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Stanbrook Abbey Press Collection

Date range: 1956–1990

Medium: Printed

Number of items: 250 items

The press founded at Stanbrook Abbey near Worcester in 1876 was unique: run by a religious community, rather than an individual or partnership, it stood at the interface between book design and religious belief. Famously the press was associated in the early 20th century with one of the great figures of English bibliography, Sir Sydney Cockerell (1867-1962); he in turn introduced the nuns to Emery Walker (1851-1933) and C. H. St John Hornby (1867-1946).

The press enjoyed a golden age under the direction of Dame Hildelith Cumming (1909-1991), who was printer from 1955 until her death in 1991. With the encouragement of Dutch typographer Jan van Krimpen (1892-1958) and the English designer John Dreyfus (1918-2002), Dame Hildelith developed a distinctive Stanbrook style: the use of characterful typefaces, expertly printed on fine hand-made papers; the deployment of white space to allow texts to ‘breathe’; and a liveliness achieved through coloured inks, calligraphic decoration and fine bindings.

David Butcher, the press’s bibliographer, summed up its achievement: ‘Collectively the books published by the Press… earn it a place as one of the world’s major private presses… The books are an enduring testament to the Benedictine aim of employing human talents to the glory of God.’ (David Butcher, The Stanbrook Abbey Press, 1956-1990 (Lower Marston: Whittington Press, 1992), p. 31.)

In 2007 the Library purchased a major collection of the Stanbrook Abbey Press’s output, with funding from the Friends of the John Rylands. There are all but one of the thirty-nine major works published by the Press in the period 1956 to 1990 (the missing item being the scarce Rituale Abbatum of 1963); thirty-four out of forty-three works printed at Stanbrook on behalf of others; seventeen of the attractive illuminated folders for which the Press was renowned; and scores of minor items, prospectuses, price lists and jobbing work.

Some items are particularly scarce, such as one of twenty special copies of The Path to Peace (1960) by Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967), signed by the author, and one of twenty specials of another major work, Patriarch Tree (1965) by Raïssa Maritain (1883-1960). There are fourteen items not recorded in Butcher’s bibliography, as well as many variants and trial pages.

There are a few examples of the earlier output of the press, from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Particularly significant is a handwritten and probably unique list of books printed between 1876 and 1962, with later annotations and additions by Dame Hildelith. There is also a handful of letters from Dame Hildelith to collectors.

The collection will appeal to social historians, church historians and students of 20th-century literature and art, as well as bibliographers and students of book history.

See also:

Further information:

Marked-up bibliography available via Special Collections reading rooms: David Butcher, The Stanbrook Abbey Press, 1956-1990 (Lower Marston: The Whittington Press, 1992).


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