Bibliographical Press at the Bodleian

In September 2015, the Bodleian’s Bibliography Room re-opened in the Old Bodleian Library, after a move from temporary quarters in the Story Museum, Oxford. The workshop is now housed in a ground-floor room, the Schola Musicae, opening from the Old Schools Quadrangle. Inside are five free-standing iron presses (four Albions and a Columbian)*, a number of table-top presses, and several composing frames, including three seventeenth-century frames, with a quantity of wooden and metal type.

The room hosts classes in hand-printing for students from Oxford and other universities, and regular workshops for families, adults, and primary school groups. One group from a local school printed a sonnet by Shakespeare; seven children set two lines each while their classmate created a linocut of the school emblem.

Many former students and visitors from other universities will remember that Paul W. Nash expertly shepherded the room through its previous incarnations in the New Library (now refurbished as the Weston Library) and in the Story Museum. His successor as superintendent of the press is Richard Lawrence, who teaches printing to university students and visiting groups and also supervises open sessions, when experienced printers are welcome to use the workshop, on Thursday evenings during term-times. Several projects initiated by students are underway, including the printing of Luther’s 95 theses, catalyst for the Reformation, in time for the 500th anniversary in 2017. Courses in printing history, practical printing, and letterpress printing, open to the public, are offered in June 2016.

This year the Bibliographical Press hosts an effort to gather copies of all of Shakespeare’s sonnets printed in 2016, the 400th anniversary of his death. A call for contributions of sonnets went out in January and was quickly answered by printers around the world. (http://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/csb/sonnets2016 ) Though all 154 sonnets are now promised for the Bodleian Rare Books collection, anyone wishing to participate in the effort is invited to contact the Centre for the Study of the Book, e-mail bookcentre@bodleian.ox.ac.uk; the CSB will endeavour to announce and display sonnets printed in 2016 by any technique of relief printing.

*A further note on the presses contained in the room. These were reported by Philip Gaskell in the Journal of the Printing Historical Society no. 1, 1965:

“(1) 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.]

Tamarin Norwood, printweeting
Tamarin Norwood, printweeting on the Albion serial number 2919

“(2) [now removed] Albion (royal), serial number 2919, (1853), from the Ashendene Press” [The Bodleian Library Record Vol. 5, No. 6, Oct. 1956, reported the gift of “An Ashendene Press.  Mr Michael Hornby has presented to the Bibliography Room the Ashendene Press, the Albion used by his father from 1900 onwards. We are most grateful for the gift of this historic machine. It is a Royal, and Mr Davis is already planning to print bigger and better books.” The press referred to by Gaskell,  is now at the Bridwell Library, Dallas Texas ,a  ‘Hopkinson & Cope Albion, serial number 2919, patent number 3325, 1853. This press belonged to Charles Harry St John Hornby and is referred to as the Bridwell-Ashendene Press‘.]

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

To those recorded by Gaskell have been added more recently

(4) A Columbian, from the Samson Press

(5) An Albion, from the Gehenna Press

(6) A card-size Albion, maker Ullmer, number 2919

Sonnets 2016: the Bodleian Library collects 154 sonnets from presses around the world

Lucy Evans, Rare Books

From close to home and further afield, from Oxford to Moonshine Road, California, to New Delhi and Llandogo, hand-press printers across the world answered the call to print Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets.

An enthusiastic response meant all 154 sonnets were quickly assigned. The UK and the USA are the most heavily represented countries with particularly strong showing from Oxford, California and Iowa. Submissions are also expected from Australia, Belgium, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy , Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Spain.

The printers involved range from large scale operations to university departments, not for profit organisations, the Virginia Arts of the Book Center , individuals printing at home and an ex-librarian from Australia.

The project is now well underway and we eagerly await parcels winging their way to the Bodleian from across the world. Congratulations to the Kings Bookshop, Callander, who were the first to submit sonnet 92, translated into Scots!

Follow the links to see some of the presses and people involved in this effort.

Pictures of sonnets in type and on the press, as these are received from the printers, can be seen on our twitter feed @bodleiancsb, #154sonnets