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Dead Parrots, Inky Parrots and Abecedarians

An Avian Alphabet - published by the Inky Parrot Press

Back in 1996 I put linocut artist Elizabeth Rashley in touch with Dennis Hall, a printer and publisher of fine limited-edition books. Dennis had run The Inky Parrot Press at Oxford Polytechnic (now Oxford Brookes University) since 1980, specialising in illustration and producing books printed lithographically. The Inky Parrot Press took its name from the Poly in Polytechnic.

Inky Parrot Press

Dennis had recently retired and, despite running the Inky Parrot Press for years, and despite the Polytechnic having no intention of continuing the Press without him, he was unable to take the name ‘Inky Parrot Press’ with him into a fertile ‘retirement’ of busy book production. Brands are like babies. When you work for so many years to establish a name and an identity for something you have created with your own hard work, vision, skills and determination it’s a wrench to see it languishing in the hands of someone else who has no intention of doing anything with it.

With typical style, Dennis was undeterred and founded the Previous Parrot Press to carry on his good work. This led to many Monty Python-inspired gags about deceased parrots, all of which helped to seal the Press in the affections of its eager customers.

In 1996, after I contacted him, he suggested an alphabet book of birds with text by Nyr Indictor and linocut illustrations by Elizabeth Rashley and so An Avian Alphabet was born. Dennis loved the linocuts so much he felt that they had to be printed life-size and direct from the original blocks. Here therefore reconstituted his old team, with printer Harry Crook and published An Avian Alphabet under the old Inky Parrot Press imprint.

It’s a beautiful book.

“…the full alphabet is so splendid, so lively, so strong and witty, with an appreciation of the medium that Edward Bawden would have commended.”
Olive Cook, wife of Edwin Smith and friend of Edward Bawden.

18 years later and a quick search threw up this copy of An Avian Alphabet currently on sale from Bromer Books for $700. It’s one of the hand-coloured edition which I painstakingly hand-coloured. I was never convinced by the hand-colouring I did, which seemed to distract from the very graphic images, but it did mean that the Special Edition made the whole publication financially worthwhile.

An Avian Alphabet - Bromer Booksellers

Production was a nightmare as the linocut blocks needed so much more ink than the text that each had to be printed separately. The text was so long that having chosen a decorative font Dennis found that there were not enough lead letters in the case to set the full text so the pages had to be printed, re-set and then printed again. Looking at it though, who would guess?

Coming Soon: Ark-Bound Creatures, an alphabet book by Nyr Indictor and Elizabeth Rashley published by the Avenue Press – available to pre-order here soon!

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An ABC of Ark-Bound Creatures to be Bound

Ark-Bound Creatures

There’s a new book in the works here at the Avenue Press. It’s still a pile of unfolded pages and printed covers waiting to be bound, but it is most definitely in the works.

Called Ark-Bound Creatures, it is an alphabet book with text by Nyr Indictor and linocut illustrations by Elizabeth Rashley.

Ark-Bound Creatures

Alphabet books are an ancient tradition. They changed over time from being just an aid for young people learning to read to being collectable and loved by people of all ages. They’ve also become the passion and fascination of alphabetographers or abecedarians too. There’s also a new tradition of producing beautiful ABCs as illustrated books.

The earliest known printed English pictorial alphabet is John Hart’s A Methode, Or Comfortable Beginning For All Unlearned from 1570 which illustrated each letter with a woodcut of an object which began with that letter. After this, illustrations became a standard part of ABC books. With Ark-Bound Creatures, the Avenue Press is continuing a tradition which has a 444 year history.

ABC books produced to help children learn to read became so common that the nursery rhyme ‘A was an apple pie, B bit it, C cut it, D dealt it . . .’ was already well known in Charles II’s time. In 1742 ‘A was an archer’ first appeared in the ‘Tom Thumb Alphabet’ which has: ‘A was an Archer who shot at a frog, B was a Butcher and had a great dog, C was a Captain all covered with lace, D was a Drunkard and had a red face…’

Ark-Bound Creatures takes its inspiration from the Biblical tale of Noah and his family who count the animals into the Ark two by two. In Ark-Bound Creatures Nyr indictor has ‘A Couple of Cats’ and a ‘Duet of Dogs’ with delightful creative alliteration of the collective nouns throughout. Elizabeth Rashly’s linocuts capture each couple in vigorous linocuts with each pair tightly confined in a square composition.

“And of every living thing of all flesh you shall bring two of every sort into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds, of every creeping thing of the ground according to its kind, two of every sort shall come in to you, to keep them alive.”
Genesis 6:19 – 20

I can’t wait to see what the binders do with my loose pages. Four weeks and counting!

