‘I dare say will please you when you see them’ – more ‘new’ wood-blocks of an old grotesque alphabet.

Andrew Honey (Bodleian and English Faculty, Oxford)

An earlier blogpost introduced a newly acquired wood-block, a 19th-century copy made of the letter K from a woodcut alphabet – the original ‘K’ being one of 23 letters from a Netherlandish woodcut grotesque alphabet of 1464 that is now at the British Museum. The facsimile copy was used in 1839 to print Treatise on Wood-engraving. In the last post we saw that the popularity of the original grotesque alphabet resulted in 15th and 16th century printed and manuscript copies, and we also saw that the facsimile was printed in 1839 using brown ink to convey the materiality of its water-based printing ink. This relates the interest in this alphabet to the curiosity about the printing of blockbooks, a lasting subject of fascination for historians of printing.

Bodleian Library, MS. Hearne’s Diaries 50, pp. 18-19
Figure 5: Bodleian Library, MS. Hearne’s Diaries 50, pp. 18-19.

This desire to convey the materiality of early water-based printing inks was shared a century earlier by Thomas Hearne (1678-1735). In his 1714 essay on early printing ink the Oxford antiquarian and sub-librarian at the Bodleian Library discussed the colour and texture of the ink used for some blockbooks and early woodcuts, while discussing their place in the history of printing.

“any one that will give himself the trouble of considering the first Specimens of Printing that we have in the Bodlejan Library, being two thin folio Books containing odd Pictures (from wooden cuts) […] will afford to a curious observer many Speculations. But because those Books cannot be conveyed out of the Library […] to give him a better Idea of the nature of them I shall here subjoyn the Speciment of a Fragment of another Book […] that was communicated to me by Mr. Bagford.”

To illustrate his point he pasted a fragment of a German blockbook Biblia pauperum c.1462-8 (Bod-Inc BB-5) into his diary, a fragment given to him by John Bagford (1650-1716) the antiquary and bookseller.

The Treatise tells us more about the interest shown in the 15th century grotesque alphabet when it was rediscovered. On the 27 May 1819 the antiquary Samuel Lysons (1763-1819) wrote to Sir George Beaumont (1753-1827), the then owner of the grotesque alphabet:

“I return herewith your curious volume of ancient cuts. I showed it yesterday to Mr. Douce, who agrees with me that it is a great curiosity. He thinks the blocks were executed at Harlem, and are some of the earliest productions of that place. He has in his possession most of the letters executed in copper, but very inferior to the original cuts.”

Francis Douce (1757-1834), an antiquarian and collector, had been a Keeper of the Department of Manuscripts at the British Museum between 1807-11. The ‘letters executed in copper’ are probably the early copy of the grotesque alphabet by the Master of the Banderoles. Douce would visit the Bodleian in July 1830 where he studied the three complete blockbooks then in the Bodleian’s collection. In 1834 he bequeathed his enormous collection to the Bodleian which included two blockbooks and three wood-blocks.

Woodcut of letters X and Y
Figure 6: Bodleian Library, Douce woodblocks f.1
Woodcut of letter Z
Figure 7: Bodleian Library, Douce woodblocks f.2

These two blocks shown above are facsimiles of the letters X, Y & Z from the same grotesque alphabet. Their existence in the Douce collection was first mentioned in 1897 by the incunabulist Robert Proctor who demonstrated that they had been made for John Bagford in the early eighteenth century for a projected history of printing. Recent work by Whitney Trettien and Edward Potten has linked our two blocks with a block for the letters K & L at the British Museum. These three alphabet blocks and our third Douce block join two others, one at the John Rylands Library and one at the British Library, to form a group of six surviving blocks for Bagford’s history of printing.

Impressions of woodcuts of letters X, Y, Z formed from grotesque figures
Figure 8: Impressions of wood-blocks for John Bagford’s projected History of Printing given to Thomas Hearne. Bodleian Library, MS. Rawl. D. 384, fol. 38r.

