Category Archives: fine press editions

fine press editions

When Worlds Collide: Poetry and Computation


Members of the class “When Worlds Collide: Poetry and Computation” visited the Graphic Arts Collection looking at ways the classic poetry book has been deconstructed beginning with Walt Whitman’s 1855 Leaves of Grass to a 2017 scroll edition of Hart Crane’s The Bridge with woodblock prints by Joel Shapiro. A wide variety of materials were pulled including four distinct versions of Stéphane Mallarmé’s Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hazard. Pages designed in positive and negative space are featured in Paul Éluard’s Proverbe, Guillaume Apollinaire’s Calligrammes, and Werner Pfeiffer’s Liber Mobile.

The interdisciplinary seminar, taught by Brian W. Kernighan and Efthymia Rentzou, brings together humanities and applied sciences, addressing questions of literacy, media, and modes of knowledge. The course is organized around poetry and digital technology and explores the history of each as systems of relating, organizing, and understanding the real. Media technologies and means of communication for both poetry and computing — from orality to writing, from the alphabet to the printing press, from the scroll to the book, from computers to the internet — structure our discussion.

Here’s a pdf of the checklist: poetry










Willa Cather’s April Twilights

In June 1931, Willa Cather received the first honorary degree awarded to a woman by Princeton University. It was only one of many awards she received, including the Pulitzer Prize in 1923 for her novel One of Ours. Also that year, Cather published a second edition of her first book of poems April Twilight, originally appearing in 1903 (Ex 3670.29.312.1903). This had a special importance to Princeton, as it was printed by Elmer Adler, later to be Princeton’s first curator of graphic arts.

Alfred Knopf wrote to Cather in July of 1922 that he had attracted the interest of “one of the finest printers I know” with the idea of producing “a quite handsome de luxe edition” of Cather’s April Twilights … . He continued, “I can’t point to much work they have done for us except the one full-page advertisement that we had in the New York Times a couple of months ago which attracted a good deal of favorable attention.” The printers in question were Adler’s Pynson Printers, and the deluxe edition they produced was April Twilights and Other Poems (1923). –read more Matthew Lavin “Material Memory,” Studies in the Novel 445, no. 3 (Fall 2013).

Willa Cather (1873-1947), April Twilights and Other Poems (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1923). Graphic Arts RCPXG-5905085 “Of this book, there were printed … by the Pynson Printers … four hundred and fifty numbered copies, each signed by the author”–P. [68].  This edition includes 13 new poems, eliminating 13 from the original volume.

Knopf warned Cather, who insisted on typographic perfection, “Now the point is just this, and I am going to be quite frank with you and expect you to be equally frank with me. The whole job in all its details would have to be left to these printers. In a work, I get the manuscript and we both get finished books. For myself, I am satisfied that I would like the job they turn out. …”

Adler had only recently opened his press but already had a reputation as a perfectionist, as outlined in ‘A Talk of the Town’ piece for the New Yorker in November 12, 1932:

“Mr. Elmer Adler worked in the family clothing-manufacturing business—Rochester-Adler Clothiers of Rochester, N.Y.—for twenty years before, at the age of thirty-eight, he came to the definite conclusion that it was boring him stiff. Then, without any intermediate steps to speak of, he came to New York and started Pynson Printers, Inc., naming it after Richard Pynson, the famous printer of the sixteenth century. It has been one of the few shops in the city doing fine handwork exclusively, and from its presses come the most de-luxe of special editions; the Random House “Candide,” for example.

Mr. Adler had long been interested in fine printing, apparently acquiring the taste when preparing ads for his family’s business; now he is one of the most important experts in the country, advising the Times, Alfred Knopf, and many others about formats and type faces. He had three partners when he started, but two dropped out shortly afterward. He was about to close up the business then, and would have if he hadn’t hired a Miss Greenberg to give him a hand through the last few days. Miss Greenberg was pretty peeved when she discovered the business was folding up just when she arrived and, after looking around a day or two, said: “why fold it up? It’s a nice little business.” So Mr. Adler decided to continue, with Miss Greenberg as business manager that was in 1922.

