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Course & Subject Guides

History of Books and Printing @ Archives & Special Collections: Fine Press

This guide provides an overview of books located at Special Collections on the history of books and printing.
Example of William Morris Printing
Latin Prayer Book Loose Leaf
Didier Mutel's Jeckyll and Hyde
Latin Prayer Book Loose Leaf

Fine Press Printing

Fine press printing is a form of art that takes shape in books. In the 19th century, a man named William Morris set out to create an artisanal book worth experiencing just as much as it was worth reading. The result was the beginning of fine press. Morris's early creations drew on inspiration from early print in both style and technique. He created an original typeface inspired by early gothic type but with an updated elegance. His designed borders and dropped capital letters paid homage to long forgotten printing traditions. Morris even went as far as to place the printed pages in covers bound by hand. Morris's nod to old print in a new, appreciative light gave birth to an entire world of book creativity that would come to be fine press. Today, fine press takes on many forms of the book. It is the marriage of artfully crafted design and carefully considered artistry combined to deliver unique books. These books can share with the secrets of past eras by closely examining content and design. 

Example of William Morris Page with border, dropped capital, and original type in black and red.

William Morris page from The Sundering Flood

Fine press has evolved from the 19th century into an entire craft of books. Many of these books are still handcrafted and uniquely designed today. A common trend of presses is to take a well-known story from the past and reimagine the interaction of the story, the text, and the binding to create an original experience. The cover, text, images, cases and much more are all made to immerse the reader in the story. In many instances, the most exquisitely crafted fine press books have few copies in existence. Each copy is thought of as its own unique way to deliver the story much in the same way an artist book shares a unique perspective of the artist's work. Whether it be a high-end Alice's Adventures in Wonderland or a collection of poetry by an unknown author, fine press lives on by gifting the world experiences that expand the possibilities of the book infinitely.

Collage of Print examples from the 16th to 20th century

Examples of Print from the 16th to 20th Centuries


The above information was contributed by University of Pittsburgh undergraduate Dani Wormack as part of the Archival Scholars Research Award 2022.