At the 6 December Christie’s auction in New York, Bromer Booksellers purchased the Albion handpress on which William Morris printed his Kelmscott Press masterpiece, The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer. The iron press, manufactured by Hopkinson & Cope in 1891, sold for $233,000, and Bromer was acting as agent for the Cary Graphic Arts Collection at the Rochester Institute of Technology.
“To be a part of this celebrated press’s history is a great honor for our firm,” noted Bromer manager Phil Salmon, who was bidding for RIT at the sale. “This purchase is the logical extension of the sort of synergy between Bromer and the Cary Collection in that each has a strong commitment to preserving and expanding the scope of the book arts.”
Albion No. 6551 is one of the most extraordinary presses in printing history and its remarkable provenance began with its original owner, English designer William Morris, who used the press to print the celebrated Works of Geoffrey Chaucer for his Kelmscott Press in 1896. The Kelmscott Chaucer is considered to be among the most beautiful books ever produced and a major influence on the modern private press movement.
This famed printing press came to the United States in 1924, when it was purchased by noted typographer Frederic Goudy in 1924. Albion No. 6551 resided with Goudy in Marlborough, New York, and it was used to print books under his Village Press imprint. It was then sold to Eden, NY printer Spencer Kellogg, Jr. “From 1932 to 1941, Albion No. 6551 was owned by the Cary Collection’s namesake, Melbert B. Cary Jr., director of Continental Type Founders Association and proprietor of the private Press of the Woolly Whale,” Cary Curator Steven Galbraith explained.
Since 1960 it has been owned by American Printing History Association founder J. Ben Lieberman and his family. During the Liebermans’ ownership, they topped the press with a Liberty Bell, a reminder of the vital role that private presses play in the freedom of the press.
“There is nothing but upside to this purchase,” Salmon explains, “because the press will once again serve an active role in a new century of fine press printing.” Galbraith adds that Albion No.6551 will be “a working press accessible to students, scholars and printers. I look forward to seeing what is produced on the press in the decades to come. I’m certain that the Kelmscott/Goudy Press will be a great inspiration to students at RIT and to others who visit our library’s pressroom.”