The Victorians used a technique called ‘nature printing’ to reproduce the details of leaves, plants, and other flat things like lace. This relies on pressing the specimen into soft metal (lead) to make an impression like a footprint of the item, and then making an electrotype of that impression in a harder metal, such as copper. The prints are produced with the intaglio method, in which the ink sits in the impressed areas and is forced into contact with the paper by the high pressure of the rolling press. This contrasts with relief printing, in which ink sits on top of raised lines. Here we have printed directly from the soft lead plate into which the leaf was impressed; the fine details on this lead plate will only last for a couple of impressions, though, before becoming smoothed down by the pressure as it goes through the press.
In 1919, the Bodleian Quarterly Record printed the following notice on the death of Charles Henry Olive Daniel, Provost of Worcester College, Oxford:
‘We regret most deeply the loss of Dr. Daniel, as a good friend of the Library. For many years (though not lately) he occupied his leisure with printing as a fine art, and the beautiful productions of the Daniel Press are well known to all lovers of books. Mrs. Daniel recently offered to present to the Library the hand-press and type used by him, and the offer was very gratefully accepted. Through the kindness of the Controller, the press has now been set up by experts from the Clarendon Press, at the farther end of the Picture Gallery, with the chase, containing the last pages set up, still in place. A small collection of some of the more interesting books printed on it has been arranged on an adjacent table. Though we have plenty of books to show, this is the first time we have been able to exhibit to visitors the means whereby they are produced.’
The author of a recent book on Daniel and his printing, Martyn Ould, offers this assessment of his printing origins and experience:
‘Charles Daniel learned to print in the family home in Frome, Somerset, where his father Henry was perpetual curate of Holy Trinity. All the family were involved in printing a vast number of ephemeral items: bookplates, printed items for the church, tickets for tea parties, tiny books, programmes for plays, . . . – items that his bibliographer Falconer Madan referred to as ‘minima’. [He added, “Unfortunately there seems to be no dignified and yet suitable term for these waifs and strays, here termed minor pieces. They are what remains when the majestic car of the professional cataloguer has passed by and left them strewn on the wayside. The occupant of the car calls them succinctly and comprehensively trash.”]
‘They printed on a ‘Ruthven’, a parlour press ideal for a Victorian family, but a press that could manage only small items (many of which are pasted into three volumes in the Bodleian: MSS Don. d.94 and d.95 and MS Don. e.227). Nevertheless when Charles left Frome to go up to Oxford the press went with him and it was on that press that he printed one of his rarest items, The Garland of Rachel, in just thirty-six copies. Difficulties with the printing of The Garland led him to replace the Ruthven with the Albion; this had a much larger platen which would have made it very much easier to manage the larger books and pamphlets that were to come from the Daniel Press in Oxford.
‘Daniel was not a great technical printer, but his books have great charm. He printed on hand-made papers, setting his texts – mostly poetry – from founts of some of the famous seventeenth-century ‘Fell types’ which he persuaded Press Controller Horace Hart at the University Press to sell him. He first used Fell type in A New Sermon of the Newest Fashion (1876), the second book he printed at Oxford. He also used a black letter, of which the first example entirely in black letter is The Growth of Love (1890) by his friend Robert Bridges.’
This large Albion was the printing press which was given to the Bodleian. As reported by Philip Gaskell in the Journal of the Printing Historical Society no. 1, 1965, it is an ‘Albion (demy), serial number 539, (1835)’. The maker’s names, Jonathan and Jeremiah Barrett, executors of R.W. Cope, are cast into the staple. Cope was the originator of the Albion press in the 1820s. This cast-iron, lever-operated press was praised by commentators of the time as being simple in construction and durable.
Bodley’s Librarian in 1919, Falconer Madan, had visions beyond a static display of the press. ‘[I]t is in contemplation to print on it a Bibliography of the Daniel Press, with a Memoir of its “only begetter”, and some poems by friends. This will be the first book ever printed within the walls of the Bodleian.’ The catalogue record of this work is in the University of Oxford’s online catalogue, SOLO.
Martyn Ould writes:
‘As well as his books – over fifty in total – we’re fortunate in that two collections of proofs survive from his waste bin. Like early versions of a poet’s final polished verse, they tell us something of his printing practice. They are generally on sheets of newsprint – a suitably cheaper alternative to the expensive hand-made paper of the final book.
