Borders used by the Curwen Press

Curwen Press

The following extract is from Matrix 5:

(click image to open slideshow)

The Curwen Press finally passed onto the hands of the receiver in January 1984, and its largely irreplaceable stock of types was rescued from the melting pot in the nick of time by Ian Mortimer, with the help of Michael Heseltine of Sothebys.

In order to do this they had to buy the entire Curwen Press composing room outright. As Ian Mortimer wrote in the elegantly produced eight-page A Short Notice from I.M. Imprimit about the Fate of the Types from the Curwen Press Following its Closure, and the Purchase of the Entire Composing Room Stock, May 1984 (100 copies of which were printed for the American Typecasting Fellowship’s conference in June 1984), ‘The task of moving the type was daunting. The enormity of the operation will be appreciated when it is made clear that the “composing room” consisted in fact of three large rooms together with an office and a store, with some twelve hundred cases of type contained in twenty-two tallboys, twelve single case-racks, countless galleys of stored and standing type and what amounted to about six tons of type in pages, carefully wrapped and labelled on shelves. There were in addition three case-racks devoted to fleurons & borders: one of foundry borders and two of monotype. In all, as the subsequent moving & clearing showed, there were about thirty-five tons of type.’

Thanks to Ian Mortimer’s foresight and perseverance, some of the Curwen types have survived, and a selection of them, and some borders, are shown in the following pages.

Matrix 5: The Curwen Press Collection in Cambridge University Library, by John Dreyfus

Edward Bawden

The Curwen Press can be regarded as the high point of mid-twentieth century creative, commercial letterpress, and no one was better qualified to describe it than John Dreyfus – successor to Stanley Morison as typographic advisor to the Monotype Corporation, Assistant Printer to Cambridge University Press, a director of the Curwen Press from 1970 to 1982, and­ unofficial advisor to Matrix on all matters typographic from its second issue in 1982 until his death in 2002. The wealth of illustration that accompanied his article came from the unique Curwen archive at Cambridge University Library. David McKitterick’s fine tribute to John appeared in Matrix 23.         John Randle

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