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The Oxford University Press 1468-1921: some thoughts on re-acquaintance with old friends

December 5, 2016

Books sit patiently on the shelves of our libraries – those still fortunate to have their own private library in this digital world. Sit there collecting dust and household debris [unless you also happen to employ someone to ‘bang the books’ for you], perhaps for years. Then one day an idea takes hold, you recollect a volume, have a vague idea where on the shelves it nestles. Usually our own libraries do not follow Dewey, so a Jane Austen novel might share a shelf with Ten Ways to Skin a Cat or something prosaic.

Today I delighted on Mr Middleton Murry’s The Problem of Style, a text I’ve not read fully for some 40 years when it was a High School exam piece. I’ve two editions – a cheap paperback [from memory possibly light-fingered from the school library] and a hardback edition of 1925, quite possibly a first though the paperback records earlier, 1922 to be precise. It is, however, not a booksellers delight, being ex-University of London Library, Extra-Mural Library to boot – and stoutly Cancelled by a rubber stamp in blue ink.

problem-of-style

The Problem of Style by J. Middleton Murry published by OUP in 1925

[For the record Mr Middleton Murry was sharing space on the shelf with none other than TE Lawrence and The Mint. No doubt both quite placidly, being contemporaries and reminiscing on glories past.]

Anyhow, I got to examining the title page noting Humphrey Milford as the Imprint and then a list of cities – shown in this image – ranging from London through to Shanghai, via Copenhagen and Madras. I got thinking. Whatever was the OUP doing in Shanghai in 1925, let alone three cities in India?

Fortunately I had the answer at hand. I re-entered the library [no need for a Readers Pass] and headed straight for the Stacks. This is where ‘important’ volumes are kept in a bookcase with doors preventing the ingress of too much of that dust and household debris – as I, alas, cannot, nor would I even if I could, have access to a ‘book banger’.

The doors opened and I immediately knew where to go. Second shelf down [for here there is some nod to Dewey and books keep rightful neighbours with whom they can consort – though some find this tedious: would not a volume on Caxton like to flirt with Gill?] I run my fingers along the line and ease out The Oxford University Press 1468-1921. 

some-account-of-the-oup

Some account of the Oxford University Press

What a thrill, what rapture to open again this slim [13mm] edition that bears proudly on the Title, having swept away the tissue protection: OXFORD AT THE CLARENDON PRESS MCMXXII.

Here all the answers to my questions are displayed: ‘The Chinese Agency of the Press is at C 445 Honan Road, Shanghai, of which Mr T. Leslie is the present Representative…’; and ‘The activities of the Press in India are of a relatively recent date. Until 1912 when a branch was opened in Bombay…The increase of staff has made it possible to open a new branch in Calcutta – a sub-branch in Madras had already existed…’.

And as for The Clarendon Press. Well, that is the be all and end all – ‘By Clarendon Press Books are meant the learned, educational and other ‘Standard’ works produced under the close supervision of the Delegates and their Oxford Secretariate, and printed at Oxford’. Indeed. For Humphrey Milford [recall him?] was no more than a minion in the outskirts of the big smoke of London [then at Amen Corner, EC4], a publisher and not, for heaven’s sake, a printer in the city of Dreaming Spires.

There is more. Take this at random from the list of Oxford Medical Publications [of 1922 – not long after the Great War]: ‘…further important additions have been made, including…War Neuroses and Shell Shock by Sir Frederick Mott, K.B.E.,’

My edition contains a slip note written many years ago by an earlier hand of mine stating this volume was printed in Fell types, as noted in Updike. I quickly pulled him from the Stack – the plump two volumes being easy to find [second edition, second printing, hardback]. Here Updike confirms in a footnote (vol II, p.97) that Some Account… is indeed produced from Fell. However, I notice he refers to a 1926 edition, not that of 1922. A small detail, minute in fact, yet to a bibliophile as seismic as an earthquake in the hills of a medieval town in central Italy. [I have now amended the slip – so whosoever considers this volume in the future can rest assured of some closure.]

some-account-of-the-oup-2

Some Account of the OUP dated 1921

In closing, may I wish readers a satisfying end to this year and may sense prevail in the one to come. 

Happy birthday Mr Biro

September 29, 2016

The good people at Google inform us that today is the birthday of Mr Biro himself.

Five years ago I published this piece. You may like to have a read. Biro

The patent was later purchased by Mr Bich. Still going strong. I purchased these classic Bic Cristal (medium) a year or so ago in Australia. The motto: ‘Writes First Time, Every Time! Long-lasting dependability and smooth writing. Our Quality Comes In Writing!’ This set was made in Mexico. I have not tested the affirmation…

bic

Bic Cristal ballpoint pen set

The Noblest Roman

September 16, 2016

The Book Club of California has just published  The Noblest Roman: A History of the Centaur Types of Bruce Rogers by Jerry Kelly and Misha Beletsky ‘an immersive dive into the history of the Centaur typeface, complete with rarely seen drawings and proofs from the Monotype archives and the Library of Congress’. Do check it out….

For more on Bruce Rogers see my post herecentaur jenson

The last US newspaper printed letterpress

March 23, 2016

A good friend in the UK suggested this link to a newspaper that is still printed letterpress in the US.

Do have a look

http://www.greatbigstory.com/stories/true-to-type-running-the-oldest-newspaper-in-america

And note that Australia still has its own letterpress newspaper. See my blog here and search for the Don Dorrigo Gazette.

Answer to Christmas Quiz 2015

January 11, 2016

No, the Quiz 2015 did not show an organ. I quite simply do not understand how no one got that this is an illustration of the Monotype Keyboard piston block. Wasn’t it obvious. Shame on you! Taken from the essential Book of Parts, dated 9/56. [Better luck next year.]

Monotype Keyboard Monotype Keyboard Piston Block

Christmas Quiz 2015

December 24, 2015

In reviving a ‘tradition’ that was first launched in 2012 (see here), may I first of all wish those loyal, and new, readers a safe, relaxing, enjoyable and stress-free (is that possible?) holiday season wherever you may be. Take time out and take time to reflect.

Okay – here is the photo: can you name what this is and what machine it belongs to? There is no prize – just the quiet adulation that comes from being one of the few able to recall pre-digital technology (now, that was a clue). I will give the answer to those suffering sleepless nights in the first week of January 2016. And – no Googling. Not that it will do you any good mind.

Now what is this assemblage of pipes…it is not an organ

Now what is this assemblage of pipes…it is not an organ

Eric Gill and the curse of the sub-editor

December 23, 2015

A friend from London, UK, writes: “I noticed Station number X had a pair of dice (the Romans were gambling for Christ’s clothes) but that Gill did not have the correct configuration of the numbers on the die. Gill did not know that the opposite sides of the dice always add up to seven. Five is opposite to two, six is opposite to one, and four is opposite three. Ooops. The curse of the sub-editor strikes again.”

Station X at Westminster Abbey, London, UK

Station X at Westminster Cathedral, London, UK