The Alembic Press

Claire and David Bolton
Riverside, Wilsham Road, Abingdon, Oxford, OX14 5HP
Telephone 01235 525227
and 12 Kingfisher Loop, Margaret River 6285, Western Australia

A Fine Press creating and printing limited edition books by traditional letterpress.

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Page first written in January 1997 by David Bolton and last updated 21 March 2024.

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Update on work in progress

An Accent Specimen progresses slowly, now aiming for publication in 2024. Casting the some 26000 individual accented letters is 99% completed, and most serial numbers and unit widths have been checked with records at the Type Archive, but unfortunately that has now closed. The Specimen includes all the non-Latin characters, whether accented or not, that the Press holds matrices for and a subset of the Specimen showing just the Cyrillic letters and accents is available.

A Figure Specimen is now available. It shows some 8300 figures (numerals and fractions) that the Press has matrices for.

Signs and Symbols was finally completed on 9th November 2009 after some five years work, and issued as A Sign Specimen complete with two pages of Addenda and Corrigenda. A 4 page letterpress version of the Addenda and Corrigenda replaced the earlier laserprinted one(s) in December, and a supplementary 2 page Addenda and Corrigenda II was laserprinted in January 2010, and updated in July 2010. A 6 page Addenda and Corrigenda II was issued in September 2012, part letterpress and part laser printed. This replaces the earlier issues (but not the December 2009 edition). Addenda II incorporates both some extra signs, and many of the missing unit widths, now added from information held at the Type Archive, London. The Addenda sheets may appear overly extensive, but arose partly because the initial edition was only intended as a draft, and partly because it had to be printed in a hurry, before the Vandercook press was disposed of. A Supplement sheet showing some 285 signs acquired since the Sign Specimen was available in 2017, but has now been reprinted with a few extra signs that have come to light.

Only one copy remains of:
Dear David, Dear Graham
A Very Light Tale

The following publications have recently gone out of print:
24-line Antique Bold
A Border Specimen
Frying the Flag
A Little Drop of Water
Eddie's Wheel Book
Why is Robert Smiling?
Delittle, The First Years
Forty Line Poynder Bold Condensed
A Granjon Arabesque
Emma's Alphabet
Caxton's Indulgence of 1476
Paper Cranes
6x6 Wood Type
A Small Piece of Action
A Screw Story

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Books in print

A Figure Specimen
A specimen of some 8300 figures (numerals and fractions) that the Press has matrices for. Sizes range from 5pt to 60pt, serials from F9 to F2558 (though not the complete range) and type series 1 to 696 (again, not the complete range). Set in 10pt Modern Extended. 22pp. 11½ x 6 ins. 30 copies. UK£15.

A Sign Specimen
A specimen of all the Monotype sign and symbol matrices held at the Press, with a brief introduction to their use. Set in 10pt Modern Extended. 88pp. 11¾ x 5¾ ins. 40 copies. UK£20. Issued with Addenda and Corrigenda 4pp. and Addenda and Corrigenda II 2pp.

A Border Supplement
Shows the borders that we have acquired, or found at the back of drawers, since printing A Border Specimen. It is in the same format, showing one line specimens, and inch square patterns. Set in 12pt Bembo. 16pp. 11¾" x 8¾". 120 copies. UK£25.

A Petticoat Tale
Maddie's fifth birthday book, about a princess and her petticoats. Two hand coloured line drawings, text set in 10pt Gloucester Bold Italic. 16pp. 2¾" x 2¾". 60 copies. UK£15. See also Further details.

Settings of Six Point Type
A miniature 32 page specimen of 6pt borders and 6pt type settings. Text set in 6pt Old Style, Plantin, Baskerville, Imprint, Gill, Greek, Grotesque, Modern, Spartan, Times, Univers. 32pp. 2¾" x 2". 50 copies. UK£20.

Fancy Papers
34 samples of the 1950s Sanderson range and their current replacement, together with a brief history of decorated papers. Set in 11 on 12pt Ehrhardt. 32 sheets sewn into boards. 6 x 9 ins. 95 copies. UK£60.

A Tiny Ten
Our granddaughter's 3rd birthday book, as a sequel to A Little Alphabet and A Small Piece of Action. A single section counting book illustrated with printers' stock blocks and dingbats to a count of 10. 16pp. 3 x 2 ins. 120 copies. UK£5. (This book had a working title of A Small Count). See also Further details.

A Tale of Two Benches
About the connection between artist Robert Gibbings and woodworker Bill Pointer, with a wood engraving by Robert Gibbings of his own bench and by Simon Brett of Bill Pointer's bench. Set in 14pt Perpetua. 24pp. 9 x 6½ ins. 120 copies. UK£30.

Although long out of print, one copy is now available of the following books

Dear David, Dear Graham
Letters between Graham Greene and David Low. Illus. Set in Spectrum. 91pp. 9¾ x 6¼ ins 250 copies. UK£100

A Very Light Tale
The tenth tale in the series. A short fairy story for children. Two paper cuts. Text set in 18pt Bodoni Ultra Italic. 20pp. 2¾" x 4". 100 copies. UK£5.

