Today’s blog post highlights selections from our Iowa Private Presses Ephemera Collection (MS 414). Let’s start off by defining some terms. A private press is a printing press that creates what might be called artisan books — book production that emphasizes the artistic nature of books and the craft of bookmaking, as opposed to a purely commercial venture. They often set type by hand, employ interesting and unusual typefaces, use fine and sometimes handmade papers, bind books by hand, and sometimes specialize in artist’s books.
Ephemera describes material, often printed, that is designed for a limited use and frequently collected as mementos. Examples include programs, flyers, and brochures. Even when printing advertisements, private presses will often do their work with artistic flair!
The private press movement began in the late 1800s and early 1900s in England and the United States in response to
growth in the mechanized production of cheaper books. Famous private presses include the English designer William Morris‘s Kelmscott Press and the Doves Press in London, both of which was associated with the Arts and Crafts Movement. Private presses in Iowa began around the same period, but the material we have in the collection comes from presses established much later than that.
The Iowa Private Presses Ephemera Collection includes material collected by the Special Collections during the 1970s and early 1980s. It includes mainly handbills and leaflets advertising new works released by the presses, or small sheets of printed poems. Most of the presses represented in the collection are from the area around Iowa City.
One final thought: one of my favorite things about private presses are their names–poetic, cheeky, or evocative–they fill me with glee! Some of my favorites from this collection? Toothpaste Press, Fingernail Moon Press (can’t you just see it?), and Grilled Flower Press. Names as creative as these must produce beautiful books! See more names in our finding aid, and come check out the collection yourself to see more beautiful designs.