Two years later, Adolph Ochs picked Pynson as the best printing house and invited it to move into his Times Annex, where he had planned to collect the best practitioners of all the graphic arts. He abandoned this plan later, finding the Times needed all the room itself, but Pynson stayed. It’s still there, occupying a gallery full of bells, a library full of old books, an office, and a large light room full of nine printers, hand-setting. In the printshop is a hundred-year-old press upon which proofs are pulled. In the book room are many rare and typographically interesting books.; firsts of the fifteenth century, and things like that.

Mr. Adler is short, single, clean-shaven, and wears Adler ready-mades. He doesn’t set type himself. It doesn’t interest him, and if it did he’d be out of luck, as the owner of a shop can’t join the union. He designs the books, corrects proof, and the like, Has no salesmen, never solicits work, and takes jobs only on the understanding that he’s the boss so far as printing goes. His shop turns out three or four books a year that people hear about, always in small quantities.

It also prints books privately for amateur poets and such. When the Times’ employees gave Mr. Ochs a testimonial book on his seventieth birthday, Adler printed it: one copy, at a cost of $4,000. He has done special editions of Willa Cather, Lord Dunsany, Arthur Machen, Elinor Wylie, James Stephens, and others. He doesn’t care about the literary quality of his books, however; they’re just fine typography and handmade paper to him. Given a free hand, he’s enjoy getting out an issue of the congressional record. He’s the chief editor, and chief everything else, of the Colophon, the Book-Collector’s Quarterly. It started up two years ago and has done very well, everything considered; editions limited, of three thousand this year. He prints parts of each issue and the rest is done in half a dozen other fine printshops in this country and England.”




Oak Tree Press First Chapters

The Graphic Arts Collection acquired a nearly complete deluxe set of Oak Tree Press’s First Chapter Series of Booker Prize-winning novels and prints [8 of 10]. Not only are the individual numbered copies signed by the author on the title page and hand bound in cloth, but many include a signed print within the slipcase. The series began in 2006 with J.M. Coetzee’s Life and Times of Michael K, with a lithograph by the South African artist Colbert Mashile [above].

“Colbert Mashile was born in 1972 in Bushbuckridge, Mpumalanga and currently lives and works in Johannesburg. Mashile received his Diploma in Fine Arts from the Johannesburg Art Foundation in 1994 and later continued his studies at the University of Witwatersrand where he obtained a BA in Fine Arts in 2000 and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Heritage Studies in 2002. Since then Mashile has presented ten solo exhibitions, with the most recent being Messages from our Ancestors in 2013 at the Art Eye Gallery in Sandton, Johannesburg.” — Read more:


“Ezequiel Mabote [his work above] is a self-taught artist who grew up in an arts neighborhood in Maputo. He was influenced by the old masters of sculptures, paintings and batiks at the age of 10. He then took art lessons at Noroestel High School in Maputo. In 1998, Ezequiel moved to South Africa to fulfill his dreams in art. He stayed in Durban KwaZulu Natal with his cousin brother, Isaac Sithole. Isaac introduced him to the Bat Centre where he networked with local artists. In 1999, he attended a printmaking workshop at the Bat Centre with Samuel N Mbingilo from the John Muafangejo Art Centre in Namibia.

He held his first exhibition in 1999 at the Intensive Care Café at the Bat Centre and two years later attended printmaking workshops at the Caversham Press in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands under well-known artists such as Malcolm Christian, Dr David Koloane, the late Gabi Nkosi, Kevin Sipp, Xolile Mtakatya and many more. Ezequiel now specializes in printmaking, woodcut colour reduction, oil pastels, paintings, sculptures, murals and bookbinding.”–


Also part of this series is Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie with a lithograph by Thomas Howard; Holiday by Stanley Middleton with a watercolor by the author [above]; The Conservationist by Nadine Gordimer with an etching by Cyril Coetzee; Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth with a woodcut by Ezequiel Mabote; The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood with an ink drawing by Yoko Ono; The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst with a lithograph by Gilbert and George [at the top of the page]; and Possession A Romance by A.S. Byatt with a lithograph by David Royle.

Oak Tree Fine Press is a privately owned publishing company based in Oxfordshire, England. “We specialize in exceptionally high quality books featuring work by the world’s greatest authors and artists. All profits from the sales of all our books go to organisations assisting children living with or affected by HIV/AIDS.”

