As already discussed in this blog series, Dun Emer Press (1902-1908) and Cuala Press (1908-1946) books were renowned for both their content, contemporary literature, and their arts and crafts aesthetic. The Press differentiated itself from other private letterpress publishers by printing new material by important writers of the Irish literary revival. Most British private presses, to minimise costs and avoid paying fees to living writers, invariably issued out of copyright classic texts. From the start, Cuala’s production values were praised for their elementary design and execution, ‘a fine clearness is the prime trait in the hand-printed volumes of Miss Elizabeth Yeats’, they used an eighteenth century (c. 1725) Caslon ‘fashioned … Old-Face type, and it is with this that Miss Yeats works exclusively.’ In setting up her Press, Elizabeth Yeats was advised by printer, private press publisher, and powerhouse of the English Arts and Crafts Private Press Movement, Emery Walker. Due to Walker’s co-directorship of the Doves Press and his role as an advisor to William Morris’s Kelmscott Press, the Dun Emer and Cuala Press may be viewed as a key development within this revival of bespoke publishing.
30th November – 1st December 2023 at Trinity College Dublin
Manuscripts for Medieval Studies Project supported by Carnegie Corporation of New York
We are delighted to announce a Call for Papers for a symposium on ‘The Many Lives of Medieval Manuscripts’ as part of the ‘Manuscripts for Medieval Studies’ project, supported by Carnegie Corporation of New York. The symposium will take place on Thursday 30th November and Friday 1st December 2023 at Trinity College Dublin.
During my first year on the Carnegie Project, I had the opportunity to work on a group of five 15th-century manuscripts, mostly antiphonaries (choir books), ranging in size from 40×30 cm (TCD MS 101) to 54x38cm (TCD MS 77).
Three of the manuscripts (TCD MSS 77, 78 and 79) presented themselves, as is the case of a large number of other manuscripts from this period, in a typical 18th-century binding that had been “Executed for the College in 1741-1744 by the shop of John Exshaw of Dublin in speckled calf”; whether the original contemporary binding had been discarded during this process, or if the manuscripts had already been rebound before 1741, it’s difficult to say.
What is certain is that the contemporary medieval binding was replaced with a typical 18th-century full leather structure with hemp sewing supports laced-into laminated boards. At a later stage all three of the manuscripts were rebacked in the early 1900s with the use of poor-quality leather.
The Cuala Press operated from different premises during its existence. Initially, under the Dun Emer Press imprint, it was part of Dun Emer enterprises in Dundrum from 1902 until 1908. Elizabeth and Lily Yeats split from Dun Emer and Evelyn Gleeson, in 1908 and moved their printing and embroidery operations to ‘a four roomed cottage’ on Lower Churchtown Road in July of that year. It was housed in William and Georges Yeats home on 82 Merrion Square from August 1923 until February 1925. Cuala then moved to Baggot Street and sub-rented upstairs rooms from the building’s main tenants, Norman Allen Ltd. They remained at Baggot Street until January 1942, by which time W. B. Yeats (the Press’s editor) and Elizabeth were both dead. After 1942 the Press, now managed by George (W.B.’s widow), moved to her house on Palmerstown Road. The thirty-two years in Churchtown and Baggot Street were the most productive. Photographs with decorative and historical detail exist from all locations and are rich sources about Cuala Press life, industry, output, location, and much more.
This blog looks at one photograph taken in the Cuala Press Baggot Street premises in 1932, and the avenues of research that image invites and the questions it asks.