Series Introduction

Oxford used to abound in second hand bookshops. My husband, then a student, would haunt them ceaselessly, searching for first edition books. He loved books. Not just the content. What he loved was the form, the design, the choice of paper, the typography... the art of the book. Now he’s known amongst the book collecting community for his barely hidden sense of loss when someone discovers one of his most beautiful books tucked away in the depths of our bookshop. The tension between Mark as bookseller and Mark as book collector flickers as the book is presented for purchase. To date the bookseller has always won...

This was a passion I couldn’t relate to, until I started photographing the private press books, initially for ABEBooks and later for our own website (cheltenhamrarebooks.co.uk). What I love about these books – especially the leather bound books – is the skill and craftsmanship that goes into embodying a vision into a beautifully crafted book.

My career has largely been in technology. It may seem a world away from the centuries old traditions of a private press, but the creativity and passion for harmony of the elements and the tenacity to make it work applies not only to designing and constructing excellent IT systems but also to a book produced by one of the top private presses.

The foremost presses pay meticulous attention to the paper, the typography and the binding, producing special edition books in limited numbers. Each press has a different focus. 

This series is for anyone who loves, not just the content, but the embodiment of content into a work of art by men and women at the height of their craft. Join me in an exploration of them, their books, and the processes that created them.

The first press we’ll explore in this series is the Parrot Press and Artist’s Choice Editions, founded by Dennis Hall.

Dennis studied at the Chelsea School of Art and the Royal College of Art where he was taught by Edward Bawden. Hall’s background as an artist shines through his work and he gathered a cluster of artists around him, such as Ronald Searle, Rigby Graham, Angel Dominguez, Annie Newnham, John Norris Wood, Frank Martin and John Vernon Lord with whom he regularly worked.

Hall has concentrated on illustrated books for adults such as those contributed to by Edmund Dulac and Hall’s lecturer at the Royal College of Art, Edward Bawden.  The Inky Parrot Press also printed several Alice in Wonderland books, including this edition, beautifully illustrated by Angel Dominguez. 

The first article, on Denis Hall and the Parrot Press and Artist’s Choice Editions, will be available next month.