Additional information from the press states, “The support of Nobel Prize winner J. M. Coetzee has been vital to the success of the series, and its second volume featured his Booker Prize winning novel of 1999, “Disgrace.” Since then, a wide range of authors have collaborated on the series, linked by their shared status as Booker Prize winners, and their mutual interest in contributing to a worthwhile cause through the creation of beautiful and thought provoking book. Each book is comprised of the first chapter of the title, accompanied by an illustration made especially for the series.”

Pairing Herbert Granville Fell with Annie S. MacDonald


The Graphic Arts Collection recently acquire a copy of The Song of Solomon designed and illustrated by Herbert Granville Fell (1872-1951) with a binding by Annie S. MacDonald (1849-1924) (London: Guild of Women Binders, Chapman and Hall, printed by William Clowes and Sons, 1897). “Of this special edition on Japanese paper only 100 copies have been printed, for the Guild of Women Binders.”–Page 1. This is copy 8 of 100.


The binding is signed in embossed leather with an ‘M M’ at the lower edge of the front cover, with the date ‘1898’ in embossed leather at the opposite edge. ‘M M’ refers to ‘Mrs. MacDonald,’ a member of the Guild of Women-Binders.

The founding of the Guild of Women-Binders and Annie MacDonald’s part in the organization has been repeated on many webpages and catalogues. Here it is from the American Bookbinders Museum post “The Bindings of To-morrow”:

The Guild of Women Binders was founded by Frank Karslake, a London bookseller and also founder of the Hampstead Bindery. Karslake was a bit of a rogue, who dabbled in multiple professions ranging from acting to ranch management, before trying his hand at bookselling and bookbinding. His interest in women binders emerged from his admiration of bindings exhibited at the Victorian Era Exhibition in 1897. Soon after seeing these examples, he invited several of the women binders to exhibit in his shop.

This exhibit, Exhibition of Artistic Bookbinding by Women, confirmed to Karslake that maybe women really could distinguish themselves in this industry. Perhaps he saw an opportunity to profit from the novelty of women binders, but soon after, Karslake acted as agent to prominent binders like Constance Karslake, Edith de Rheims, Florence de Rheims, Mrs. Macdonald, Helen Schofield, Frances Knight, and Lilian Overton (to name a few). In 1899, Karslake’s vision evolved into the workshop and business venture that became the Guild of Women Binders. Women involved in the guild were typically middle class and had a background in artistic education.

When Karslake first conceived of the idea to compile a book, publishers refused it because books on bindings were said to be unprofitable. A warning which Karslake ignored when he published The Bindings of To-morrow himself in 1902, with the assistance of W. Griggs who printed an edition of 500 copies. [Graphic Arts Collection 2008-2402N] This book provides a unique historical insight into the binding process and a glimpse into the under-represented work of women binders. A year after publication, Karslake was forced to offer the remaining 150 copies of the book to booksellers at a fraction of the original price.

In the catalog, The Bindings of To-morrow, Annie MacDonald’s entry includes autobiographical text: “Mrs. Macdonald writing in 1897, when her work was shewn at the “First exhibition of Bookbinding by Women”, said: ‘It began about six years ago, with myself and the late John M. Gray, curator of the Scottish National Portrait gallery. We took great pleasure in searching out and enjoying old bindings in libraries, both at home and abroad and felt that it was a beautiful art, but now fallen to be only a trade. Then we wishes to try it ourselves. . . . The embossed leather in which most of the work is done is an idea of my own. It is not cut, or raised by padding, but is quite solid leather, and is worked on the book after it is covered, with one small tool. It allows of great freedom of design, no two people work it alike.’”

Thanks to Sarah Hovde, not only for the Folger Shakespeare Library post on MacDonald but the Wikipedia page she wrote to introduce MacDonald to the contemporary world. Read:
The Oxford Art Online describes Herbert Granville Fell as a painter first, then illustrator and stained glass painters. “Fell studied in London at Heatherley’s, in Brussels and in towns in Germany. He produced drawings for the Pall Mall Magazine, The Ludgate Monthly, The Windmill, the English Illustrated, the Ladies Field (of which he was artistic director) and other magazines.” The Song of Solomon is only one of many elaborately illustrated books by Fell.