‘In the proof of a title page shown here he has marked several ‘typos’. The Y for an R in ‘Oxford’ is easily explained: the boxes for those two letters are next to each other in the typecase and no doubt the Y was returned to the wrong box when some other text was distributed. The missing i in ‘Children’ is less easily forgiven.
‘In three further proofs Daniel corrected some errors and toyed with the text; all was well in the published book. The proofs tell us that Daniel did not have a firm habit of reading a completed line in the composing stick before moving on to the next: what must be a first of several proofs of a forme for Three Japanese Plays for Children shows a great many errors, some of which made it through to the final book. Nonetheless, his books are today highly collectable.’
In 1949, library staff and members of the English Faculty established the Bibliography Room in the New Bodleian Library. Practical printing became a regular offering for postgraduate students, just at the time when mechanical processes of type-setting were replacing the hand-composition of type. The enthusiasts from library and faculty supported teaching and demonstration of practical printing, joined by J.R.R. Tolkien and others.
The Bodleian workshop now holds several other hand-operated printing presses, Albions and other makes, acquired from private presses and individuals. Some of the latest acquisitions were an Albion press owned by Leonard Baskin, whose archive came to the Bodleian in 2009, a proofing press owned and used by Vivian Ridler, Printer to the University, and a rolling press for printing intaglio.
We are delighted to announce that Thomas Gravemaker, of LetterpressAmsterdam, will be Printer in Residence at the Bodleian in March 2023, (postponed from 2021) Gravemaker worked for many years in publishing in the UK – at the Bodley Head and as a senior designer at Thames & Hudson – and in France, first as a studio manager in a design group, before setting up his own studio.
The Printer in Residence programme at the Bodleian brings a guest printer for one month each year, whose project draws together community and University members with an interest in printing and the book arts, to use the Bibliographical Press workshop in the Old Bodleian Library and the press in Blackwell Hall, at the Weston Library.
It is Gravemaker’s experience with book design, and the connection with John Ryder (1923–2001) at the Bodley Head, which provides the inspiration for the project that he will undertake during the one-month residency at the Bodleian: to set and print a small book in the spirit of Ryder’s Flowers and Flourishes (Bodley Head, 1976). During his residency at the Bibliographical Press early in 2021, Gravemaker will also offer a workshop on using ornament, and will present a public lecture.
As a teacher, Thomas Gravemaker regularly works with students from Northumbria University (UK), Kalamazoo Book Arts Center (USA) and the RMIT University (Australia) and others. He also devotes his expertise to ensuring that there are active workshops available for students, having advised, trained and assisted – among several others – Letterpress House in Finland, the Royal Library in Belgium and the Hochschule in Karlsruhe (Germany) in finding equipment and type in order to set up their own print studios.
Thomas is a board member of the Stichting Drukwerk in de Marge (Small Press Association) in the Netherlands and a member of the AEPM (Association of European Printing Museums), of which the Bodleian Bibliographical Press is also a member.
The Ryder Archive at the Bodleian is ‘a major resource for the history of the book in the twentieth century.’ [Clive Hurst, ‘The Ryder Archive,’ Bodleian Library Record, Vol. XVII No. 5, April 2002, p. 353] It contains both archival material and printed books. John Ryder bequeathed to the Bodleian his private papers, including correspondence with designers and artists, and much private press material, notably from the Officina Bodoni, and original sketches for book designs. The Archive includes John Ryder’s remarkable collection of editions of James Joyce’s Ulysses.
The letterpress workshop housed at the Bodleian Library has long been used for experimentation and practical teaching to academic learners at all levels. It’s now equally a site for engaging the public and schools in activities that increase their understanding of, and appreciation for, the Bodleian Libraries’ unique collections. Participatory workshops are the key method that the Bodleian Bibliographical Press uses for helping visitors to feel a connection with ‘old books’, and, through that connection, to engage with research at the University. The workshop offers public courses for adults throughout the year, and offers workshops through the library’s Education team, to schools and adult SEND learners. Planning and teaching these workshops and courses requires an understanding of how the techniques of hand-press printing can be demonstrated and also a facility for tailoring tasks to the abilities of the participants of all ages and abilities.
While teaching to academic students and teaching to the public might be regarded by some as two separate functions of the workshop, it is useful to see how academic research projects can enrich the practice of the workshop for all learners. In our experience of working with one academic project, this yielded two unexpected aspects which influenced the course that the workshop has taken over recent years. Luther’s 95 Theses, earth-shaking in terms of religious history in 1517, proved to be influential again 500 years later in our own small corner of Thomas Bodley’s ‘public library’ at Oxford. We made a re-evaluation of the type of learning that takes place, for all users of the workshop, and expanded the audiences for the workshop by connecting with special interest groups in the community around a topic of current interest.