We also have prints of A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, X, Y & Z from the Bagford blocks in Hearne’s collection (now part of MS. Rawl. D. 384). A note on the back of X, Y & Z states “These are figures of odd letters wch I had from Mr Bagford. I have an Account of them from his own mouth in one of my Diary Books”.

In a letter to Hearne from Bagford dated 6 February 1708 we learn that:

“Mr Wanley hath lately hapined on some very ould Alphibets antiqe of yt Sorte of printing, cut on wood which I shall exhebite in my Booke, as sone as I have got them cut I shall send you a specement of them, and I dare say will please you when you se them.”

Later that year on 8 October Hearne gives a fuller account, presumably after he received the prints.

“Mr. Bagford has had a German printed Book of the Alphabet drawn exactly. It contains nothing more yn the Alphabet, only here and there a sentence in German inserted in ye Letters. They are all of a very large size for ye use of ye Illuminators, & are made up of several figures, as heads of Men, &c. The Z is made [backward z], […] He has another Alphabet, the letters of a stranger form. They are made up in Knotts with scroles of parchment.”

Just like our newly-acquired 19th-century facsimile wood-block linked Douce, Lysons and Beaumont, these prints of Bagford’s earlier facsimile blocks link these 18th-century printing historians to a specific copy of the 15th-century grotesque alphabet. This copy  was owned by the antiquarian and librarian Humfrey Wanley (1672-1726), and is the second surviving copy, given to the British Museum in 1947.

Further reading

C.E. Doble, (ed.), ‘Remarks and Collections of Thomas Hearne: Vol. II (20 March 1707–22 March 1710)’, Oxford Historical Society 13 (Oxford, 1889).

Campbell Dodgson, ‘Two woodcut alphabets of the fifteenth century’, Burlington Magazine 17:90 (September 1910), pp. 362-5.

Edward Potten, ‘Dating the Rylands Apocalypse wood-block: John Bagford and the earliest facsimiles of blockbooks’, Journal of the Printing Historical Society TS 3 (2022), pp, 14-46.

Robert Proctor, ‘On two plates in Sotheby’s ‘Principia Typographica’’, Bibliographica 3 (1897) pp. 192-6.

Whitney Trettien, Cut/Copy/Paste: Fragments from the history of bookwork (Minneapolis, 2021).

Making an impression: a ‘new’ wood-block of an old grotesque alphabet

Woodblock for printing the letter 'K'
Woodblock, acquired for the Bodleian Bibliographical Press in 2024

Andrew Honey (Bodleian Libraries and English Faculty)

An unexpected recent discovery on Etsy (of all places) of a wood-block which I bought for the Bodleian Bibliographical Press throws new light on items in the Bodleian’s collections and their place in the study of the history of printing. The block is a facsimile of the letter K, a 19th-century copy of a letter from a woodcut alphabet dating from 1464. It was used in 1839, in the printing of A Treatise on Wood Engraving, historical and practical. With upwards of three hundred illustrations, engraved on wood, by John Jackson published by Charles Knight.

The Treatise explains the model for this facsimile block.

“There is in the Print Room of the British Museum a small volume of wood-cuts, which has not hitherto been described by any bibliographer […] it consists of an alphabet of large capital letters, formed of figures arranged in various attitudes.”

Our block – K – has four figures. A man is kneeling, holding a ribbon on which are written the words ‘mon ♥ aues’ (with my heart) while presenting a ring to a standing woman. These two figures form the stem of the letter, while two men fly out to form the arm and leg of the K. The description of the printed image in the Treatise states “the above is a fac-simile of the cut referred to, the letter K, of the size of the original.”

An open book and printing block
The facsimile ‘K’ woodblock and the illustration it printed, in the 1839 book ‘A treatise of wood-engraving’; Bodleian Library, Jessel d.58 , p.135.

