Elke & Tim Inkster
Local Heroes: Elke & Tim Inkster built a national treasure.
Elke & Tim Inkster: Two of our 2008 Local Heroes
Judging A Book And Its Cover
Some might say that Elke and Tim Inkster are like pie: she’s the filling, he’s the crust. Together, over the last thirty-four years they have built The Porcupine’s Quill, their small publishing house in a storefront on the main street of Erin, into nothing less than a national treasure. Tim and Elke met as students at the University of Toronto, married in 1970, and both have had a life-long passion for making books. Tim started out as a pressman, teaching himself design, typesetting and printing along the way. Elke, meanwhile, became a skilled bookbinder.
The Porcupine’s Quill was launched in 1974, initially as the production arm of a former employer, Press Porcépic. “We started as a book printing firm,” Tim says. After parting ways with Press Porcépic in 1975, they bought the building next door, set-up shop on the main and lower levels, and moved into the 600 square foot apartment upstairs.
“We couldn’t afford the cost of moving all the printing equipment,” Tim recalls. “By only moving next door, we could just roll it over on dollies.” All these years later they’re still there, though they have since bought the building from which they originally came.
In 1975, they also added publishing to their printing duties. “It’s uncommon for publishers to also do the printing,” Tim says. “But I had my own ideas about standards. If you publish, you have control.” Their first title was a volume of poetry by Brian Johnson, Marzipan Lies.
The years since have brought much acclaim, if not fortune, to the aptly-named Inksters. Their uncompromising approach to producing books is part of that success. For example, where most modern books are glued together, Porcupine’s Quill books are sewn, using a 1905 Smyth Book Sewing Machine. “It’s tedious” Elke says, “but they don’t fall apart.”
Choice of print, design and paper are also critical. “Our strength lies in how we employ twentieth-century, offset-printing technology to replicate the look of nineteenth-century letterpress work,” says Tim. They only produce ten to twelve books a year, in addition to reprints and DA (formerly Devil’s Artisan), a magazine about the art of printing.
Of course, the words that appear on those beautiful pages are also important, and as publishers the Inksters have shown a sharp eye for talent. Well-known authors who got their start with the press include Jane Urquhart, Russell Smith and Elizabeth Hay. An extensive body of recognition has accumulated, including six titles that were nominated and one that won a Governor General’s Award. The Hidden Room, a two-volume collection of poetry by P.K. Page, was described by the University of Toronto as “one of the two dozen best books ever published in Canada.”
Though they don’t know who nominated them, in 2008 the Inksters were awarded the Order of Canada “for their distinctive contributions to publishing in Canada and for their promotion of new authors, as co-founders of The Porcupine’s Quill, a small press known for the award-winning beauty and quality of its books.”
“This isn’t just a job, it’s our whole life,” says Elke of their years of toil in Erin. Besides, quips a gruff but affable Tim, “We’re approaching sixty fairly hard. At this point we’re unemployable anywhere else.”
And, at that, those who love the printed word can rejoice.