The private press books on show are all hand-crafted: printed on fine paper, bound individually, limited in issue number, and almost all contain fine illustrative matter, usually wood-cuts or engravings. With such superb productions, it is inevitable that a number of well-known illustrators were commissioned to illustrate these books. Such artists include Eric Gill, Blair Hughes-Stanton, and the Dunedin-born John Buckland Wright.
The books define the notion of a private press, which is an unofficial press that runs not for profit, but to produce works of some aesthetic merit for a restricted audience. Enthusiasm for printing is clearly a prerequisite and most presses are informed by a strong craft ethic. Not normally seen in bookshops, they are simply stunning.
Presses featured include the Kelmscott Press, founded by William Morris, the ‘Father of the Arts and Craft Movement’, the Doves Press, and Lucien Pissarro’s Eragny Press, to the Welsh Gregynog Press, the Ashendene Press, and local New Zealand operations such as Caxton Press and The Pear Tree Press.
Notable items on display include The Tale of King Coustans (1894), an original Kelmscott production, a Rampant Lion Press printing of Samuel Johnson’s The Vanity of Human Wishes (1984), Robert Louis Stevenson’s Prayers (1999), a 1993 spread featuring Rimbaud’s poem Voyelles (Vowels), Judith Haswell’s painstaking three year production of Potsherds and Geraniums (1988-91), and Alan Loney’s experimental Dawn/Water (1979) and Squeezing the Bones (1983).
The 41 examples on display are a select sample from Special Collections, University of Otago Library, and the Alfred and Isabel Reed Collection, Dunedin Public Library.
Long live the book