oup archives

Alice’s Adventures in the OUP Printers

It’s International Children’s Book Day, and we’ve decided to look at OUP’s contribution to Oxford don Lewis Carroll’s classic, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. First published by Macmillan in 1865, our expert printers were called upon to provide the unusual typesetting for the passage known as ‘The Mouse’s Tale’.

 Today, the original printing plate sits proudly in the Oxford University Press museum, next door to the library, together with a copy of the passage from the 1865 edition.

Happy Alice Day!

Today is Alice Day, a truly ‘frabjous’ day I’m sure you’ll agree. To celebrate Lewis Carroll’s beloved children’s classic, we revisited the OUP Library to look at some Alice in Wonderland artifacts. 

Pictured above is one of the 2,000 copies Lewis Carroll paid to have printed in Oxford in 1865.

OUP’s time-clock from the early twentieth-century was made by ‘Blick Time Records Ltd’ of Swindon, the company which sold the world’s first golfball typewriter in 1890. At the beginning and end of their shift at OUP, each worker used to punch a time-card using this clock. By ‘clocking on’ and ‘clocking off’, the staff at OUP created a daily (and exact) record of attendance.

Yesterday was World Poetry Day so, here in OUP Archives, we enjoyed spending the day flicking through old OUP staff magazines for poetic examples. This poem was written by May Wedderburn Cannan, a British poet active during World War One, and also the daughter of Charles Cannan who ran Oxford University Press from 1895 until his death in 1919. It was published in The Periodical in 1923.

In celebration of the European day of Languages on the 26th September, here in the OUP Archives, we have a Victorian sample from the extensive print shop that was closed in 1989.

This artefact shows a selection of the 900 or so languages that Oxford University Press could print at that time. The characters shown were cut (on metal blocks) at the Oxford Press, by Mr John Streaks, who has also made the greater number of the electrotype matrices which are stated in this work to have been produced at the Press. 

Image courtesy of OUP Archives.

We are continuing the Alice in Wonderland theme this week here at the OUP ArchivesPictured is a “stereotype plate”, which is made by placing individual metal letters in sequence to make a mould. This mould is then used to create a cast, which is then used to form a metal plate. “Stereotype plates” would be made in metal for unusual page designs, such as this mouse tail page in Alice in Wonderland.

Image courtesy of OUP Archives.

We’ve just discovered an image in the OUP Archives from the turn of the 20th century of women working in the bindery section of the Press. In the early 20th century both men and women worked at the Press but in separate quarters; the women typically worked in the bindery section, preparing the books after they were printed. Therefore, the vast majority of books from this time period were folded and prepared by women.

This week in the OUP Archives we have more Alice in Wonderland artifacts to share. 

Alice was not, at this time, part of Oxford University Press’ publishing. Lewis Carroll paid for the printing and binding, and the book became part of Macmillan’s publishing in the 1860s. This type of printing was called “jobbing work”, and we have a record of Carroll paying for this work under his real name, “Charles Dodgson” in this financial ledger. 

Image courtesy of OUP Archives

This week in OUP Archives, we found an image of the first printing of Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Although the first edition was published in New York, Carroll had the Oxford University Press print a small collection of his manuscripts before it was published. These manuscripts are quite rare and some are still unaccounted for!

Looking through old copies of The Clarendonian, Oxford University Press’ old internal magazine, OUP Archives came across this inspirational quote from the March 1948 edition.

Back in 1948 Oxford University Press used to print the books themselves, with around 800 of the staff members working in the print shop. Everything from the text, the cover artwork printing, and book binding was done on site, and the staff were very proud of their work and skill.

Image courtesy of OUP Archives 

Christmas is just around the corner and here in the OUP Archives we’ve been pondering Christmas traditions—as every country seems to have their own unique take on the season. Here’s an illustrated description of Christmas in Sweden by the German-born writer Werner Lansburgh which was printed in the OUP staff magazine, the ‘Clarendonian’. Here’s hoping you’re all preparing to enjoy your Christmas and holiday traditions, whatever they may be!

This week in OUP Archives we found a picture of the copper matrix imported from the Netherlands in the 17th century by John Fell, the man who was in charge of the Press at the time. These moulds made the iron punches (or letters) that were used in printing materials. The matrix bears his name as a result, “Fell type”, and was considered state of the art equipment in England at the time it was imported to the Press. The Press still has the Fell type on site in Oxford!

The Common Prayer Book, like the one pictured here and found in OUP Archives, was a staple pocket book in the Victorian era. They were heavily produced in the late 19th century by OUP when demand for them was high. Just about every lady and gentleman carried one around, not just for content but for style and show. Bibles that fit into the palm of one’s hand were all the rage in the Victorian era.

This month has seen the birth of Her Royal Highness Princess Charlotte of Cambridge. This made us down in the OUP Archives think back a little about the Royal Families history and the small, but exciting, role we have played in previous royal ceremonies.  

Back in 1953, Oxford University Press printed the Bible which was given to the Queen at her Coronation at Westminster Abbey.  Here we have an image of the Archives copy of the Bible, identical to the one which the Queen kept from her Coronation.

Image courtsey of OUP Archives

This lively cartoon was printed in the OUP staff magazine, The Clarendonian, and celebrates the OUP Dramatic Society’s first attempt to stage a Shakespeare play in October 1932. It shows the cast and the producer of Twelfth Night, all of whom were members of OUP staff. A review of the Dramatic Society’s efforts was positive on the whole, although an anachronistic note was struck one evening when a member of the cast appeared wearing bedroom slippers over his Tudor shoes (apparently it was rather chilly that night).

The review also mentioned the printed programme for the play: ‘which was—naturally—a typographical work of art’. Here in the OUP Archives, we would expect nothing less.

In honour of Women’s History Month, OUP Archives have found a photo from the 1950s of women working alongside men in OUP’s Litho Department. Although women worked in the Press bindery from the 1870s, the first woman to be employed on the printing side of the Press was a Miss B. Denton in 1915. Miss Denton worked in the Examination Department during the First World War. Following the war, women didn’t work in the print-shop again until later in the 20th century.

In honour of Book Lover’s Day, here is a dictionary slip for the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary from the OUP Archives, to illustrate usage of the word ‘book’. This slip was written out by Chief Editor James Murray and in it he actually quotes himself for inclusion in the dictionary! His quote is from an address to the Philological Society in 1884.

[Quote: “I do not know what a book is…was Shakespeare the author of one book or of forty- four books?]

Image courtesy of OUP Archives