A challenge was posed by the 16th-century printer’s expedients to make Luther’s words fit into the original pamphlet length; having carefully divided the text from the pamphlet version into two halves, it became clear that the second half of the pamphlet contained more abbreviations. The 16th-century printer of the pamphlet had been trying to save space as he approached the end of the setting, to make it fit within 8 pages on a single sheet of paper. The print run of the Bodleian’s broadside version was much longer than usually attempted for any publications at the workshop – 200 – making 400 passes of the sheets through the press, as two halves of the text were set and printed in sequence.
Richard Lawrence is an Oxford printer with his own workshop, who teaches printing at the Bodleian to students and the public. He oversaw the type-setting and printing of the Luther Theses broadside, and comments,
The Luther Theses broadside is the largest text printed on the Bodleian’s hand-operated presses, and having copies of this broadside in the workshop has set an important standard for the kind of work that can be undertaken, and a model for collective contribution to a larger project.
We learned from this that a technical challenge is a key factor in encouraging learning. This project required a large amount of type-setting by untrained type-setters. Contrary to an idea that the role of a class might be to deliver the theory of type-setting in a lecture, and participants might learn from just a small amount of practice, the Luther Theses project showed that only added practice enabled participants to use their new skills more fully, to recognize and correct errors, and to become competent and creative. For learners with the stamina and ability to undertake a lot of type-setting, this is a key factor in their development, and is now something we look out for and encourage in the public classes.
The Bodleian Bibliographical Press is delighted to welcome David Armes (Red Plate Press) as printer in residence during four weeks in November-December 2019.
During the residency, Armes will work at the Bodleian’s Bibliographical Press on an addition to his series, ‘Text Landscapes,’ site-specific works made with letterpress printing on paper.
Armes is a visual artist working with print, language and geography. His work is frequently site-specific and considers how sense and experience of place can be represented, with source material including automatic writing, anonymous conversations and oral history. He works primarily with letterpress printing on paper and the final forms can vary in shape and size from large scroll installations to broadside prints to artists’ books and chapbooks. Through using what was once an industrial print process, he is interested in where the multiple meets the unique, where the ephemeral meets the archival.
Based in West Yorkshire, Armes has held artistic residencies at Zygote Press fine art print studio (Cleveland, USA; 2018), Wells Book Arts Center (New York, USA; 2017), BBC Radio Lancashire (Blackburn, UK; 2017) and Huddersfield Art Gallery (West Yorkshire, UK; 2016)
While he is in residence, David Armes will lead a public workshop and give a public lecture.
5 December Lecture: ‘Accumulating Narrative – meaning and mutation in letterpress printing’ co-presented by the Bodleian Libraries Centre for the Study of the Book and the Oxford Bibliographical Society.
This lecture will be delivered from an artist research perspective, drawing on David Armes’s own practice and that of the artists whose work he will explore. It looks at the links between the 1960s concrete poetry work of Hansjörg Mayer and the graphic typographical works of Wolfgang Weingart, drawing a line through the later 20th century work of Ken Campbell to reach the 21st century work of contemporary artists Vida Sačić, Aaron Cohick, Marianne Dages and Dimitri Runkkari.
The lecture will pose questions on subjects such as how meaning can mutate through the process of production, what impact the physicality of materials has and how we can read narratives created through improvisational production techniques.
We are pleased to announce that David Armes will be Printer in Residence at the Bodleian Bibliographical Press for one month during the coming academic year 2019-20.
David Armes is a visual artist working with print, language and geography. His work is frequently site-specific and considers how sense and experience of place can be represented, with source material including automatic writing, anonymous conversations and oral history. He works primarily with letterpress printing on paper and the final forms can vary in shape and size from large scroll installations to broadside prints to artists’ books and chapbooks. Through using what was once an industrial print process, he is interested in where the multiple meets the unique, where the ephemeral meets the archival. Recent residencies have been at Zygote Press fine art print studio (Cleveland, USA; 2018), Wells Book Arts Center (New York, USA; 2017), BBC Radio Lancashire (Blackburn, UK; 2017) and Huddersfield Art Gallery (West Yorkshire, UK; 2016)
The Printer in Residence programme draws together community and University members with an interest in printing and the book arts, to use the Bibliographical Press workshop at the Bodleian Library. During the residency in October-November 2019, David Armes will work on a new iteration of his ‘text landscape’ series, present a lecture and lead a public workshop, to be advertised on the Bodleian Libraries website.
