The Alembic Press

Claire and David Bolton
Riverside, Wilsham Road, Abingdon, Oxford, OX14 5HP
Telephone 01235 525227
and PO Box 239, Cowaramup 6284, Western Australia

A Fine Press creating and printing limited edition books by traditional letterpress.

Alembic logo





Page written in January 1997 by David Bolton and last updated 12 October 2014.

Alembic small logo

Update on work in progress

Signs and Symbols was finally completed on 9th November 2009 after some five years work, and issued as A Sign Specimen complete with two pages of Addenda and Corrigenda. A 4 page letterpress version of the Addenda and Corrigenda replaced the earlier laserprinted one(s) in December, and a supplementary 2 page Addenda and Corrigenda II was laserprinted in January 2010, and updated in July 2010. A 6 page Addenda and Corrigenda II was issued in September 2012, part letterpress and part laser printed. This replaces the earlier issues (but not the December 2009 edition). Addenda II incorporates both some extra signs, and many of the missing unit widths, now added from information held at the Type Archive, London. The Addenda sheets may appear overly extensive, but arose partly because the initial edition was only intended as a draft, and partly because it had to be printed in a hurry, before the Vandercook press was disposed of.

An Accent Specimen is (still) in the initial stage of listing all the matrices. These then have to be cast, the format of the book decided, and some of the accents identified and named. It should not take as long to write as the Sign Specimen, since most of the accents are easily recognised, and only a few unit widths need to be checked with records at the Type Archive.

Hyde Farm is now abandoned, as the text continues to be held up by the withdrawn public records, and also we are no longer residents of the house.

Oxford Backwaters is also abandoned, as we no longer have a large enough press, even if the author and artist were ever to complete their project.

The following publications have recently gone out of print:

Forty Line Poynder Bold Condensed
A Granjon Arabesque
The Tyger
Emma's Alphabet
Caxton's Indulgence of 1476
Paper Cranes
6x6 Wood Type
A Small Piece of Action
A Screw Story

Go back to top of page .... .... .... .... E-mail the Alembic Press at

Books in print

A Little Drop of Water
A second birthday book for Natalia (unfortunately she did not get a first birthday book!). Set in 18pt Spectrum and illustrated with stock blocks. 12pp. 2¾ x 3 ins. 40 copies. UK£5.

A Sign Specimen
A specimen of all the Monotype sign and symbol matrices held at the Press, with a brief introduction to their use. Set in 10pt Modern Extended. 88pp. 11¾ x 5¾ ins. 40 copies. UK£20. Issued with Addenda and Corrigenda 4pp. and Addenda and Corrigenda II 2pp.

Why is Robert Smiling?
A first birthday book for Robert. Illustrated with stock blocks. Set in 18pt Bembo. 16pp. 2¼ x 3 ins. 36 copies. UK£5.

Eddie's Wheel Book
A first birthday book for Eddie, who likes wheels. Illustrated with stock blocks. Set in 14pt Gill. 12pp. 2¾ x 2½ ins. 40 copies. UK£5

A set of two artists' books about corrugated tin structures in Australia, with linocuts by Katie Clemson and an original poem by Anne Bell. Set in 36pt Spectrum Italic. 22pp. 24 x 28 cm and 16pp. 14 x 28 cm. 35 copies. UK£600. See also Further details.

A Border Supplement
Shows the borders that we have acquired, or found at the back of drawers, since printing A Border Specimen. It is in the same format, showing one line specimens, and inch square patterns. Set in 12pt Bembo. 16pp. 11¾" x 8¾". 120 copies. UK£25.

A Petticoat Tale
Maddie's fifth birthday book, about a princess and her petticoats. Two hand coloured line drawings, text set in 10pt Gloucester Bold Italic. 16pp. 2¾" x 2¾". 60 copies. UK£15. See also Further details.

One-of-a-Kind Books
A series of single copies of miniature flower books, with watercolour illustrations and hand-written text. UK£60 for each book. See Further details.

24-line Antique Bold
The latest wood type specimen, printed in two colours. Japanese binding with paper covers. 20ff. Approx 4" x 10". 40 copies. UK£20. See also Further details.

Settings of Six Point Type
A miniature 32 page specimen of 6pt borders and 6pt type settings. Text set in 6pt Old Style, Plantin, Baskerville, Imprint, Gill, Greek, Grotesque, Modern, Spartan, Times, Univers. 32pp. 2¾" x 2". 50 copies. UK£20.

Fancy Papers
34 samples of the 1950s Sanderson range and their current replacement, together with a brief history of decorated papers. Set in 11 on 12pt Ehrhardt. 32 sheets sewn into boards. 6 x 9 ins. 95 copies. UK£60.

