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.



Medieval Caxton leaf: on display from 10 May

University of Reading Special Collections Librarian, Erika Delbecque, with new Caxton discovery

Our discovery of a unique example of 15th century printed text by English printer William Caxton has led to considerable media interest. The item will be on display in the University of Reading’s Special Collections department, within The Museum of English Rural Life, between 10 – 31 May. This is a unique opportunity to see this incredibly rare page. The exhibition tells the story of how this page survived, and how it resurfaced in the collections at the University of Reading .

Exhibition opening hours: Mon-Fri 9am-5pm (Thu 25th May 9am-9pm), Sat-Sun 10am-4pm.


Valentine’s Day Cards – The John Lewis Printing Collection

Written by Louise Cowan, Trainee Liaison Librarian

Victorian Valentine's - a folded lace card

Victorian Valentine’s – a folded lace card

February 14th celebrates Valentine’s Day, the Christian feast day of the martyred St Valentine of Rome. While we know that the celebration originated around 498 A.D when it was instated by Pope Gelasius, little is actually known of St Valentine and his life. The most popular version recounts the story of Valentinus, a priest who was imprisoned and sentenced to death by Emperor Claudius. While in jail “he befriended his jailer’s daughter and on 14 February 270, wrote her letter signed ‘From your Valentine’,” (Lewis, 1976). The day’s ties to love and romance however, go back much further, to the pagan fertility festival, Lupercalia, which was celebrated across 13-15th February.

Despite its long history, the first written Valentine greeting is often attributed to Charles, Duke of Orleans who wrote romantic notes to his wife while imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1415, (Novareinna). The seventeenth century saw Valentine’s Day become ‘the most festive day of the year,’ (Lewis, 1976), and it was popular enough to be mentioned by Shakespeare in Ophelia’s lament in Hamlet – (Act 4, Scene 5) (Telegraph, 2010).

To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day, /All in the morning betime,/And I a maid at your window,/To be your Valentine.

However, Valentine’s Day cards did not come into fashion until the end of the eighteenth century and though early cards were often hand-made, the trend developed quickly so that by the beginning of the 19th century, cards had become ‘highly complicated pieces of print and assembly with lace-like embossing.’ (Lewis, 1976)

Victorian Valentine's Day Cards

The embossing and lace-effect seen in the cards above from our John Lewis Printing Collection was achieved ‘by placing the paper on an engraved die and pressing it,’ (Lewis, 1976). There were however, numerous styles of Victorian Valentine’s cards in production, including: acrostic verses spelling out the loved one’s first name; puzzle purses, a folded puzzle containing verses to be read in a certain order; love knots and rebus riddles, Valentine’s which substituted words for pictures, (Novareinna). This rebus from our John Lewis printing collection is quite simple but effective:

Rebus style Valentine's Card

A number of the cards in our John Lewis printing collection are also quite humorous (and a little bit cheeky!) particularly the card on the right (below) which offers ‘Something to tickle my fancy – a little corrective to be applied when the patient is troublesome’!

Victorian Valentine's Days Cards

As well as cards, the collection also features a small number of love notes, including this letter with a charming little poem:

John Lewis Printing Collection - Valentine's Letter

‘’In vain I’ve racked my brains,
In vain I’ve taken endless pains,
For not a single thought will come,
Except, “I love you”, little one!
I love your shy and gentle air,
I love your curls of golden hair,
I love your little winning wiles,
Your merry laugh, your beaming smiles,
Your bonny brow, your eyes so blue,
Your parted lips of rosy hue
I love your cheeks, your chin, your nose
I almost think I love your toes!
I love you all dear Georgie mine,
I am your faithful Valentine.”


As with postcards the introduction of the penny stamp boosted Valentine’s card sales in 1840 and the tradition of sending anonymous greetings came into fashion. However, the rise in popularity of Christmas cards in the nineteenth century eventually saw to a decline in Valentine’s (Lewis, 1976). Today, Valentine’s Day remains the second most card-heavy celebration with an estimated 1 billion cards being sent worldwide in 2010. (Telegraph, 2010)



Lewis, J (1976) Collecting Printed Ephemera. London: Cassell and Collier Macmillan

Telegraph (2010)



Victorian Rituals

Explore your Archive: Ducks

Written by Louise Cowan, Trainee Liaison Librarian

Jemima Puddle Duck - Children's Collection 823.9-POT

Jemima Puddle Duck – Children’s Collection 823.9-POT

Today the theme of Explore Your Archives is  Archive Animals so we’re going to have a look at some of our wonderful archive Ducks!


Let’s start with perhaps our most famous duck, Jemima Puddle-Duck! UMASCS holds a 1908 edition of the tale, beautifully illustrating the adventures of Jemima who gets into trouble with a fox when leaving the safety of the farm to hatch her eggs. Jemima was based on a real duck that lived at Hill Top farm, the home of author Beatrix Potter.