The original is a letter K from a Netherlandish woodcut grotesque alphabet of 1464. There are now two surviving copies of that printed alphabet at the British Museum, but only one of these was known in 1839 when the Treatise of Wood-engraving was published.

15th-centuy print of the letter 'K'
15th-centuy print of the letter ‘K’ : British Museum, B,10.1-23 (© The Trustees of the British Museum, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

The Treatise describes both the unusual printing method and the water-based ink of the original alphabet print. It relates these to the printing of blockbooks, a subject of fascination to printing historians because these printed texts from carved blocks, without moveable type.

“There is only one cut on each leaf, the back being left blank as in most block-books, and the impressions have been taken by means of friction. The paper at the back of each cut has a shining appearance when held towards the light [… and] the ink is merely a distemper or water-colour, which will partly wash out by the application of hot water, and its colour is a kind of sepia.”

The Treatise reproduced three letters from the alphabet – K, L & Z – in brown ink, the only coloured ink in the book, explaining: “the colour of the above […] will give the reader, who had not had an opportunity of examining the originals, some idea of the colour in which […] are printed; which in all of them is a kind of sepia”.

Our information about the block might have ended there had the real author of the Treatise not fallen out with both John Jackson the wood-engraver and Charles Knight the publisher. William Andrew Chatto (1799–1864) was clearly so angered by the absence of his name on the title page that he responded with a densely written, privately printed, 36-page Third Preface! As well as being extremely rude about Jackson – “an illiterate, ignorant man”, Chatto gives the names of the real contributors:

“of the numerous copies of old wood-cuts contained in the work, not a single one has been either drawn or engraved by Mr. John Jackson [… Jackson and Knight had supressed] the name of Mr. F[rederick]. W[illiam]. Fairholt, the artist by whom all ‘the elaborate fac-similes’ of old wood-cuts contained in the work – except two – were copied and drawn on the block. The best of the copies of old wood-cuts, […] were engraved by a young man named Stephen Rimbault, at that time a pupil of Mr. Jackson’s”.

He also notes that the size of the book as originally planned meant that the reproduction is not an exact facsimile.

“It is in consequence of the work having been originally intended to be printed in demy octavo, that most of the cuts now appear so small when compared with the size of the page. It is from this cause that the so-called fac-similes for the […] Alphabet […] want the outer border-line at the sides”.

Bodleian Library, MS. Ashmole 1504, fol. 45v.

If the grotesque alphabet stirred interest when it was rediscovered in or before 1819 it appears to have stirred even greater interest when it was first produced in the 15th century. There are near contemporary woodcut [now at the Kunstmuseum BasleInv. X.1881-1882] and copper engraved versions, as well as our kneeling man and woman adapted as a stand-alone letter ‘I’ in a German manuscript of 1467 and drawn copies in the Nuremberg chronicle now at the Newberry Library. The interest was not short lived and the Bodleian has a finely painted copy of A, B, C & D dating from c.1520-30 in MS. Ashmole 1504, described in a 1845 catalogue as ‘Book of patterns of an illuminator of MSS’. This wasn’t the only English interest: the ‘S’ was adapted and used as an initial by the London printer John Rastell in 1530 and continuing interest is witnessed by two further sixteenth-century manuscript copies; a complete version as part of the  Macclesfield Alphabet Book (British Library, Additional MS 88887) and a partial version from the 1540s-1560s now at the National Art Library.

The story will continue ….

Further reading

A Treatise on Wood Engraving, historical and practical. With upwards of three hundred illustrations, engraved on wood, by John Jackson (London, 1839).

William Andrew Chatto, A third preface to “A treatise on wood engraving, historical and practical”: exposing the fallacies contained in the first, restoring the passages suppressed in the second, and containing an account of Mr. John Jackson’s actual share in the composition and illustration of that work (London, 1839)

Campbell Dodgson, Grotesque Alphabet of 1464: Reproduced in facsimile from the original woodcuts in the British Museum (London, 1899).

