Private Presses Collection

Ref: Special Collection
Title: Private Presses Collection

Scope: A developing collection of books published by private presses worldwide dating from the late nineteenth century to the present day.
Dates: c. 1891-
Extent: over 100 vols

Administrative/biographical history:
The formation of the Private Presses Collection was made possible with financial support from two generous women: Annie Bindon Carter and Dorothy May Goodby. It is thanks to them that the University of Sheffield Library holds some very fine examples from private presses and small presses from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Goldsmith Deserted VillageWilliam Goldsmith. The deserted village. London : Edward Arnold 1904.

Annie Bindon Carter (d.1968)

Local artist, entrepreneur and businesswoman Annie Bindon Carter is best remembered as the woman who began one of the most successful textile companies in Sheffield. After the First World War, many of Sheffield’s young soldiers, some severely disabled, returned home without any hope of future employment, with a life of despair and destitution ahead of them. Annie Bindon Carter refused to believe that these young men were fit for nothing, so in 1923 started a small business called Hand Painted Fabrics Limited. She found that by strapping a paintbrush to a stump of an arm, the man could paint patterns onto fabric, which could then be fashioned into shawls, dresses and curtains. Between the wars, Hand Painted Fabrics was hugely successful, securing Bindon Carter’s fortune; but changing tastes in print and textile design meant that the business closed in 1958.

Annie Bindon Carter was awarded an honorary MA by the University of Sheffield in 1959. After a visit to the newly built Main Library (now renamed the Western Bank Library), she presented a cheque for £1,000 (roughly £20,000 in today’s money) to the Librarian specifically to purchase “outstanding examples of modern book production by private presses . . . with a more than academic interest”.

Morris Caxton Golden LegendJacobus. The golden legend of Master William Caxton done anew. Hammersmith, Middlesex : Kelmscott Press [1892]

Dorothy May Goodby (1899-1954)

Dorothy Goodby was awarded her BA from the University in 1920 and afterwards became Senior History Teacher at Bolton Grammar School. Unmarried and childless, she bequeathed some of her money in cash to friends and left the remainder of her estate to the University of Sheffield Library (the Library was named residuary legatee in her will dated 1954). That amounted to a final value of £2,000. This legacy from Dorothy Goodby was to be used for “special purchases” for the Library, “to purchase books which cannot easily be procured from the normal grant”. The interest from this important legacy fund forms the yearly amount that is used to purchase works for the Private Presses Collection.

During the second half of the twentieth century, the Library, in collaboration with academics, purchased some of the finest examples from both foreign and British small presses and private presses using the Goodby Fund; but, because they were not primarily used for teaching, the books had until quite recently lain undiscovered, several of them uncatalogued for fifty years. Intensive research was carried out to track down the books purchased from both the Bindon Carter and Goodby funds using the University’s Annual Reports to the Court. The books were then gathered together to form the nucleus of the Private Presses Collection. This is an important legacy collection for the University because it represents perhaps an ideal truth—of the purpose of a University Library as a place for students to not only research for their degrees, but also to read more widely outside their areas of interest and make discoveries and connections serendipitously.

The original legacy core collection purchased in those early days comprises works of collaboration between important contemporaneous artists, writers and poets, as well as classic works by canonised figures such as Shakespeare and Goethe reinterpreted by nineteenth and twentieth century artists, all enabled and published by innovative small presses. For example, Goethe’s Prométhé, printed in 1950 by Henri Jonquieres includes lithographs by Henry Moore; George Hugnet’s La Chèvre-feuille, published in 1943 by Robert-J. Godet, includes six engravings by Picasso; King Lear, published in 1963 by Ganymed Original Editions Limited with lithographs by Oskar Kokoschka; and an extraordinarily cheerful edition of Poèmes de Charles d'Orleans from 1950, handwritten and illustrated by Henri Matisse. What the numerous books in the collection have in common is that the majority are all signed by either the artist or the author and sometimes both. This, together with the fact that they are part of very small print runs, makes them yet more interesting. Of the important twentieth century engravers, the collection includes signed works by Agnes Miller Parker, Eric Gill and Stephen Gooden.

After the bleak corporate years of the nineteen-eighties and -nineties when the Goodby legacy had been subsumed by other funds for practical administrative purposes, these individual donors and their high-minded reasons for making the donations were forgotten until as late as 2006 when their stories were uncovered and the funds re-established for the purpose for which they were created.

Morley Call ConstellationMichael Morley. XXXXXwords. Dunedin: Otakou Press 2014.

Moving forward into the twenty-first century, we are acquiring works which combine the work of artists, poets, musicians and scientists wherever possible. Recent acquisitions include XXXXXwords by New Zealand experimental musician and visual artist Michael Morley and published by the University of Dunedin’s fine Otakou Press, and Quatuor, a collaboration between book artist Matthew Tyson and experimental, Oxford based French composer, Bruno Guastalla. Quatuor, a work for four musicians, is designed to be played and was bound in a minimalist style by Charles Gledhill.

QuatuorMatthew Tyson, Bruno Guastalla and Charles Gledhill. Quatuor. Piégros La Clastre, France : imprints 2014.

Tom Phillips Collection

In the early days of his career, artist Tom Phillips worked with Ian Tyson at Tetrad Press. As mentioned above, Ian Tyson was Phillips’s first publisher, publishing the first edition of A Humument in 1970. The pair collaborated further on Roy Fisher’s Metamorphoses and Correspondence (both 1970), Jerome Rothenberg’s The directions (1970), the musical score Lesbia waltz (1971), Approval stamp offer (1972) for which was one of four artists (the others being Derrick Greaves, Richard Pinkney and Ian Tyson) who contributed designs, Ein Deutsches Requiem, after Brahms: a suite of 12 lithographs (1972), and The source of the Dove (1974).

The collection is greatly enhanced by Tom Phillips’s labour of love, The divine comedy of Dante Alighieri: Inferno (Talfourd Press, 1985), for which he translated anew from the original text and designed 139 intaglio, lithographic and silkscreen prints. The work is presented as a loose folio in two hand-made buckram boxes.

Dante by Tom PhillipsTom Phillips. The divine comedy of Dante Alighieri: inferno. Book XXIX. London : Talfourd Press, 1985.

  • Related collections: Circle Press Collection, Small Press Poetry Collection, Tetrad Press Collection, The Ruth and Ken Campbell Collection
  • Source: By donation and purchase from various sources
  • System of arrangement: Dewey Decimal Classification
  • Subjects: Artists' books; Illustrated books; Limited editions; Autographed editions; Poetry – 20th century; Poetry – 21st century; Literature – 19th century; Literature – 20th century
  • Conditions of access: Available to all researchers, by appointment
  • Restrictions: No restrictions
  • Copyright: According to document
  • Finding aids: Listed and catalogued