From Golden Type to Double Gilt: Fine Press Books at Vanderbilt Libraries

Vanderbilt Libraries is pleased to announce the opening of From Golden Type to Double Gilt: Fine Press Books at Vanderbilt Libraries, on view February 14 through May 30, 2022 on the 2nd floor of Central Library, in Special Collections and University Archives.

Modern fine press book design began with artist and activist William Morris’ work at his press in Hammersmith, London. Morris established The Kelmscott Press in 1891, overseeing 53 works including Rosetti’s Ballads (1893).  Believing that industrial production had cheapened books and the objects of daily life, Morris designed books printed on high quality hand-made paper using type fonts characterized by pure form and illustrated them with romantic, medieval imagery. He believed that surroundings full of beautiful, well-made objects helped people lead happier lives. His design philosophy became the cornerstone of the Arts and Crafts style in books, textiles, and furniture.  Many artists, printers and binders working for Morris founded their own firms after his death in 1896.

The selected books show the huge variety of bindings available to book buyers and collectors over one hundred years ago.  Some bindings glow with gilded fish and butterflies, others gleam with hand-painted miniature portraits ringed with pearls and other gems.  Some books’ ornament comes from sinuous flowers that spell letters while others’ reflect the text inside. The university’s recent collecting of fine bindings and presses continues its origins in a unique memorial. Nettie Hale Rand, one of many women book collectors interested in fine British and American presses before the second World War, chose literature classics, American history, biography and medieval romances to build her collection. The many presses on exhibit developed their own style and response to William Morris’ call to make beautiful books.

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