Good and bad printing

Francesca Galligan, Assistant Librarian, Rare Books, Bodleian Libraries

Each autumn, university students and members of the public embark on their type-setting and printing journeys in the Bodleian’s letterpress printing workshop. To inspire novice printers with the great typographical achievements of the past, we have chosen examples of fine and ambitious printing from the Bodleian’s Rare Books collections.  The selection also includes some ‘bad’ printing, with missing words and upside-down illustrations, also carefully preserved in the library.

An example of ‘good’ printing is an edition of Caesar’s Gallic war printed in 1471 by Nicholas Jenson. The type designed by Jenson, a French printer based in Venice, has been widely admired ever since.   Bodleian Library, Byw. adds. 6

Bodleian Library, Byw. adds. 6

Four centuries after Jenson, type designed for the Doves Press in London in 1899 was based directly on Nicholas Jenson’s work. The Doves Press was a private press producing fine books according to the ideals of the Arts and Crafts movement, a reaction to industrialisation and mass-market printing. Bodleian Library, Arch. C c.3

Bodleian Library, Arch. C c.3

The 1481 Florence edition of Dante’s Comedia is in many ways an example of good printing, although it was an ambitious project that was beset by problems. The unfortunate upside-down orientation of this engraving in the Bodleian copy puts this item in the middle, between examples of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ printing. Bodleian Library, Auct. 2Q 1.11

Bodleian Library, Auct. 2Q 1.11

In the next example, shown below, the editor has evidently demanded that the printers explain why the page on the right contained none of the text of this work, Pastregicus’s On the origins of things (Venice, 1547). The half-page of text explains, in Latin, that there was an error on the part of the printer in dividing up the text before starting to print (‘Calcographi omisit enim dividendo’) and reassures the reader that there is nothing missing (‘operi vero nihil deest’). Bodleian Library, Byw. Q 8.24 Making the text fit the intended number of pages is a skill all printers need to acquire.

Bodleian Library, Byw. Q 8.24

This translation of Aristophanes’ Greek plays into Latin shows an unusually careful correction, a word added in type to the margin. The sentence was meant to read: ‘…the whole of which had previously been Greek,’ with ‘graeca’ to be read where the caret symbol indicates. The book was printed by Angelo Ugoleto in Venice in 1501. Bodleian Library, Byw. J 7.25 Mistakes happen, and corrections can be a sign of care as much as of carelessness.

Bodleian Library, Byw. J 7.25

Below, a sixteenth-century edition of meditational poems on the cross demonstrates creative problem-solving and a real challenge to printers. These shape or puzzle poems were first composed in the 9th century by Rhabanus Maurus and at that time, before the invention of printing with moveable type, they circulated as beautiful and lavish manuscripts, allowing the poems within poems to be easily discerned. Thomas Anshelm decided in 1503 that it would be an excellent thing to reproduce the text in print. Attempting to achieve a similar effect to the manuscripts, he used an unusual combination of metal type and xylographic (wood-carved) letters. The black letters nearest to the images are carved into the woodblock. Bodleian Library, Douce M 114

Bodleian Library, Douce M 114
Bodleian Library, Douce M 114

Nature Printing

by Elena Trowsdalean English Literature and Language Finalist at Brasenose College on placement in Special Collections. Elena has been identifying some examples of ‘nature prints’ in Bodleian collections.

Re-blogged from https://teachingthebook.com/

Beginning 25th July 2021, the Oxford Botanic Garden has been celebrating its 400th anniversary. The Bodleian Libraries have been collaborating with the Garden to identify historical books containing depictions of scientific specimens. Recently I spent a week in the Weston Library for Special Collections, investigating books which feature specimens depicted using a technique called ‘nature printing’. Related to this topic, there will be an event during summer 2022 entitled ‘Capturing Nature’, created by designer and printmaker Pia Östlund.

