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Fine Presses, Artists' Books, and Book Arts

We have a comprehensive collection of modern books produced by fine presses in Britain - from the Arts and Crafts movement of the 19th century to the presses of today. Many of these books are works of art in themselves. The Library also has significant holdings of British artists' books and other works within the book arts field. More selectively, we have artists' books from the United States, Latin America, Europe, Russia and a number of other countries.

Introduction | Modern British Fine Presses, Artists' Books and Book Arts | Access | Other Collections and Organisations | Individual Fine Presses and Book Artists

A fine press places emphasis on the sympathetic rendering of a given text through attention to the physical properties of the printed work, including the quality of paper, illustration, binding, overall design, typeface and the mode of printing. Production values are high and the size of edition low, for example fine press books are often produced in editions of less than 100 copies. Sometimes the books are assembled and bound to order and over time. While many fine presses use traditional printing techniques no longer found to be economic for mass production, others employ new processes whose sophistication is also beyond the scope of the conventional publisher.

Roy Fisher and Ronald King, The Left-Handed Punch

Roy Fisher and Ronald King, The Left-Handed Punch. Guildford:Circle Press, 1986. No. 34 of a limited edition of 80. British Library shelfmark: Cup.512.c.27. Reproduced by permission of the artist and publisher. © The British Library Board

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An artist's book is a book produced under the direction of an artist. The word "artist" is used broadly: the artist may be a visual artist or a text-based conceptual artist; he or she may normally work with other media or they may be an artist solely on the basis of their work as a "book artist". An artist's book may be produced by a fine press but also as easily by the artist or by an associated studio, gallery or collective.

The book arts is a term used here to describe the range of artistic activities associated with craft and aesthetic elements of book production, especially those exemplified by fine presses and artists' books, but which also may inform artistic aspects of mass produced books.

Further reading

Artists' Book Year Book. Shelfmark: ZC.9.b.6181

The Blue Notebook. Shelfmark: ZK.9.b.25182

Art Monthly. Shelfmark: P.421/733

Sarah Bodman, Creating Artists' Books, London: A&C Black, 2005. Shelfmark: YK.2005.a.11394

Book Arts Newsletter. Hardcopy at shelfmark: ZK.9.b.23115

P. A. H. Brown, Modern British and American private presses (1850-1965), London: British Library, 1976. Shelfmark: RAR094.4016 ENG Open Access. An alphabetic list of the modern private presses in the Library's collection.

Stephen Bury, Artists' Books: the book as a work of art, 1963-1995, Aldershot: Scolar Press, 1995. Shelfmark: YC.1996.b.1827

Roderick Cave, Fine Printing & Private Presses, London: British Library, 2001. Shelfmark: 2708.h.952. A selection of essays on the history of fine and private presses.

Roderick Cave, The Private Press, 2nd ed. New York: Bowker, 1983. Shelfmark: RAR 070.593 Open Access

Johanna Drucker, The Century of Artists' books, New York: Granary Books, [1995] (2004 printing). Shelfmark: YD.2005.a.773

Jean Khalfa (ed.) The Dialogue between painting and poetry: livres d'artistes 1874-1999. Cambridge: Black Apollo Press, 2001. Shelfmark: YC.2002.a.10131

The Journal of Artists Books. U.S. journal that ran from 1994-2003. Shelfmark: ZA.9.b.2807

Matrix: a review for printers and bibliophiles. Shelfmark: Cup.510.dga.35

Parenthesis: the newsletter of the Fine Press Book Association. Shelfmark: ZC.9.b.7208

Modern British Fine Presses, Artists' Books and Book Arts

Current Holdings

The British Library's collection of books produced by modern British fine presses includes the works of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century presses such as the Ashendene Press, Doves Press, Eragny Press, Golden Cockerel, Gregynog, Gwasg Gregynog, Kelmscott, Nonesuch, St. Dominic's Press, Vale and, in Ireland, the Cuala Press. The Library also has the Emery Walker bequest of Kelmscott and Doves Press books printed on vellum.

