A title from The Old School Press 

Printing at the University Press, Oxford, 1660-1780

The first definitive narrative about work at one of the greatest of English presses, in three volumes

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About the three volumes

All three volumes in print

In November 2013 Oxford University Press published a major four-volume history of itself. In 2008 I had been asked to write a chapter for volume I, specifically about the operation of the printing side during the hugely important period from 1668 to 1780 which began with the formation of the free-standing Press under John Fell and his partners. As I worked on my chapter it became apparent that, although historian Harry Carter and bibliographer Falconer Madan had delved into many aspects of the topic, their coverage was fragmented, scattered here and there through their writings. There was evidently no single continuous narrative that told the story of the day-to-day business of printing. It is that gap that this book now fills.

This title, the most ambitious in its research and extent from The Old School Press, is a three-volume work. Volume I covers three key resources of the Press (in particular the Learned Press) and their development: the premises they occupied and how they were used, the management organisation that ran the Press, and the paper it used and its sources. Volume II covers the type it used and its sources. Each of these resources is dealt with chronologically in order to show the changes that occurred and why, as well as providing the foundations for the third volume. Volume III covers the processes of the Learned Press, detailing how a book progressed from its author's copy, via compositor, corrector, press-crew, and rolling-press man to the Warehouse ready for sale.

Throughout my researches I have aimed at basing the entire narrative in contemporary documents, rather than relying on later commentators and writers. I have - much as in The Fell Revival and Stanley Morison & 'John Fell' - tried to let the players of the time speak for themselves through their letters, notes, and accounts, and also to provide the necessary background to what was happening at the time both in Oxford and the wider world as it impinged on work at the Press.

Each of the three volumes contains reproductions of manuscripts from Oxford University Press archives, Oxford University archives, and the Bodleian Library, all published for the first time. Each standard edition is of 200 copies (including ten sets of sheets for binders) and there is a further de luxe edition of fifty copies which comes bound in quarter leather in a slipcase with additional material: with volume I there is Correspondence on Paper, transcriptions of a collection of hitherto unpublished correspondence from the London paper dealers to the Press in the 1670s; with volume II a portfolio of leaves from books printed across the period illustrating the changes in types and typography; and with volume III an extended essay - Learning about Printing - on the business planning done by Fell's partner Thomas Yate at the time that they set up their press in 1671-2, including many clues to productivity and pay at the time.

All three volumes are printed in Monotype Van Dijck on Mohawk Superfine and their size and binding are the same as for our previous titles on OUP (such as the two noted above).

For further details on each, including prices, click on the links below.

(I had originally intended a fourth volume, on the Bible Press at Oxford, but decided that the material was not suited to a letterpress production. Instead the research has been published in two papers for the Journal of the Printing Historical Society in 2019. It breaks entirely new ground with its coverage of the workings of the Bible Press towards the end of the period through a statistical analysis of the weekly accounts; such an analysis has only been possible for a handful of other presses, and I believe this will be the first for one such as Oxford's Bible Press which printed hundreds of thousands of Bibles and prayer books each year. The analysis is based on the weekly accounts for a three-year period from December 1769. We know how much which men were paid for composing and printing which sheets of which Bible or prayer-book. Further, by combining that detailed data with an examination of the books themselves, in particular the so-called 'press figures' with which sheets were marked, it has been possible to deduce much about the dynamics of the Bible printing house.)

Find out more about each volume

Read about volume I:
'Premises, people, paper'

Read about volume II:

Read about volume III:

What others have said about the series

'an outstanding series of volumes', 'should be awarded prizes', 'not only very handsome, but full of useful detail', 'a superb achievement and a fine addition to scholarship on the Press'

You can find details of all our plans and books in print
via the homepage of our catalogue website
and you can buy online at our shop.


Copyright Martyn Ould 2023