I was recently able to acquire a few items from the Whittington Press and I’ve been pretty excited about sharing sharing my thoughts on them for a while; but as sometimes happens, life gets in the way and it’s taken me much longer than I had planned.
Nevertheless, here we are. In this first post I’ll look at some of the posters and ephemera that they’ve produced over the years, and in a followup post I’ll take a look at Matrix 30.
About the Whittington Press
The Whittington Press is a small, though proficient, press started by John and Rosalind Randle in 1971. The press is housed on the grounds of the Whittington Court in Gloucestershire, U.K., in a quaint building that was formerly a gardener’s shed that’s been adapted and expanded over the years to house a growing number of presses and type.
They published their first book in 1972, and have since added over two hundred more to the list with books about wood-engravers, bibliographies of other presses, type specimens, diaries, stencil illustration, and of course, the renowned annual review for printers and bibliophiles – Matrix.
The only other printing that the Press does apart from books is posters, which have become quite popular in their own right. John Randle explains that posters serve a dual purpose – they allow the Press to take a break from the discipline of book-work while also allowing them to showcase some of the larger sizes of type that they have in their collection but wouldn’t otherwise be able to use for their regular projects.
Their posters are available for purchase at a token price during their annual Open Day, held on the first Saturday of September, where the Press also showcases their most recent work and holds what amounts to a small fair for people involved in the making of fine books. The next Open Day, called ‘Presstival’, is going to be on the 1st September, 2012 and they’ve already put together a colourful poster to celebrate the event (via @gridula):
You can also see pictures from the 2011 Open Day over here.
Gutenberg and Whittington
To shed a bit more light on the Press’ equipment, I’ve reproduced here, with permission, the full text from a little booklet they produced called Gutenberg & Whittington:
In 1982, ten years after it had published its first book, Richard Kennedy’s A Boy at the Hogarth Press, the Whittington Press had printed, and in most cases published, sixty titles and was just embarking on its major step forward, the casting of its own type. While typecasters were switching off their pots on an almost daily basis, their bewitching equipment could be had for little or nothing. We bought a caster, keyboard and supercaster, some Caslon diecases, and all the intoxicating and beautifully boxed accessories that went with them at an auction Gloucester, where we also found our first operator, George Wiggall, recently retired as a Monotype caster and bored with spending the mornings in the park with his dog every day.
We rapidly extended our range of typefaces, particularly in the rare large-composition sizes (16– to 24-point), and with the acquisition of Oxford University Press’ Monotype repertoire in 1986 we had one of the most comprehensive collections anywhere. Suddenly we were able to take on large-scale publishing projects, and the first issue of our annual Matrix in 1981 was on result of this. The fascination of Monotype technology, the combination of extreme mechanical fastidiousness with an unparalleled aesthetic, was without compare since the days of Gutenberg. We, and others like us, were indeed fortunate to be active at the end of his 500-year era, to be able to enjoy the fruits of the developments that had taken place since then, and to be able to do so at no cost by rescuing machines that would otherwise have met their end with the sledgehammer.
The Press started off with an underpowered 1830 Imperial hand-press bought from the Totnes Times in 1971. The larger and more powerful 1848 Columbian, bought the following year, was used for our earliest books, and a few posters, but it is now relegated to a useful work surface, & a source of constant fascination to children when its eagle rises from its perch through the hole in our ceiling. Most of our other two-hundred-odd books have been printed on the four-ton Double Crown SW2 Wharfedale bought from the Compton Press for L50 in 1974. In 1986 the continued growth in the extent and run of Matrix necessitated the hugely increased productivity of the 22 x 30 ins Heidelberg SBB cylinder press, which has also been used for some of our other, larger, titles. The FAG proof press, bought at about the same time, is in constant use for proofing and other smaller projects.
The Press is still housed in the derelict gardener’s cottage we found at Whittington in 1970, and which we have gradually refurbished and extended to house the presses and the five Monotype casters as they have arrived. It is hard to explain to the children of the digital age why we still do it this way, but we and many others like us still believe that Gutenberg’s technology will never be equalled for the purity of its typefaces, its crispness of impression, and for the elusive third dimension entirely lacking from the computer-derived book. The extreme disciplines of letterpress printing are nicely counterbalanced by the enormous creative possibilities that it offers to those who choose to use it. As Alan Kitching and Celia Stothard wrote in Matrix 26, ‘though locked tight in metal, it’s amazing how liberating letterpress can be.’
Pictures of Whittington Press ephemera and posters
As I mentioned before, this is the first time that I’ve seen any of the work done by the Whittington Press, and even though these are only some ephemera and posters (apart from Matrix, which I’ll review in an upcoming post) I’ve been really impressed. Fine paper, sharp, crisp text and wonderful engravings which give you a really good idea of what to expect from the books themselves. I’ll be looking forward to adding some of the Press’ books to my library in the future.
The posters too are quite lovely, and I’ll be framing the one that celebrates Matrix’s fourth decade and putting it on my wall soon.