Today’s Private Press: A Study of the Different Models

This image is from an article in the International League of Antiquarian Bookseller’s website celebrating typographical scholar Beatrice Warde. 

As I continue to research and work through my plans, I have gotten a better understanding of the different models of modern private presses dedicated to the production of the book. Some of these models only focus on the printing, others include binding. The priorities of these presses are varied. Some create art for art’s sake, others create books for collectors or specific customers, many try to combine the two.


I have identified several models of the modern private press. This may change as I continue learning, but for now, it’s helpful to understand the different market demands of each and what their priorities are in production. The category labels are my own. This does not include commercial print shops and it does not include publishers although sometimes these smaller presses will do some publishing as part of their production. There seems to be a fine line between presses that produce the Book as Art or Letterpress as Art and the Independent Private Presses. There is also cross over between the Arts and Crafts Presses and the Independent Presses.

In any event, it’s an initial study, and I’m open to anyone willing to give me additional insight into this world. I will be attending CODEX Book Fair in February and hope to broaden my knowledge and understanding further.

Presses that Produce the Book as Art and/or Letterpress as Art


-creative bindings, non-traditional book structures and materials, movable books, miniature books

-artist illustrations, wood cuts, collage, photography, other media

-a specific theme or concept in the design, unique content

-exhibition quality, often represented by a seller, such as Vamp & Tramp

-small production runs or one of a kind pieces

Independent Private Press


-fine, high quality printing, typeset but also with use of polymer plates and other modern techniques to supplement the older printing presses

-collaborations with illustrators or wood engravers and possibly even book binders

– both existing texts and original poetry and essays, usually not full size books

– smaller production runs, exclusivity

-exhibition quality

Fine, Private Press


-fine, high quality printing, maybe all typeset by hand, use of linotype machine

-traditional book bindings, hand-bound, but not especially unique materials or structures

-text might be reproductions of existing books of classical or popular acclaim, range is wide from nonfiction to fiction and poetry, but with emphasis on fiction

-usually in collaboration with a scholar writing the introduction and/or illustrator interpreting the text with original work

-subscription based, for book collectors of means who read (not necessarily those collectors who collect book as an art)

– larger production run, but still under 500 copies

Arts and Crafts Press


  • Studio on Fire (A great example of an independent press that is also selling their art per customer order. This Press produces amazingly beautiful work.)

– more to-order, consumer-based

– there are many of these that pop up as hobbyists with Etsy online storefronts, some do not last that long

– items might include blank, hand-bound journals, and ephemera, such as business cards, broadsides, advertising, wedding invites and thank you cards

-handmade, using older letterpress machines

– small production runs, per customer order

-high quality, but a different style (Instead of “kissing the paper” they might intentionally press hard to leave a heavy impression on the paper.) Not intentionally artistic or original (Studio on Fire is a good example of one of these presses that doesn’t fit into this model on this front.)



– Created by an academic or group of academics wanting to print scholarly work that the university presses have ignored because it’s more on the fringe academically

– Small runs, essays, papers, smaller books

– marketed to a niche audience

-may use offset printing and not highest quality printing, may be bound elsewhere



– Centers for the Book in San Francisco and New York, college and university book arts and printing programs running studios

– Providing education and hands-on learning of the book arts to the public

– May produce small run projects for promotional purposes or in collaboration with established book artists and printers for exhibition


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