Its first book, RICHARD KENNEDY’S A Boy at the Hogarth Press (1972), which took a year of weekends and holidays to print in an edition of 525 copies on an 1848 Columbian hand-press, proved to be that rare event in the private press world, a best seller (it was re-issued by Penguin the same year, and in 2011 by Hesperus Press, with a foreword by John Randle), and encouraged us to make the Press a full-time activity in 1974. From 1972 to 1991 the Press’ home was at Manor Farm, Andoversford, a mile away from the presses at Whittington, here shown in a wood-engraving by Miriam Macgregor, who came to work at the Press as compositor in 1976. Since 1972 we have printed, and nearly always published, some 250 books, including the renowned annual review for printers and bibliophiles, Matrix (‘by far the finest periodical of the book arts of the twentieth century, surpassing even the seven-volume Fleuron issued in the 1920s’), which is now in its thirty-fifth year. The Press has received numerous awards for its printing and publishing, including THE AMERICAN PRINTING HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION’S AWARD for Matrix, the first time APHA’S INSTITUTIONAL AWARDhas gone to a private press. An audio interview with John Randle in the Nota Bene series on printing and publishing was issued in 2011.
THE PRESS has a varied list, which can be best described as belles lettres, and includes books with and about wood-engravings, bibliographies of other presses (DAVID BUTCHER’SThe Stanbrook Abbey Press, 1956-1990 was described as ‘a model of how these things should be done’), type specimens, diaries, pochoir (stencil) illustration, and much else besides. The one factor they all have in common is illustration, nearly always printed from the original block, plate or stencil (‘things, not pictures of things’, as ERIC GILL said).
The Press holds an annual open day at Whittington (40 miles west of Oxford) on the afternoon of the first Saturday of each September, which all our friends and subscribers are warmly invited to attend. Several other printers, booksellers, engravers, marblers and others also exhibit their wares. It is also the Whittington village summer show, and the historic Whittington Court (whose gardener’s cottage has been home to the Press since its inception) is open to the public. Hélène Guillaume made a short video of the event in 1995. The Press has printed a poster for the village show each year since 1974, and the 2009 poster had a pochoir illustration by Miriam Macgregor.
Our staff has always been minimal. John & Patrick Randle do the printing, Rose Randle the administration, and Miriam Macgregor is compositor and wood-engraver (now more usually the latter). She is currently working on her fourth Pochoir book, Chimneys in the Sun. Neil Winter looks after our three Monotype composition casters and two Super Casters, and our collection of diecases which is one of the most comprehensive anywhere, and which includes the collection from Oxford University Press which we took over in 1986 when the Press closed its printing division. Some are available as founts for sale, including Caslon and Centaur in sizes up to 24-point in roman, italic and small caps.
Francis Randle and Tom Mayo are occasional helpers; and our ever-vigilant proof-readers are Anthea Steel and Jenny Stringer. All the printing is done at Whittington, and the running of the business from our home at Risbury in Herefordshire. Few of the Press’s books have remained in print for any length of time, and, making a virtue out of necessity, they have nearly all been issued in limited editions of between twenty and a thousand copies, the average probably being around 300 copies. Prices range from £25 upwards. News of current titles is available at www.whittingtonpressshop.com.
All our binding, from 1988 until its sad demise in 2008, was done by The Fine Bindery in Wellingborough under the direction of Maurice Edwards. The superb quality of the work of this three-man and three-woman team was a vital element of our books, and could generally equal or rival the work of the one-off ‘designer-binders’. To our great relief the same team was re-established in larger premises in Wellingborough as The Fine Book Bindery by Patrick Roe and Frances Fineran.
Another important element of our work is posters. They are done for no particular purpose except as relaxation from the discipline of bookwork, and usually to celebrate some event or publication, and often as an excuse to use the larger sizes of our types, particularly Caslon. Sold for a pound or two on our open days, many have become collectors’ items, particularly since the publication of our elephant-sized POSTERS FROM WHITTINGTON in 2013. Posters are the only printing the Press does apart from its books.
The only complete collection of the Press’s books in every edition which it will probably ever be possible to assemble is at the Elmer Andersen Library at the University of Minnesota at Minneapolis, which also houses all our working material and proofs. Other major continuing collections are at New York Public Library, The University of California at Los Angeles, the Lilly Library at Indiana University and the University of Iowa. There is also a large collection of our books at the University of Gloucestershire in Cheltenham, and at Merton College, Oxford.
The Press’ next major project will be Vance Gerry and the Weather Bird Press (2017), for which a prospectus is in preparation.
OPEN DAY 2017
The Press’ next Open Day will be on Saturday 1st September 2018, 2 p.m. onwards. As usual it will coincide with the annual Whittington Summer Show, with all its many attractions. Whittington Court will be open to the public, and the Press will be showing off its latest work, with displays of printing and typecasting. Outside there will be usual array of printers, binders, marblers, wood-engravers and paper-makers, showing off the myriad skills that go into the production of a properly produced book. Whittington is 40 miles west of Oxford, 5 miles east of Cheltenham, just off the A40.
Please click here to view the 2011 open day, colour photos by Sarah Dixon/Spider Shooter, black-and-whites by Karel Prokes of Avant Garde Letterpress in Prague.