Private press

Private press publishing, with respect to books, is an endeavor performed by craft-based expert or aspiring artisans, either amateur or professional, who, among other things, print and build books, typically by hand, with emphasis on design, graphics, layout, fine printing, binding, covers, paper, stitching, and the like.


The term "private press" is not synonymous with "fine press," "small press," or "university press" – though there are similarities. One similarity shared by all is that they need not meet higher commercial thresholds of commercial presses. Private presses, however, often have no profit motive. A similarity shared with fine and small presses, but not university presses, is that for various reasons – namely quality – production quantity is often limited. University presses are typically more automated. A distinguishing quality of private presses is that they enjoy sole discretion over literary, scientific, artistic, and aesthetic merits. Criteria for other types of presses vary. From an aesthetic perspective, critical acclaim and public appreciation of artisans' works from private presses is somewhat analogous to that of luthiers' works of fine string instruments and bows.

Etymological perspective

The private press movement, and its renowned body of work – relative to the larger world of book arts in Western civilization – is narrow and recent. From one perspective, collections relating to book arts date back to before the High Middle Ages. As an illustration of scope and influence, a 1980 exhibition at Catholic University of America, "The Monastic Imprint," highlighted the influence of book arts and textual scholarship from 1200 to 1980, displaying hundreds of diplomas, manuscript codices, incunabula, printed volumes, and calligraphic and private press ephemera. The displays focused on five areas: (1) Medieval Monasticism, Spirituality, and Scribal Culture, A.D. 1200–1500; (2) Early Printing and the Monastic Scholarly Tradition, ca. 1450–1600; (3) Early modern Monastic Printing and Scholarly Publishing, A.D. 1650–1800; (4) Modern Survivals: Monastic Scriptoria, Private Presses, and Academic Publishing, 1800–1980.[1][2]

The earliest descriptive references to private presses were by Bernardus A. Mallinckrodt of Mainz, Germany, in De ortu ac progressu artis typographicae dissertatio historica (Cologne, 1639). The earliest in-depth writing about private presses was by Adam Heinrich Lackmann (de) (1694–1754) in Annalium Typographicorum, Selecta Quaedam Capita (Hamburg, 1740).[3]

Private press movement

United Kingdom
The term "private press" is often used to refer to a movement in book production which flourished around the turn of the 20th century under the influence of the scholar-artisans William Morris, Sir Emery Walker and their followers. The movement is often considered to have begun with the founding of Morris' Kelmscott Press in 1890, following a lecture on printing given by Walker at the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society in November 1888. Morris decried that the Industrial Revolution had ruined man's joy in work and that mechanization, to the extent that it has replaced handicraft, had brought ugliness with it. Those involved in the private press movement created books by traditional printing and binding methods, with an emphasis on the book as a work of art and manual skill, as well as a medium for the transmission of information. Morris was greatly influenced by medieval printed books and the 'Kelmscott style' had a great, and not always positive, influence on later private presses and commercial book-design. The movement was an offshoot of the Arts and Crafts movement, and represented a rejection of the cheap mechanised book-production methods which developed in the Victorian era. The books were made with high-quality materials (handmade paper, traditional inks and, in some cases, specially designed typefaces), and were often bound by hand. Careful consideration was given to format, page design, type, illustration and binding, in order to produce a unified whole. The movement dwindled during the worldwide depression of the 1930s, as the market for luxury goods evaporated. Since the 1950s, there has been a resurgence of interest, especially among artists, in the experimental use of letterpress printing, paper-making and hand-bookbinding in producing small editions of 'artists' books', and among amateur (and a few professional) enthusiasts for traditional printing methods and for the production 'values' of the private press movement.[4][5][6]

New Zealand
In New Zealand university private presses have been significant in the private press movement.[7] Private presses are active at three New Zealand universities: Auckland (Holloway Press[8]), Victoria (Wai-te-ata Press[9]) and Otago (Otakou Press[10]).