According to the charmingly illustrated ‘Ducks: Art, Legend and History’ by Anna Giorgettii, [Merl Library 4534 GIO] ducks belong to the Anatidae Family, a word derived from the Latin ‘anas’ meaning ‘to swim.’ The book goes on to give all kinds of interesting facts and stories about ducks, including the idea that in ancient China a prospective lover would send a live duck or goose to the woman he desired.

John Lewis Printing Collection, Group XII 1

John Lewis Printing Collection, Group XII 1


Our modern term of endearment ‘duck’ was even used by the Romans in the form of ‘aneticula’ or ‘duckling’ (p82). It’s unsurprising then that this sweet Valentine’s Day greeting from our John Lewis Printing Collection (Group XII 1), dating to 1858, features a little duck!








In the beautifully designed ‘A Book of Ducks’ by Phyllis Barclay Smith, we learn that it was King Charles II in 1661 who first formed a collection of wild birds in St James’ Park, so setting a precedent for the creation of collections in parks, lakesides and ponds across the country.

Printing Collection 082 Kin/58

Printing Collection 082 Kin/58


Engravings by T. Bewick, MERL LIBRARY RES--1840-HIS

Engravings by T. Bewick, MERL LIBRARY RES–1840-HIS

The great range of birds within the ‘Anas’ genus is explored in ‘A History of British Birds’ vol. II (1805) alongside beautifully detailed wood engravings by T. Bewick. For example, the rather cute ‘Scaup Duck’ (bottom centre in the picture to the right) is described as having a broad, flat bill , a black head and neck glossed with green and fan shaped brown tail feathers.


Finally we have ‘Ploof – the wild duck’, number 3 of the Père Castor wild animal books series, written principally by Lida Durdikova.  Originally published in Paris in 1935 by Flammarion as ‘Plouf, canard sauvage,’  it tells the story of the duckling’s birth, his first visit to the pond, a frightening attack by a hawk and his adventures out on a big lake before finally describing his migration south for the winter.

Russian illustrator, Feodor Rojankovsky, is quoted describing his artistic beginnings developing from a trip to a zoo being followed by a gift of colour crayons. His beautifully intricate drawings of Ploof and his friends show that animals must have continued to fire his imagination!

Photo 11-11-2015, 13 59 39

Ploof, Children’s Collection FOLIO–598-LID

Ploof, back cover. Children's Collection FOLIO--598-LID









Peter Rabbit

Miami University Special Collections and Archives


Keats: A thing of beauty is a joy forever

Written by Louise Cowan, Trainee Liaison Librarian

This weekend sees the 220th birthday of English Romantic poet John Keats.

The title of this post, perhaps made famous more recently by Mary Poppins, is taken from Keats’ work ‘Endymion’.  The poem is based on the Greek myth in which the eponymous young shepherd attracts the attentions of moon goddess Selene.  Although ‘Endymion’ was one of Keats’ more infamously criticized poems, it can also be considered a landmark in his career.  Keats himself described Endymion as, “a test, a trail of my Powers of Imagination and chiefly of my invention which is a rare thing indeed…”  (Gittings, 1971, p209)

The UMASCS library holds a rather lovely (and large!) edition of the poem from 1873 containing detailed engravings on steel by F. Joubert from paintings by E.J. Poynter:

Engraving from Keats' Endymion

Engraving from Keats’ Endymion


Another beautifully illustrated edition of Keats’ work is this 1903 text, part of the Red Letter Library series, published by The Gresham Publishing Company.  It features delicate Art Nouveau illustrations by Talwin Morris:

Photo 28-10-2015, 16 15 58

Art Nouveau illustrations

The book is stored in our Printing Collection as an example of the ‘Glasgow Style’ which flourished at the end of the nineteenth century.  For more information about Talwin Morris visit our exhibition page here.

To find out more about Keats, Gittings’ biography is available in the UMASCS open access book reference collections at call number: Mark Longmann Library 821.78 KEA/GIT

Sources: Gittings, R. (1971) John Keats.  Harmondsworth: Pelican Books

New Featured Item: Estienne’s La dissection des parties du corps humain

Charles Estienne, La dissection des parties du corps humain divisee en trois livres. Paris: chez Simon de Colines, 1546.

Item from the Cole Library COLE–X092F/02, University of Reading Special Collections Services.


Plate from Estienne’s ‘La Dissection’ depicting dissection of the uterus, showing twin foetuses.


Charles Estienne’s La dissection des parties du corps humain is one of the great illustrated anatomical works of the sixteenth century. It offers a fine example of the accomplishments and innovations of the Parisian printing houses of this period, and its full-page woodcuts have fascinated readers to this day.

To read about this fascinating publication, see our newest featured item by Erika Delbecque (former Liaison Librarian for Pharmacy and Mathematics) on our website.