Nature printing, otherwise known as Naturselbstdruck [Nature’s self-printing], is an intriguing form of printing which is often breathtakingly lifelike. Using this method, prints are taken directly from the natural object itself such as a leaf, flower or even occasionally a bat. Alois Auer’s specific technique of nature printing, depicted in The Discovery of the Natural Printing Process: an Invention … (1853), involves impressing the natural object into a lead plate. Making a printable surface was done by electroplating the impression to create a copper plate, which was used to create the print on paper. This is an intaglio technique, where the ink rests in the shallow grooves of the lead plate rather than on the higher surfaces. However, in my investigations I have chosen to also study nature prints which fit the definition more loosely. Out of the examples I have found, some are taken from directly applying ink to the natural item, some may incorporate photographic printing techniques and others are facsimiles of nature prints, made from woodcuts which used the original nature print as their primary reference. Some prints are hand coloured, others use coloured ink, and some are drawn upon after they have been printed.

In my investigations, I have found nature printed items dating back to Johann Hieronymus Knipof’s work in 1757. Some are more intricate than others, partially because some have used wet subjects and some dry, dry subjects tending to be easier to print accurately. My personal favourite is the work of Constantin von Ettingshausen. A compilation of his works in three volumes is housed in the Radcliffe Science Library. I ordered this to the Weston Library reading room and examined it closely, finding extremely intricate leaf prints which detailed their structure and veins perfectly.

To compare different ways in which nature printing have been used and adapted, Francis Heath’s Fern Paradise (1875) can be compared with Thomas Moore’s Nature-Printed British Ferns (1859), H.B. Dobbie’s New Zealand Ferns (1930) and Peter Hutchinson’s Ferns of Sidmouth (1862).

Books illustrating ferns
Figure 2: Left to Right, plate 6 from Francis George Heath’s Illustrated Edition of The Fern Paradise (1875), print from Thomas Moore’s The Octavo Nature-Printed British Ferns (1859), cover of H.B. Dobbie’s New Zealand Ferns (1930) and first print from Peter Orlando Hutchinson’s The Ferns of Sidmouth (1862).

All of these books depict ferns using different, contrasting techniques- all of which fall under the blanket term of nature print. In his work, Heath discusses how his plates of ferns are originally taken from nature prints made through applying a fern to a plate of ink, which is why they appear like negative images of the blank space the fern creates. Then, Heath sent his nature prints to a printing house where they were turned to woodcuts. Moore’s ferns are seemingly direct nature prints, made using different coloured inks applied to the plate the ferns were imprinted onto, then with some additions such as the yellow seeds. The most intriguing aspect of Dobbie’s fern study is its cover, which has a gold embossed fern pressed into its binding. This fern appears exactly like a nature print, meaning a nature print was probably the reference image used by the embosser. Hutchinson’s fern is less detailed than the others. It was made by lithography and the fern was likely not dried out. Each of these techniques creates a different visual way to understand these objects, useful to scientists at the time as well as being aesthetically and historically meaningful to current researchers.

A nature-printed bat
Fig 3: The final page of Henry Smith’s Specimens of nature printing from unprepared plants (1857).

Then, perhaps the most shocking example of nature printing I have found is Henry Smith’s Specimens of nature printing from unprepared plants (1857). This book’s final page is a nature print of a bat’s wingspan. This bat was obviously compressed it could be printed but remains incredibly detailed. From looking online, I have found that Smith’s other works contain other nature prints of animals, including multiple snakes. I find this way of preserving the likeness of animals to be slightly unsettling, yet extremely beautiful and evocative.

During my time researching nature printing in the Bodleian collections, I was granted the privilege of spending a morning at the Bodleian bibliographic press with Richard Lawrence. We decided to experiment with nature printing techniques and printed a variety of items including a leaf and some insects. We used the classic method of imprinting a natural object onto a piece of soft lead, covering this with ink, wiping away the excess, then printing this lead plate.. The Natural History Museum of Oxford were kind enough to provide me with some waste specimens to be used as printing subjects.

