Modern Printing and Pre-Raphaelite Illumination

The Song of Songs Which Is Solomon’s.
Chelsea, London, England: Ashendene Press, 1902.

Printed by Charles Harry St John Hornby at The Ashendene Press – Illuminated by Florence Kingsford – Binding by Katharine Adams

The Ashendene Press is counted among the best presses of the Arts and Crafts movement in England. Founded in 1894 as an amateur’s hobby by the businessman Charles Harry St John Hornby, the press published for sale only forty titles between 1895 and 1935, yet it achieved a reputation for excellence with publications that balanced typography and illustration. The work of the Ashendene Press is often thought to fall somewhere between the decorative exuberance of the Kelmscott Press and the typographic austerity of the Doves Press.

Like the latter, Ashendene often favored typography, producing publications without illustrations. St John Hornby had two special typefaces designed by Emery Walker, co-founder of the Doves Press, and Sydney Cockerel, secretary to the Kelmscott Press. The types, called Subiaco Great Primer and Ptolemy Great Primer, were patterned upon fifteenth-century types used in Subiaco, Italy, by the printers Konrad Sweynheym (died 1477) and Arnold Pannartz (died circa 1478). The press’s 1925 hand list of publications describes the type used in The Song of Songs of Solomon simply as Great Primer, but it is identified elsewhere specifically as Subiaco.

St John Hornby did not entirely eschew decoration, often embellishing the text with red, blue, or green initials designed by Graily Hewitt (1864–1962) or Eric Gill (1882–1940). Some titles were illustrated with wood engravings incorporated into the letterpress text. In an address to the Double Crown Club in 1931, St John Hornby acknowledged the aesthetic preferences of contemporary printers while declaring his admiration for William Morris, saying, “We may disagree about his ideas of decoration. Personally I think that the Kelmscott Chaucer is in many ways the greatest example of a printed book of all time.” In 1933 he explained the simpler design of Ashendene publications, writing “I have been a typographer rather than a designer, having unfortunately no talent in the latter direction. Had I been able, like Morris, to design my own types and ornaments, my pleasure in the Press would have been doubled, and my work would have been more worthy of remembrance.”* The greatest evidence of St John Hornby’s appreciation for the pre-Raphaelite illustrations of the Kelmscott Chaucer is the 1902 publication The Song of Songs which Is Solomon’s. Perhaps as a result of his self-confessed inability to design ornaments, St John Hornby employed the acclaimed illustrator Florence Kingsford Cockerell (1871–1949), who hand illuminated each of the edition’s forty copies over the course of a year and a half.

All copies of the edition were printed on vellum. St John Hornby retained five copies for himself. The copy displayed was bound by Katharine Adams (1862–1952) and bears the inscription “C.H. St J. Hornby, Shelley House, Chelsea, S.W.” as well as the bookplate of his son, Michael Hornby. In 1976, Bridwell Library, with the assistance of the J. S. Bridwell Foundation, purchased from Michael Hornby the Hornby Ashendene Collection. This remarkable archive comprises printed books, brochures, and ephemera, the Albion Royal hand press on which many titles were printed, as well as correspondence, business records, photographs, proofs, and drawings.

*Printed in Ashendene and the Double Crown Club: Some Remembrances by Ward Ritchie. Ward Ritchie, 1979.

The Old Testament - The Song of Songs
Modern Printing and Pre-Raphaelite Illumination