Wood Printers

Emerging from the Library collection today were a set of four wood (probably oak) panels depicting workers in the print trades, carved in deep, crisp high relief. Each is approximately 40 x 30 cm in size.


We have a compositor, a lithographer, a book binder and a printer using a star wheel etching press. Each man’s portrait is framed by a Romanesque arch with paired columns of a different design, each arch is individually decorated and the abutments are adorned with unique pairs of dragons or acanthus sprays . Why we have them, who created them, what they were for and where they come from is however, a mystery.

There are no catalogue notes accompanying them though their arts and craft style, the gentlemen’s fashions and whiskers and exquisite if sober details would suggest a very late Victorian/Edwardian era of origin? Intriguingly, behind the lithographer’s head can be seen a print of a large factory featuring a highly ornate gothic gateway and tall chimney in the forested background, indicating these were probably portraits of actual individuals connected to a specific place rather than generic “types”. The factory is difficult to see with the naked eye, and I only noticed it after it had been photographed.

If any one has any more information about them we would of course love to hear from you. Until then they remain a mystery carved from oak and wrapped in cardboard.


If you would like to have a peek at them, they will be on display in the Layton Room from 11 January until the end of February 2016 as part of an exhibition of vintage Valentine Cards. Entry is by request from St Bride Foundation’s Reception.

4 thoughts on “Wood Printers

    • The bookbinder doesn’t but the type setter certainly does resemble the sketch (probably drawn at a later date than our wood panel) on Wikipedia. A great suggestion and we’ll check our Doves Press material later today. Your post makes me now wonder if the binder is Emery Walker?

      • No I doubt it. The binder would not be Emery Walker as he never laid hands on a binding (Cobden-Sanderson said he never saw him print either). First off the style is wrong for the period of the Doves Press. The type of decoration used in the borders of these panels is too generically Romanesque/Medieval for anyone in their circle to have executed during that period. C-S eschewed Medievalism anyway, plus there’s a lithographer in the set. The Doves Press did not use lithography. The factory image behind the lithographer’s head (who incidentally, is the best match for Cobden-Sanderson) with what looks like forest or perhaps hills in the background, leads me to think it’s somewhere in or outside Edinburgh perhaps? http://www.edinburghcityofprint.org/

  1. I’m increasingly sure that the building in “the Lithographer” is Powick Mills in Worcestershire, which was Britain’s frst hydro-electric power station. The chimney and gables are dead ringers.

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