lettering typography

Beatrice Warde and the Oxford Lectern Bible

This article appeared in the 1937 edition of The Penrose Annual (volume 39). The edition I have bears a small sticker on the inside front cover: Buchhandlung-Book Shop, Lehnert & Landrock Succ. Cairo (Egypt). Regular readers of this blog will recall the piece I wrote at Easter about the pages from this Bible I have, trial pages. (Go here to read that piece.) So what does Beatrice have to say about this work? “It is probably the most magnificent book that has ever been machine-set and machine-printed,” she declares. She alludes to the price (fifty guineas) of the original, then observes that a new edition on machine-made paper has been reset at a mere 18 guineas, before commenting that  the original caused a ‘sensation’ in the US. Maybe this was to do with the fact that the designer was one Bruce Rogers. He even published an account of the making of the Bible, printed in 1936, titled Account of the Making of the Oxford Lectern Bible. Beatrice concludes that ‘fitness for purpose’ has ‘never had a finer typographic expression. The book is an ‘absolute’ masterpiece.

2 replies on “Beatrice Warde and the Oxford Lectern Bible”

Well, of course, Beatrice Warde’s interest was that the font used to print the book was a custom version of Monotype Centaur and she was Monotype’s director of publicity, and both the Oxford University Press and Bruce Rogers were important clients. The Prospectus mentioned in your original post was for the limited edition on handmade paper. The “trade edition” on machine-made paper you mention here had much smaller margins because the open book had to fit on the lecterns common in English churches. I am lucky, like you, to have stumbled on a copy of the Prospectus, and I was able to see a copy of the trade edition at St. Brides Printing Library in London. The layout (it’s exactly the same type page in both editions, not a resetting) sits rather uneasily on the smaller trim size. For one thing Rogers used, as was his want, large upper and lower case (in the French Renaissance manner) for the running heads and chapter openings rather than letterspaced caps (as Aldus Manutius did), and the ascenders and caps make a restless silhouette at the top of the page. To be fair, the text font had to be large enough to read standing at a lectern and the entire Bible including the Apocrypha had to fit onto no more than 1250 pages, so it was a tight squeeze. The “Account of the Making of the Oxford Lectern Bible” explains lots worth reading, but as a pamphlet it is hard to come by. The text was reprinted, with corrections, in the collection of Rogers essays “Pi: a Hodge-podge of Letters, Papers and Addresses Written During the Last Sixty Years World” (Cleveland and New York: World Publishing Company, 1953), which may be easier to find in libraries. According to the ABBA website, a rare book dealer in New York is currently offering a copy of the limited edition of the Bible for US $24,000.

Thanks Marvin for taking the time and trouble to comment. You are right about Warde! She was also Morison’s mistress I gather.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s