North America
A 1982 Newsweek article about the rebirth of the hand press movement asserted that Harry Duncan was "considered the father of the post-World War II private-press movement."[11] Will Ransom has been credited as the father of American private press historiographers.[12]

Selected history

Quality control
Beyond aesthetics, private presses, historically, have served other needs. John Hunter (1728–1793), a Scotish surgeon and medical researcher, established a private press in 1786 at his house at 13 Castle Street, Leicester Square, in West End of London, in an attempt to prevent unauthorized publication of cheap and foreign editions of his works. His first book from his private press: A Treatise on the Venereal Disease. One thousand copies of the first edition were printed.[13]

Porter Garnett (1871–1951), of Carnegie Mellon University, was an exponent of the anti-industrial values of the great private presses – namely those of Kelmscott, Doves, and Ashendene. Following Garnett's inspirational proposal to Carnegie Mellon, Garnett designed and inaugurated on April 7, 1923, the institute's Laboratory Press – for the purpose of teaching printing, which he believed was the first private press devoted solely for that purpose. The press closed in 1935.[14]

Selected private presses

United States



United Kingdom



Western Asia

  • The Private Press of Ariel Wardi (surname alt spelling, converting Polish phonological use of "W" to English "V" – "Vardi"), established 1989 in Jerusalem; Ariel (born 1929) is the son of Haim Wardi, PhD (ne Rosenfeld; 1901–1975) (he)[22][23][24]

Opponents of the private press movement

William Addison Dwiggins (1880–1956), a commercial artist, is lauded for high quality work, namely with Alfred Knopf. And, in contrast to many first-rate book designers joining private presses, he refused. Historian Paul Shaw explained, "He had no patience with those who insisted on retaining hand processes in printing and publishing in the belief that they were inherently superior to machine processes." Dwiggins's "principle concern ultimately centered on readers and their reading needs, esthetic as well as financial. [His] goal was to make books that were beautiful, functional, and inexpensive."[25][26]