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Letterpress Exchange Group

A small group solely for the exchange of material that has been printed letterpress. Members contribute items approximately three times a year, with numbers being kept small enough to make the task of printing not too onerous. Originally started by Claire, and tnen Alan Brignull, and now Ben Brundell.

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Workshops and Open Days


Although the Press has run a very successful five day Letterpress Printing workshop for some nine years, it does not currently have the facilities for this. However, workshops on table-top printing or early printing methods are occasionally offered at various other locations, so please e-mail Claire if interested. Also, it may become possible in the future to offer combined printing and casting workshops jointly with Richard Lawrence at his studios in Oxford, which is where the Press now houses its typecasting equipment. Occasional workshops are also run at the Abbey Press in New Norcia, Western Australia.

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Apprentice Programme

For many years, the Press was able to provide a place for an apprentice for a period of one to three months, once or twice a year. However, this is no longer possible, as we have moved to smaller premises and, sadly, have disposed of all our large presses.

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Sunday afternoon open workshops on casting type from Monotype Composition and Super casters may again be held in 2024 approximately once a month from 2pm to 4pm, once the Accent Specimen has been printed. These informal sessions are for anyone (enthusiast or otherwise) wanting to see or try out Monotype keyboards or casters. (See a glimpse of the equipment.) Phone 01235 525227 or e-mail for further details.

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Open Day

For some years the Press held an Open Day, when all its equipment and productions were on show, but as much of the equipment has now gone, only the Open Typecasting afternoons on occasional Sundays now continue. However, Hurst Street Studios also has Open Days and the Press's Monotype equipment is in action on those days.

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Printing and Binding Demonstrations

The Alembic Press can provide hands-on demonstrations of aspects of letterpress printing at various exhibitions, fairs, and colleges, etc. For example, we have provided

a one day Non-adhesive Binding workshop at Swindon Arts Centre in May 2000
a one day miniature book workshop in Perth, WA in February 2001
a one day Making a Book workshop in Kidlington, Oxford in January 2003
at Curtin University, WA in October 2003
at Cowaramup, WA in 2005
at the University of Delaware in October 2006
a one day Books for Calligraphers workshop in Cannington, WA in October 2003
a Creating Handmade Books workshop at Denman College, Oxon, in 2007 and 2009
a one day Introduction to Letterpress workshop in Perth, WA in November 2010 and March 2012
a three day Letterpress workshop at New Norcia, Western Australia in October 2014 and 2015
a one day Letterpress workshop at New Norcia, Western Australia in March 2016, October 2017, March 2018 and October 2018

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Facilities available

Equipment at the Press

The Press used to be housed in a 70ft x 20ft stone barn, until June 2010 (see a view of the printshop and some of the presses, as they used to be).
Press room at RiversideThe larger printing machines were slowly passed on to better homes, but the Farley cylinder proof press, a Sigwalt Model 4 and two Adana 8x5, one HS3 and one 5x3 table-top presses are now housed in our new premises. These can be seen in the picture on the left. This new printroom in Abingdon still has a bit of fitting out to do, but all-the-same is now functional for small jobs.

The Press has reduced its range of metal and wood type, but as can be seen on the right, still has 5 point up to 90 line, for hand setting, and 5 to 14 point for machine setting (using a Monotype keyboard and caster).
Press room at Riverside
Until 2023 the Press also had a small presence at Margaret River in Western Australia
Press room at Hermitage DriveThe space is bigger than it looked, but in the picture on the left you can see the Adana 8x5 on the left, and the small table-top proof press on the right, beneath the Mouldtype poster. The picture on the right was the view beyond the shed, toward the Margaret River (the roos have moved out of shot). However, since then, the pastures have all been developed for housing, and the roos have gone. And indeed, the Alembic Press has now had to move out, and the equipment has been passed on to another Press.View toward the river

In addition, there continues to be our collection of Monotype matrices, keybars, etc., plus two keyboards, one Super caster, and two Composition casters, all in use for casting and for demonstration purposes. See a view of the equipment in its location at 50 Hurst Street in Oxford.

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Letterpress information and supplies

We maintain a small list of letterpress suppliers and information available in the U.K. at, and in Australia at Suggestions for additions to these lists are always welcome, but note that they try to keep within the two countries. Note also that they are not comprehensive lists of letterpress printers, but rather a list of where letterpress can be seen, asked about, learned, helped with, or where ink, paper, rollers, etc., can be obtained.

