Private Press Books at St John’s College

The Nonesuch Press

Among the better-known private presses is The Nonesuch Press. It was founded by Francis Meynell and his wife Vera Mendal in 1922 together with David Garnett, a writer associated with the Bloomsbury Group. While The Nonesuch Press designed their books with an Albion press, they used commercial publishers to produce them. The aim was to achieve high quality books for lower prices, making their books more affordable. St John’s holds nine volumes printed between 1924 and 1939, the press’s heydays. Among them is their bilingual edition of Dante’s Divine Comedy from 1928.

La divina commedia, or, The Divine Vision of Dante Alighieri: in Italian & English, edited by Mario Casella and H. F. Cary ([London]: The Nonesuch Press, 1928)
Shelfmark: HB4/Folios 2.7.3

This edition includes reproductions of illustrations Sandro Botticelli created for an edition of Dante’s masterpiece printed in 1481. The production of the Nonesuch edition was challenging. St John’s copy illustrates one of the difficulties very nicely: shifts in environmental conditions caused the orange-coloured calfskin to expand and shrink, bending the cover boards. Nevertheless, the edition turned out to be their most successful publication.

St John’s copy was bequeathed by the academic Lacy Collison-Morley (1875-1985), who had in turn received it directly from The Nonesuch Press as a review copy. Their review request is still inside the book. As the pages of this copy have never been opened, it looks unlikely that this review was ever written.

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