A Tiny Ten
Our granddaughter's 3rd birthday book, as a sequel to A Little Alphabet and A Small Piece of Action. A single section counting book illustrated with printers' stock blocks and dingbats to a count of 10. 16pp. 3 x 2 ins. 120 copies. UK£5. (This book had a working title of A Small Count)
Further details are given as Maddie's books

Border Specimen
A specimen book of the Monotype border matrices held and cast by the Alembic Press. Set in 12 on 14pt Bembo. 108pp. 11 x 8 ins. 100 copies. UK£144. (also available in sheets UK£110)
Further details are given as Borders

A Tale of Two Benches
About the connection between artist Robert Gibbings and woodworker Bill Pointer, with a wood engraving by Robert Gibbings of his own bench and by Simon Brett of Bill Pointer's bench. Set in 14pt Perpetua. 24pp. 9 x 6½ ins. 120 copies. UK£30. (also available in sheets UK£20)

>I>Delittle, the First Years in a Century of Wood Letter Manufacture
Describes the first eight years, from 1888, of the last English wood letter manufacturer, with extracts from the Day Book. Illus with type specimens. Set in Caslon. 64pp. 10 x 7.5 ins. UK£63. See also Further details

Go back to top of page .... .... .... .... E-mail the Alembic Press at

Letterpress Exchange Group

A small group solely for the exchange of material that has been printed letterpress. Members contribute items approximately three times a year, with numbers being kept small enough to make the task of printing not too onerous. Alan Brignull at the Hedgehog Press now co-ordinates the distribution.

Go back to top of page .... .... .... .... E-mail the Alembic Press at

Alembic small logo
Workshops and Open Days


Although the Press has run a very successful five day Letterpress Printing workshop for some nine years, it does not currently have the facilities for this. However, workshops on table-top printing or early printing methods are occasionally offered at various other locations, so please e-mail Claire if interested. Also, it may become possible in the future to offer combined printing and casting workshops jointly with Richard Lawrence at his studios in Oxford, which is where the Press now houses its typecasting equipment.

Go back to top of page .... .... .... .... E-mail the Alembic Press at

Apprentice Programme

For many years, the Press was able to provide a place for an apprentice for a period of one to three months, once or twice a year. However, this is no longer possible, as we have moved to smaller premises and, sadly, have disposed of all our large presses.

Go back to top of page .... .... .... .... E-mail the Alembic Press at


Sunday afternoon open workshops on casting type from Monotype Composition and Super casters are held approximately once a month from 2pm to 4pm. These are presently in abeyance, whilst the equipment is got back under control, but visitors are always welcome at 50 Hurst Street in Oxford. These informal sessions are for anyone (enthusiast or otherwise) wanting to see or try out Monotype keyboards or casters. (See a glimpse of the equipment.) Phone 01235 525227 or e-mail for further details.

Go back to top of page .... .... .... .... E-mail the Alembic Press at

Open Day

For some years the Press held an Open Day, when all its equipment and productions were on show, but as much of the equipment has now gone, only the Open Typecasting afternoons on one Sunday a month now continue. However, the Press is open during Oxford Artweeks in 2014 at 50 Hurst Street in Oxford, on May 17th, 18th, 24th and 25th, p.m.

Go back to top of page .... .... .... .... E-mail the Alembic Press at

Printing and Binding Demonstrations

The Alembic Press can provide hands-on demonstrations of aspects of letterpress printing at various exhibitions, fairs, and colleges, etc. For example, we have provided

a one day Non-adhesive Binding workshop at Swindon Arts Centre in May 2000
a one day miniature book workshop in Perth, WA in February 2001
a one day Making a Book workshop in Kidlington, Oxford in January 2003
at Curtin University, WA in October 2003
at Cowaramup, WA in 2005
at the University of Delaware in October 2006
a one day Books for Calligraphers workshop in Cannington, WA in October 2003
a Creating Handmade Books workshop at Denman College, Oxon, in 2007 and 2009
a one day Introduction to Letterpress workshop in Perth, WA in November 2010 and March 2012

Go back to top of page .... .... .... .... E-mail the Alembic Press at

Alembic small logo
Facilities available

Equipment at the Press

The Press used to be housed in a 70ft x 20ft stone barn, until June 2010 (see a view of the printshop and some of the presses, as they used to be).
Press room at RiversideThe larger printing machines were slowly passed on to better homes, but the Farley cylinder proof press, a Sigwalt Model 4 and two Adana 8x5, one HS3 and one 5x3 table-top presses are now housed in our new premises. These can be seen in the picture on the left. This new printroom in Abingdon still has a bit of fitting out to do, but all-the-same is now functional for small jobs.

The Press has reduced its range of metal and wood type, but as can be seen on the right, still has 5 point up to 90 line, for hand setting, and 5 to 14 point for machine setting (using a Monotype keyboard and caster).
Press room at Riverside
The Press also has a small presence at Cowaramup in Western Australia
Press room at CowaramupAlthough the space, seen on the left, looks cramped (you can see the Adana 8x5 if you look carefully), the shed itself, seen on the right, is a large one, shared with a picture framer, and there is plenty of room for running courses, etc., when the need arises.Press shed at Cowaramup

In addition, there continues to be our collection of Monotype matrices, keybars, etc., plus two keyboards, one Super caster, and two Composition casters, all in use for casting and for demonstration purposes. See a view of the equipment in its new location at 50 Hurst Street in Oxford.

