The delights of the Private Press

Since October I’ve been spending approximately one day a week cataloguing books in SCOLAR – the special collections and archive side of the library service.  Although we employed a Rare books cataloguer earlier in the year, the rest of the cataloguing team are getting a chance to help out with cataloguing the Rare Books Collection.  To ease us in ‘gently’ we have started on Private Presses because they are relatively modern, most likely to be in English, and just not as complicated as something from the 16th century! 

I’m really enjoying the work, although there’s been a bit of a steep learning curve, even with these books; extra fields to add, new vocabulary to get my head round in describing things, and lots of attention to detail (even more attention to detail than normal!).  I’m finding the Presses fascinating, and want to go off and do bits of research on them all, though there isn’t really time.  Luckily there is time for a bit, especially when it can be tied into a blog – and we do have a special blog for SCOLAR which I am able to contribute to.  I’m hoping in the next couple of weeks to add a few posts on some of the Presses we have been doing, and will possibly sneak a few pics onto this blog as well.  I love the whole idea of the Presses, small run enterprises, interested in beauty, art and literature rather than mass production; giving poets and illustrators wonderful outlets for their art.  Although I do wonder at times who could afford them!  Often these books are printed on hand-made paper, which gives such lovely impressions of the cottage-industies behind them.

Many of the books we have in our collection have been signed by the author, the illustrator, or even the printer, which adds another lovely slice of history to the book.  I’m hoping to do a blog on the signed books at a later point; so far the most ‘famous’ one I’ve spotted since we started cataloguing them, has been T. S. Eliot  – that was quite exciting, and I know there are many more in there.

The illustrations are often quite beautiful, engravings or woodcuts done specifically for the publication, and looking at the collection as a whole you get a good impression of the illustrative art movement from the end of the 19th century up to the 2nd World War.

I’m looking forward to continuing to work on the Presses, and to be able to blog about some of them in more detail.  As there are several of us working on them its not possible to handle everything, so I am relying on my colleagues to alert me to anything particularly interesting that they come across too!


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