Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Private Press

The private press is a small press that publishes its own works. In this day and age they are few and far between. In Canada we have some wonderful private presses operating including a couple from the west coast called Barbarian Press & Heavenly Monkey. In many cases the books being printed are printed by hand using a hand press. Usually the text is illustrated with woodcuts, wood-engravings or etchings and makes for a very attractive volume.

The type is set by hand using either cold type(Individual pieces ie letters) or hot type where a machine produces lines of type as the result of keypunch similar to a type writer. Hot type can be melted down and reused whereas cold type is dis-assembled and used again. Once the type is set it is rolled with ink and printed by hand usually onto quality acid free handmade paper. Once the pages including text and illustration are printed they are cut and collated and usally hand bound and some cases a protective slipcase or box is created specifically to house that volume. On a very special limited edition a suite of extra copies of the illustrations will be included and may even be handcoloured and signed by the artist. These editions are small and typically can be 20 - 200 copies only so they are highly collectable.

Being a fan of the book arts I have to spend a little time on my hero William Morris. In an age when the machine was taking over he went the other direction and decided that quality was of the utmost importance. In setting up Kelmscott Press he went against the grain and produced quality, letterpress printed laborousily illustrated and then hand bound.

Probably the most famous of all private press books the Kelmscott Chaucer, as it is called, was printed in a small edition (125 I think) by William Morris. It is illustrated by Burne Jones and has very elaborate designs by William Morris. Originally it was bound in pig skin with a very detailed tooled design. I have a facsimile copy by World Press that includes a cover with the original design. Recently one at auction fetched $140,000.00. A lot of them are in institutional collections.

Other famous presses include the Doves Press, The Golden Cockerel Press & Gehenna Press.