The Work of Eric Gill and The Golden Cockerel Press

Image from The Four Gospels, Volume 2. The featured image at the top of this article is a proof of the wood block engraving of this final image. (Notice the drawn marks showing through the back of the paper.)

The Harold and Jean Hanson Rare Book Collection houses a variety of rare and historic books within the Special and Area Studies Collections. Among the many special finds in the collection is the work of artist, designer, and typographer, Eric Gill.

Eric Gill is a well-known British typeface designer, stonecutter, and printer from the Arts and Crafts movement of the early 20th century. He is also known to have been a fiery and controversial character in his personal life. Some of his work contains nudity and frightful devils, fire, and brimstone. Such was his taste and talent!

The working proofs of a demon rising in a cloud of smoke — from the collection of Eric Gill proofs for The Canterbury Tales. Left: Uncleared block, detail only is cut (likely by Gill himself); Right: the finished cut, proofed after clearing background (done by apprentice).

The typefaces he produced: Gill Sans, Perpetua, and Joanna (to name a few) are considered masterful typeface designs. For many years (around 1910–1920), he was heavily involved with the Golden Cockerel Press and contributed to the creation of some of the most exquisite books of the 20th Century. The Special and Area Studies Collection houses three of those lovely publications, The Four Gospels of the Lord Jesus Christ (BS2553 .G5;Oversize), Troilus and Criseyde (PR1895 .R4 1927 Oversize), and The Canterbury Tales (PR1866 .S52 1929;Oversize). The books are multiple volume publications, beautifully bound in leather, and finely illustrated with dynamic woodcuts and calligraphic typography by Gill.

Wood block engravings carved by Eric Gill
Detail of the wood blocks

The rare jewels of the Special and Area Studies Collections’ Eric Gill holdings are the collections of Gill’s printing blocks (761.2 G475e OVERSIZE) and printer’s proofs from The Four Gospels of the Lord Jesus Christ (BS2553 .G5 Proofs Oversize) and The Canterbury Tales (PR 1866 .S52 1929 Proofs Oversize). It’s wonderful to imagine the printers working with inky hands, while Eric Gill himself cut the details of the blocks, printers proofed them, then handed the blocks to an apprentice to clear the large areas away! These are uncommon items, one of a kind in their nature because they are working proofs taken as the book was being produced. The pages contain maker’s marks and drawings on random “print shop off-cut” papers that are housed no where else.

Proof from The Canterbury Tales collection. Notice the red letters drawn on the sheet; these are likely samples of calligraphy practice for an apprentice of the shop.
Proof from The Canterbury Tales collection. Notice the proof is pulled on a page already proofed on the opposite side.
Drawn initial from The Canterbury Tales collection. This image would have been transferred to a block. Notice the red ink pounced on the back of the paper.
Reverse side of the paper shows red ink used to transfer image to a woodblock for cutting.
Submitted by Ellen Knudson.

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  1. […] Interested in other books from the Howe Library? Read The Work of Eric Gill and The Golden Cockerel Press […]


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