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Small press books – Black Pennell Press

May 3, 2008

Once again, Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings has jettisoned me back to another time in my life. I had to search across bookshelves and through boxes, and finally found two volumes I purchased in the 1980’s from The Black Pennell Press. This photo of the last page tells you what makes these particular small press books nonpareil. These limited edition volumes were hand-set, printed on handmade paper, and hand-bound. That means the printer painstakingly, most definitely lovingly, set every single letter and space marker from individual metal letters to print this book, and each page was printed by hand.

In 1439, Johann Gutenberg invented metal, movable type, which greatly simplified the existing method of book production, which was handwritten manuscripts. For the next 500 years, virtually all printed matter was produced on letterpress equipment.

Printing is primarily divided into three main categories depending on whether the image surface that gets inked is indented – engraving, or flat – lithography, or raised – letterpress. In letterpress, the image is raised metal, cast backwards, then inked and pressed onto the paper. If you run your hand over the page, you can feel the indentation of the letters.

To get an idea of the complexity of letterpress printing, watch this short documentary of Firefly Press. You can learn more about the press at Elsa Photos.

Though letterpress is no longer an economically significant segment of the printing market, it continues to live on as the heart and soul of a wonderful world known as the private press movement.

If you are interested in letterpress printing, you can learn everything you need to know from this introduction at Five Roses.

The Black Pennell Press is located in Greenock, Scotland. It was established in 1982 by Thomas Rae after he retired from other printing business. Thomas Rae also produced books under the Grian-aig Press and the Signet Press names. I scoured the internet, but could find no recent mention of Thomas Rae. I did find a number of his books (just like my books) in university, small press books collections.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. May 3, 2008 10:35 am

    These are simply glorious …… i love the ink, paper, bindings, endpapers and handmade craftsmanship of books such as these …. and i must admit to a slight tinge of envy …..

    thank you for sharing your treasures with me,

    lady blue

  2. May 4, 2008 4:42 am

    I am always so happy to share books, Lady Blue. It gives me as much satisfaction as sharing my garden; it is such a waste to keep these things just to oneself. And you are correct, these books are beautiful not only to look at, but also to hold. I am pleased Carl reminded me of them, so that I sought them out.

  3. May 5, 2008 2:13 am

    your garden is lovely as well. strangely enough, it is a commonality we share … my original university degree is landscape architecture / garden design ….. my garden has given me many peaceful, calming moments. working in it becomes meditative for me and metaphorical ( a vine choking a tree causing me to consider what in my own life is choking me ..) unfortunately, i have not gardened in a year, and both it and I have suffered ….

    lady blue

  4. May 5, 2008 7:59 pm

    Great post. Those are absolutely beautiful books. I am a big fan of the letterpress. I love seeing posters, etc. created using this equipment. We actually have a letterpress business here in Kansas City, Hammerpress, that offers tours. I really need to get down there this summer and check it out (and buy some merchandise!).

  5. May 7, 2008 4:27 am

    Tours – very cool. The only tours here are of breweries! Thanks for checking out the post.

  6. Catriona rae permalink
    August 18, 2018 12:03 am

    Hi Thomas Rae was my grandfather. I have a few of his books. If you are interested in any information please contact me

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