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Early Printing History

The Press can provide advice on early printing techniques, and is continuing its research in this field, and Dr. Claire Bolton has taught at Summer Schools for the London Rare Book School, and the University of Otago, Dunedin, and given several lectures on aspects of fifteenth-century printing methods. Articles and books in print are:

''Cloth impression marks in the 15th-century editions of Johann Zainer - evidence for paper damping?'', Journal of the Printing Historical Society, new series, number 12 (2008), pp.5-33.
''Links between a fifteenth-century printer and binder'', Early printed books as material objects, Bettina Wagner, Marcia Reed, eds., (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2010) pp.177-189.
''Further leaves from a ''lost'' edition of Dinckmut's Regimen sanitatis'', Gutenberg-Jahrbuch 85 (2010), pp.79-84.
''The influence of type and spacing on the design of the printed page'', Jaarboek voor Nederlandse boekgeschiedenis 19 (2012), pp.48-64.
''Leading but not as we know it: some evidence for interlinear spacing in fifteenth-century printing'', Journal of the Printing Historical Society, new series, number 20 (2014), pp.25-37.
''A Print Run of 68+1 Copies of a Memmingen Indulgence c.1504-15'', Gutenberg-Jahrbuch 91 (2016), pp.141-149.
The fifteenth-century printing practices of Johann Zainer, Ulm, 1473-1478, Claire Bolton, (Oxford & London: Oxford Bibliographic Society and Printing Historical Society, 2016).
''Typesetting and Printing in the Fifteenth Century'', Materielle Aspekte in der Inkunabelforschung, Christoph Reske and Wolfgang Schmitz, eds., (Weisbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2017) pp.147-163.
''The Memmingen Book Network'', Printing Evolution and Society 1450-1500, Cristina Dondi, ed., (Edizioni Ca'Foscari, Venice, 2020), pp.701-726
''Fallen Type: a catalogue'', Journal of the Printing Historical Society, third series, number 2 (2021), pp.43-68.
''Fallen Type: The Benefits of a Printer's Error'', Printing and Misprinting, Geri Della Rocca de Candal, Anthony Grafton, and Paolo Sachet, eds., (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2023), pp.33-50
The Incunable Collection in Memmingen Stadtarchiv, Claire Bolton, (Stadtarchiv Memmingen, 2023).
and by David Bolton
''Typecases: history and development'', Journal of the Printing Historical Society, new series, number 25 (2016), pp.25-49.
In addition, as part of researching early printing methods, the Press is a founder member of the Dürer Press Group which commissioned a new wooden hand press, based on Dürer's sketch of 1511, and which is currently housed at the Bodleian Bibliographical Press in Oxford.

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Collection of Typecases

Arising from a topic on the LETPRESS listserve group, we show some layouts of various styles of typecase. Blank case layouts are also shown, should you wish to insert your own lay. The pages are all separate, for ease of printing out, or downloading. If you are trying to identify a particular case, then Typecase Identification is an attempt to make this easy! Otherwise, an index to all the pages is available, as is a short introduction and a glossary of (some of) the terms used. There is a brief note on variations in Job and Double Case, and Lower Case, and Upper Case styles. Some notes about the quantities of type possible in a Case and a Bill of type are also provided. Over 300 different typecases are shown to date, concentrating mostly on normal (ie full) size cases for metal type, but including a few exotic cases, figure and spacing cases, etc, by way of example. (For a list of all cases actually illustrated in a particular Equipment Catalogue, see for example Hamilton 1907). Dates are given, as derived from the source documents (which are all listed in Sources), but for many of these sources there may be an earlier edition, or reference, that has not yet been consulted. Whilst the cases shown are based on illustrations, or actual cases seen, Specimen Books and Equipment Lists often list more cases than are illustrated, and these have had to be ignored, so again, some dates may be earlier.

All these pages are part of our publishing project creating an on-line book of typecase information. Rather than publish once the full work is complete, chapters and pages are added as soon as they are written, and as time permits. The first pages were created in 1997, and amendments and additons continue as new information comes to light, for example where discovery of an earlier source changes dates of featured case lays, etc. The overall alphabetic index, the index of case lays and case configurations, and the list of sources are kept up-to-date as information is added. In view of this work-in-progress, please let us know if anything is missing or wrong! A summary of some of the findings, by David Bolton, is published as

''Typecases: history and development'', Journal of the Printing Historical Society, new series, number 25 (2016), pp.25-49.

Choose from the following groupings:

Blank cases
Upper .... Lower .... Double .... Job .... Triple .... Two-Third
Single .... Others (eg Half, Fount, Border, Music)
Arabic .... Australian .... Belgian .... Chinese .... Dutch .... Egyptian .... English .... French
German .... Greek .... Hebrew .... Indian .... Italian .... Malayan .... Maori .... Polish
Russian .... Scottish .... Spanish .... Swedish .... Swiss .... Syriac .... U.S. .... Vietnamese
All, in chronological order, earliest first
All, in chronological order, most recent first

Upper .... Lower .... Double .... Job .... Two-Third .... Others (eg Triple)
Australian .... Belgian .... Dutch .... Egyptian .... English .... French .... German
Greek .... Hebrew .... Indian .... Irish .... Italian .... Maori .... Polish
Russian .... Scottish .... Spanish .... Swedish .... Swiss .... U.S. .... Vietnamese
All, in chronological order, earliest first
All, in chronological order, most recent first

Introduction .... Glossary of terms .... List of Sources .... Index of Typecases
Quantities of type in a fount .... Quantities of type in a case
Notes on Upper Case styles .... Notes on Lower Case styles
Notes on Job and Double Case styles and contents
Typecase Identification

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Links to some other letterpress related sites

This list is only a very small selection of what is available, and for example Briar Press, Ton Cremer, and Dave Tribby all have a much fuller selection.

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