The residency programme is supported by a private donation to the Bibliographical Press.
Russell Maret, 2017 printer-in-residence at the Bodleian, led a seminar looking at old and new printings of Shakespeare. Participating were some of the printers who had contributed to the Bodleian’s new collection of Shakespeare’s sonnets printed in 2016. The group discussed questions of fidelity to the early printed texts, artistic interpretation, and personal responses to the poems.
The seminar examined new and old: the earliest edition of Shakespeare’s Sonnets (1609) and the First Folio edition of his plays (1623), and a selection of the 2016-printed sonnets, each presenting one 14-line poem in a different format including:
Number 81: with a delicate decoration of gothic arches
Number 74: resembling an obituary broadside, aptly commemorating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death
Number 62: alternating lines of black and red giving original and modernized spelling
Number 50: in a wooden Old West wrapper
Number 25: on coloured paper with a calligraphic Spanish translation curving around the printed English
Number 15: on red paper, text set in Perpetua, with lines 6 and 7 picked out in Mila Script, and a flower-seed illustration
Number 3: fully linocut, with the last two lines depicted as a reflection in water
Number 27: in old style; type-written; and in binary code
Numbers 5&6: using a facsimile of the Doves Press type, referencing the Doves Press 1909 edition of the Sonnets
Number 28: several copies on beer-mats in two colours
This last sparked thoughts of adjourning the seminar, but there was some work to do first. The printers’ expertise was put to work at the Bodleian’s Bibliographical Press to make a keepsake of the occasion; lines from King Lear in three colours, with unlocked type interpreting loosening coherence.
Early in 1917, Virginia and Leonard Woolf walked into the Excelsior Printing Supply Co on Farringdon Road and bought themselves a printing press. The press, a small handpress which they installed on a table in their dining room in Richmond, came with instructions and some cases of type. The whole lot came to £19.5s.5d. That May they began work on their first publication, Two Stories (one by Leonard, one by Virginia), with Virginia setting the type and Leonard operating the press. Twenty-one years later, when Virginia finally withdrew from the company, the Hogarth Press had published 440 titles, including work by T. S. Eliot, E. M. Forster, Katherine Mansfield, Vita Sackville-West, Freud, and H. G. Wells, not to mention much of Virginia’s own most significant writing.
“Books are not turned out of moulds like bricks. Books are made of tiny little words, which a writer shapes, often with great difficulty, into sentences of different lengths, placing one on top of another, never taking his eye off them, sometimes building them quite quickly, at other times knocking them down in despair, and beginning all over again.”
-Virginia Woolf, “How Should One Read a Book?” (1925)
To celebrate the centenary of the Hogarth Press, then, it seemed like a good idea to think about the role that printing played in shaping Woolf’s writing. And since the Bodleian Bibliographical Press is equipped not only with the kind of handpress the Woolfs used for their first publications, but also with the same typeface, we had an ideal opportunity to put ourselves into Virginia’s shoes for a day.
One of the earliest Hogarth publications was Hope Mirrlees’s Paris: A Poem, dated 1919 (or rather 1916: Virginia placed the final ‘9’ upside-down and didn’t catch the error until after printing, correcting it in pen in all copies). It is a wonderful and unjustly overlooked piece of modernism, and with its wild typography – different alignments, passages in caps and italics, a block of music inserted into the text – posed a considerable challenge to Virginia’s recently-acquired skills as a typesetter. Just the thing then for a public print-a-thon.Working in half-hour shifts, our team of printers – from absolute beginners to advanced setters – set out to print as much of Mirrlees’s poem as we could in a single day. Breaking for lectures by Dr Nicola Wilson (Reading) and Dame Hermione Lee (Oxford) about the Woolfs and the Hogarth Press, we ended up with a respectable eight pages, about a third of the poem.
“I’m the only woman in England free to write what I like. The others must be thinking of series’ & editors”
(Diary of Virginia Woolf, Vol. 3, September 1925)
“So,” I asked one of our volunteers, “now that you’ve set a page of type, how do you think the experience of being a printer might have influenced Virginia as a writer?”
“Write fewer words!”
A useful and hard-won insight.