States of the nature printing of a leaf: the leaf and impressed lead plate; the lead plate inked; the print
Fig 4: Mine and Richard’s nature print of a leaf. From right to left: subject, lead plate, initial print, final print.

We quickly realised that dried leaves were much easier to print than insects. The printing objects needed to be flat and dry to avoid distortion within the press. However, we did manage to make some semi-successful butterfly prints.

The butterfly specimen resting on the lead plate on the press, before impression

This was an incredible process to have the chance to attempt. I now have a newfound respect for the nature printers of the past as this form of printing requires a huge amount of precision and technical skill. On 18 July 2022 visitors will be able to see this fascinating printing method demonstrated as part of the Oxford Botanic Garden programme.

All of the items I have referenced are accessible to order on SOLO and I will include the links to their web pages below. While I hoped to find more examples of nature printing across the many Bodleian collections, I am satisfied with the dozen or so that I managed to successfully locate. However, it is likely that many more examples exist in the collections but have not yet been located or catalogued. Hopefully, in the future, more of these beautiful items will be accessible for further study.

Sprig of a tree nature printed in a book
Fig 6: Page from Henry Smith’s Specimens of nature printing from unprepared plants (1857).

Thanks to Matthew Zucker, for the view of a list of  his own collection of nature-printed books, and for advice on the history of nature printing.

Resources

Constantin Ettingshausen’s Über die Nervation der Blätter bei den Celastrineen (1857)[and also collected works]: https://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/permalink/f/89vilt/oxfaleph019671053

Francis George Heath’s Illustrated Edition of The Fern Paradise (1875): https://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/permalink/f/89vilt/oxfaleph014421305

Henry Smith’s Specimens of nature printing from unprepared plants (1857): https://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/permalink/f/89vilt/oxfaleph014402361

H.B. Dobbie’s New Zealand Ferns (1930):

https://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/permalink/f/89vilt/oxfaleph012966118

Peter Orlando Hutchinson’s The Ferns of Sidmouth (1862):

https://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/permalink/f/89vilt/oxfaleph013095107

Thomas Moore’s The Octavo Nature-Printed British Ferns (1859):

https://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/permalink/f/89vilt/oxfaleph014227366

Secondary Resources

Hanquart, Nicole and Régine Fabri, ‘L’impression naturelle : une technique originale au service de l’illustration botanique. L’exemple des Chênes de l’Amérique septentrionale en Belgique du Belge Julien Houba (1843-1926)’, In Monte Artium (Journal of the Royal Library of Belgium), vol. 7 (2014), pp. 57-78. <https://www.brepolsonline.net/doi/10.1484/J.IMA.5.103285>

Weber-Unger, Simon, Mila Moschik and Matthias Svojtka, Naturselbstdrucke: dem Originale identisch gleich (ALBUM VERLAG , 2014)

accident of birth | Stars the cause

In this blogpost, artist Hermeet Gill shares the inspiration behind her work made in response to the major Bodleian exhibition, Melancholy: A New Anatomy. The work is on view during February 2022 at the Weston Library, Oxford

Type and blocks on a 19th-century cast-iron printing press, with a printed sheet
Printing the segments of a ‘star chart’ for ‘accident of birth | stars the cause,’ by Hermeet Gill, at the Bodleian Bibliographical Press workshop

This artwork, created in response to the exhibition Melancholy: A New Anatomy, is inspired by Robert Burton’s interest in astrology. In The Anatomy of Melancholy, Burton writes that “a physician without the knowledge of stars can neither understand the cause or cure of any disease”. Today, astrology is held in opposition to science and evidence-based approaches, nonetheless, it intrigues me – this system built upon scientific observation, geometry, and mathematics, to make sense of human lives.

