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The Riccardi Press and The Medici Society

· Private Press Books,E B Browning,Medici Society,Riccardi Press,Halifax

Today’s featured item is a fine example of a private press book, recently acquired. Here are several excerpts from my musing “Private Press Books” posted on June 6, 2020:

“So, what is a Private Press Book? The primary source is The Private Press by Roderick Cave, Faber and Faber, London, 1971. In the preface, he quotes John Carter, one of the preeminent book people ever – “the fundamental principle of private press printing; the principle that, whether or not the press has to pay its way, the printer is more interested in making a good book than a fat profit. He prints what he likes, how he likes, not what someone has paid him to print. If now and then he produces something more apt for looking at and handling than for the mundane purpose of reading, remember he is concerned as much with his own pleasure and education as with yours (1961).”

“To comment on John Carter. When Glenda and I bought two boxes of books at an auction on the Kingston Peninsula, New Brunswick, in 1974, we were puzzled when we got home and found books in several languages, from as early as the eighteenth century, some signed by authors/illustrators with limited edition detail, and so on. I found a resource in a book called ABC for Book Collectors by John Carter. This book lifted the veil! Originally published in 1951, it has been frequently updated and is still in print. If you are interested in collecting books, I see no better introduction.”

“Private Press Books are typically printed in the hundreds, if that, created on hand presses that were built in the nineteenth century and have been lovingly kept operational and passed from wild-eyed publisher to wild-eyed publisher.”

Sonnets from the Portuguese; by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. From the Colophon – Here end the Sonnets from the Portuguese by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, reprinted, in the Riccardi Press Fount, by Chas. T. Jacobi, and published for the Medici Society, Ltd. by Philip Lee Warner at VII Grafton St., London, W. MDCCCCXIV.

Here is the description of the book posted on-line:


“From the verso of the Half-Title – of this edition of SONNETS FROM THE PORTUGUESE in the Eleven Point Riccardi Fount have been printed on handmade Riccardi Paper 1000 copies for Great Britain, and on Vellum 12 copies, of which 10 are for sale. Three Hundred and Fifty of these paper copies have been specially bound in leather by SANGORSKI & SUTCLIFFE of LONDON of which this is Number 318. This title is one of the series called THE RICCARDI PRESS BOOKLETS. Other titles in the series are noted in the back of the book. The Riccardi Press watermark is visible on some of the pages. E. B. Browning (1806 – 1861) was an English poet of the Victorian Age. Browning was widely popular in the United Kingdom and the United States during her lifetime. Edgar Allan Poe was inspired by her poem Lady Geraldine's Courtship and specifically borrowed the poem's metre for his poem The Raven. Her poetry greatly influenced Emily Dickinson, who admired her as a woman of achievement. Sonnets from the Portuguese, one of her most famous works, was published in 1850. There is debate about the origin of the title. Some say it refers to the series of sonnets of the 16th-century Portuguese poet Luís de Camões. However, "my little Portuguese" was a pet name that Browning had adopted for Elizabeth, and this may have some connection. The Riccardi Press Books were a series of distinguished small-press reprints of mostly literary titles. The series name was after the typeface, Riccardi, created for the series. The Medici Society Ltd was founded in 1908 by Philip Lee Warner and Eustace Gurney. The company's original aim was to bring artists' work to the appreciation of a wider public through technically cutting-edge high-end colour reproductions, with subjects chosen for their artistic value, beauty or sentiment. The Medici Society entered the publishing business via the Riccardi Press, which it helped to get set up.”

Going back to John Carter (1905 – 1975). His ABC for Book Collectors is full of his wry opinions. Here is what he had to say about Colophons:


“The finishing stroke (from the Greek word meaning summit): a note at the end of a book (sometimes accompanied by a device or mark) giving all or some of the following particulars: name of work, author, printer, place of printing, date. In very early books most of these particulars may not be found elsewhere, and when inspecting the credentials of an INCUNABLE it follows that one begins by turning to the last page, not the first.”


“In its elementary function of identifying the edition, the colophon has been generally superseded, since the early 16 th century, by the title-page. The colophon has persisted to the present day in books whose printer is thought by the publisher (or thinks himself) important enough to justify the formality.”

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