The Rise and Fall of the Printers’ International Specimen Exchange


McLennan Young, Matthew:


Oak Knoll Press, New Castle, Delaware, 2012. 154 pages. 4to (28,5 x 22,5 cm). Cloth binding with dust jacket. Type specimens and other illustrations. New copy.
”The Rise and Fall of the Printers’ International Specimen Exchange” is the first in-depth study of an institution whose goal was nothing less than a renaissance of fine printing at a time when quantity mattered far more than quality. The Printers’ International Specimen Exchange was founded in 1880, first and foremost as a means to encourage British printers to improve their technical and artistic skills, which lagged far behind those of their American and European counterparts. It came to be a far more international and influential institution than its originators imagined, its 16 volumes including the work of more than 1,000 printing establishments (several times that number of contributors, including employees and apprentices) from 28 different nations.
The story of the Specimen Exchange involves the development of new machinery and processes, ”Old Style” vs. ”Artistic” printing, the histories of the two innovative printing houses that managed the Exchange, cooperation and conflict among outsize personalities, and the extraordinary efforts of a few talented and dedicated people. The history of the Specimen Exchange also involves a Victorian-style hostile takeover and a separate breach-of-contract court case.
The Specimen Exchange is a record of a remarkable period in letterpress and lithographic printing. As a subscription publication distributed primarily to contributors, only a few hundred copies of each volume were issued, and many of the specimens were produced expressly for the Exchange. Consequently, some of the examples reproduced in this book have not been seen before outside the original volumes, and the selection presented here should delight any printing historian or admirer of good graphic design. This book includes 81 full-page reproductions of some of the best examples, in a wide range of styles and from many countries.
Matthew McLennan Young is a practicing graphic designer and book collector, and the author of a previous study, Field & Tuer, the Leadenhall Press, (Oak Knoll Press and the British Library, 2010) that earned positive reviews in the TLS, the Book Collector and elsewhere. He has presented papers on the Printers’ International Specimen Exchange, the Caxton Celebration of 1877, and the Leadenhall Press at various conferences.


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