Henry Morris and the Bird & Bull Press

“The Private Press-Man’s Tale”

The Bird & Bull Press is one of America’s oldest private presses. It was started in 1958 by Henry Morris – who describes a private press as “someone who prints books or ephemera related to his personal interests…” By starting the press Morris was hoping to “make use of the product of a new hobby – hand paper-making.” Morris admits, in his forward to Sidney E. Berger’s Forty-Four Years of Bird & Bull: A Bibliography, 1958-2002, that he knew very little about book design or the printing and binding of ‘fine books,’ rather it was the content of the book that he found most important. Many of the books published by Bird & Bull deal directly with “bookish” subjects, such as paper-making, printing, illustration, book binding, typography, and booksellers. Because of this Henry Morris and his press have played an important role in the study, preservation, and dissemination of printing history.

Each of the Bird & Bull publications is printed by letterpress from metal type on either Morris’s own handmade paper or on imported mould-made papers. Each book includes a detailed description of the paper, type and bindery used in production of the publication.

The Walter Havighurst is home to over sixty works published by Bird & Bull. I’ve selected a few of my favorites to share here. All quotes are taken from the works described.

The Art of Intaglio Produced on a Letterpress by Henry Morris, 2010

From “The Art of Intaglio Produced on a Letterpress”

Traditionally, intaglios (etchings and engravings) are printed on special presses that are able to exert the pressure necessary for printing. Morris was interested in using a letterpress to print intaglios, but was told it was not possible.

From “The Art of Intaglio Produced on a Letterpress”

He began experimenting and was successful in printing two small intaglios on a letterpress. The Art of Intaglio Produced on a Letterpress is the result of these experiments. Ultimately, Morris was able to print twelve intaglio plates for this publication.

This books also happens to be Morris’s first dos-a-dos binding, as it includes a 16-page addition entitled Schlocker & The Fishes, which recounts an unforgettable event in Morris’s early life.

“Trade Tokens of British and American Booksellers & Bookmakers”

Trade Tokens of British and American Booksellers & Bookmakers by Henry Morris, 1989

With this publication Morris asserted that a “study of the history of the making and uses of these metal tokens will lead the reader down pleasurable and instructive byways of the history of the Book, many of which seem to have been long unnoticed.”

Copper token issued with “Trade Tokens of British and American Booksellers & Bookmakers”

While one other publication on the subject did exist at the time, William Longman’s Tokens of the Eighteenth Century connected with Booksellers and Bookmakers, London 1916, Morris claims his publication was the first attempt to describe the known American tokens. In addition to the book, eleven original copper tokens were struck for the publication and are included with the book.

 

Karli Frigge’s Life in Marbling by Sidney E. Berger, 2004

From “Karli Frigge’s Life in Marbling”

This publication covers the life and career of Dutch artist Karli Frigge. Most of the information found in this publication came from correspondence between Frigge and the author or from books written by Frigge.

The Bird & Bull Press Commemorative 100 Coronas by Henry Morris, 1988

While many of the Bird & Bull Press publications deal with papermaking and the book arts, Morris also produced several publications on the fictional Republic of San Serriffe. The Republic of San Serriffe began as an April Fool’s joke printed in 1977 by The Guardian, a copy of which was sent to Morris by a friend.

The Republic of San Serriffe (a play on “san serif” style of type) was a fictional country whose names and places were all derived from terms connected with printing. Morris was delighted by the joke and started creating additional ephemera for the fake country, including stock certificates and publications about San Serriffean printing culture.

Morris, a numismatist as well as a papermaker and printer, issued The Bird & Bull Press Commemorative 100 Coronas with both a commemorative silver coin as well as two “twenty-five coronas” certificates.

Dard Hunter & Son, by Dard Hunter, II and Dard Hunter, III, 1988

From “Dard Hunter & Son”

Dard Hunter was a printer, papermaker and artisan born in Steubenville, Ohio in 1883. Hunter was an artist during the arts and crafts movement; he built his own paper mill, cut his own typeface and printed his own books. Hunter “produced the world’s first one man book by creating a book that was printed by him on paper that he made with a typeface he designed, cut and cast himself. At this point he was on his way to making a truly harmonious book in which all aspects were carefully considered and planned from the beginning.”

From “Dard Hunter & Son”

Hunter’s son, Dard Hunter, II followed in his father’s footsteps and became a master designer and craftsman in his own right, producing furniture, jewelry and even a pistol of his own making. After his father’s death Dard, II produced his monumental Life Work of Dard Hunter in two large folio volumes. It took twelve years and over $100,000 to complete.

Dard Hunter & Son is a synopsis of The Life Work of Dard Hunter complete with specimens, produced by Hunter’s grandson, Dard Hunter, III and Henry Morris.

Ephemera from “Forty-Four Years of Bird & Bull: A Bibliography, 1958-2002”

Forty-Four Years of Bird & Bull: A Bibliography, 1958-2002 compiled by Sidney E. Berger, 2002

This volume, with a forward by Henry Morris, covers all the publications produced by Bird & Bull Press over a forty-four year period. The bibliography is divided into three sections, books printed by and for the Bird & Bull Press; books printed by Bird & Bull Press for others, and selected ephemera. Entries for the various publications include basic publication information as well as commentary, photographs, and facsimiles.

A Conservatory for my Prospectuses and Specimen Leaves by Henry Morris, 2008

From “A Conservatory for my Prospectuses and Specimen Leaves”

Produced for the 50thanniversary of Bird & Bull Press, Morris compiled 100 bound collections of “all the prospectuses and leaves in my possession.”  The publication is fascinating to look at, interspersed with brief running commentaries on the books are printed leaves and facsimiles from Morris’s previous publications.

From “A Conservatory for my Prospectuses and Specimen Leaves”

The overall product is a type of “permanent record of the progression and variety of works produced over a fifty-year period.”

The Walter Havighurst Special Collections is home to many additional examples of Bird & Bull Press publications. I invite you to come see the exquisite craftsmanship and artistry of these private press publications.

Ashley Jones
Preservation Librarian

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