Astrology claims to predict a person’s character and life path based on the position and alignment of planets at the time and place of their birth. However, the exact time and place of our birth also determines who we are born to and our wider circumstances, earthly constellations of contexts which also predict much about our experience of life, including our mental health. Predict, but not determine.

Three star charts, one actual and two hypothetical, reflect a family history in which three previous generations (in the UK, Uganda and India) in turn designated a different place for my birth. Each unrealised life path left ink-smudge imprints on my life experience: in my genetic makeup, in the consequences of forced migration events, and in cultural legacies.

The tactile qualities of the process of letterpress printmaking inspired this work. Many thanks to Richard Lawrence, Superintendent of the Bodleian Bibliographical Press, where the piece was created.

Hermeet Gill is an Oxford-based artist, inspired by ideas, systems and data and how these can be structured and combined. She has recently completed commissions for the University of Oxford’s Wytham Woods, Arts at the Old Fire Station and Oxford’s Library of Things. Originally trained in engineering, she had a career advising organisations, including on innovation and has worked with the Science Museum, London and TED. Hermeet has been printing at the Bodleian Bibliographical Press since 2016.

Saturday drop-in printing at the Weston Library, Broad Street, Oxford


The replica press in the Weston Library, Broad Street, Oxford

Ink + type + paper = print

Drop-in, no need to book; come along and print a keepsake.
Saturday 6 November 2021, 11am-1 pm
Saturday 18 December 2021, 11am-1 pm
Saturday 8 January 2022, 11am-1 pm

@TheBroadPress

Printing matters: Inspiration at the Bodleian Bibliographical Press

View of the Radcliffe Camera from the window of the Bodleian Bibliographical Press

What inspires your printing?

The Bodleian Libraries are home to a letterpress workshop for teaching and experiments, and a place for drop-in printing throughout the year at the printing press in the public foyer of the Weston Library. These activities are integrated with teaching at the University of Oxford, outreach to higher education, schools, and the public, and with the library’s continuing interest in creativity in the book arts.

Art

Ana Paula Cordeiro (left) and Merve Emre in conversation

Inspiration comes from extraordinary works,  like artist Ana Paula Cordeiro’s book, Body of Evidence, made at the Center for Book Arts in New York City. A copy is now in the Bodleian Library! In July 2021 an online event and recorded conversation between Cordeiro and Merve Emre linked the Bodleian Bibliographical Press with the CBA.

Nature

Inspiration also comes from the world around us.

Artist printmaker Graeme Hughes etched a plane-tree leaf onto the wood of a plane tree, and printed this on the Baskin Albion Press.

In September 2021, Bodleian Visiting Fellow Georgina Montgomery, historian of science, led a walk-and-talk in Wytham Woods, culminating in a collaborative poster of an ash-tree leaf. See the film explaining how Montgomery’s work led her to Oxford’s research woodland, Wytham Woods.

Collaborative poster of an ash-tree leaf made at Wytham Woods
Collaborative poster of an ash-tree leaf made at Wytham Woods

This print by a visitor to the workshop is directly from a slab of wood.

Impression from a slab of tree trunk.

And see the film of making intaglio plates from a leaf

 

Script/Print/Code: the information revolution in one afternoon

Bodleian Library, Douce Woodblocks d.1, detail
Bodleian Library, Douce Woodblocks d.1, detail

On Monday 11 October 2021 in the Bodleian’s Weston Library for Special Collections there will be a race between The Oxford Scribes , the Bodleian Bibliographical Press, and the Centre for Digital Scholarship.

This webpage, script-print-code.info, tells the story.

This is a chance to compare script, print, and electronic text encoding side-by-side, in real time. The text will be written in manuscript, printed in movable type, and encoded by three teams, starting at 1pm.

In this blogpost we’ll report on the progress and the thoughts of the scribes, printers and encoders as they work through the same text, a portion of Psalm 107 (‘… They that go down to the sea in ships …’), to create a published version, in one or many copies.

