The Curwen Press Ephemera Collection 1919-1956

An online exhibit hosted by The Bruce Peel Special Collections Library.

The Curwen Press played a key role in the printing revival of early 20th century Great Britain. Harold Curwen (1891–1949) became director of the Press in 1914, and he introduced innovative design and printing standards that were uncommon to commercial printers. Curwen also designed typefaces, including Curwen Poster type, which was intended to be legible at far distances and was considered one of the best types for broadsides. Curwen further distinguished his Press with its patronage of many of the finest artists in Britain, which included Edward Johnson (1872–1944), Stanley Morison (1889–1967), Francis Meynell (1891–1975), Bernard Newdigate (1869–1944), Claud Lovat Fraser (1890–1921) and Eric Gill (1882–1940). These artists exercised their considerable talents and artistic vision to great effect, which made the Press a pioneer for stylish and elegant commercial printing.

Curwen recognized that the Arts and Crafts movement was gaining momentum, and the ideals of fitness of purpose and inspired design also made good business sense. Under William Morris (1834–1896), the movement embraced design as a means of bringing beauty to everyday things. This changing tide in design philosophy resonated with Curwen, and he recognized an opportunity to reject the uninspired aesthetic of the industrial age. Curwen actively sought out printing commissions from a wide variety of businesses, and he quickly earned a reputation for quality and beauty. Perhaps most astonishing to other printers was his insistence that no distinction should be made between book printing and commercial printing (termed “jobbing printing”). Curwen believed that “printing is one and indivisible and it must please and serve or fail”. He extended the principles of good taste and quality design not only to books, but also to the cards, stationary, menus, pamphlets and all variety of ephemera that constitute this sizeable collection of more than 2,500 items.