The Bodleian Bibliographical Press

What we do

The Bodleian Bibliographical Press teaches students the practical skill of setting type and printing with hand-operated presses. The printing presses at the Bodleian Libraries are also used for teaching to the public, for outreach, and for printing experiments. 

'Printing a Line' with Tamarin Norwood

The aim was to print a line of text along a scroll of paper, using the hand-operated replica 17th-century press. The press was modified to use a roll of wallpaper, and to enable portions of text to be printed in measured segments, forming a single line 38 feet long.

Classes in the workshop

The Bodleian's hand-press printing workshop is located in the Schola Musicae, in the Old Library. 

Public classes

Adults (over 18) are welcome at six-week letterpress classes, usually offered in the evenings. A registration fee applies. Next available course begins 25 April 2018 See the Bodleian's 'What's On' listings for links.

Family printing workshops are offered during some school holidays. See the Bodleian's 'What's On' listings for links.

Open Sessions

Experienced printers are welcome to use the workshop under supervision, by invitation. Sessions are held on Thursday evenings during University terms, 5:30 to 8 pm. Come to a session period to request an invitation.

Presses in the Weston Library

Blackwell Hall

The press standing in Blackwell Hall is a replica made in 1951 by A H Smith, Quain Professor of English at UCL, with A Brown, from designs published in 1683 by Joseph Moxon in Mechanick Exercises, or, The doctrine of handy-works, applied to the art of printing.

Common press, in the Centre for the Study of the Book 

A wooden common press, used for demonstrations only, is kept on Level 2 of the Weston Library.

History of the Bibliography Room

Since 1949, the Bodleian Library has maintained hand-presses for the purpose of teaching practical printing. Each year, students from the University of Oxford and from other universities learn to set type and print by hand on presses dating from the 19th and 20th centuries. Equipment has been acquired over the years from a number of generous donors.

The workshop contains four Albion hand-presses (one acquired from Leonard Baskin's Gehenna Press), a Columbian press and several tabletop machines. There is a range of sizes of Caslon and Bell types, plus some other faces in smaller quantities. The oldest major items in the room are three composing frames which were originally made for the University Press by a local joiner, John Rainsford, in 1669. The room also includes specimens of printing and typefounding equipment and numerous relief blocks, many originating from the Samson Press archive, which came to the Bodleian around 1970. 

The press workshop has had various homes, originally on the ground floor of the New Bodleian, later in the Clarendon Building and, between 2003 and 2011, in the basement of the New Bodleian. During refurbishment of the New Bodleian, the Room was housed in the Story Museum in Pembroke Street. When the Bodleian building on Broad Street was reopened in 2015 as the Weston Library for Special Collections, the workshop moved to the ground floor of the Old Library, in the Schola Musicae.

Equipment at the Bibliographical Press

Free-standing iron presses 

(1) Large John & Jeremiah Barrett Albion Press of 1835, serial number 539.
Platen 17¾” x 24”
This was the press used by C.H.O. Daniel, Provost of Worcester College, from 1880-1906 and presented to the Bodleian Library in 1919. Charles Henry Olive Daniel (1836–1919) was Provost of Worcester College from 1903. He started printing when he was a boy and continued while at Oxford to reprint early-modern literature, works by major poets, and poems by his contemporaries including Lewis Carroll.

(2) Small Frederick Ullmer Albion Press of circa 1900, serial number 2919. 
Platen, 9 ⅞ x 7 in.

(3) Medium Miller & Richard Albion Press of 1898, serial number 4993. 
Platen 12” x 18”
From the Moss Press 

(4) Large (Miller & Richards?) Columbian Press of circa 1860. No serial number.
Platen 18” x 25¾”
The Samson Press was a private press run by Joan Mary Shelmerdine (1899–1994) and Flora Margaret Grierson (1899–1966). The press began in 1930 in Warlingham, Surrey and moved to Woodstock, Oxfordshire in 1937, where the business continued until 1967 when Joan Shelmerdine gave the archive and the printing equipment to the Bodleian.

(5) Medium Harrild & Sons Albion Press of 1877, serial number 3531. 
Platen 11” x 16”
Leonard Baskin (1922-2000) founded the Gehenna press in 1942 (the name coming from a line in Milton's Paradise Lost: "And black Gehenna call'd, the type of Hell.")  The archive of the Gehenna Press was acquired by the Bodleian Library in 2009

(6) Star-wheel Hughes & Kimber etching press, 19th-c. 13” roller x 30” bed. (ex-music printing)

(7) Western (‘Vandercook’ type) proofing press (ex-Vivian Ridler, on loan from The Story Museum, Oxford); 24” x 16” bed


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