THE Pursuit of Reading

Private People, Private Presses

Checklist for The Pursuit of Reading

Curated by Luise Poulton, 2004

Digital Exhibition produced by Lyuba Basin, 2020

Pursuit of Reading
the Pursuit of Reading 

Virginia Woolf said “…the pursuit of reading is carried on by private people.” So, too, is the pursuit of fine bookmaking. As the quality of bookmaking declined in the nineteenth century due to mass production, a few dedicated book lovers became book makers in order to keep traditional book arts alive.

The small presses of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries focused on the art and craft of bookmaking. Texts ranged from early classics to the unpublished writings of those who would become the great authors of the twentieth century. These new bookmakers – William Morris, Daniel Updike, Frederic Goudy, Thomas Mann, Eric Gill, Leonard and Virginal Woolf, and others – believed in the book as an object worthy of the text within it.

The printers, designers, typographers, illustrators, binders, and literati of the private presses had a huge impact on the publishing world and western literature for decades to come.


The Daniel Press was one of a handful of nineteenth-century English presses considered precursors to the fine book production of William Morris and his Kelmscott Press and T.J. Cobden-Sanderson and The Doves Press. The Daniel Press was owned and operated by the Reverend C.H.O. Daniel (1836-1919), who, with help from family members, set his texts in Fell type obtained from the Oxford University Press. In 1874, while at Worcester College in Oxford, Daniel began working on a miniature press and in 1882 continued his work on a full-sized Albion. Daniel was particularly interested in the Elizabethan era and the seventeenth century. Many of the Daniel Press publications are texts from these periods. The press did, however, publish a number of works by contemporary authors. The Daniel Press is recognized for tastefully produced editions of quiet, harmonious design sympathetic to subject and author. 

Christmas by Robert Herrick

Robert Herrick (1591-1674)
Oxford: H. Daniel, 1891
Z232 D18 H47 1891

Edition of sixty copies. Rare Books copy is no. 40.

Ode on the Morning of Christ's Nativity

John Milton (1608-1674)
Oxford: H. Daniel, 1894
Z232 D18 M55 1894 

Edition of two hundred copies. Rare Books copy is no. 180. 

So when the Sun in bed,
Curtain’d with cloudy red,
Pillows his chin upon an orient wave,
The flocking shadows pale
Troop to th’infernal jail,
Each fetter’d ghost slips to his several grave,
And the yellow-skirted fays
Fly after the night-steeds, leaving their moon-lov’d maze.

Christmas 1897

Oxford: Daniel Press, 1897
Z232 D18 C57 1897 

Edition of one hundred and twenty copies. Rare Books copy is no. 88.

By Severn Sea

Sir Thomas Herbert Warren (1853-1930)
Oxford: printed by H. Daniel, 1897
PR6045 A814 B9 1897 

Edition of one hundred and thirty copies. Rare Books copy is no. 127.

Ailes d'Alouette

F. W. Bourdillon (1852-1921)
Oxford: H. Daniel, 1902
Z232 D18 B68 1902

Edition of one hundred and thirty copies. University of Utah copy is no. 50.

The night has a thousand eyes,
And the day but one;
Yet the light of the bright world dies
With the dying sun.
The mind has a thousand eyes,
And the heart but one:
Yet the light of a whole life dies
When love is done.


In 1886, C.R. Ashbee established the Guild of Handicraft at Essex House London. Around the same time, Ashbee created the Essex House Press, which published its first book in 1898. The work of the press was very much a part of the Arts and Crafts Movement. Ashbee continually linked the aims of the press with John Ruskin and William Morris and described the object of the movement as “making useful things…making them well and…making them beautiful.” The critics, however, were not so sure about the work that came out of Essex House Press, calling it “articraftiness.” Later booklovers would come to admire much of its work. Some of the presses and some of the workmen for Essex House Press came from the Kelmscott Press after its demise in 1897 following the death of William Morris. Ashbee designed his own typeface called “Endeavor” for the press. In 1902, the press moved to Glouscestershire. The Essex House Press closed in 1910, having produced more than seventy titles.

The Poems of William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
London: Edward Arnold, 1899
PR2841 A2 E55

Printed in black and red. Illustrated with floriated initials and one full-page drawing. Bound in vellum with ties. Edition of four hundred and fifty copies. Rare Books copy is no. 274. 

That time of year though mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang;
In me thou seest the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self that seals up all in rest;
In me thou seest the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the deathbed whereon it must expire,
Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by;
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well, which thou must leave ere long.

Gray's Elegy, 1900

Thomas Gray (1716-1771)
London: E. Arnold, 1900
PR3502 E5 1900 

Printed at the Essex House Press under the direction of C.R. Ashbee. Frontispiece illustrated by George Thompson. Hand colored initials and frontispiece in red and green. Printed on vellum. Bound in vellum with embossed front cover.  Edition of one hundred and twenty-five copies. Rare Books copy is no. 29. 

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea,
The plowman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

Intimations of Immortality

William Wordsworth (1770-1850)
Campden, Glo: Essex House Press, 1903
PR5860 A1 1903

Printed on vellum. Edition of one hundred and fifty copies. Rare Books copy is no. 138. 

