Exploring fine press books
Alan Loney’s first book of poems was published in 1971 and he began printing fine books himself in 1974.
Mr Loney says the term ‘fine press book’ points to an intention by the small or private press printer to produce work to the highest possible standards.
A former Honorary Fellow in the Australian Centre, Mr Loney approached the University’s Baillieu Library Special Collections with an idea to host an exhibition and symposium about fine press books.
In his essay in the exhibition catalogue Mr Loney writes: “Adventure & Art is about the printer’s craft, evidenced from the first printed books in the 15th century, which was given a hugely influential impetus by William Morris and the Arts and Craft movement at the end of the 19th century.
“Morris and his friends looked back to the earliest books and manuscripts as models for how they might make books worth handling, worth owning, and worth reading, [and the] exhibition demonstrates a number of technologies that are obsolete in commercial terms but still current in creative and craft communities in the 21st century.”
Deputy Curator of Special Collections at the University of Melbourne Susan Millard, explains that the University holds an impressive collection of books that demonstrate the printer’s craft.
“A leaf of the Gutenberg bible, the first book printed with moveable type in the 1450s, was purchased recently by the Library and shows us the very genesis of all that was to follow in printing,” she writes.
“A generous donation by Dr John Orde Poynton in 1959 included examples of incunabula (1440s–1500), other pre-1850 fine printing and a large collection of private press books from the time of the arts and crafts movement.
“Presses covered in depth in the collection are Golden Cockerel Press, Kelm- scott Press, Ashendene Press, Doves Press and Eragny Press. The Australian and New Zealand selections come from our general Australiana Collection and the Ian McLaren Collection, another large and beneficial acquisition for the Library in 1976.”
Alan Loney believes the future of the fine press book in 2012 “looks remarkably bright”.
“Part of the lure of the fine press book is the sheer physicality of both the processes of making and of the resultant books.
“They look and feel and even smell different from the paperbacks, magazines, and newspapers of our daily reading. Hand-set type, hand-made paper, direct printing of artworks (rather than reproductions of them), and hand-binding all bring a range of skills and crafts, traditions and innovations, standards and achievements, that coalesce into the single yet complex experience of handling, reading, and returning to such a book.
“The best fine press books merit and reward repeated viewings and readings. To look at them is to slow you down. To know both the text and its carrier together as a sensual and intellectual pleasure is to treat not only a text and its accompanying images with respect but the vehicle of that text with respect also. The point really is to be open to what can be found there, for in that openness and in that slowing down the book itself becomes its own revelation.”
Adventure & Art: the fine press book from 1450 to 2011 runs until 27 May in the Baillieu Library Leigh Scott Gallery Level 1.