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RIT Wins Auction of the Kelmscott-Goudy Press


Jethro Lieberman speaks about the press at Christie’s on the eve of the auction. Photo: Paul Romaine.

The Cary Graphic Arts Collection at Rochester Institute of Technology announced today that it has acquired the Kelmscott/Goudy press, so named because it was first owned by William Morris then later Frederic Goudy. This famous iron hand press auctioned by Christie’s on December 6, expected to sell for between $100,000-150,000, actually fetched $233,000.

The 1891 London-built Hopkinson & Cope Improved Albion Press  (No. 6551) will now join the Cary Collection’s Arthur M. Lowenthal Memorial Pressroom, a working collection of 15 historical printing presses and over 1,500 fonts of metal and wood type. Supporting study of the press is a collection of Kelmscott Press publications and an archive of material related to Frederic Goudy and Melbert B. Cary, Jr. (the namesake of the collection and the second owner of the press after Goudy.) Press Release.

On the eve of the auction, Thursday December 5, APHA-New York members joined members of the Grolier Club and William Morris Society for a private event at Christies’ Rockefeller Center headquarters to hear Jethro Lieberman speak about the press, which had been in his family for 53 years. Jethro said that it had been purchased by his parents J. Ben and Elizabeth Lieberman in December 1960 from George Van Vechten, Cary’s pressman at the Press at the Woolly Whale. Jethro went on to say that his parents always made a point of inviting any visitor to print on the press. Even the postman had been invited one day! Ben Lieberman believed firmly in the value of “doing” printing, and felt that people could be easily hooked on letterpress. (A couple of attendees mentioned how they had printed a bookmark on the press when they visited the Liebermans’ home.)

It was a poignant evening, that included Jethro reading from a letter by Sydney Cockerell addressed to J. Ben Lieberman. Attendees received a keepsake written by Jethro and many people stood for portraits with the press. Kelmscott Press bibliographer and former editor of Printing History, William S. Peterson was there with his collaborator and wife Sylvia Peterson. Former President of the William Morris Society, and long-time APHA supporter, Mark Samuels Lasner was also in attendance.