The Psalms of David, Rampant Lions Press (1977)

Some books are simply beautiful — all the component parts blend together seamlessly allowing the finished product to exude specialness. Sometimes grandeur lifts a work into that sought after realm; sometimes it is accomplished by breaking new ground; other times simplicity is the driver. The work being reviewed here, The Psalms of David by Rampant Lions Press, is the latter. It is not a grand production and it breaks no important new ground. However, it does demonstrate the beauty of simplicity and what an artisan at the top of his craft can accomplish. Perfectly selected, set and printed type, on wonderful paper which is not only an excellent match for the type, but one that elicits a visceral response that feels just right for the subject itself. Finally, all of this is packaged within a simple, elegant and beautiful binding.

The Psalms of David was published by Rampant Lions Press in 1977. Rampant Lions Press was founded in 1924 by Will Carter and published its first book in 1936. Will’s son Sebastian joined the Press full-time in 1966, becoming a partner in 1971 and taking over the business in 1991. Upon Sebastian Carter’s retirement and closing of the Press in 2008 it was the longest continuous running private press in the world. The Rampant Lions Press was introduced to Books and Vines in early 2012 with an article on the Rampant Lions’ magnum opus, their extraordinary publication of The Story of Cupid and Psyche, a book included in the Grolier club publication A Century for the Century, 1900-1999.  Books and Vines also reviewed The Very Rich Hours of Le Boulvé, a book that ranks with the Rampant Lions’ finest work.

The Psalms of David was designed by Sebastian Carter. As mentioned in an earlier article on Rampant Lions Press, Sebastian Carter describes what he thinks of the term ‘fine-editions’ by saying:

At the Rampant Lions Press we use the term sparingly, because it seems to lay a claim to some excellence in the result, rather than simply define a kind of work.  We feel that the excellence of the result is best judged by others; but the printer must decide on the kind of work , and that includes the level at which it is to be done: he has to make decisions, chiefly in the choice of materials, which will determine how ‘fine’ the result will be.  Ideally his choice will be made according to the merits of the work in hand; in practice it is more usually made for him by the mundane matter of his budget.  But if he decides to go for the best, or somewhere near it, we must, whether we like it or not, use the term ‘fine printing’ or some synonym. A clean impression on smooth paper may be good printing; what elevates it to fine printing is a robustness of feel, produced by a clear and perceptible impression of the type into a good rag paper.  The fingertips must judge it as much as the eyes, but it is important that the eyes be satisfied as well: the strength of the materials will not excuse inept presswork or bad design.

The Psalms of David is certainly fine printing. Fingertips and eyes are equally satisfied! The type selection, Eric Gill‘s Golden Cockerel Roman in 18 point size, is marvelous. This is the first use of this type at Rampant Lions. This type had its first and principle use in the famous Four Gospels edition issued by Golden Cockerel Press in 1931. It is beautiful to the eye, and extremely pleasing to read. Printed on Barcham Green’s J. Green mould-made paper, it does give a ‘clear and perceptible impression’.  The feel of it is fantastic — solid, a bit ‘thick’, yet soft and vibrant. If the hand-set type and mould-made paper is not good enough, Mr. Carter provides a perfectly apropos binding to house this display of printing prowess. The quarter vellum and green patterned paste-paper boards is gorgeous. In short, this is a wonderful edition of The Psalms that belongs in fine press libraries everywhere! Best yet, not too long ago there was still a few in stock, sold at the remarkably low cost (for this quality) of £175. I am not sure if there are any left, but suggest you contact Mr. Carter if interested.

About the Edition

  • Designed by Sebastian Carter
  • Miles Coverdale‘s superb translation, as revised for his Great Bible of 1539. Reprinted from the Book of Common Prayer.
  • Hand-set in Eric Gill‘s Golden Cockerel Roman, 18 point size – the first use of this type at Rampant Lions
  • Printed on Barcham Green J. Green mould-made paper
  • Bound by George Miller in quarter vellum and green patterned paste-paper boards (designed by Sebastain Carter, printed by Scriptorium Press)
  • Large quarto, 152 pages, 34 x 23 cm
  • Limited to 315 copies, 280 copies with quarter vellum (as the one being reviewed here)

