University Library of Bern UB

Rare books

History in Brief

Book production was affected by advancing industrialization. In the 19th century the high-speed press partly replaced manual work. Setting machines made typesetting quicker and wood pulp boosted the production of paper. Books were printed in higher numbers at lower costs and were consequently distributed more widely. This development continues today.

At the end of the 19th century, a movement emerged in England which deliberately turned its back on industrial book production. In 1891 William Morris established Kelmscott Press in Hammersmith which produced every part of the books according to the old tradition of craftsmanship: handmade paper, hand cut letters, manual typesetting, hand press and binding. Later, Doves Press, Ashendene Press and many others followed this book production ideal.

In the German-speaking world the movement began in 1907, when Carl Ernst Poeschel and Walter Tiemann set up the Janus Presse in Leipzig. Publishers such as Insel and Diederichs helped to break the ground with their bibliophilic special editions. On the one hand the period until the 1930s was marked by a harmonious unity of typography, book decoration and binding. On the other hand illustrations were often reduced to initials and trims for the benefit of typographical design. At the turn of the century texts by avant-garde contemporaries had been en vogue, but between the wars the roots of Western literature became more popular. The Nazi regime banned and exiled the German tradition of fine press books.

After World War II the number of presses increased and the stylistic trends flourished. Color illustrations gained importance. Nowadays classics and first editions by contemporary authors continue to be printed side by side. More than 100 years after their appearance, the range of fine press books is more varied than ever.