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"Certainly eccentricity and willfulness have contributed not a little to the private press scene at times. But so many individuals have 'set up their peculiar and private presses' throughout the period of printing that it becomes clear that they form a distinct undercurrent, of continued, though varying, significance for the past 500 years."
Roderick Cave The Private Press. New York: R. R. Bowker, 1983.
Many successful printers in the English speaking world graduated from private or “backyard” printeries producing short run ephemera designed and printed to exchange with other private operators, friends and families to serious book printing, printmaking, quality art printing and bookbinding. Many, on the other hand remained by choice, private press printers or more simply, enthusiasts.
Perhaps the most famous of the private presses, William Morris established the Kelmscott Press at Hammersmith in January 1891. Between then and 1898, the press produced 53 books (totalling some 18,000 copies).
Kelmscott was the culmination of Morris's life as a craftsman in many diverse fields. He set out to prove that the high standards of the past could be repeated - even surpassed - in the present. The books Morris produced were therefore medieval in design, modelled on the incunabula of the fifteenth century. Morris's roman 'golden' type, for example, was inspired by that of the early printer Nicolaus Jenson of Venice.
Noteworthy for their harmony of type and illustration, Morris' main prioirity was to have each book seen a a whole: this included taking painstaking care with all aspects of production, incuding the paper, the form of type, the spacing of the letters, and the position of the printed matter on the page. Kelmscott books re-awakened the ideals of book design and inspired better standards of production at a time when the printed page was generally at its poorest. Numerous other presses were set up to perpetuate Morris' aims, including the Doves, Eragny, Ashendene and Vale Presses. Among book lovers, the Kelmscott Press edition of The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, illustrated by Burne-Jones, is considered one of the most beautiful books ever produced.