Thoughts on lettering

The Oxford University Press 1468-1921: some thoughts on re-acquaintance with old friends

Books sit patiently on the shelves of our libraries – those still fortunate to have their own private library in this digital world. Sit there collecting dust and household debris [unless you also happen to employ someone to ‘bang the books’ for you], perhaps for years. Then one day an idea takes hold, you recollect a volume, have a vague idea where on the shelves it nestles. Usually our own libraries do not follow Dewey, so a Jane Austen novel might share a shelf with Ten Ways to Skin a Cat or something prosaic.

Today I delighted on Mr Middleton Murry’s The Problem of Style, a text I’ve not read fully for some 40 years when it was a High School exam piece. I’ve two editions – a cheap paperback [from memory possibly light-fingered from the school library] and a hardback edition of 1925, quite possibly a first though the paperback records earlier, 1922 to be precise. It is, however, not a booksellers delight, being ex-University of London Library, Extra-Mural Library to boot – and stoutly Cancelled by a rubber stamp in blue ink.

The Problem of Style by J. Middleton Murry published by OUP in 1925

[For the record Mr Middleton Murry was sharing space on the shelf with none other than TE Lawrence and The Mint. No doubt both quite placidly, being contemporaries and reminiscing on glories past.]

Anyhow, I got to examining the title page noting Humphrey Milford as the Imprint and then a list of cities – shown in this image – ranging from London through to Shanghai, via Copenhagen and Madras. I got thinking. Whatever was the OUP doing in Shanghai in 1925, let alone three cities in India?

Fortunately I had the answer at hand. I re-entered the library [no need for a Readers Pass] and headed straight for the Stacks. This is where ‘important’ volumes are kept in a bookcase with doors preventing the ingress of too much of that dust and household debris – as I, alas, cannot, nor would I even if I could, have access to a ‘book banger’.

The doors opened and I immediately knew where to go. Second shelf down [for here there is some nod to Dewey and books keep rightful neighbours with whom they can consort – though some find this tedious: would not a volume on Caxton like to flirt with Gill?] I run my fingers along the line and ease out The Oxford University Press 1468-1921. 

Some account of the Oxford University Press

What a thrill, what rapture to open again this slim [13mm] edition that bears proudly on the Title, having swept away the tissue protection: OXFORD AT THE CLARENDON PRESS MCMXXII.

Here all the answers to my questions are displayed: ‘The Chinese Agency of the Press is at C 445 Honan Road, Shanghai, of which Mr T. Leslie is the present Representative…’; and ‘The activities of the Press in India are of a relatively recent date. Until 1912 when a branch was opened in Bombay…The increase of staff has made it possible to open a new branch in Calcutta – a sub-branch in Madras had already existed…’.

And as for The Clarendon Press. Well, that is the be all and end all – ‘By Clarendon Press Books are meant the learned, educational and other ‘Standard’ works produced under the close supervision of the Delegates and their Oxford Secretariate, and printed at Oxford’. Indeed. For Humphrey Milford [recall him?] was no more than a minion in the outskirts of the big smoke of London [then at Amen Corner, EC4], a publisher and not, for heaven’s sake, a printer in the city of Dreaming Spires.

There is more. Take this at random from the list of Oxford Medical Publications [of 1922 – not long after the Great War]: ‘…further important additions have been made, including…War Neuroses and Shell Shock by Sir Frederick Mott, K.B.E.,’

My edition contains a slip note written many years ago by an earlier hand of mine stating this volume was printed in Fell types, as noted in Updike. I quickly pulled him from the Stack – the plump two volumes being easy to find [second edition, second printing, hardback]. Here Updike confirms in a footnote (vol II, p.97) that Some Account… is indeed produced from Fell. However, I notice he refers to a 1926 edition, not that of 1922. A small detail, minute in fact, yet to a bibliophile as seismic as an earthquake in the hills of a medieval town in central Italy. [I have now amended the slip – so whosoever considers this volume in the future can rest assured of some closure.]

Some Account of the OUP dated 1921

In closing, may I wish readers a satisfying end to this year and may sense prevail in the one to come. 

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.


Easter Typographic Message (from an atheist)

This being Easter it is appropriate to draw in a typographic gem that has been long sitting on the top shelf of my small library. These images are taken from the prospectus to a Bible that the Oxford University Press announced in or about 1935.

I cannot remember where I picked up this typographic gem (but guess it was the UK, and not Australia) but gem it is. The page size for reference is 29.5cm (or 11.5 inches) by 46cm (18.25 inches) and the stock, as can be seen from the images, is hand-made. (Click here for a blog on watermarking.)

The prospectus contains just eight sheets, enclosed in a stiff pale blue folder. Not shown here is the Announcement. This states “Not since Baskerville printed his great Bible of 1763 has a practical folio volume been produced that challenged comparison with the early Bibles on the score of printing…To this end Mr. Bruce Rogers has undertaken, in collaboration with the University Printer, to produce at the Oxford University Press a Lectern Bible…Plans for this edition were begun in 1929. They involved experiments with many kinds and sizes of type; choice finally being made of a modification of the 22-point Centaur type, which had lately been produced by Monotype from Mr. Rogers’s own designs.

To adapt it to a smaller body and closer setting nearly all of the lower-case characters were re-cut, with the addition of suitable figures, initials, and other special sorts…”  The cost? “Of the hand-made paper edition 200 copies only will be printed…fifty guineas net.”

Thoughts on lettering

In the age of twitter remember Horace

Hart that is. This tiny book, (measuring 9cm by 14cm) was issued by the Oxford University Press from 1893 to eternity (the latest edition I have was published in 2005 and called New Hart’s Rules. This shown here was published in 1962 in the famous dark blue buckram.). It was intended for compositors and readers at the Clarendon Press. (Remember readers? When I began work in Fleet Street in the mid 1980s there was a department of ‘readers’ whose job it was to scrutinise the following day’s paper for errors, both of grammar and style, also of fact, a role now taken on by journalists, who are far from adequate.) The title page acknowledges James Murray – editor of the first dictionary from Oxford.

History of Lettering typography

Monotype Composition Caster and Keyboard – part 2

[If you missed Part 1 please follow this link.]

Came across these photos  in a book called Printing To-day by John C Tarr (OUP, 1945). The book is part of a magnificently titled ‘The Pageant of Progress’ series put out by OUP – remember this was the end of the war and all seemed possible.Other books in the series include – Iron and Steel To-day; Warships To-day; Military Science To-day; and the one I most would like to get hold of The Police and Crime Detection To-day.

Anyhow, John Carr discusses where printing has come to at the end of the war, and illustrates the text with numerous goodies (some others I will share in the future). But  these images most beautifully show the Monotype.