Golden Cockerel Press
was a major English private press
operating between 1920 and 1961.
The Press was founded by Harold (Hal) Midgley Taylor (1893-1925) in 1920 and was first in Waltham St Lawrence in Berkshire where he had unsuccessfully tried fruit farming. Taylor bought an army surplus hut and assembled it in Waltham St Lawrence as a combined workshop and living quarters: it was cold and damp; money and food were short; the inexperience of the novice printers meant that work was slow and the results poor; and the authors who came to help mostly sat around drinking tea and chatting. Taylor had tuberculosis of which he died in 1925.
The press soon found the formula for which it became famous — beautiful handmade limited editions of classic works produced to the very highest of standards. The books were typeset by hand, often using specially designed typefaces, notably those designed by Eric Gill especially for the press. A major feature of Golden Cockerel books were the original illustrations, usually wood engravings, contributed by, among others, Eric Gill, Robert Gibbings, John Buckland Wright, Blair Hughes-Stanton, Agnes Miller Parker, David Jones and Eric Ravilious. The press was credited with having revived the British tradition of wood engraving.
Hal Taylor's foundation (1920-1924)
The Golden Cockerel Press was set up as a cooperative with four partners, Hal Taylor, Bee Blackburn, Pran Pyper, and Ethelwynne (Gay) Stewart McDowell. In April 1920 Hal and Gay had married. The four initially lived at Hal's mother's house in Beaconsfield
and cycled daily to the hut in Waltham St Lawrence. It was Hal who persuaded his family trust to provide most of the capital (approximately £2,800) for printing presses etc, and the premises at his fruit farm at Little Waltham.
Their first publications were The Voices a literary review and Adam & Eve & Pinch Me, short stories by a new author, A. E. Coppard, which was a critical success and sold well.
By summer 1921 Bee and Pran had left for more conventional employment and between then and the autumn of 1922 the cooperative transitioned to a more conventional private press.
When Hal Taylor suffered a recurrent bout of tuberculosis, Coppard took charge as a temporary manager. But then with Hal's continued decline the business was put up for sale, early in 1924.
The Robert Gibbings Period (1924-1933)
had become a wood engraver and was struggling to make a living from it when he started to receive commissions to illustrate the Press's publications. Gibbings was working on the designs for Gallant Ladies
at the time the Press was put up for sale, and in order to secure publication of this work, he sought a loan from a friend, Hubert Pike, a director of Bentley Motors
, to buy the Press. He took over the press in February 1924, paying £850 for the huts housing the business, the plant and goodwill. For the partially completed Lives of Gallant Ladies
a further sum of £200 was paid. He also leased the house and 11 acres of land for £40 per annum. Gallant Ladies
sold well with receipts of over £1,800, and saw the start of the growth of the Press as a successful publisher of usually limited editions of beautifully produced books.
Moira Gibbings joined her husband in the business not only doing all the secretarial work but also in selecting works for publication. They published work of their friend Edward Powys Mathers and angled unsuccessfully with George Bernard Shaw to publish a folio edition of his works.
At the end of the 1920s the business climate changed, and as American sales faltered it became hard to keep up bank payments on the necessary borrowings to finance publications. They struggled on as the depression got more severe, seeking partners but eventually sold up in 1933. About 70 works were published during the Gibbings' period at the helm.
The Christopher Sandford Period (1933-1959)
The next owning partners were Owen Rutter
, Christopher Sandford
, and Francis J. Newbery. Together they paid only some £1000 for the then almost moribund business.
The first thing the new partners did was to move the press and production was carried out at the Chiswick Press works in North London, and they used the Chiswick Press's London office, where the stocks of unsold Golden Cockerel Press books were held. Sandford worked long hours on management, editing and design. Rutter solicited new books and edited some of them. Newberry's role as the printer was to oversee the production work at the Chiswick Press.
About 120 works were published during the Sandford era.
The size of a run would vary according to expectations, but was normally between 250 and 750. Though both the paper and the bindings were handmade even on the Standard Edition, there was often also a smaller Deluxe Edition. The difference was usually that the bindings, instead of being 1/4 leather, were executed in full leather by bookbinders Sangorski & Sutcliffe
, and the Deluxe Edition would consist of only 25 to 100 copies. Occasionally, the press would also print a "Super Deluxe" edition consisting of only five or ten copies on full vellum
. Copies of the Deluxe Edition were sold at the time for up to five times the price of the Standard Edition, which was already well out of reach of the average book buyer.
One of the most sought-after of the Golden Cockerel books is the four-volume Canterbury Tales
, produced by Eric Gill and issued in 1931. Lavishly illustrated throughout and with decorative borders on almost every page, it took two and a half years to produce. Four hundred and eighty-five copies were printed on paper, and a further fifteen on vellum. The former can be found selling for between $US 6,000 and 10,000 depending on condition, while the latter sell for up to $US 80,000 due to their rarity.
Golden Cockerel Press Type
It is a font designed by Eric Gill for the publisher.
ITC Golden Cockerel
It is a revival by Richard Dawson.
The family includes ITC Golden Cockerel Roman, ITC Golden Cockerel Italic, ITC Golden Cockerel Titling, ITC Golden Cockerel Initials and Ornaments. The titling font is based on 24 and 36-point samples.
A History of the Golden Cockerel Press
, R. Cave & S. Manson, The British Library and The Oak Knoll Press, 2002