A few years ago I was lucky enough to pick up my first Whittington Press book, Pages from Presses. It remains one of the most impressive, beautifully designed, and informative books in my collection. Looking through the work while writing this article has pushed me to be beyond eager in anticipation for their upcoming Venice, which I hope to see any day now. Pages from Presses provides a history, overview, and stylistic approach analysis of six major British private presses that began work in the final decade of the nineteenth century: Kelmscott, Ashendene, Doves, Eragny, Vale and Essex House. We learn about the founding figures of the private press movement: William Morris, T.J. Cobden-Sanderson, Emery Walker, St John Hornby, Charles Ricketts, Lucien Pissarro and C.R. Ashbee. These are the presses that us private press fans dream of, while often saving for the many pennies needed to acquire examples for our own collections by eliminating all other luxuries such as food and shelter!
These are the presses that one should know history and detail about due to their tremendous importance to the fine and private press world, and their influence on design and printing ever since. As mentioned in the introduction, these presses were:
…reacting against the mechanisation of printing and the low standards of design and production of the majority of Victorian books (and of printing in Britain from Caxton onwards). The principles that they enunciated for legibility, type design, the proportions of the page, integration of illustrations and the choice of materials laid a sound foundation for building the book beautiful.
These presses saw their work as nothing less than the revival of the art of printing. They looked back to the finest fifteenth- and early sixteenth-century books to rediscover the principles underlying their design.
Their output was a demonstration of what could be achieved with harmonious design and fine materials, under the control of an owner with taste and discrimination.
There is not one correct approach or design from which a formula can be derived that leads to an ideal book. This is artistic craft, not science. These founding presses took different paths towards what their owners thought ideal, though what they shared was an enthusiasm for artistic greatness. Original leaves are included to give the reader the feel of the work, including similarities and differences, of these presses. These leaves:
…show the essential characteristics of the work of each press in terms of type design, format, quality of inning and impression, use of colour, the proportions of the margins and properties of the hand-made paper. many leaves also include decorative elements such as initials and paragraph marks or, in some cases, wood engraved illustrations and borders.
The leaves and production quality of the book itself immediately grab one’s attention. However, ultimately author David Butcher’s commentary provides the backbone of the book. His insights are very educational, informative and enlightening. Best of all, his writing style is quite enjoyable. There is nothing dry about the content or how it is presented. Strange as it may sound for a book about books, it is actually a real page-turner! Butcher provides the reader with an excellent synopsis of each press and the characters who created and drove them, in a manner that entices one to want to seek and learn even more. Towards that end, an appendix is included which includes recommendations for further reading.
The production of Pages from Presses would make any of those early private press founders proud. Proprietor John Randle managed to create a holistic production which itself becomes a perfect example of the greatness of private press. The large size, 15 3/4 x 11 3/4″, nicely encapsulates the leaves, while allowing very generous top, bottom and side margins. Together with the 14 point Walbaum type, this is as easy to read as it gets and shows how spacing and the right selection of type makes a book attain greatness in what it was meant for (reading, after all!). The Czech Losin hand-made paper is creamy, luxurious, soft to the touch, with a nice texture. It is a tactile tour-de-force! There is a stunningly done broadside opposite the title page that, in one glorious page, illustrates many of the characteristics of the types cut for these presses, allowing one a quick way to compare and contrast. The binding of my ‘B’ edition is striking in half red Nigerian Goatskin with marbled paper by Christoper Rowlatt.
There is a Pages from Presses II in the planning stage, which will “take the story up to the Second World War and beyond“, and will include Golden Cockerel, Gregynog, Nonesuch, Shakespeare Head, Haslewood, Cresset and the Curwen Press. I have been eagerly awaiting this second volume for quite some time now, and sheepishly admit to sending probably irritating emails to John and Rose Randle every few months asking ‘when?’! As for the current Pages from Presses, it rarely comes up on the secondary market, so if it does you will need to move quickly. There are three states, described below, so price will vary depending on which edition you find. Such will typically range from $500-$3000.
About the Edition
- Limited to 185 copies (50 copies super deluxe bound in full Nigerian Goatskin with 13 original leaves plus aa Doves Press leaf on vellum, and a separate portfolio of original leaves; a deluxe edition of 40 copies bound in half red Nigerian Goatskin, with 11 original paper leaves; and a standard edition of 95 copies bound in half buckram, with six original paper leaves)
- Commentary by David Butcher
- Set in 14 point Walbaum
- Printed at Whittington Press on Czech Losin hand-made paper
- Accompanied by original leaves from each of the six presses
- Bound at the Fine Bindery
- Papers marbled by Christoper Rowlatt
- 15 3/4 x 11 3/4″, 102 pp
- Signed by David Butcher
Pictures of the Edition
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