Max Ernst and the Gallant Sheep

Max Ernst (1891-1976) and Benjamin Péret (1899-1959), La brebis galante [The Gallant Sheep] (Paris: Editions premières, 1949). Graphic Arts GAX 2019- in process.
***Note this was a collaboration, not illustrations as after thought.***

Cet ouvrage, le premier de la collection GBMZ … a été achevé d’imprimer … le douze novembre mil neuf cent quarante-neuf … Il a été tiré trois cent seize exemplaires … Un exemplaire unique sur vieux Japon … Quinze exemplaires sur Vélin Montval … Trois cents exemplaires sur Grand Vélin d’Arches, numéroté de 1 à 300 et comportant trois eaux-fortes originales. Il a été tiré en outre cinq exemplaires nominatifs sur Vélin Montval …”–Page [2]. =This work, the first in the GBMZ collection … was finished printing … on November 12, 1949 … 316 copies were printed … A single copy on old Japan … 15 copies on Vélin Montval … 300 copies on Grand Vélin d’Arches, numbered from 1 to 300 and containing 3 original etchings. Five nominative copies were also printed on Vélin Montval … “–Page 2.

Beyond the three ‘original’ etchings, 18 of the relief line block illustrations are pochoir colored in striking yellows, greens, reds, oranges, and blues.

M.E. Warlick, Max Ernst and Alchemy: A Magician in Search of Myth (University of Texas Press,  2013)

Sadness is a Bird

The Fine Press Book Association co-sponsors two book fairs: the Oxford Fine Press Book Fair and the Manhattan Fine Press Book Fair. The Oxford event is biennial and at the March 2018 fair, the Judges’ Choice Awards went to three fine press editions.

One of the winners was Elies Plana, Barcelona, for an edition of the poem Neijmantototsintle by Ateri Miyawatl, with linocuts by Francisco Villa, editioned and printed by Plana. Originally written in Nahuatl in 2016, the poem has been translated into Catalan and English.

The Nahua actress/poet Ateri Miyawatl was born in Acatlán, Chilapa, Guerrro and graduated from the Michoacana University of San Nicolás de Hidalgo (UMSNH). Together with Celeste Jaime and Mara Rahab Bautista, she directs Originaria, a project that aims to show women poets who express themselves in native languages.

Here is a rough translation of her biographical statement: Ateri Miyawatl is the name that my parents gave me and with which my community knows me, it is also the name with which I identify. Ateri is a Purépecha word and Miyawatl a Nahuatl word. The day I was born my father gilded his brown back in the sun on the beaches of Jalisco selling hammocks to tourists. My mother decided that she would give birth in the town’s bajareque clinic, where Nahuales and wholesale atlapixques were born. That morning, when I came out of my mother’s body, I slipped from the hands of the apprentice nurse, with my head toward the floor. What happened next, just before hitting me on the ground, I leave to the imagination.

Anna Gatica, is the name with which my parents registered me in the Civil Registry. They have never named me that. As Anna, I studied theater and Cultural Management. My lines of research and creative execution are developed with native peoples, with themes and in peripheral geographies. My actress training is complemented by performance studies, audiovisual media, Cultural Management, Gender Equality and Indigenous Rights. I have collaborated with various artists, non-governmental organizations and civil associations in Mexico, the United States and South America.

See her in this video, discussing Originaria.


“De los factores que identifico,” noted Miyawatl, “uno es el poder sobresalir respecto a los compañeros varones, respecto a las compañeras que se dedican a hacer poesía en estas lenguas. …Otro factor importante es la barrera del lenguaje, muchas mujeres llegamos a las escuelas a estudiar y todo se encuentra en español, es como si ustedes llegarán a estudiar su carrera y todo lo encontrarán en italiano, no existe un apoyo para las personas que hablamos otra lengua.”


