#WorldBookDay: Printing in the Bodleian


For #WorldBookDay the Univ librarians, Elizabeth and Emily, arranged to take my first year English students to the Bodleian library to use the hand-press printers and print one of Shakespeare’s sonnets! We had a fantastic time and I wanted to share some of the photos of our experience. We decided to print one of Shakespeare’s sonnets because the Bodleian is currently running a project to collect together all of the sonnets, printed on hand-presses from around the work. You can read about the project here and follow @bodleiancsb and @theBroadPress for photos of submissions as they come in. This is part of the Shakespeare 2016 events that mark 400 years since the death of Shakespeare. (For Oxford events, check out the Oxford Shakespeare 2016 website here)

I asked my students which sonnet they would like to print and Victoria suggested sonnet 65:

Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea,
But sad mortality o’ersways their power,
How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
O! how shall summer’s honey breath hold out,
Against the wrackful siege of battering days,
When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
Nor gates of steel so strong but Time decays?
O fearful meditation! where, alack,
Shall Time’s best jewel from Time’s chest lie hid?
Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back?
Or who his spoil of beauty can forbid?
O! none, unless this miracle have might,
That in black ink my love may still shine bright.

In order to print the sonnet, first we had to set the type:

The type has to be inserted (upside down) into the composing stick (see above, bottom right) and spaces are added to fill up the line. Once all the lines of our sonnet had been set in the composing sticks, Elizabeth had to fit them together and set them in a frame ready to transfer to the printing press.

The sonnet was then transferred to the printing press and we prepared the ink, ready to roll onto the type itself. We were printing in cobalt ink (or Univ blue, one of our college colours!)

We then did a proof copy… and found a number of errors! Especially with the letters ‘p’, ‘q’, ‘b’ and ‘d’ because when you’re setting type it can be very easy to confuse them! (Hence the expression, ‘mind your p’s and q’s). Here’s my student Daisy checking the proof copy with Elizabeth:


Our favourite spelling mistake was  ‘imqregnadle’ which should have been ‘impregnable’! (We had confused our q/p and d/b!) We also printed ‘dreath’ for ‘breath’, whoops! (See below)


Luckily Elizabeth was able to correct the errors before the final print. The students then took it in turns to print copies of the sonnet on the hand-press: inking the type, putting the paper in, turning the handle to roll the paper and type into the press, and then pulling the handle to print.

Once the students had finished, it was my turn!

We left the printed sonnets to dry out and Elizabeth is going to print them all with the Univ crest and the title of the sonnet (I will update this post with the finished product once I have it).

We’d like to say a big thank you to the Bodleian’s print room for having us and the Univ librarians for organising such a great experience. Thank you all!


My Univ English students


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3 Responses to #WorldBookDay: Printing in the Bodleian

  1. Sophie says:

    This looks like so much fun!

  2. Graham Moss says:

    ‘Mind your Ps and Qs’ has nothing to do with printing. It means ‘pay attention to your manners’, not ‘don’t get things mixed up’. So Ps are Pleases and Qs are thankques. Oh for slippage in our wonderful language, but not that much! Ah, dut what fun you hab, for that is the point!

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