresswell, letter to Ormond Wilson, 2 April 1950, in The letters of D'Arcy Cresswell , ed. by Helen Shaw (Christchurch: University of Canterbury, 1971),

36 Prospectus for The forest, May-June [1950?] (Lowry Papers, Box 1, folder 8).

37 Advertisement in Here & now , July 1952, 13.

38 There are two sources for the Cresswell accounts: the General ledger, 1949-55 has a 'Cresswell account' summary diat covers the financial years 1951-3 and is annotated with die auditor's comments. Additional sales records are taken from the Sales journal, 1949-55, in which sales are listed for the period May 1952-October 1953. Built into the June 1952 figure is £255 'ex sales' that represented the cost of production to that date.

39 Sargeson, letter to Brasch, 28 February 1951 (Brasch Papers, MS 996/23). The font used was 9-point Linotype Fairfield.

40 Ibid., 3 October 1951 (Brasch Papers, MS 996/23).

41 Keith Sinclair, in Landfall, 6 (1952), 328-30 (p.329), and D. M. Anderson, in New Zealand listener , 27 no.691 (1952), p.12.

42 That is, subtracting expenses from sales then dividing the resulting net profit (or loss) by sales and multiplying by 100 to give a percentage profit (or loss). End of year closing stock and work-in-progress first need to be subtracted from expenses.

43 The figures for the Press partnership and company are recorded in the General ledger, 1949-55. Sales figures are derived from the 'Work done' summary, pp.50-2; expenses from the profit and loss account summaries, pp. 152-6. Figures for the period July 1952-October 1953 are supplemented by an Analysis book that lists monthly cash receipts and payments (Pelorus Press Archives, Box 4, folder 31). This is an invaluable check against the Sales journal and Purchases journal that list, respectively, sales and purchases on credit. All figures are for financial years ending 31 March.

44 Pelorus Press Ltd, 10 years of progress [broadsheet] [1957].

45 Anew industrial Award in 1947 granted an increase of 10s iod a week in the wages 'of all journeymen, bringing the rate for compositors to £6/10/0 and that for linotype operators to £6/17/6'. See Printers news , 5 no.2 (May 1947).

46 Extracted from Staff earning records books, October 1947-November 1953 (Pelorus Press Archives, Box 4, folder 34).

47 Ormond Wilson, quoted in a letter to Cresswell, and Cresswell's reply, 15 June 1954 in The letters of D'Arcy Cresswell , p. 194. His necessity to draw down reserves and consequent lack of working capital played havoc with the regular production of Here & now, earning it the sobriquet Now & then or There & then.

48 Here & now advertisement, July 1954, 24. He bought in new fonts of Perpetua roman and italic, which became his standard faces.

49 Denis Glover, 'Tribute paid to a fine New Zealand typographer', Auckland star , 12 December 1963.

50 Lowry, letter to Glover, 9 November 1957 (Glover Papers, folder 6).

51 Landfall , 3 (1949), 182-5 (p.186). He was reviewing the Caxton Press publication Printing types; A second specimen book.