Onlookers are welcome in Blackwell Hall, the main public foyer of the Weston Library on Broad Street, Oxford.

The event is in honour of the start of the Lyell Lectures 2021, The Genesis, Life, and Afterlife of the Gutenberg Bible, which will be given by Paul S. Needham, beginning on 11 October 2021. Details in the event listing include links to watch the livestream of these lectures. The lectures will be recorded and will be available a short time after the conclusion of the series, at https://visit.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/event/the-lyell-lectures

A webpage showing many digitized copies of the Gutenberg Bible, for comparison, is available here.

Here is the webpage for this event:

Art and artists’ books at the Bibliographical Press

Ana Paula Cordeiro’s work, Body of Evidence, is one of the artist’s books that inspires contemporary letterpress printers. A recent conversation linked the Bodleian Bibliographical Press with the Center for Book Arts in New York City, where Cordeiro made that work.

The workshop in the Old Bodleian Library is a place for artistic experimentation as well as teaching about historical printing.

The Printer in Residence programme has hosted creative printers who use the letterpress craft within the tradition of artist book-making.

Printers in residence, 2017-2020
The printer-in-residence programme, funded by a generous donation, invites a working printer or book artist to put their own stamp on the Bibliographical Press programme, and to share their individual artistic visions with students, local printers, and the public.

While he was in residence at the Bodleian during November 2017, Russell Maret was developing the typeface ‘Hungry Dutch’, a project begun in 2016. During his visit to Oxford, New York-based Maret shared his inventive approach to typography with a practical workshop exercise in printing a passage of King Lear with fallen type. Podcast of Russel Maret’s lecture

In 2018, Emily Martin visited from Iowa, focussing on the genre of movable books, a subject of collecting interest for the Bodleian, with the John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera holding early examples. Martin’s publication in residence, Order of Appearance / Disorder of Disappearance,  is a ‘slice book’ printed with the P22Blox modular printing blocks created by Richard Kegler. Podcast of Emily Martin’s lecture.

David Armes (Red Plate Press, Yorkshire) was the most recent Printer in Residence to visit, in November-December 2019. The residency resulted in an addition to his series of site-specific prints, with Between Sun Turns. This year (2021) Mr Armes holds a fellowship at the Eccles Centre, British Library. Podcast of David Armes’s lecture

The next Printer in Residence will be Thomas Gravemaker, of LetterpressAmsterdam.

The printer-in-residence programme has broadened the workshop’s remit and established new connections with contemporary book artists. Experience in supporting these artist-printers enabled the workshop to welcome eight Fine Arts students in Trinity Term 2021, under the guidance of Ruskin School tutor of printing, Graeme Hughes.

The Bodleian Bibliographical Press

Newly-made printing blocks from a 17th-century ballad in the Bodleian Libraries, 4o Rawl. 566(121), showing a man and woman with hats
Newly-made printing blocks from a 17th-century ballad in the Bodleian Libraries, 4o Rawl. 566(121)

The Bibliographical Press workshop in the Schola Musicae, Old Bodleian Library, is used for practical teaching of the history of printing.

Equipment at the workshop includes several cast-iron hand-operated presses, a proofing press, a rolling press, type and a type mould.

The room hosts classes in hand-printing for students from Oxford and other universities, and regular workshops for families, adults, and primary school groups.

Presses in the Bodleian workshop:

Albion (demy), serial number 539, (1835), from the Daniel Press. This was the press used by C.H.O. Daniel, Provost of Worcester College, from 1880-1906 and presented to the library in 1919.

Albion (pot), serial number 4993, (1898), from the Moss Press

A Columbian, from the Samson Press

An Albion, from Leonard Baskin’s Gehenna Press

A card-size Albion, maker Ullmer, number 2919

A star-wheel etching press

A ‘Western’ model proofing press, formerly belonging to Vivian Ridler