Spineless Wonders

Collections / News and Events - Posted 11-12-2023


The first book from the Gregynog Press was published a century ago in 1923, but the first item to come from the press was a Christmas card for 1922. It includes a verse in Welsh and English about the importance of reading – appropriate for a new printing press – and a wood engraving of Gregynog Hall, the press’s home near Newtown.



I had the pleasure of presenting some items from the Library’s collection of private-press publications at the ‘Spineless Wonders’ hybrid event held recently in the Drwm and online. The term “private presses” refers to contemporary presses which use traditional hand-printing methods to create beautiful publications in limited editions. Given the theme of the conference I concentrated on more ephemeral publications, such as the peace message from the children of the Principality of Wales to the children of the world printed in May 1923; similar messages were published every year from 1930 to 1939.



Amongst other private presses in Wales are the Old Stile Press in Llandogo, Monmouthshire, and the Gwydir Press in Gwydir Castle, Llanrwst. Lesser known is the press of Huw Ceiriog Jones, a former member of staff at the National Library, which has gone under various names including Gwasg Llety Gwyn, Gwasg yr Arad Goch and Gwasg Y Wern. I showed a number of items printed by Huw, such as Christmas cards and a selection of the poetry of Dr. Daniel Huws, former Keeper of Manuscripts and Records at the Library, of which just three copies were printed.



Works by Welsh authors have inspired private presses outside Wales. Items shown included works by R.S. Thomas printed by the Celandine Press in Warwickshire and the Babel Press in Denklingen in Germany, an edition of Dylan Thomas’s Fern Hill by the Waseley Hill Press in Worcestershire, and an edition of Llywarch Hen by the Tern Press in Shropshire. In about 1920 the Cuala Press in Dublin printed the Gorsedd Prayer and Welsh verses by W.J. Gruffydd and Eifion Wyn.



The audience was delighted to view these small items which nevertheless display the exceptional skills of their creators. The Library continues to collect private-press items of Welsh interest, both new publications and older ones of which we do not already hold copies.

Timothy Cutts

Rare Books Librarian

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A blog about the work and collections of the National Library of Wales.

Due to the more personal nature of blogs it is the Library's policy to publish postings in the original language only. An equal number of blog posts are published in both Welsh and English, but they are not the same postings. For a translation of the blog readers may wish to try facilities such as Google Translate.

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