Fine Press Books – Ensuring a Tradition

By | 1:20 PM
The movement of fine press and book arts first began as a reaction against the industrialization of printing. Certain printers such as Horace Walpole and William Morris began to focus more on quality and matching of worthy texts with artistic expression as a way to enhance the experience of book readers. This is reflected significantly in the structure and design of such books with the goal to promote appreciation of fine press books and to encourage their production. This is pursued by increased interaction between book printers, designers in the book arts and the writers themselves.  In the Information Age we find ourselves in, it is not just mass production that is being taken on by fine press book makers – it is the actual physical nature of books itself!

gilded book
As you see with this old book with elaborate gilding it is not a new concept.
image via  wikimedia

At this point, it should be taken into consideration just who is going to buy these more expensive fine press books?  The short answer is a simple supply-and-demand scenario.  First of all, accept that it is an economic fact that paper books are becoming less accessible for readers with limited budgets and/or space in their homes to keep them. This encourages book connoisseurs in such a state to more readily accept using e-readers and downloading digital books due to the lower prices available.  Even those with disposable income are still attracted to the bargains found in e-books and prize the practical ability to carry a virtual library around in the form of a compact electronic tablet.  As a natural result of the growing popularity and commonness of e-books, paper books are becoming increasingly rare. If a book is considered special as an object in itself, readers are persuaded of its higher value. Even now, paper books have become collectors’ items.  Some collect paper books based on their nostalgia-factor, others for the sensory experience that does not exist in digitized books. 

Slate Magazine’s Michael Agresta presents in his article What Will Become of the Paper Book? that as the role of books as “vessels for delivering text is lost to or taken over by digital, their other qualities will grow in importance.”  This idea supports that fine press books are significant now and will continue to be well into the future.  Fine press editions appeal to the nostalgic consumer of paper books and have a certain status symbol value separate from the mass-produced paper books.

decorated, partially leather-bound art press book
Dickens' Great Expectations in half leather binding.
image via  wikimedia

Even though new publications are now usually offered with a choice of hard-copy or electronic format, this does not herald the end of paper books. The fact that hard-copy is still offered affords hope that the homes of serious digital-age readers will continue to include paper books.  However, these home libraries will be curated in an increasingly judicious manner. So who will buy fine press books? - The people who buy them love books - as I do. They love handling them, are drawn to the illustrations, and admire quality of the typography and binding” says Colin Neville, handler and seller of fine press books online. Fine press books rival decorative art hung on walls with their characteristics of beauty, glamorous expense and intentional value. Bookstores are evolving an identity along the line of boutique shops or art galleries.  Even sellers of used paper books often have a section specific to antique or collectible books in their stores.  Fine press books have been around a long time and it can be expected that their tradition will grow and continue long after the memory of paper books as the norm is gone.  They will be both relic and modern luxury, which is the sense they garner in the millennial generation already.

Do you collect paper books?  Are there fine press books in your collection or have you considered adding them?  Please weigh in with comments about why you like them and how you feel about their significance in the past, present and future.  Share your ideas and let me know if there is something I have missed that should be discussed in the ongoing dialogue of the arts.

splashes of color marbled in paper such as that used in fine press books.
Marbled paper often used to decorate the cover interior on fine press books. 
image via  wikimedia

© Rebecca H Knight
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