The Cuala Press Business Archives

In our first project blog back in December we mentioned that the Cuala Press project includes not only a fine array of fine-art prints but also includes the Cuala Press Business Archives (TCD MS 11535). The Cuala Press Business Archives were donated by Anne and Michael Yeats in 1986: subsequent additions were added to the existing catalogue in 2011 and 2015. These later additions include material donated by Gráinne Yeats after the death of Anne Yeats, material donated by Helen Conrad O’Briain in March 2014 in memory of Miss Mary Alice Bailey (1925-2013), and material donated by Jane Williams, daughter of Eileen Peet, in 2002. The Business Archives are extremely important as they are an example of a female-led industry in Ireland in the 20th century. Cuala Industries was established in 1908 when Elizabeth and Susan Yeats split from Evelyn Gleeson and the Dun Emer press. One of the reasons why the Cuala Press is so iconic is that it was the only private press in Ireland to be staffed and run by women.  

The archives comprise approximately 81 boxes of material although as rehousing is part of the project, this is likely to change. The collection is distinctly varied and represents not only the financial and administrative side of the business but also the artistic outputs of the industry. It includes minute books of directors’ meetings, cash books, letters, some original drawings for prints, sample books and embroidery.  The collection includes the time books for the staff and the work they completed, which is a fascinating insight into Cuala Industries as a workplace. Many of the staff of the Cuala Press worked for the Yeats Sisters for most of their lives and getting an insight into the work they undertook is very interesting. The prints and cards that the staff produced were reproduced again and again and were economically viable to produce due to the photoengraved blocks they used to print. The original prints of these form a significant portion of the collection and are arranged alphabetically by the designers’ surname. Apart from the evidence of the running of the business, and of the professional lives of the women employed by the Press, the archive also constitutes an important research source for many Irish female artists and writers whose work was reproduced by the Press. 

Something not highlighted before is that the collection also contains the proofs for the books and copies of books that were printed by the Cuala Press. An interesting fact to note is that the Press printed new titles by relevant authors rather than reprinting classic titles. The collection also contains a selection of photographs from exhibitions of Cuala material when the Press was revived by Anne and Michael Yeats and Liam Miller in 1969, from the arrival of the archive to the Library in 1986, and also includes Elizabeth Corbet Yeats photograph album from 1903. The collection also includes catalogues and advertisements for the prints, cards and books printed and designed by the Cuala Press. Copies of the ‘Leabhar Dun Eimire’; an in-house magazine containing photographs, original painted designs, poetry and prose, samples of printing created by the staff of the press in 1903; 1904 and 1905 also form a fascinating part of the collection.  

The Cuala Press Business Archives are distinctly important  as they represent a female led industry in the 20th century; an industry that gave employment to local women and kept them employed for as long as possible, and provided opportunities for many artists. The aim of the project is to catalogue, conserve, research and digitize the Cuala collections, and make them more accessible to researchers. Work to enhance the catalogue and make it available online is at an advanced stage. A collaborative team of a conservator, a digital photographer, a post-doctoral researcher and an archivist, we can achieve this aim and ensure the collection can be used for research into a fascinating industry and creative workplace.