The Private Press Movement – the art of the book

The Private Press Movement – the art of the book

The private press movement is about the art and craft of making beautiful books. These books are often small print runs of high quality produced by individuals or small businesses.

The private press movement began in the mid 19th century, when inspired by William Morris, Emery Walker and the British Arts and Crafts movement, others began to become involved in the production of fine books. Driven by a frustration with the poor quality of many books, and a love of typography, design, illustration, printing and the fine binding of books, the private press movement evolved and grew; firstly in Britain and then on into America and other countries.

The Golden Cockerel Press

Golden Cockerel Press Prospectus 1930, Eric Ravilious

A Golden Cockerel Press prospectus from 1930 with a beautiful wood-engraving by Eric Ravilious. This prospectus also announced the new typeface called ‘Golden Cockerel’ designed by Eric Gill and the forthcoming printing of ‘The Four Gospels’.

In 1920 one of the the most outstanding private presses of the 20th century was set up by a cooperative of four partners in a small village in England. The Golden Cockerel Press is now know for for its beautiful handmade limited editions. This fine press evolved under different owners, including the artist Robert Gibbings. The Golden Cockerel Press produced beautiful books from 1920 until 1961. The press is credited with the revival of wood-engraving in Britain. It commissioned engravings from artists such as Paul Nash, John Nash, John Buckland Wright, Dorothea Braby, John Farleigh, Mabel Annesley and many others. One of the most highly valued books from this fine press is The Four Gospels, designed and illustrated by Eric Gill.

The art of the book today

Although we look back now on a golden era for the private press movement that began in the 1830s and continued on into the late 1950s, today private presses and individual publishers, artists and printers remains active. Private presses continue to produce beautiful books, some use new technology, many use wonderful old printing machines, Letterpress printing, wood-engraving, specially made paper, bookbinding and fine crafts.

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Read our article on collecting illustrated books.

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