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A Few of My Favourite Books #2

Cuts by Edwin Smith published by the Previous Parrot Press in 1992

In A Few Of My Favourite Books I share some delightful books from my personal collection. The second out of the plastic storage box in the loft is Cuts by Edwin Smith, a beautifully produced book from the Previous Parrot Press in Church Hanborough in Oxfordshire. I say beautifully produced, but when it says “printed electrostatically on Zerkall mould-made paper” it means that Dennis Hall photocopied it using his office photocopier.

Cuts by Edwin Smith published by the Previous Parrot Press in 1992

Cuts is a beautiful object, with a red and grey paper binding and cream coloured deckle-edged paper. The pages are folded over and uncut so the printing is on one side of the paper only. A large part of the charm of Edwin Smith’s cuts is the inventive and humorous use of everyday objects. Ribbons, lace, a fork, chains, tools or fronds of seaweed are all turned into repeating pattern designs.

My favourite cuts are the impish figures and I find the tall man in a top hat and a cape carrying a woman naked except for stockings darkly humorous.

Edwin George Herbert Smith (15 May 1912 – 29 December 1971) was an English photographer. He is best known for his distinctive vignettes of English gardens, landscapes, and architecture. On his own or in partnership with his wife, the artist and writer Olive Cook, he authored or contributed to numerous books during his lifetime and his photographs are still regularly used today.

It was published in 1992 in an edition of 178 copies. Mine is number 159. What do you think about ‘Cuts’?

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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!