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Private Press Collection

Date range: 1749-present

Number of items: Over 2,100 items

The golden age of the English Private Press Movement in the 1890s corresponded with the building and foundation of The John Rylands Library. This enabled the establishment of a rich collection of the earliest and most important presses, including:

  • All fifty-three publications of William Morris’s (1834-1896) Kelmscott Press, including both paper and vellum copies of the press’s masterpiece, Geoffrey Chaucer, The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer (Hammersmith: Kelmscott Press, 1896).
  • All of the major works of T. J. Cobden-Sanderson’s (1840-1922) Doves Press. The acquisition in 2003 of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Auserlesene Lieder Gedichte und Balladen: ein Strauss (Hammersmith: Doves Press, 1916) leaves only four ephemeral, or possibly non-existent, items wanting from the press.
  • Thirty-five of the forty major publications of C. H. St John Hornby’s (1867-1946) Ashendene Press. Several scarce early works were obtained in 2012, including the rarest of the Ashendene Press books, Francis Bacon's Two essays of Francis Lord Bacon: Of Building & Gardens (Ashendene: Ashendene Press, 1897), of which only sixteen copies were printed.
  • Most of the output of the Essex House Press of C. R. Ashbee (1863-1942), including a volume of original drawings and designs for the press's masterpiece, the Prayer Book of King Edward VII (The Book of Common Prayer (London: Essex House Press, for Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1903)).

In addition there are smaller numbers of publications from the Daniel, Dun Emer/Cuala, Eragny, Golden Cockerel, Gregynog, Nonesuch (including the Nonesuch Dickens), Shakespeare Head and Vale Presses, and a selection of works from contemporary presses such as the Fleece Press, Gwasg Gregynog, the Rampant Lions Press, the Stanbrook Abbey Press and the Whittington Press. The Incline Press, based locally in Oldham, is particularly well represented.

Among the earliest presses represented are Horace Walpole's (1717-1797) 18th-century Strawberry Hill Press, and early 19th-century presses including Auchinleck, Lee Priory, and the Middle Hill Press of Sir Thomas Phillipps (1792-1872).

Although the focus of the collection is on British and Irish presses, there are examples of work by presses from other countries, especially the USA. Private presses from Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Switzerland are also represented.

Many private press books are illustrated, and the collection provides a complete conspectus 20th-century wood-engraving in Britain, including work by artists such as Eric Gill (1882-1940), Eric Ravilious (1903-1942), and Enid Marx (1902-1998).

The Library also holds a range of private press ephemera including announcements, prospectuses, catalogues, specimen pages and keepsakes, together with a range of secondary reference works about the presses and their founders. The collection is added to on a regular basis.

See also:

Further Information:

  • Recorded in Library Search.
  • David W. Riley, '"A Definite Claim to Beauty": Some Treasures from the Rylands Private Press Collection', Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, 72:2 (Summer 1990), 73-88.

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