The Printed Book

by Harry G. Aldis, M.A. Cambridge at the University Press 1916

Modern Books Part 4

Of the books printed by Mr C. R. Ashbee at his Essex House Press those in Caslon letter are the more pleasing, though the Prayer Book of King Edward VII (1903), printed in Mr Ashbee's 'Prayer Book' and 'Endeavour' types, is a very striking volume. The first break in the monotonous use of this uninteresting fashion in type was made by the younger Charles Whittingham, of the Chiswick Press, who, in conjunction with his friend William Pickering, the publisher of the miniature editions known as Diamond Classics, revived the use of Caslon letter in 1844. An awakening of interest in the artistic aspect of typography followed this innovation, and the modified form of the older type, known as 'old style,' which was shortly afterwards introduced, has steadily grown in favor, though 'modern face' is still generally used for many classes of books. The Chiswick Press, which has continued to set a high standard in fine printing, also re-introduced the use of ornamental initial letters and drew upon some of the best French models for this purpose.

The founding of the Kelmscott Press, which marks the next important epoch, gave progressive force to what may be regarded as the renaissance of printing. Among the many private presses which have borne a part in this movement, the Kelmscott and the Doves take a prominent place, both for the quality and the quantity of their work and as representing the extremes of decoration and simplicity. William Morris's' Golden' type, which was used in his first book (The Story of the Glittering Plain, 1891), was based on the roman letter of Nicolas Jenson, the Venetian fifteenth- century printer. His other types, the 'Troy' and the 'Chaucer,' were two sizes of a simplified gothic character, designed under the influence of early German founts. Of the fifty-three books produced during the seven years' activity of the press, the highly extolled Ohaucer takes a preeminent place. It cannot be denied that the Kelmscott books are examples of triumphantly excellent workmanship; but, at the same time, it is impossible not to feel that they are achievements in decorative art rather than in typography.

The books of the Doves Press, eschewing all ornament, rely for their effect upon perfection of letter-press, and in this respect they resemble the Foulis books of the eighteenth century. In their simple dignity they present a strong contrast to the Morris books in which lavish decoration and restless borders distract attention from the text, which is, after all, the essential element of a book. The books of the Vale Press (1896-1904) were printed at the Ballantyne Press under the direction of Mr Charles Ricketts, who designed the three special founts and most of the decorative cuts used in these volumes. From the Ashendene Press Mr C. H. St John Hornby has sent out several fine books printed in a type modelled after that of Sweynheym and Pannartz, the first printers in Italy. This bold, well-balanced type finds its best expression in the books of larger format, such as the Dante of 1909, and the Morte d'Arthur of 1913.