School of Art
Private Press BooksThe 20th-century private presses were a legacy of the fin de siècle Arts and Crafts Movement. William Morris's interest in early book production led to the foundation of the Kelmscott Press in 1891 to prove 'a work of utility might also be a work of art'. Ironically, Kelmscott books were anything but utilitarian, they were expensive examples of self-conscious good taste to be marvelled at rather than read. The best of the presses that followed, however, designed each book as a complete unit; materials, typefaces, page layout, illustrations and bindings were individually designed according to the demands of the text.
Sidney Greenslade's first purchase for the Gallery of Crafts was in December 1920 when he acquired eight books from Lucien Pissarro's Eragny Press. Examples of the Vale, Doves, Golden Cockerel and other Presses followed. The simply defined black-line engravings drawn from medieval sources of these earlier presses however are in stark contrast to the technical virtuosity and modernist designs of Blair Hughes Stanton's engravings for the Gregynog Press.
Three of Britain's most technically brilliant and imaginative wood-engravers worked at Gregynog near Newtown in Powys between 1930 and 1933: Blair Hughes Stanton, Gertrude Hermes and Agnes Miller Parker. Arguably they produced the best-designed, illustrated and printed books of any of the private presses. The special bindings from George Fisher's in-house bindery in particular have been internationally acclaimed.
The social and economic climate of the 1930s, however, was the major contributory factor leading to the ultimate demise of the Gregynog and other private presses and few survived the recession. The School holds a complete run of not only the early Gregynog Press books, including several with special bindings, but also all those produced by the Gregynog Press after it was revived by the University of Wales in the 1970s.
In 2003, the National Art Collections Fund presented Miss Gillian Dickinson's collection of private press books to the School of Art; this included the works of the Acorn, Whittington, Nonesuch, Merrion, Ark, Stanbrook Abbey, September, Anvil, Pelican, Cacklegoose and Hurtwood Presses as well as Matrix, a review for printers and bibliophiles Nos.1-20, 1981–2000.