Pictures of the Edition

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The Psalms of David, Rampant Lions Press, Book in Custom Slipcase
The Psalms of David, Rampant Lions Press, Book in Custom Slipcase
The Psalms of David, Rampant Lions Press, Spine and Covers
The Psalms of David, Rampant Lions Press, Spine and Covers
The Psalms of David, Rampant Lions Press, Macro of Spine
The Psalms of David, Rampant Lions Press, Macro of Spine
The Psalms of David, Rampant Lions Press, Cover
The Psalms of David, Rampant Lions Press, Cover
The Psalms of David, Rampant Lions Press, Macro of Cover
The Psalms of David, Rampant Lions Press, Macro of Cover
The Psalms of David, Rampant Lions Press, Book in Custom Slipcase
The Psalms of David, Rampant Lions Press, Macro of Side View
The Psalms of David, Rampant Lions Press, Title Page
The Psalms of David, Rampant Lions Press, Title Page
The Psalms of David, Rampant Lions Press, Macro of Title Page
The Psalms of David, Rampant Lions Press, Macro of Title Page
The Psalms of David, Rampant Lions Press, Colophon
The Psalms of David, Rampant Lions Press, Colophon
The Psalms of David, Rampant Lions Press, Sample Text #1
The Psalms of David, Rampant Lions Press, Sample Text #1
The Psalms of David, Rampant Lions Press, Macro of Sample Text #1
The Psalms of David, Rampant Lions Press, Macro of Sample Text #1
The Psalms of David, Rampant Lions Press, Sample Text #2
The Psalms of David, Rampant Lions Press, Sample Text #2
The Psalms of David, Rampant Lions Press, Sample Text #3
The Psalms of David, Rampant Lions Press, Sample Text #3
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The Psalms of David, Rampant Lions Press, Sample Text #4
The Psalms of David, Rampant Lions Press, Sample Text #5
The Psalms of David, Rampant Lions Press, Sample Text #5
The Psalms of David, Rampant Lions Press, Macro of Text
The Psalms of David, Rampant Lions Press, Macro of Text
The Psalms of David, Rampant Lions Press, Colophon
The Psalms of David, Rampant Lions Press, Colophon #2

4 thoughts on “The Psalms of David, Rampant Lions Press (1977)

  1. I agree with Chris entirely and, in fact, recommended this book to him after I had obtained my copy directly from Sebastian Carter. When it arrived I was floored by how beautiful this edition of ‘The Psalms of David’ was. This book is a testament to flawless taste and superb book design in which the sum is far greater than the individual components.

    The book is a stately 34 x 23 cm size, the paper from J. Barcham Green (one of the world’s finest sources of handmade papers – e.g., the landmark edition of the Arion Press ‘Moby Dick” is also printed on Barcham Green paper) is thick and wonderful to the touch and Eric Gill’s roman type for the Golden Cockerel Press in the 18 point type is bold, crisp and literally floats off of the page. The type is clear, unfussy, and a joy to read. The binding with vellum spine and gilt lettering and ornamentation in combination with a superbly designed patterned paper over boards is similarly flawless.

    Best of all, the Myles Coverdale translation from his revision (the Great Bible of 1539) is used instead of the more familiar (to American readers) King James Bible (KJB) (aka the AV = Authorized Version). The difference in language and translation cannot be overstated. The language in theKJB has a childish, sing-song quality to it that makes this reader feel as if it were created for uneducated, unsophisticated parishioners, the early 17th century version of “dumbing down”. By contrast, the language in the Coverdale Bible seems as if it were written by a poet for an adult audience of some education. When I commended Mr. Carter regarding his decision to use the English language of the revised Coverdale Bible of 1539 rather than the Authorized Version of King James written seventy years later he noted that he really hadn’t given it any thought, replying:

    “Oddly enough, the Coverdale translation is better known to us Brits because it’s the version used in the Book of Common Prayer (the Cranmer Prayer book), so I can’t claim that it was an inspired choice. But it’s certainly better than the AV one.”

    One final note: the price for this book is astonishing and it is currently listed on the Rampant Lions Press home site for sale at 175 GBP (about $275 US dollars). I have a number of private press books that cost one thousand dollars or more (and no, I did NOT overpay for them !!) that suffer by comparison. Books and Vines readers that have read these B&V articles and reviews of some of the most famous and sought after private press books of the past one hundred years, decrying that these books were far outside of their monetary reach, can no longer use that as an excuse.

    This book is truly of heirloom quality and it can be proudly passed down from one generation to the next. I do not know how many copies remain in Sebastian Carter’s inventory but it is remarkable that ANY copies are still available. Anyone with even a cursory interest in purchasing this edition of the Psalms should contact Mr. Carter ASAP to obtain their own copy, especially at this price.

    1. While I agree that the Coverdale version is superior to the KJB version from an English-language literary perspective, I can say with confidence that the KJB translation hews much more closely to the literal and poetic meaning of the original Hebrew. To someone whose primary familiarity is with the original, Coverdale’s translation is jarringly inaccurate.

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