A title from The Old School Press 

Stanley Morison & 'John Fell'

The writing and printing of Stanley Morison's book John Fell, the University Press and the 'Fell' types 

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About the book

Out of print

While researching The Fell Revival, Martyn Thomas and I found ourselves following threads just off the main theme but equally interesting. One of them related to the writing and printing of Stanley Morison's great work John Fell, the University Press and the 'Fell' types, a book which was first suggested to Morison in 1925 but which was not published until 1967, on the very day after his death.

In the words of Vivian Ridler, who was Printer to the University when the book was finally printed, 'Morison had a very strong journalistic streak in him, he wasn't an innate scholar, he was rather of the "publish and be damned" school. He reckoned his job was to do some pioneering work. He used to say "get it all down and published and let other people come along and go over it." The scholarship was Morison's but Harry Carter did a lot of quiet putting right.' The topic was vast, and others were enlisted to assist in various aspects: John Simmons as Printer's Librarian, Mr. Bill from the Bodleian Library, Dr. Voet at the Plantin-Moretus Museum in Antwerp, and Miss Margaret Crum, also from the Bodleian.

Work on John Fell had to fit in with all of Morison's other activities and was interrupted by his bouts of illness, so the work proceeded with agonising slowness. At one point Ridler was prompted to write to Morison 'Do you think that . . . some way might be found of moving the Fell opus again? . . . even if I am spared, I have only another nineteen years to go.' Printing this vast work - itself all hand-set in the Fell types - became a major project for the Printing House, requiring sets of pages to be type-set, proofed, corrected, and printed, before the type could be dissed ready for the next set.

This new monograph tells the story principally through the archives at Oxford University Press, and the Stanley Morison Room papers in Cambridge University Library, but also through interviews with some of those directly involved: John Simmons, Vivian Ridler, Richard Russell, and John Bowley. (If you would like to listen to recordings of our interviews with Vivian Ridler, please click here.) It gives a fascinating insight into Morison and his dealings with colleagues, and of the workings of OUP over the period.

Click the 'excerpt' button above for a 12pp extract from the book. There are four tipped-in leaves of books set in the Fell types, plus a dozen splendid photographs of those involved over the four decades. A two-page announcement was available on request. This is the contents list:

List of photographs and tip-ins
The book described
The 1900 Hart catalogue
The 1925 Chapman folio
The 1930s Johnson specimens
The 1950 Batey keepsake
The 1953 Morison fascicules
The 1967 Morison book
The type-faces in ‘John Fell’

In January 2004 I presented a paper to the Printing Historical Society conference Printing and the World of Learning in Cambridge. Why not read a PDF transcript of my paper - it will give a feeling for the scope of the book itself.

If you are interested generally in the recent history of Oxford University Press, I recommend On the Press, an excellent book about the people on the shop floor at OUP, written by one of its former employees, Mick Belson. (Mick had been Head Reader. He died in 2008.)

An opening from the book


About the edition

240 copies have been printed letterpress in 12/14pt Monotype Van Dijck on a demy quarto page of Mohawk Superfine, to match The Fell Revival in size. 144pp.

BINDING A.  Fifty de luxe copies are bound in quarter burgundy leather, with a marbled paper by Ann Muir on the boards. They are signed by Vivian Ridler, and Morison's collaborator John Simmons. Like the de luxe of The Fell Revival, these copies come with an additional portfolio of material, some printed in Fell; you can click here to download a PDF of the portfolio's contents. The book and portfolio are presented in a slipcase. The price was £160.

BINDING B. There were 170 copies case-bound in burgundy cloth with a dust-jacket carrying a drawing of Morison, but these have all been sold. Twenty copies were reserved in sheets for binders and a few sets are still available. Bound copies were £80, sheets were £50 per set.

WINNER of a Judges' Choice Award at the 2003 Oxford Fine Press Book Fair

Find out more about the book

View one of the photographs from the book:

Read an extract from the book:

What others have said about the book

'A wonderful production.' 'Delightful - beautifully produced and very interesting and informative too.' 'Handsome and well done.' 'Splendid!'

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