Ateri Miyawatl, Neijmantototsintle = La tristesa és un ocell = Sadness is a bird. Illustrations by Francisco Villa ([Barcelona, Spain] : Elies Plana, 2018. Graphic Arts Collection GAX 2019- in process

The Country of the Blind privately printed

H. G. Wells, The Country of the Blind (New York: Privately printed [by Mitchell Kennerley], Christmas 1915). Aquatone frontispiece after a photograph by Alvin Langdon Coburn. Graphic Arts Collection 2019- in process

This is the first separate edition of one of the stories from the collaboration between H. G. Wells and Alvin Langdon Coburn, The Door in the Wall. Although there is no statement of limitation, a folded typed account of the book and its production, signed with initials by Mitchell Kennerley, states that two hundred copies were printed on handmade paper, typeset by Bertha Goudy.

The Country of the Blind was first published in The Strand magazine, April 1904, pp 201-15, with illustrations by Claude A. Shepperson.

The Fortunes of Mitchell Kennerley [Recap Z473.K45 B78 1986] was reviewed by Leonard Shatzkin, “Zero Royalty” in New York Times December 7, 1986. Here is a section:

MITCHELL KENNERLEY was a pioneer among American publishers. Only two years after he joined John Lane as a junior clerk at the Bodley Head in London, Kennerley was taken by Lane to New York. In ”The Fortunes of Mitchell Kennerley, Bookman,” Matthew J. Bruccoli says Kennerley always insisted Lane had put him in charge of the firm’s American branch then; he was 18 years old. Three years later, irritated with Kennerley’s failure to handle essential business details, Lane arrived at the New York offices unannounced, discovered that Kennerley had also been taking company money and fired him.

…Kennerley made significant contributions to book publishing and book collecting. From the start, he strove for the highest physical and artistic quality. His first office was in a New York building in which Frederic W. Goudy, America’s most famous typographer and type designer, was struggling to get started, and Kennerley used his services extensively. One of Goudy’s best-known and most important typefaces, Kennerley Old Style, grew out of that association.

Kennerley’s books were beautifully typeset, printed on high-quality paper that was often handmade and tastefully bound. Some were set into type by Bertha Goudy, Frederic’s talented wife. Alfred A. Knopf, who in his time set the standards of quality for the modern generation of publishers, acknowledged that his youthful apprenticeship with Kennerley associated him ”with a man who had a very fine sense of typography and of sound conservative book-making.” Among the many distinguished authors whose first or early works were represented among the 400 titles Kennerley published are Van Wyck Brooks, Frank Harris, D. H. Lawrence, Vachel Lindsay, Walter Lippmann, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Upton Sinclair, H. G. Wells and Oscar Wilde.

…In 1915, Kennerley became president of the Anderson Galleries. He continued to publish books for a time on a very much reduced scale, but auctions, particularly of rare books, became his main occupation. Later, as his financial fortunes drifted downward, he worked unsuccessfully in book retailing and even in printing. Kennerley ended in poverty, a lonely suicide in 1950 at the age of 71.

Tesoros musicales de la Nueva España: Siglo XVI. Tacámbaro de Codallos

María Isabel, Tesoros Musicales de la Nueva España: Siglo XVI. Tacámbaro de Codallos ([Mexico]: Taller Martín Pescador, 2018). One of 210 copies. Graphic Arts collection GAX 2019- in process

Publisher’s quote: “Dr. María Isabel Grañén Porrúa is Mexico’s leading scholar of 16th-century printing in the Viceroyalty of New Spain and Juan Pascoe of the Taller Martín Pescador is Mexico’s greatest living handpress printer.

Her scholarship, based on archival research and the minute study of early colonial-era printed musical texts, and his precise and meticulous presswork are here combined to give us a masterful study of a neglected area of the history of the book in Mexico, in a volume that is joy in the hand and a jewel to the eye.

Prior to publication here, the extended essay had been ‘presentado en el simposio ‘El libro en la Nueva España. Historiografía en Construcción.’ Dirección de Estudios Históricos del INAH, octubre de 2017.'”

Florencio Ramírez composed the text using Dante, Centaur, Poliphilus, and Blado type. Juan Pascoe and Martín Urbgina printed the work on Tamayo De Ponte paper using a Vandercook cylinder press and two Washington handpresses. The work was bound by Fermín Urbina.

