From Public Books:
In an interesting point of irony, Cambridge University Press’ 34 “Christmas Books” series was started by university printer Walter Lewis in the early 1930s, in hopes of showing off the press’ printing and design skills as the British economy slowed. And now, just in time for another economic downturn—as well as for the holiday season, of course—these highly specialized editions, “privately printed at the University Press,” have been digitized by the press to preserve a remarkable collection of limited editions.
These are not Christmas books in the sense of titles themed on Christmas. They’re called the press’ Christmas books because they were given to industry associates and customers at Christmas, in no small part as promotional pieces.
In most cases, only some 100 copies were made of a single title, and all of them were given away to “friends in printing and publishing.”
This meant that Cambridge University Press itself didn’t have a complete set of these rare editions, the last of which was produced in 1973. Starting in 2014, the press has been working to pull together a complete set of its own, drawing on “a mixture of donations and detective work.”
Ros Grooms, the press’ archivist says, “The books were published for a long time, with a pause for the Second World War, and demonstrate real excellence in the way they are put together. They aren’t showy, but all the signs of quality in printing, typography and design would have been obvious to the people receiving them.
“Great care was taken over the books but their secret was really in the experience and skill of the press’ compositors and printers. People were chosen to work on the books in recognition of their skill and they worked together to produce something really special.
“Looking through the pages, it’s easy to imagine the pleasure that these little books would have given to someone opening one for the first time at Christmas.”
In most cases, the books have a connection with Cambridge. Brooke Crutchley Walter Lewis as university printer in 1946, and continued the tradition of producing the books which, by then, had gathered a reputation. About a third of them reprint historical texts and most, of course, are related to printing and publishing since the intent was to demonstrate the company’s capabilities.
Gavin Swanson, who last year left the press’ academic publishing group—and now is editorial development manager in the journals division—was instrumental in searching out the books.
“Initially, I got a list of the books that we didn’t have and used that,” he says, “together with what was essentially a catalogue, containing a couple of paragraphs of description for each of the Christmas books, their titles and a list of illustrations.
“I would trawl through the sites of book dealers to find the missing volumes and finally came up with an original copy of the last book we needed, 1939’s From London to Cambridge by Train, just before I left the press, so I snaffled it as quickly as I could and that thankfully completed the collection.”
“These are an important piece of our heritage,” Grooms says, “and we are very grateful to Gavin for his hard work and to all those who kindly donated what must have been much-loved items, to allow us to preserve them for many Christmases to come.”
The press’ digital content team made archive-quality photos of the books and their slipcases that were made for many of the books.
Some of the volumes were photographed on a conservation cradle at higher resolution than others, including the “lift-the-flaps” Bridges on the Backs pictured at the top of this article.
Johanna Ward from the digital content team is quoted, saying, “The majority are robust enough to be digitized on a book cradle, which supports the book to allow for the high-resolution digitization of two pages at once, while not applying much pressure to its structure. … Archival photography is based on specific color calibration methods to faithfully reproduce the book as seen. We’re also digitizing at a ratio of 1:1 and so the image should also be a faithful reproduction of the size of the book.”
She points out that a file from such work isn’t as large as it might have been because these books aren’t large.
. . . .
Publishing Perspectives has asked Cambridge University Press how to see the digitized collection of Christmas books, and unfortunately the archive has yet to post the collection to its site, although they have approached the news media for coverage.
We’ve asked the company to let us know when it’s available, and we’ll revisit and update this story when they have the collection ready for viewing on the archive, perhaps on a Christmas Future.
Link to the rest at Public Books
From the murky attics of PG’s mind, an old advertising slogan appeared as he considered the inability of the Cambridge University Press’ to provide a peek at their Christmas book collection, despite of the huge number of books purchased as holiday gifts during this season and the attractiveness of the idea of giving someone a book from the Cambridge University Press Christmas book collection.
(Yes, PG realizes that the previous sentence/paragraph is overlong, but he was thinking of a 40+ year old advertising campaign for Paul Masson wine. The campaign featured Orson Wells and his delivery of the company’s slogan was epic. “We will sell no wine before its time.”
1 thought on “Digitizing ‘Christmas Books’ at the UK’s Cambridge University Press”
“Great care was taken over the books but their secret was really in the experience and skill of the press’ compositors and printers.
I understand that it’s a craft to be appreciated, but that’s not the main thing I look for when I consider a book.
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