Michael Mitchell (1939–2017)

The printer’s mark for Libanus Press, taken from an exemplar (Printer’s Collection Folio 094 LIB)


We were sad to hear that Michael Mitchell, one of England’s most noted fine typographers, passed away last week. Founder of the Libanus Press, Mitchell quickly became a leading typographer, most known for clear, yet aesthetically pleasing publications.

Libanus Press originally began as a letterpress, and it was his skills in typography that Mitchell was most known. After Libanus Press closed their letterpress in 2006, they moved into digital production, specialising in catalogues and informative guides for museums and cultural institutions. This included helping to design the catalogue for the Finzi Book Room at the University of Reading, held by Special Collections.

Mitchell also co-authored two works with Susan Wrightman, Book typography : a designer’s manual (2005) and Typographic style handbook (2017), both works regularly consulted by the University of Reading Typography students.

The battle of the Frogs and Mice, illustrated by Fiona Macvicar ; translated by T. Parnell. (Libanus Press, 1988) Printing Collection Folio 883.1.

The frontispiece of The Symposium of Plato, translated by Tom Griffith; engraved by Peter Forster (Libanus Press: 1986) Printing Collection Folio 888.4

Special Collections also holds copies of Libanus Press’ most noted publications. The Battle of frogs and mice, an ancient Greek parody of The Illiad, is beautifully illustrated by Fiona MacVicar, and allows the reader to spread the pages out.

Another publication, Symposium of Plato = Platōnos Symposion, beautifully presents the Greek and English text, allowing for a clear and concise translation.





We hold a collection of papers related to the Libanus Press as part of our Rowley Atterbury and Westerham Press Papers (MS 5347 C/1/122). This includes various ephemeral items, such as Open Day invitations and prospectuses, specimens, lists, forms, notices, keepsakes, bookplates, including notes written by Mitchell. All of these documents offer valuable insight into publication, and the study of private presses and typography.

An examplar of For Those in Peril, poems by Martin Trowell (1976), with added notes by Michael Mitchell.

An invitation to a Libanus Press Open Day for the 29th of April 1989, showing the everyday workings of the Press.














You can find out more about Mitchell in his obituary in the Guardian or through our information on the Rowley Atterbury Collection.



One thought on “Michael Mitchell (1939–2017)

  1. Posted on behalf of David Knott, former Rare Books Librarian at Reading University Library.

    Sad news indeed. Michael Mitchell was a good friend of Reading.

    I first met him in, I think, 1977 when he was still working down the gob mine – to use his own colourful description of dentistry. (Nonetheless he once said he found working with type rather coarse compared with dental work.) At that time I was trying to keep tabs on the activities of local private presses – another was the Rocket Press. Michael’s press was in the garage of his house in Hermitage but he had as yet to produce anything more substantial than the odd, albeit tempting, piece of ephemera. He must have wondered what I was up to and what was in it for him. Nonetheless he was welcoming, friendly and forthcoming. As Libanus started to become more productive I acquired its publications for the University Library. Perhaps this support, in a small way, helped the Press make its way in these early days.

    In 1988 Michael gave a talk to the Imprint Society of Reading entitled ”From platen to packaging: the first ten years of the Libanus Press”, describing how the most successful of the fine books could be adapted for more commercial and widely-available editions.

    Computerized production and design methods in due course took over for book work but Michael retained the traditional letterpress for jobbing work, ultimately under the expert and experienced hand and eye of Brian Bailey. In 1994 and again in 2004 it was my pleasure to commission the letterpress workshop, which produced a delightful and distinguished suite of stationery for the wedding of each of my two daughters.

    David Knott

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