There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.
It is not now as it hath been of yore;—
Turn wheresoe'er I may,
By night or day.
The things which I have seen I now can see no more.

The Illuminators

Caroline Hazard (1856-1945)
Campden, Gloucestershire: Priv. printed at the Essex House Press, 1905
PS3515 A973 I44 1905

Caroline Hazard, who held no formal college degree, was president of Wellesley College in Massachusetts between 1899 and 1910. She is credited with hiring noted landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. to redesign the grounds of Wellesley. This poem was written for the installation of the eta Chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa Society and printed by Essex House Press at special request. Edition of one hundred and fifty copies. Rare Books copy is no. 136.


Merrymount Press began in 1893, when Daniel Berkeley Updike, who began his career at Riverside Press of Houghton Mifflin, opened an office for advisory service in typographical problems. Influenced in the early days by William Morris, Updike soon developed the qualities that would become the hallmark of his own work as a book designer – simplicity of style, restraint in decoration, and an uncanny typographic unity – all to the effect of improved book production. The press printed everything from advertising leaflets to some of the finest books produced in the United States. Updike is rated as one of the foremost American typographers in the twentieth century and his strong influence continues today.  After he died in 1941, the press continued under the able direction of John Bianchi until it closed in 1948.

Henry Wheaton...

William Vail Kellen (1852-1942)
Boston: Printed at the Merrymount Press, 1902
KF368 W48 K45 1902

San Francisco Bay...

Pedro Font (d. 1781)
Providence, R.I.: (Boston, Merrymount Press), 1911
F864 F58 1911 

Edition of one hundred and twenty-five copies.

A Chronological List of Books, printed at the Kelmscott Press

Marsden Jasiel Perry (1850-1935)
Boston: The Merrymount Press, 1928
Z232 M87 P47 1928 

A catalog of an exhibition at the Grolier Club, April 20th through May 9th, 1928. Inscribed to the Grolier Club by the author. Forward signed by George Parker Winship (1871-1952), “G.P.W.” Covered in printed wrappers. Edition of eight hundred copies.


James J. Guthrie (1874-1952), a Scotsman who moved to London as a child, founded Pear Tree Press in 1899. His press took its name from Pear Tree Cottage in Ingrave, Essex, England, where Guthrie was living. From there Guthrie moved the press several times, finally settling in Harting in Sussex in 1907. Guthrie thought of himself primarily as an artist and simply added printing as another medium of his art. Guthrie first used his small Albion press to print blocks for hand-coloring that were meant to be included in The Elf, a small magazine planned by Guthrie but printed elsewhere. The first book issued by Pear Tree Press was a collection of poems by Edgar Allan Poe, with twenty-four drawings by Guthrie, in 1901. Guthrie became known for his visionary typography, but even more for his inimitable etching skills where text and decorative illustration were drawn onto a single plate, producing a page of particular harmony. Guthrie was especially interested in intaglio printing. Guthrie said, “the artist at the press is, before everything, an explorer. His true mission is to suggest and demonstrate, not ideas thirty years old, but new ideas, which may take our friend the fine printer…another thirty years to see the drift of!” Guthrie printed his last book fifty years later at the Mermaid Press in Flansham as a contribution to the Festival of Britain.

Midsummer Eve

Gordon Bottomley (1874-1948)
Hartin, Petersfield, Hampshire: Pear Tree Press, 1905
PR6003 O67 M5 1905

Midsummer was one of the first three books James Guthrie produced after having received a commission for a privately printed book. This private printing helped Guthrie hone his printing skills and gave him the confidence and experience to begin printing books in earnest. Guthrie described Midsummer as “an attempt to do a ‘pictorial’ work in typography, keeping with the theme of the poem.” Drawings by James Guthrie. Printed in grey, old gold, and Venetian red. Edition of one hundred and twenty copies. 

In Well Knowe garden now, I know,
Where the pale larkspur used to grow
In the far nook, a sound is heard
(If any is there to hear save bird
And field-mouse in the strawberries
Stirring like a local breeze —
Here, there — the low leaves soundlessly);
A glistening slender wasp-like fly
Is using will and wing to stand
Upon the air as though it spanned
A chasm with trembling outstretched arms,
And in the silence of heat-stilled farms
And heat-veiled wood that seems to shake
Dim clotted leaves yet does not break
By sigh or rustle the hush so dear
Its tiny sting of sound sings clear.


Drawing from the great number of Chicago artists and writers of the time, three ambitious young men – Fred Langworthy, Tom Stevens, and Alden Nobel – all students at the new Armour Institute, produced almost fifty books and a monthly magazine, under the name of The Blue Sky Press of Hyde Park, between 1899 and 1907. The publications, part of the international renaissance of bookmaking led by William Morris, represent a successful press producing handmade limited editions and a significant chapter in the history of American fine press in the early twentieth century.

Spoil of the North Wind

Chicago: Blue Sky Press, 1901
PN6071 K45 1901

A collection of verses to Omar Khayyam. Edition of six hundred and twenty-five copies. Rare Books copy is no. 291.

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