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An Introduction to Letterpress: A Haptic History

Johann George Altmann, Etat et Delices de la Suisse (Basle: Emanuel Tourneisen, 1776), de Beer Swb 1776 .

An Introduction to Letterpress:
A Haptic History

Intended for those wishing to understand how the business of printing shapes the books of different places and periods, this jointly taught class is divided into equal parts.  Half your time will be spent with Assoc. Prof. Shef Rogers examining items from Otago’s Special Collections to understand the development of Western letterpress book design, and the other half with Dr. John Holmes learning to set metal type in the Otakou Press to create a quarto booklet illustrating some key moments in NZ print history.  The practical experience is invaluable for appreciating the achievements of handpress books, while the theoretical component allows students to study design and printing techniques across a much wider range of situations and styles.  The class will best suit students wishing to gain a broad exposure to European handprinted books and to master the essential terminology of handpress book construction.

Because all Rare Book School classes are limited to a maximum of 12 students, students will work in a group of up to 6 people during the week, alternating between the Special Collections Reading Room and the Press.  The Otakou Press possesses two iron handpresses, a Columbian and an Albion, as well as a Vandercook proofing press, several small Adana clamshell presses, and an engraving press, offering students exposure to a useful range of the sorts of presses they are likely to encounter elsewhere.

Course Instructors

Assoc. Prof. Shef Rogers is a former president of the Bibliographical Society of Australia and NZ, editor of the Society’s journal Script & Print, and current president of SHARP (Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing). His research focuses on book production in eighteenth-century Britain.

Dr. John Holmes is a retired public health physician with extensive experience in letterpress printing.  An active member of the Association of Handcraft Printers and the British Printing Society, John regularly produces work at his own Frayed Frisket Press and the Otakou Press, and offers classes in letterpress printing.  John taught for the Dunedin RBS in 2017 and we are delighted to welcome him back this year.

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