Havana and Venice

The Graphic Arts Collection is fortunate to have acquired two volumes from Leslie Gerry Editions. The contemporary artist works with 21st century technology informed by modern fine press traditions.

With a stylus on a Wacom tablet, I paint on the computer in Illustrator. Working only with flat areas of colour and no tone, I “cut out” the shapes with the stylus, arranging them on different layers, creating a collage. In fact, I first started working this way years ago by cutting out sheets of coloured paper with scissors, similar to the way Matisse created his paper collages. Starting by sketching a composition in blocks of colour as I would have done painting in oils and using the reference photos as guidance only, I gradually build up the painting with darker areas first and then lighter shades. The paintings end up as digital files; vector images which can be reduced or enlarged to any size and are then printed with a flat bed UV ink jet printer on a hand or mould-made paper.

Leslie Gerry, Havana, paintings by Leslie Gerry; extracts from Cuba by Irene A. Wright, 1912 (Dowdeswell, Gloucestershire: Leslie Gerry Editions, December 2016). Copy 39 of 70. Graphic Arts Collection GAX E-000092

Leslie Gerry, Venice reflections, paintings by Leslie Gerry; extracts from Venice by Jan Morris (Dowdeswell, Gloucestershire, UK : Published by Leslie Gerry Editions, The Eight Gabled House, 2019). Copy 15 of 120. Graphic Arts Collection E-000093


Le Grand Écart

Jean Cocteau (1889-1963). Le Grand Ecart. Roman illustré par l’auteur de vingt deux dessins dont onze en couleurs (Paris: Librairie Stock, 1926). First illustrated edition, with reproductions of 22 drawings by Cocteau, 11 in color. Copy 18 of 20 on imperial Japan paper. A fine inscribed copy with a large original drawing by Jean Cocteau (profile of a male head): “à Parisot Souvenir très amical de Jean Cocteau.” Graphic Arts Collection GAX 2019- in process


This novel has a small album of drawings bound inside between chapters. Cocteau wrote:

Ce petit roman est composé comme un album de dessins. C’est ce que nous invite à penser une lettre de Cocteau à sa mère le 19 juillet 1922 : « Tout est écrit. Il faut maintenant dessiner chaque page. La reprendre jusqu’à ce qu’elle soit ressemblante comme je fais pour mes portraits ou mes caricatures. » En réalité, à cette date rien n’est vraiment écrit : Cocteau a juste commencé, il a surtout le plan en tête (sauf l’épilogue, trouvé en octobre seulement). Et, comme l’album graphique qu’il compose en même temps (Dessins, publié en 1923), le roman se présente dans son esprit comme une suite de planches à composer l’une après l’autre. Dans ses entretiens à la radio avec André Fraigneau en 1951, Cocteau dira qu’il a composé Le Grand Écart « par petits blocs ».

This little novel is composed as an album of drawings. This is what invites us to think of a letter from Cocteau to his mother on July 19, 1922: “Everything is written. We must now draw each page. Repeat it until it looks like I do for my portraits or caricatures. In reality, at this date nothing is really written: Cocteau has just started, he has the plan especially in mind (except the epilogue, found in October only). And, like the graphic album he composes at the same time (Drawings, published in 1923), the novel appears in his mind as a series of plates to compose one after the other. In his radio interviews with André Fraigneau in 1951, Cocteau said that he composed Le Grand Écart “in small blocks”.–


Cocteau wrote six novels: 1919: Le Potomak; 1923: Le Grand Écart; 1923: Thomas l’Imposteur; 1928: Le Livre blanc; 1929: Les Enfants terribles; and 1940: La Fin du Potomak.

During the 1920s Cocteau also devoted his time to writing several novels, a new genre for him. These novels are usually concerned with protagonists who cannot leave their childhoods behind them. In Le Grand Ecart, for example, Jacques Forestier finds that beauty always brings him pain, a pattern established when he was a child.

As a young man, the pattern continues when he loses his first love to another man, leading Jacques to attempt suicide. Germaine Bree and Margaret Guiton note in The French Novel from Gide to Camus that Jacques is “the most directly autobiographical of Cocteau’s fictional characters.” In addition, as McNab pointed out, the novel anticipates Cocteau’s later obsession with childhood. —