Printing the Book Beautiful

Type Culture (videos)

Block Books

Wooden Hand Press

Iron Hand Press

Platen Press

Stereotyping & Electrotyping
by Frederick John Farlow Wilson, John Southward (Google ebook)

Printing Yesterday and Today

A Review of Printing in the Nineteenth Century
by Theodore L. De Vinne (Google ebook)

Arion Press Tour

Introduction to Letterpress

Printing a Book

Boxcar Heidelberg Letterpress

Modern Heidelberg Eight Color Sheet Feed Press


Book Illustration

Above: The work of Bulgarian artist Histo Kerin. Bookplate.

Be it to supplement the text, or serve as the focus of the story, illustrations are one of the highlights of book design. Book illustrations often come from fine art in the form of watercolors, oil paintings, graphite drawings, photography, or other fine arts mediums. Today, illustrations may be composed digitally as vector or bitmap graphics. An image is reproduced in a book by means of an image carrier created during the prepress process. The process used to create the image carrier depends on whether a book is to be printed in one, two, four, or more colors, and the type of press it is to be printed on. Contemporary commercial book production using offset lithography, will begin with scanning the image for execution as either a half tone for one color printing, or a color separation in cyan, magenta, yellow and black (CMYK) plates for a full color image.

Letterpress printing requires relief or intaglio printing methods. Relief printing includes woodcuts, wood engravings, linocuts, or raised polymer plates. Woodcuts, grace incunabula books, and continued to dominate book illustration until Thomas Bewick (1753-1828) introduced wood engraving; the cutting of the end of the block of wood, instead of the plank side. Intaglio printmaking, creates an elegant image with rich and precise lines. Intaglio prints are made by engraving, a means of carving into a metal plate that delivers sharp lines with crisp details, or etching, where acid is used to bite into the metal plate, leaving a clean line, but not with the same level of sharpness as engraving. Different types of metal plates are used for these processes. Durable steel plates were common in the 19th century for good quality book illustrations. They produced excellent images, and yielded a large numbers of prints before the plate would break down and loose quality. The number of prints produced from a plate is known as an edition in the fine arts. Printing presses yield runs, that is, the number of sheets printed off the press. When a book is referred to as a limited edition, it means that particular book was part of a short run of special books, often designed with special illustrations rendered by a notable artist and produced with the finest quality printing methods.

Old Book Illustrations

Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators

Picturing Words: The Power of Book Illustration

Children’s Book Illustration

“Type Exists to Honor Content”


The Doves Bible

“I must, before I die, create the type for today of ‘The Book Beautiful’ and actualize it – paper, ink, writing, printing, ornament and binding. I will learn to write, to print and to decorate.” T. J. Cobden-Sanderson

At the turn of the 20th Century, T J Cobden-Sanderson (1840-1922) and Emery Walker (1851-1933) founded the Doves Press in Hammersmith, England. Cobden-Sanderson known for his stunning bookbinding also marks his place in typographic history for the act of “bequeathing” the Dove’s types into the River Thames. While the dispute between the ownership of the Dove’s type between Cobden-Sanderson and Walker lead to its reproductive demise, the art of this type set to paper is still to be seen in the handsome Dove’s press books.

The Dove’s type is based on the 15th-century types of Venetian printers, Nicholas Jenson (1420-1480) and Jacobus Rubeus (ca. 1400s). Jenson’s letters are considered the final step in evolving from blackletter to the roman letterform, an improvement in legibility that is credited as a major advancement in the distribution of knowledge. Jenson’s letters are to be the basis for not only for the Dove’s type, but William Morris’s Golden type, and, often cited as one of the best book fonts, American designer Bruce Rogers’ (1870-1957) Centaur type as well.

Rogers’s was working as a free-lance designer and assisting Henry Watson Kent, secretary of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, at the Museum Press from 1913-1916. It was during this period that Rogers designed the Centaur type to which the Museum held certain rights. The Oxford Lectern Bible, designed by Rogers’ in 1935 uses the Centaur type with all the “grandeur of its conception, in its classic severity without ornamentation”. It is the grace of the Centaur letterforms, surrounded by the elegance of unadorned paper – a cappella, that makes the pages of this book a typographic masterpiece.

To truly appreciate an art, it is wise to study the mechanics behind its execution. The art of typography begins with a high degree of study on the working principles of letterforms. The process then continues according to the technology of the time, but begins, as it has for centuries, with the designer’s original drawings. The designer must consider not just the individual letters, but how they fit together to form words, the extra characters, such as ligatures, numbers, fractions that are needed for the individual alphabets and the members of the new types family. Once designed, it is up to the composer, or designer, to layout the type into pages. Here leading, letterspacing, kerning, hierarchy and other design components come together to translate the author’s ideas to the reader.

Books exist to be read. They are vassals for the author’s words. Type is the most important element in this vessel. How the type is designed, how it bites into, or sits on, the paper and the way it is arranged on the page are the components that combine to make it an enjoyable experience for the reader. This art, the art of typography, is often invisible to the reader. That is, if it is done well – for “typography exists to honor content”. 1

1 Bringhurst, Robert. The Elements of Typographic Style. 3.1rd ed. Vancouver: Hartley & Marks, 2005.


Joshua Heller Rare Books, Inc.
The Doves Press Bible

7th Seal Type Blog
Reviving the Doves Type

Giambattista Bodoni
Manuale Tipografico (1818)

Albrecht Dürer
The Just Shaping of Letters
(Grolier Edition)
(Dover Edition)


Type Basics

Type Classifications
Adobe Type Library

Typography for Lawyers
What is Typography


Type Catalog

Hoefler & Frere-Jones
Type Catalog

Type Catalog

Bixler Type Foundery


Linotype The Movie



The Beautiful Book

Paradise Lost1902

What makes a book beautiful? It can be many things. Is it only the author’s words? The purpose of a book is the content, no? Yes, but the environment in which the words are pastured can be as rewarding as the words themselves. To hold and read from a book of quality can make the experience of the story stronger and significantly more pleasurable. On a jaunt with a long time book collector to the Oak Knoll Bookshop I learned that in his opinion, a collection of books serves only as well as the beauty of the library that houses them. Who does not treasure the special environment in which they read, be it on a beach, a comfortable chair in front of a fireplace, or an elegant library with floor to ceiling mahogany bookcases filed with gold stamped leather bindings.

The book itself as an object can be a work of art and enjoyed without the ingestion of a single word. Words, when masterful typography is applied, evolve into aesthetic forms of elegance. How a book is bound, the illustrations within, the paper used, the quality of the printing and the skill employed by the designer are the paints that grace the canvas. In addition to the physical value of a beautiful book, and the beauty of the writing, is the story behind the life an individual volume lead. Books take on their own personalities and histories. The line of succession in owners verified by artistic bookplates or sale records. Pencil scribbles in the marginalia or notes on the inside covers and endpapers may be clues to locks of hair and scraps of paper with curious notes left within its pages. Additionally, a tag identifying the seller or a stamp on the inside back cover, the signature of a master binder, further signify a books individuality and worth.

Christies’ App (Book Auctions)

Christies Books and Manuscripts Division