Presses flourishing more recently are also extensively represented in the collections, and include the Alembic Press, the Brewhouse Press, the Chimaera Press, the Circle Press, the Cog Press, the Incline Press, the Mandeville Press, New Broom, Old School Press, Old Stile Press, Previous Parrot Press, the Rainbow Press, Rampant Lions Press, Taurus Press, the Tern Press, the Tragara Press, the Vine, Whittington, and many others.

The Library has the greatest collection in the world of commercially produced illustrated books made in Britain, including extensive holdings of Children's Literature and books produced by the Folio Society.

Examples of fine press publication from overseas are collected very selectively, with most emphasis on American and Anglophone presses, including Arion Press (San Francisco), Ninja Press (California), Barbarian Press (British Columbia) and Wayzgoose Press (New South Wales).

The Library has at least a thousand artists' books made in Britain by artists from a range of different traditions. These include Karen Bleitz, Sarah Bodman, Ken Campbell, Natasha Caruana, John Crombie, Simon Cutts, Helen Douglas, Kate Farley, Julia Farrer, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Allen Fisher, John Furnival, Gilbert and George, Oona Grimes, Caroline Isgar, Sarah Jacobs, Susan Johanknecht, Tony Kemplen, Ron King, Randy Klein, Andrew Lanyon, Richard Long, Helen Maynard, Bruce McLean, David Mills, Ted Milton, Rick Myers, Ana Maria Pacheco, Tom Phillips, Francisca Prieto, Deb Rindl, Colin Sackett, David Shrigley, Christine Tacq, Carolyn Trant, Ian Tyson, Erica Van Horn, Heather Weston, Sam Winston, and others. It has the largest collection of works by Ian Tyson in the United Kingdom.

Presses which are associated with British artists' books are extensively represented in the collections and include Book Works, Circle Press, Coracle Press, Tarasque, Tetrad, Weproductions, and the Wild Hawthorn Press, as well as smaller numbers of work by the Beau Geste Press and Brian Lane. Visual poetry and concrete poetry, genres which overlap with the field of artists' books, are also well represented in the collections: there are many works in the Library, for example, by Bob Cobbing and a smaller number by Eugen Gomringer and Dom Sylvester Houédard. The Library has the largest collection of Writers Forum publications in the world, numbering well over five hundred publications, as well as a manuscripts archive relating to Bob Cobbing and the press.

The Library has an important collection of Russian Avant-Garde Books from the 1910s and 1920s, as well as Russian neo-avant-garde books from the late 1980s on. There is a small number of artists' books by Angela Lorenz, Dieter Roth, Ed Ruscha, and Karel Teige, books by the Cuban collective Ediciones Vigía, Mexican books such as Codex Espangliensis (published in the U.S.) and those by the Taller Leñateros collective in Chiapas, the largest collection in the UK of books by the Anglophone Parisian imprint Kickshaws, and works by Mumbai-based Priya Pereira and other overseas artists. The Library's collections include Blaise Cendrars and Sonya Delaunay's groundbreaking La Prose du Transsibérien... (1913) (shelfmark pending).

The Library has extensive contextual material for research into fine press and artists' books, including research studies and periodicals, histories of presses and, in the Sound Archive collections, recordings made by Cathy Courtney of British book artists talking about their work.

Future collecting and rationale

The current level of collection of fine press and artists' books, and the secondary texts which support research, will continue to be strongest in its British collections, deriving its strength from Legal Deposit and selective acquisition. Overseas, the Library will selectively acquire overseas material, particularly United States, Anglophone, Russian and Eastern European fine press and artists' books, and books published by British and Irish artists and writers abroad.

When acquiring an artist's book the Library places most emphasis on the significant presence of text, on an inventive engagement with the physical nature of the codex form, on work which is accomplished technically, and on the work's relationship to the Library's existing collections. British digital works with a strong textual element are acquired selectively. The Library does not collect one-off works.

Access to the Fine Press, Artists' Book and Book Arts Collections

Individual items within these collections are accessed via the Library's Catalogues.

Access to the Library's Reading Rooms is by reader's pass only. Book artists, binders, printers, teachers, historians and researchers are especially encouraged to use the collections and should consult Admissions for more information about access.

Links to Other Book Arts Collections and Organisations

Individual fine presses and book artists

The details of many individual presses are given in Martyn Ould's Private Presses of the UK (cited above). The following links are complementary to that list. All are represented by works in the British Library.