Go back to top of page .... .... .... .... E-mail the Alembic Press at

Letterpress information and supplies

We maintain a small list of letterpress suppliers and information available in the U.K. at Suggestions for additions to this list are always welcome, but note that it tries to keep within the U.K. Note also that it is not a list of Presses that provide letterpress, but rather a list of where letterpress can be seen, asked about, learned, helped with, or where ink, paper, rollers, etc., can be obtained.

Go back to top of page .... .... .... .... E-mail the Alembic Press at

Early Printing History

The Press can provide advice on early printing techniques, and is continuing its research in this field. Dr. Claire Bolton's recent thesis on Johann Zainer is about to be published by the Oxford Bibliographic Society, and she has given several lectures on aspects of fifteenth-century printing methods. Articles in print are:

''Cloth impression marks in the 15th-century editions of Johann Zainer - evidence for paper damping?'', Journal of the Printing Historical Society, new series, number 12 (2008), pp.5-33.
''Links between a fifteenth-century printer and binder'', Early printed books as material objects, Bettina Wagner, Marcia Reed, eds., (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2010) pp.177-189.
''Further leaves from a ''lost'' edition of Dinckmut's Regimen sanitatis'', Gutenberg Jahrbuch 85 (2010), pp.79-84.
''The influence of type and spacing on the design of the printed page'', Jaarboek voor Nederlandse boekgeschiedenis 19 (2012), pp.48-64.
''Leading but not as we know it: some evidence for interlinear spacing in fifteenth-century printing'', Journal of the Printing Historical Society, new series, number 20 (2014), pp.25-37.

Go back to top of page .... .... .... .... E-mail the Alembic Press at

Collection of Typecases

Arising from a topic on the LETPRESS listserve group, we show some layouts of various styles of typecase. Blank case layouts are also shown, should you wish to insert your own lay. The pages are all separate, for ease of printing out, or downloading. If you are trying to identify a particular case, then Typecase Identification is an attempt to make this easy! Otherwise, an index to all the pages is available, as is a short introduction and a glossary of (some of) the terms used. There is a brief note on variations in Job and Double Case, and Lower Case, and Upper Case styles. Some notes about the quantities of type possible in a Case and a Bill of type are also provided. Over 220 different typecases are shown to date, concentrating mostly on normal (ie full) size cases for metal type, but including a few exotic cases, figure and spacing cases, etc, by way of example. Dates are given, as derived from the source documents (which are all listed in Sources), but for many of these sources there may be an earlier edition, or reference, that has not yet been consulted.

All these pages are part of our publishing project creating an on-line book of typecase information. Rather than publish once the full work is complete, chapters and pages are added as soon as they are written, and as time permits. The first pages were created in 1997, and amendments and additons continue as new information comes to light, for example where discovery of an earlier source changes dates of featured case lays, etc. The overall alphabetic index, the index of case lays and case configurations, and the list of sources are kept up-to-date as information is added. In view of this work-in-progress, please let us know if anything is missing or wrong!

Choose from the following groupings:

Blank cases
Upper .... Lower .... Double .... Job .... Triple .... Two-Third
Single .... Others (eg Half, Fount, Border, Music)
Arabic .... Australian .... Belgian .... Chinese .... Dutch .... Egyptian .... English .... French
German .... Greek .... Hebrew .... Indian .... Italian .... Malayan .... Maori .... Polish
Russian .... Scottish .... Spanish .... Swedish .... Swiss .... Syriac .... U.S. .... Vietnamese
All, in chronological order, earliest first
All, in chronological order, most recent first

Upper .... Lower .... Double .... Job .... Two-Third .... Others (eg Triple)
Australian .... Belgian .... Dutch .... Egyptian .... English .... French .... German
Greek .... Hebrew .... Indian .... Irish .... Italian .... Maori .... Polish
Russian .... Scottish .... Spanish .... Swedish .... Swiss .... U.S. .... Vietnamese
All, in chronological order, earliest first
All, in chronological order, most recent first

Introduction .... Glossary of terms .... List of Sources .... Index of Typecases
Quantities of type in a fount .... Quantities of type in a case
Notes on Upper Case styles .... Notes on Lower Case styles
Notes on Job and Double Case styles and contents
Typecase Identification

Go back to top of page .... .... .... .... E-mail the Alembic Press at

Alembic small logo

Links to some other letterpress related sites

This list is only a very small selection of what is available, and for example Briar Press, Ton Cremer, and Dave Tribby all have a much fuller selection.

Go back to top of page .... .... .... .... E-mail the Alembic Press at

Alembic small logo