By Bon Summers
Ninety years ago in Great Britain a private press was started that the world had never seen before. The name - Golden Cockerel and the books were ‘British Hand-Made Limited Editions’.
As I write this on 11 September 2009, I find that ABE has 1,471 items for sale with the imprint of this fine press. Ten of those copies are of one title: Cock-A-Hoop: A Bibliography of the Golden Press Sept. 1949-Dec. 1961 … with a list of prospect uses 1920-62 and illustrations from the books.
If in 1955 when there were 200 books published with an average of 500 per run, there should be about 100,000 to 150,000 original copies printed. Only 1471 remain available for sale on the largest website after fifty years. Do you find that interesting?
Then we hit the mother lode! Trillium Antiquarian Books in Ontario Canada has The Complete Bibliography of the Golden Cockerel Press (April 1921-Dec. 1961). This includes the unlimited edition each of Chanticleer, Pertelote, Cockalorum, and Cock-A-Hoop. This apparently is a first edition and was printed in 1961 when the last book was offered. Description of the unlimited editions and introduction is by Humbert Wolfe, plus 32 illus. for the first 112 books. Asking price is $600.00. Read the full description of over 2/3 of a printed page from ABE.
And for $130.00 you can have a lovely edition of Folk Tales Fairy Stories in India. This book is offered by a Staten Island, NY (USA) bookstore named Great Expectations Rare Books. Book is stated as a fine volume with a fair dust jacket, 1961 Golden Cockerel Press, limited and numbered 227/500 copies printed, plus this volume is 4to (9 ¾” x 12” tall) and was the second to last book ever printed by Cockerel…. so check that one out with ABE.
My little booklet is 5 x 7”, has 48 pages, and is the autumn 1954 catalog. It lists over 30 books some with illustrations. The British Lion on the front faces East in a beige or rich gold color, red lettering, and a unicorn facing West on the back illus. (My copy is not for sale.)
Who started this fine press? Harold (Hal) Midgley Taylor (1893 – 1925) was the founder and from a dank and dark beginning in Waltham St. Lawrence in Berkshire he managed to print several books from 1920-1924. The amount to start such a press in 1920, you ask? £2,800 (sterling) for printing presses, equipment, and fonts but within 3 years it had to be sold. Reason is mostly because of the ill health of Mr. Taylor who died of T.B.
The torch was then passed to Robert Gibbings from 1924 to 1933. The press soon became the start of a good press. Gibbings had written a book entitled Gallant Ladies and in order to get it published, he borrowed £850 (sterling) and became the owner. What Gibbings considered ‘a formula’ became the beginning of the history of Golden Cockerel. There were handmade editions in small press runs from 360 to 500 to sometimes 750 copies which British collectors and booklovers came to know. During his reign as author/owner/publisher Gibbings truly became its master. But in the late 1920s, the end was near for his run as ownership, even with Mrs. Gibbings acting as secretary. The depression and the 1929 Wall Street Crash came to harm so many people in many different ways all over the world. The economic climate hindered the publishing such fine books. Gibbings managed to sell it in 1933 for £1,000 (Sterling).
But let us picture the technique. The books were typeset, by hand, by Eric Gill the original high standards became expected and completed by his workmanship. Often wood carvings were the original illustrations. and the artists were many, including Eric Gill, Robert Giddings, John Buckland-Wright, Blair Hughes-Stanton, Agnes Miller Parker, David Jones, and Eric Ravilious. These are the original artists to watch for from years 1924 to 1933. Many more were to follow.
From 1933 to 1959 Christopher Sanford then became the master craftsman for 26 years. This was the period of fantastic books accompanied by the best of illustrators. Sanford’s partners were Owen Rutter and Francis J. Newbery, men whose names would become world famous in literature. The first order of business was to move the presses to Chiswick Press Works in North London, this was the residence where the overstock for Cockerel Press had been stored for many years. Sanford worked long hours, managing, editing, and designing and many new authors were sought.
The last master of Golden Cockerel Private Press lasted only from 1959 to 1961. Only four titles were printed and Thomas Yoseloff, an American, did everything possible to acknowledge the previous owners commissioned promises to print. The last year of his reign Yoseloff printed Folk Tales and Fairy Stories from India. There is still a copy for sale today for $130.00. The last title known published was Moncrif Cats, a translation by Reginald Bretnor of this 18th Century French writer.
Publisher Yoseloff decided to dissolve this unique press in 1961. Cost of quality publishing had become obsolete. Fine book skills, designing, and craftsmanship became too costly and too difficult. But there was still hope for Golden Cockerel Private Press. Antiquarian booksellers, all over the world, still sell these books after fifty years, collectors and booklovers still buy these books, and the world still reads them.
Bon Summers, Ancient City Booksellers, St. Augustine, Florida
The article was published in Sheppard’s Confidential (Insights), and is presented here, with our thanks, by the author and Sheppard's Confidential.