‘Bewickish Prints’ in the Philip Robinson Library – October 2014

Flyer for the Newcastle Imprint Club talk for October 1994
Flyer for the Newcastle Imprint Club talk for October 1994.

Professor Peter Isaac was Professor of Civil Engineering at the University of Newcastle. He had a passion for the history of printing and the book trade in England and after he retired as Head of Department in 1983, he devoted himself to studying aspects of the book: writing books and articles, and stimulating others to do the same.

In Newcastle, Professor Isaac co-founded the Newcastle Imprint Club in 1963, a meeting point for anyone interested in print, design, and books. The Club’s first meeting took place in Newcastle University’s Barras Bridge Refectory, with an informal dinner and a talk, entitled ‘Briefing the Print Designer’. The Club welcomed nationally- and internationally-respected figures to speak at its quarterly talks, latterly in the Philip Robinson Library at Newcastle University, and Durham University’s Palace Green Library. These could include managers of large commercial print firms, printers from private presses, illustrators, authors, poets, and lecturers with an interest in the print and book trades.

When Professor Isaac died in 2002, his wife Marjorie donated 19 boxes of her husband’s correspondence, working papers, printing keepsakes, type specimens, and books, to Special Collections. The Peter Isaac Collection is, as yet, uncatalogued but there is strong emphasis on private presses and print. There are notes and typescripts relating to Professor Isaac’s book on Alnwick printer William Davison (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968), and his ongoing research into Newcastle printer and typographer William Bulmer (1757-1830).

Among the Imprint Club memorabilia in the Isaac Collection is this flyer. It was produced almost exactly twenty years ago to advertise the 25 October 1994 talk, ‘Impressions of Bewick’, in the Robinson Library.

Thomas Bewick, born in Cherryburn, Northumberland, in 1753, had a hug influence on the history of wood engraving. The Imprint Club organised many talks by wood engravers over its thirty-odd-year existence, including a talk by world-renowned Bewick expert Iain Bain in 1972. Bewick’s work was much-copied, resulting in the proliferation of ‘Bewickish’ prints during the nineteenth century.

The ‘Bewickish work’ was printed by artist Alex McLaren on his 1852 Albion hand press in the basement of his home. The woodblocks – most certainly not only the work of Bewick – came from the collections of Peter Isaac and Ron Beresford, a member of the Imprint Club. A portfolio of the prints, with notes on the printing and provenance, was assembled and, in the manner of private press keepsakes, given gratis to Imprint Club members after the talk. Our 20th Century Collection has one of these portfolios. In his essay, Ron Beresford writes that he obtained his blocks – which possibly came from William Davison’s print shop – from a Mr Meyer of Alnwick, who had rescued them from a bonfire.

The ‘Impressions of Bewick‘ portfolio showing some of the Bewickish prints (20th Century Collection, 20th C. Coll. 761.2 MCL)

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