Celebrating Christmas with St Dominic’s Press

st_dom_christmas_hagreenThe world is made up of two different kinds of Christmas gift-givers: those who leave the shopping to the last minute, and those who like to think ahead and put time and effort into making their own special gifts and cards, maybe even make some extra to sell. The prolific artists and makers behind St Dominic’s Press certainly fell into the latter category.

With our current exhibition ‘The Book Beautiful: William Morris, Hilary Pepler and the Private Press Story‘ at the forefront of our minds, we take a look through our collection to see how Hilary Pepler’s St Dominic’s Press prepared for the season: commercial Christmas card catalogues, personal gifts, notes and cards to friends and family are abundant, all with their own distinctive style. Exquisite engravings, prints and letterpress messages by guild members Eric Gill, David Jones, Philip Hagreen and Hilary Pepler jostle alongside of those other colleagues and fellow artists including Mary Dudley Short and Edward Walters.

st_dom_christmas_peplerThe card catalogues are particularly interesting – after all, St Dominic’s Press was not just a symbol for an artistic and social philosophy, but also a practical concern with a job to do and Hilary Pepler was keen for the old Stanhope to earn its keep. Posters for local enterprises and even beer labels were amongst its first commissions.

A typical Pepler-penned 1931 leaflet, published at the height of the economic depression and entitled ‘A Christmas List with a Preface on Unemployment‘, includes the introductory passage: ‘I remember to have heard of an economist whose remedy for trade depression was that everyone, and more especially the rich, should spend as much money as possible. Except as applying to my own customers, and then only in their relations to me, I should be doubtful about advising the application of this panacea to our present distress.

It is unclear how and to whom the leaflet was distributed, but it is a fascinating insight into Pepler’s philosophy – a mixture of educative lecturing, social awareness, humour, and an all-important eye on the sales. The preface is a short essay on the contemporary economic crisis, expressing a belief that ‘One cause of unemployment would appear to be in over-production – as anyone acquainted with the modern factory should long ago have foreseen‘.

In a knowing and typically humorous footnote Pepler jokes ‘Some people have under-consumed our publications – several St Dominic Press first editions can be bought at published prices, many flats in Tooting are without even copies of ‘Aspidistras‘.

st_dom_christmaslist_1931The rest of the leaflet is a list of gift suggestions consisting of St Dominic’s Press publications described as being ‘printed on a Handpress and, except where starred, on hand-made paper‘, and categorised under tongue-in-cheek titles such as ‘Presents for Pious Parents‘, ‘For A Lover‘ and ‘For Aunts, Grandparents, School Friends, “Also Rans,” &c‘. The publications range in price from 2s 6d for ‘Three Wise Men. A short play in which Herod takes an important role‘ to the grand price of 30s for ‘Horae B.V.M. (1923), in red and black. Gregorian Chant. Wood engravings by Eric Gill and Desmond Chute‘ (an approximate relative value of £7 and £90 today).

In the build-up to Christmas, we will post an image a day on Twitter and Instagram of Christmas-related work straight from St Dominic’s Press … follow us and watch the treats unfold!

Twitter: @museumartcraft
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The Doves Typeface Story

dovespress_bibleOne of the many stories behind our exhibition ‘The Book Beautiful: William Morris, Hilary Pepler and the Private Press Story‘ includes a struggle between pragmatism and obsession. For those uninitiated in the intricacies of design, the idea of becoming obsessed over a typeface may seem alien, but passions ran high in the Arts and Crafts movement and veterans T J Cobden Sanderson and Emery Walker did not come out of their partnership unscathed.

Cobden Sanderson was originally a barrister by profession, but his friendship with William Morris led to him becoming a book-binder. In 1893 he set up a bindery in Hammersmith (the crucible for many artistic movements in the late 1800s), naming it after a nearby pub, The Dove. He was passionate in his belief that the beauty of the printed page depended upon the precision and clarity of the layout and an intimate relationship between calligraphy and type; in 1900 he was joined in his Doves Press venture by Emery Walker.

Emery Walker was another leading Arts and Crafts figure affiliated with William Morris. When Morris attended a talk given by Walker in the 1870s, he apparently felt as if all his frustrations and ideas regarding contemporary printing had been given a voice – so much so that the spark kindled by their meeting gave rise to the establishment of Morris’ Kelmscott Press in 1891.

By 1909 there was no love lost between Walker and Cobden Sanderson and they fell into a bitter dispute resulting in the dissolution of their partnership. Cobden Sanderson continued to run Doves Press until 1916, but never came to terms with the fact that their parting agreement decreed that ownership of the typeface would go to Walker on Cobden Sanderson’s death. With that event coming ever closer, at the age of 76 he resolved not to let that happen and decided to destroy the type by throwing it into the Thames off Hammersmith Bridge. This was no mean feat, especially at his advanced age – it took him 170 trips to dispose of over 1 ton of type. Clearly not a rash decision made in haste.

Fast forward 100 years, and the Doves Press type continues its obsessive hold – in 2010 designer Robert Green became fascinated with the story and the typeface at its heart, and not only began a process of digital recreation, but also set out to recover the individual pieces of type from the banks of the Thames – to date he has recovered 150 pieces.

Our exhibition charts the connections between these private press luminaries and Hilary Pepler’s Ditchling Press. Hilary Pepler moved to Hammersmith in the early 1900s and met a kindred spirit in another recent arrival, Eric Gill. They struck up friendships with Walker, Cobden Sanderson and William Morris’ daughter, as well as Gill’s old friend Edward Johnston. A couple of decades on, Pepler and Gill were also destined to part ways, although fortunately for us the tools of their trade remained intact – you can view Pepler’s Stanhope Press in the museum, and our exhibition features books and prints from Kelmscott Press, Doves Press and Ditchling Press.

If you’d like to find out more about Doves type, watch this fascinating short film with BBC journalist Tom Beal interviewing Robert Green.