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A Few of My Favourite Books #1

Little Red Riding Hood - copyright Caroline Glicksman 1998

In A Few of My Favourite Books I’m going to be sharing some delightful books from my personal collection. The first out of the storage box was this absolute gem from Caroline Glicksman which she hand printed and published in 1998. Little Red Riding Hood is a single piece of rough brown card screenprinted in just two colours and folded in a concertina into a small case.

It’s a comprehensive masterclass of illustration, design and visual storytelling.

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Caroline’s ability to tell a complex moral story in just eight small square panels using only two colours is unsurpassed. The use of red for Red Riding Hood’s cloak is matched with the red of the wolf’s eyes and his slavering tongue. The alliteration of wolf, wicked and wood add to the literary feel of the opening page and are echoed by the word ‘wealthy’ on the second. Saying her grandmother is wealthy sets up the story beautifully, which is a darker twist on the story you may have encountered as a child.

One of the many things I love about Caroline’s work is the very simple, very understated, very thoughtful ability to use a graphic language to convey meaning in a way which is almost unnoticeable but very powerful. The story is only three sentences long and spread over eight panels. She has used ellipses (dot, dot, dots) to carry on the sentences across panels where the dots become the footsteps, path or scent trail which the wolf follows in pursuit of Little Red Riding Hood. Genius. Utter genius.

Caroline Glicksman completed her MA in sequential design and narrative illustration at Brighton College in 2000. Her hobbies include traveling and playing the bassoon. She lives in Oslo.

Little Red Riding Hood - copyright Caroline Glicksman 1998

Little Red Riding Hood has the simplest contruction possible, uses only two colours and has just eight pages yet is a constant delight to hold, to open, to read and to share. She produced just 60 copies.

Caroline Glicksman is an author and illustrator of children’s fiction. Her first picture book, Eric the Red was published by Random House Children’s Books in 2001 and was followed by the sequel Eric & the Red Planet in 2005. Caroline has also written and illustrated the Walker Books title Big Black Dog. Caroline has more recently collaborated with Simon Hutton, providing the black white line illustrations for Brilliant Billy’s Book of Dinosaurs and Brilliant Billy Does His Bit, both published by Andersen Press. Caroline is currently working on some new picture book ideas.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the first of A Few of My Favourite Books and the tiniest glimpse into my collection. Please feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts. Thank you.

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In Search of A Wisdom of Owls

A Wisdom of Owls (Standard Edition)

I’ve looked here, I’ve looked there and there really are no copies of A Wisdom of Owls left in the Avenue Press. Sold out. Completely. Not even a damaged copy at the bottom of a box. Publishing a luxurious case-bound book on an esoteric subject like owls was a real risk in 1998 – or it was if I had even stopped to think about it. And then deciding to publish a limited edition of 500 copies (yes, 500!) must have been the height of madness, yet we sold all the copies within the year.

The Private Press world has a joke that the only chance a private press publisher has of selling an entire edition of a book is on auction of the deceased publisher’s estate. Well, I’m not dead yet!

A brief Internet search for copies for A Wisdom of Owls reveals some interesting copies. I remember when Amazon stocked the book I was thrilled – until I realised that they were selling it at a retail price less than the wholesale price I would be charging them – and I made a contribution to The Barn Owl Trust of 10% of that! Here’s the only copy on Amazon at the moment:

A Wisdom of Owls - Amazon
£225 for a book which only cost £25 at the time. Surely they have their pricing wrong? Well, maybe not, since there’s a copy for sale at the Oxfam shop for £200:
A Wisdom of Owls - Oxfam
Well thank you Oxfam for the quote:

“A rare gem of a book”

Blackwell’s Rare Books have a copy of the Special Edition – the one with a slip-case and a limited edition linocut print, all tied together with red ribbon:

A Wisdom of Owls - Blackwells

£60 seems like a steal after the Amazon and Oxfam prices.

Are there any other copies available? It doesn’t look like it. Well that’s encouraging that people love it so much they don’t want to sell it. Hold on – what’s this? A copy at AbeBooks? Ah. £9.50 plus £3.35 shipping. Oh well.

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Welcome to the Avenue Press

A Wisdom of Owls (Standard Edition)

Welcome to the Avenue Press, where we create heavily illustrated, beautifully bound, limited-edition books.
A Wisdom of Owls (Standard Edition)
Our aim is for writer, artist, designer and binder to collaborate to create books that are greater than the sum of their parts. All texts and images are newly commissioned work, often from unpublished artists and writers. Titles include ‘A Wisdom Of Owls’, ‘An Insect Alphabet’ and ‘A Night With Fiona Pitt-Kethley’. We also have the ‘Offcut Editions’ imprint which publishes the best of contemporary illustration at a price for all pockets.
Thanks for visiting us.