See also


  1. "The Monastic Imprint," co-sponsored by (i) the Rare Books Department of the John K. Mullen Library at Catholic University of America and (ii) the College of Library and Information Services at the University of Maryland (1980)
  2. "Communications – Monasticism and the Arts," The Journal of Library History (published by University of Texas Press) Vol. 15, No. 4, Fall 1980, pps. 521–524 (accessible via JSTOR at
  3. Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science, "Private Presses" (Note 1: "References and Notes"), entry by Roderick Cave, Vol. 24, New York: Marcel Dekker, Inc., p. 205
  4. "The Gazette" (comments), by Drika Purves, Yale University Library Gazette, Vol. 65, Nos 3 & 4, April 1991, pps. 114–115 (of pps. 111–115); ISSN 0044-0175 (accessible via JSTOR at
  5. "The Kelmscott Press and William Morris: A Research Guide," by Sarah Horowitz, Art Documentation (journal of the Art Libraries Society of North America, published by the University of Chicago Press), Vol. 25, No. 2, Fall 2006, pps. 60–65; OCLC 5966431137; ISSN 0730-7187 (accessible via JSTOR at
  6. "Modern Fine Printing," by Colin Franklin, The Guardian, June 25, 1970, p. 9 (accessible via at
  7. Vangioni, Peter (2012). Pressed Letters: Fine Printing in New Zealand since 1975, 30 August – 24 September 2012 (PDF). Christchurch, NZ: Christchurch Art Gallery. Retrieved 10 June 2015.
  8. "The Holloway Press". The University of Auckland. Retrieved 21 July 2015.
  9. "Wai-te-Ata Press". Victoria University of Wellington. Victoria University of Wellington. Retrieved 21 July 2015.
  10. "Otakou Press". University of Otago Library, Special Collections Exhibitions. University of Otago. Retrieved 21 July 2015.
  11. "Reading the Fine Print," by Ray Anello, Newsweek, August 16, 1982, p. 64
  12. "The Contemporary Private Press," by Philip John Schwarz, The Journal of Library History, Vol. 5, No. 4, October 1970, p. 298 (article pps. 297–322); OCLC 5547099053; ISSN 0022-2259 (accessible via JSTOR at
  13. "John Hunter's Private Press," A. H. T. Robb-Smith (né Alastair Hamish Tearloch Robb-Smith; 1908–2000), Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, Vol. 25, No. 3, July 1970, pps. 262–269 (accessible via JSTOR at
  14. "Orchids from Pittsburgh: An Appraisal of the Laboratory Press, 1922–1935," by Megan Benton (née Margaret L. Beckman; born 1954), The Library Quarterly (published by the University of Chicago Press), Vol. 62, No. 1, January , 1992, pp. 28–54 (accessible via JSTOR at
  15. "News and Reviews of Private Presses" (monthly column), by James Lamar Weygand (1919–2003), American Book Collector, Vols. 14 and 15
    Press of Roy A. Squires
    (né Roy Asahel Squires; 1920–1988), Pacific Grove, California
    Vol. 14, No. 6, February 1964, p. 13
    Ashantilly Press
    William Greaner Haynes, Jr. (1908–2001), Darien, Georgia
    Vol. 14, No. 6, February 1964, p. 13
    Red Barn Press
    James Marsden, Foxboro, Massachusetts
    Vol. 14, No. 5, January 1964, p. 8
    Innominate Press
    Blaine Lewis, Jr., MD (1919–2001), Louisville
    Vol. 14, No. 7, March 1964, p. 15
    The Hudson Press
    William H. Hudson, Houston
    Vol. 14, No. 7, March 1964, p. 15
    The Stratford Press
    Elmer Gleason of Cincinnati
    Vol. 14, No. 9, May 1964, p. 16
    William M. Cheney
    (né William Murray Cheney; 1907–2002), Los Angeles
    Vol. 15, No. 1, September 1964, p. 7
    The Stone Wall Press
    Karl Kimber Merker (1932–2013), Iowa City
    Vol. 15, No. 2, October 1964, p. 7
    Bayberry Hill Press
    Foster Macy Johnson, Meriden, Connecticut
    Vol. 15, No. 3, November 1964, p. 6
    ISSN 0196-5654
  16. "Quality Books Slated For Display At UMass," Greenfield Recorder, January 3, 1968, p. 5
  17. "Two Decades of Hamady and the Perishable Press Limited" (exhibition inventory), University of Missouri–St. Louis, October 3, 1984, through November 4, 1984
    Subtitled: "Hamady's Perishable Press, A 20th Anniversary Sampling of Hand Crafted Books"
    OCLC 270104287, 723892183
  18. "Kim Merker, Hand-Press Printer of Poets, Is Dead at 81," by Paul Vitello, New York Times, May 27, 2013
  19. Locks' Press, Kingston, Ontario, Fred and Margaret Lock (proprietors) (a reissue of a March 2012 catalog, with an additional folded sheet tipped in) (2014), p. 1; OCLC 963257551
  20. The Kynoch Press: The Anatomy of a Printing House, 1876–1981, by Caroline Archer, PhD (since married to Alexandre Parré and is known as Caroline Archer-Parré), Oak Knoll Press (2000); OCLC 45137620; ISBN 9780712347044
  21. Jurzykowski Foundation Awards, 1970," The Polish Review (published by the University of Illinois Press) Vol. 16, No. 2, Spring 1971, p. 111 (of pps. 105–113) (accessible via JSTOR at
  22. "Private Presses in Israel," by Leila Avrin, PhD (né Leila Rachel Kopstein; 1935–1999), Ariel: The Israel Review of Arts and Letters, Vol. 104, 1997, pps. 63–74; ISSN 0004-1343 (archived July 16, 1998, and accessible online via Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs at
  23. The Private Press of Ariel Wardi, Jerusalem: A. Wardi (1995); OCLC 1089387256, 32640988
  24. "The Enigmatic Life of a Hebrew Graphic Design Pioneer" (article is about Moshe Spitzer (de); 1900–1982; who mentored Ariel Wardi), by Dalia Karpel, Haaretz, October 29, 2016
  25. "Tradition and Innovation: the design work of William Addison Dwiggins," by Paul Shaw, Design History: An Anthology, Dennis P. Doordan (ed.), MIT Press (1995), pps. 33–35; OCLC 32859908
  26. "Designing John Hersey's The Wall: W. A. Dwiggins, George Salter, and the Challenges of American Holocaust Memory," by Robert Michael Franciosi, PhD, Book History (published by the Johns Hopkins University Press), Vol. 11 (2008), pps. 245–274; OCLC 441949066, 703589461; ISSN 1098-7371 (also accessible via JSTOR at

Further reading

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