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University of Oregon
UO Libraries

Book Collections in Special Collections & University Archives

This guide featires the Rare Books collection and Oregon Collection held by the University of Oregon Libraries Special Collections & University Archives

Fine Press Printing

The term "fine press" often incorporates the terms "private press" "small press," "letter press," or "university press."  One similarity shared by all is that they do not attempt higher quantity thresholds of commercial presses. Fine presses are often not driven by a profit motive. A similarity shared with presses falling under this rubric is that for various reasons – namely quality – production quantity is often limited, usually to only a few hundred copies. A distinguishing quality of fine presses is that they enjoy sole discretion over literary, scientific, artistic, and aesthetic merits. 

A fine press is a printing establishment that adheres to particularly high standards in terms of the skill of the workers, the choice of materials, and the overall design of the books ultimately produced. There is often, in addition, an emphasis on traditional printing technologies and techniques. Work is normally completed on a hand press. Paper is laid, not rolled, and endpapers are uniquely marbled. Type fonts are based on traditional designs and type is set by hand for each title. Bindings are sown by hand and tooled with extravagant designs and gilt.

The modern fine press movement is usually considered to have begun with the Kelmscott Press, established by William Morris in 1890-1891 as part of the broader Arts and Crafts movement. Morris founded his press in opposition to the ever increasing mechanization of printing over the course of the 19th century, which Morris believed was accompanied by a decline in printing standards. In keeping with the tenets of the Movement, women were provided training and job opportunities of which Special Collections owns several works created by the Guild of Women Binders. The spirit of the fine press movement continues in the ongoing revival of the techniques of letterpress printing, but the movement itself is usually dated to the years 1880-1940.

This LibGuide concentrates on presses associated with the fine press movement itself, but also covers presses relevant to the movement. Presses founded after 1940 are included if founded as continuations of earlier presses (for example, the Arion Press), founded by printers whose careers were well established by 1940 (for example, John Fass's Hammer Creek Press and Will Carter's Rampant Lions Press), and have achieved national or regional prominence (for example, the Stone Wall Press and the Perishable Press). Most of the presses listed are private presses – i.e. independent presses set up more for artistic than financial purposes – but some more commercial presses renowned for the quality of their work are also included. Artist's books are not included in this list but are cited elsewhere in this LibGuide.

For each press, the link to books held by Special Collections, that were printed at or published by that press, also include any secondary resources held by Special Collections that relate specifically to that press.