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The University of Iowa Libraries

Guide to the Alembic Press Archive Records

Collection Overview

Date Span: 1978-2008
Creator: Alembic Press
Extent: 18.00 linear feet.
Collection Number: MSC0882
Repository: University of Iowa Special Collections
Summary: A significant archive, entire and extant, from one of the most prolific and independent of British fine presses, these documents are a record of the processes of hand printing, publishing, and typecasting undertaken by Claire and David Bolton.

Alternate Extent Statement: Photographs in Series IV and throughout.

Access: This collection is open for research.

Use: Copyright restrictions may apply; please consult Special Collections staff for further information.

Acquisition: This archive was purchased by the University of Iowa in 2008.

Preferred Citation: Alembic Press Archive Records, The University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, Iowa.

Repository: University of Iowa Special Collections
Address: Special Collections Department
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City, IA 52242
Phone: 319-335-5921
Curator: Greg Prickman

David Bolton, having learned printing in school, purchased an Adana printing press with some Gill founts in 1972 when he and his wife Claire lived in Edinburgh. They stored it in the basement of their flat. David worked in school administration and Claire stayed home with the children. When the children went off to school, Claire started printing tickets and became interested in small press printing. From that point on, until the late 1990s when they acquired a Monotype caster, Claire was the primary designer, printer, binder, and marketer for the works of the press. She printed her first book in 1978.
From Edinburgh, they moved to Winchester in 1977, where David worked at King Alfred College; to Kennington, where Claire operated the press out of a garage, in 1987; and finally to Marcham in 1993. Along the way they accumulated several presses, including Albion, Arab, Cropper, Farley, and Vandercook floor presses and a Sigwalt and three different models of Adana table top presses. In addition, in the late 1990s they acquired two Monotype composition casters and one super caster and David began casting founts. They also amassed an extensive collection of wood and metal founts, ranging in size from 5 point to 90 line.
Claire prefers ". . .to do this as much by hand as possible from beginning to end." (Toledo Blade, October 29, 1989) Therefore, she usually binds the books herself, though she commissions some binding work.
The press usually puts out four to five titles a year and has published over 130 titles over the course of its existence. Their topics often have to do with the book arts, such as Compton Marbled Papers, Flax Papers, Maziarcyzk Paste Papers, and several type specimen books; but she also writes and publishes items about local history and has a series of fine miniature books. Claire says about the press: "I don't think I could live on it. But it's more than a hobby.

A large part of the archive comprises documentation of the design, production and publication of printed books, from holograph manuscripts, through galley proofs of type cast at the press, to printing, binding and distribution, including correspondence with collaborators and clients and assignment of numbered books. Further aspects of the archive include the records of privately printed work undertaken by the press, including the Reuters Memorial Book; job printing work and ephemeral printing at the press; material relating to the financial operation of the press; and a significant amount of items representing the broader community of private press printing in Britain and abroad during the second half of the twentieth century. The archive in total amounts to approximately forty-two linear feet. It is organized along two very broad concepts: first, items having to do with the press, comprising Series I to VII; and second, items having to do with the broader world of the book arts, which make up Series VIII and IX. The series having to do with the press are organized into several areas, including works created by the press; printed ephemera (which contains both items created at the press and commissioned work); commissioned work; photographs, correspondence; exhibits, publicity, and clippings; and financial records.
The archive will be of interest to researchers working in the fields of the history of the private press in the U.K. in the late twentieth century; the processes of hand-printing and letterpress printing, typography and typecasting; papermaking; bookbinding; women in printing; miniature books; book illustration; industrial book production in England during the twentieth century; and the book market.
Though there are separate series for correspondence and photographs, when a letter or photograph relating to a book or organization was found with the files for that book or organization, it was not removed to the correspondence or photograph files. Please also note that a great deal of correspondence about acquiring type is in the financial series with the charges for the founts.
The Alembic Press homepage:

The University of Iowa Special Collections has many of the Alembic Press's books in its x collection and many of the Press's miniature books in its Charlotte Smith collection.

Browse by Series:
The detailed description has not been entered into the repository.
To view the content list, please follow this link.

This collection is indexed under the following subject terms.

English & American Literature
Writers Archive at Iowa
Editors & Publishers