Copper Plate Rolling Press Printing Workshop

Wednesday, June 8, 2016 -
18:15 to 01:00
Contact person
Georgiana Datcu
Workshop / Course

Speakers: Michael Phillips, guest curator of the exhibition William Blake Apprentice & Master (The Ashmolean Museum) and Josh Howard-Saunders (Bates and Lambourne in Oxfordshire)

As a result of the popularity of the “Gutenberg” letter-press classes, we are continuing the series of printing workshops in the Upper Library. We have been given the opportunity to bring to the Library an exact replica of a wooden eighteenth-century star-wheel rolling press, the only one of its kind in Britain, like the one known to have been used by William Blake (1757-1827), and earlier engravers like Hogarth, before the advent of the cast iron rolling press in the 1820s. It was on just such a press that Blake famously printed his illuminated books, such as the Songs of Innocence, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, and Jerusalem.  

The design of the press is based upon the diagrams for constructing a rolling press in the third revised edition of Abraham Bosse, De La Maniere de Graver a l’Eau Forte et au Burin, et de la Gravure en Maniere noire. Avec la facon de construire les Presses modernes, & d’imprimer en Taille-douce (Paris, 1745), first published a century earlier that influenced the construction of all rolling presses in Europe until the end of the eighteenth century.

The evening will begin with Josh Howard-Saunders, of Bates and Lambourne in Oxfordshire, who constructed the press, describing how the press was researched and built, followed by Michael Phillips, guest curator of the recent and acclaimed exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum, William Blake Apprentice & Master, who will describe Blake's revolutionary printmaking process he called ‘Illuminated Printing’ in the context of conventional eighteenth-century illustrated book production.

Having researched Blake’s methods in order to re-create exact replicas of the relief-etched copper plates Blake used to print his illuminated books, Michael will then demonstrate how the plates were printed, by mixing from historic pigments examples of the coloured inks that Blake used, inking the plates using a leather-covered ink ball (composition rollers did not come into common use until the end of Blake’s life), and printing them on old hand-made wove papers on the replica of the star-wheel rolling press that Blake is known to have used.  

Impressions from the Songs, and from the larger plates of America a Prophecy, Europe a Prophecy and Jerusalem, printed on old hand-made wove papers, some mounted ready for framing, will be available for sale specially priced from £25.00 each.

A LIMITED EDITION will also be announced. On the occasion of the demonstrations given in Christ Church Upper Library on the replica of William Blake’s star-wheel rolling press, beginning 8 June 2016 an edition limited to 20 sets of plates from the Songs of Innocence and of Experience (1789-94) will be offered at the pre-publication price of £485.00. Each set contains 16 plates printed on old hand-made wove paper of c. 1927, presented in a labeled archival binding box with hinged lid and drop-back spine containing a bound pamphlet describing how the exact replica relief-etched plates were made and printed. The colophon notes the number of the set in the edition and that the letterpress of the pamphlet has been set in Bell and Bulmer types and printed by Paul W. Nash at the Strawberry Press, Moreton-in-Marsh. Extra plates from the Songs may be selected and added to a maximum of 30 at an additional cost of £25.00 per print, the entire suite of impressions will then be printed to order. Pre-publication orders will be taken on the evening of the demonstration, or can be ordered direct by email, where a list can be obtained of the prints included in the edition and those available to be added, by writing direct to Michael Phillips:

This LIMITED EDITION of the Songs is intended to be the first in a series of very small limited editions of hand-printed plates from Blake’s illuminated books, that will include sets of selected plates from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (c. 1793), America a Prophecy (1793), Europe a Prophecy (1794) and Jerusalem (1804-20), each to be similarly presented. Subscriptions are now invited for one or more of the series with further information available from Michael Phillips.

A description of how the replica plates have been made and printed is available on:

All welcome. The event is free of charge, but spaces are limited. To book a place, please contact Dr Cristina Neagu, Keeper of Special Collections.