In an era of where we equate printing books with the mechanized and commercial nature of big publishers, it’s hard to remember that for most of the history of the printed word, publishing houses were decentralized, publishing and distributing locally in small quantities. That idea seems quaint—and it is—but there is much to be gained from the ethos of such an establishment and how much freedom is found by seeking quality and personal fulfillment over money.
The Press of Appletree Alley was a small printing establishment that resided in Lewisburg up until a decade ago. It’s philosophy centered around two basic premises: first that they would publish what they saw fit to be published, a “stubborn” attitude their founder Bernard Taylor joked; and second that they would publish distinct and experimental designs, especially when it came to size, illustrations and paper quality.
Gowpen: a Double Handful of Poems , the first book published by the Press at Appletree Alley, was a collection of poetry by Karl Patten and John Wheatcroft, both professors of English at Bucknell University. Committing itself to the techniques of fine printing that the press continued until its closing in 2002, the book was typeset and bound by hand and illustrated with linoleum-cut prints. The illustrator, a teacher at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts named George Harding, illustrated this edition and continued to work with the press throughout its existence.
From that first work published in 1982 the press continued to print three series in what they called the Bucknell University Fine Editions: A series of contemporary poetry, the Ellen Clarke Betrand Library Limited Editions, and The Press of Appletree Alley Editions. Each book in the Betrand Limited Editions is derived from formerly unpublished manuscript material held in Special Collections/University Archives, including Dante Gabriel Rosetti, George Bernard Shaw, and Oliver St. John Gogerty. The Press editions were comprised of the particular interests of Taylor, who published numerous titles using text that was rare, previously unpublished, or out of print translations of his favorite works.
Bernard Taylor, who had been a graphic designer up until his retirement in 1979, realized his dream by the establishment of The Press at Appletree Alley and soon the fine editions that he produced from the Press were valued purchases by numerous libraries across the world, including Trinity College in Dublin, the Newberry Library in Chicago, and the Bodleian Library at Oxford University. that appreciated the books’ Special Collections/University Archives has a comprehensive collection of the 30 titles the Press at Appletree Alley produced as well as a manuscript collection of the Press itself that contains primary material about the production of individual books the Press and the business records of the Press. The manuscript collection is a rich resource about the workings of a small, fine printing establishment that went on to create beautiful, well-regarded examples of the blend of literature and art representing the work of artists and authors in a unique, individual way.