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The Song of Roland. Translated by Isabel Butler. Boston: The Riverside Press, 1906. 220 copies.

The Song of Roland is a twelfth-century chanson de geste that tells the story of Charlemagne’s most famous knight, and possibly his nephew. For the Riverside Press edition Rogers chose a tall folio format and the gothic lettre batarde for the text with civilité type for the marginal notes. It was printed in black, red, blue, and brown with illustrations from drawings by Rogers of the stained glass windows of Chartres Cathedral, printed from line blocks and hand coloured. It earned a place among the BR ‘Thirty’. A copy was sent to President Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), who followed up with a visit to Houghton, Mifflin in February of 1907 where he examined the Riverside Press books and met their designer. A great day in the history of the publishing house, it was also a significant acknowledgement of the new role of a designer of books, pioneered by Bruce Rogers.


Theocritus. Translated by C.S. Calverley. Boston: The Riverside Press, 1906. 330 copies.

Called the creator of pastoral, or bucolic, poetry, Theocritus flourished in the third century B.C. in Alexandria and Cos, but very little is known of his life. C.S. Calverley (1831-1884) was a nineteenth-century poet and wit, famous for his parodies of Browning, Macaulay, and other writers. His translation of Theocritus first appeared in 1869 and was revised in 1883. For his presentation of these verses Rogers chose his Brimmer Italic type, using some of the special swash characters he had designed to supplement it.

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Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682). Hydriotaphia. Urne-Buriall, or A Discourse of the Sepulchrall Urnes lately found in Norfolk. Boston: The Riverside Press, 1907. 385 copies.

Browne composed his rich reflective essay on life, death, and the world around him in 1656, and it was first published with The Garden of Cyrus in 1658. He believed the urns discovered in a field near Walsingham to have been Roman and even though they turned out to be Saxon the message they delivered to him was the same. His fascination with curious lore, legend, fantasy, and bizarre historical and mythical figures was harmonized by him with his most polished and baroque style. The most striking feature of the Riverside Press edition was the ornate ornamental border used by Rogers to frame the title as it perfectly reflects the richness and complexity of the text. He used the Brimmer type with a large bold gothic for ‘Urne-Buriall’.  Though handsome, it did not make the BR ‘Thirty’.

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Maria Lowell (1821-1853). The Poems of Maria Lowell. Boston: The Riverside Press, 1907. 330 copies.

Maria Lowell was the wife of James Russell Lowell (1819-1891), whom she married in 1844. She died in 1853 and this collection of her poems was assembled in 1855 as a memorial to her and privately printed by the Riverside Press in 1855. That edition was very small and only distributed to family and close friends. For this Riverside Press edition, Rogers chose Scotch Roman type, one of the few available to him, and republished the original text, as he said, ‘in its original slenderness and simplicity’. Perhaps to demonstrate that he did value ‘simplicity’, he chose Maria Lowell’s Poems as one of the BR ‘Thirty’.

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Plato. The Banquet of Plato. Translated by Percy Bysshe Shelley. Boston: The Riverside Press, 1908. 440 copies.

Rogers chose his Montaigne type for The Banquet of Plato even though it was a small duodecimo set in a narrow measure. Because it is entirely in one size of type it achieves a kind of grandeur normally only seen in much larger books, such as Rogers’ Montaigne. He advertised it as appearing ‘in a severely classic form, without ornament or page decoration of any kind’ and believed it to be ‘the most beautiful showing of the type that has hitherto been made’. Normally known as ‘The Symposium’ of Plato, it has had a wide influence on the history of philosophy and of literature and Rogers felt that the combination of subject, author, and translator made it a unique piece of English prose which deserved the finest letterpress work of which The Riverside Press was capable. He also designated it as one of the BR ‘Thirty’.

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Izaak Walton (1593-1683). The Compleat Angler, or, The Contemplative Man’s Recreation. By Izaak Walton. Boston: The Riverside Press, 1909. 440 copies.

One of Bruce Rogers’ favourite books, The Compleat Angler, was one of his ‘Thirty’. He understood the word ‘contemplative’ in its seventeenth-century sense and designed a sexto-decimo of perfect proportions for holding and reading, set in his Riverside Caslon type, which caught something of English printing of the period. The title-page, whimsical, but balanced by its border, the use of italic type and BR’s little drawing of a fisherman seemed perfectly in keeping with ‘one of the most famous books in the English language’. He was also able to incorporate some wood engravings of fish, set within the text. His own verdict was, ‘That’s not bad. It carries the simplicity and naiveté of Walton’s prose – which the more elaborate editions do not’.


Auguste Bernard (1811-1868). Geofroy Tory, Painter and Engraver: First Royal Printer: Reformer of Orthography and Typography Under Francois I. Translated by George B. Ives. Boston: The Riverside Press, 1909. 370 copies.

This standard biography and bibliography of Tory was first published in 1857.  It was an obvious choice for Rogers as Tory’s influence was already evident in his design work.  For this edition he created a new type, Riverside Caslon. He could not find a type he thought properly reflected the atmosphere of sixteenth-century France so he used a foundry Caslon as a base and combined 14-point lower-case characters with 12-point capitals. He then used a graver to remodel each letter and rubbed down the type to increase its depth of colour. He also reduced the fit of the type to bring the characters closer together. After proofing it many times, electrotype matrices were made and the new type cast on a Monotype machine for hand composition. He chose illustrations from Tory’s books and had photographic prints made, which he retouched and redrew. They were then made into photo-engraved line plates and carefully printed. It was a splendid book, but not chosen as one of the thirty best.

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William Wordsworth (1770-1850). LXXV Sonnets. Boston: The Riverside Press, 1910. 440 copies.

In 1909 Rogers produced a small brochure for the Riverside Press called IV Sonnets: Wordsworth. It was in an edition of only 143 copies, printed in Oxford type, an American face first shown by Binny & Ronaldson in 1812. It perhaps served as an introduction to his LXXV Sonnets of 1910, a large octavo, also set in Oxford. It was undecorated, except for the beehive vignette on the title-page. Each sonnet got a page to itself and BR remembered it fondly enough to include it in the select ‘Thirty’.

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Ecclesiastes or The Preacher. Boston: The Riverside Press, 1911. 335 copies.

Rogers was fond of using elaborate and colourful decorative borders for ecclesiastical texts, with the obvious exception of the Lectern Bible. For the small octavo edition of Ecclesiastes he chose Riverside Caslon type, but set it within red borders which enhanced and lightened the formality of the text. He included it as the last of the Riverside Press editions on the BR ‘Thirty’ List. At the same time he announced that he would be leaving the employ of Houghton, Mifflin on 1 April 1911. He would, however, continue to have access to the Riverside types and ornaments and would take commissions not only for books, but other kinds of design work including bookplates and letterheads.


Alfred W. Pollard (1859-1944). Modern Fine Printing in England and Mr. Bruce Rogers: With a List of Books and Other Pieces of Printing Designed by Mr. Rogers. Newark, N.J.: The Carteret Book Club, 1916. 275 copies.

John Cotton Dana, librarian of the Newark Public Library, arranged for the first comprehensive exhibition of Rogers’ work in 1916 and, in conjunction with the Carteret Book Club, issued a catalogue prefaced by Pollard’s essay. Pollard had been admiring his work since 1905 and compared it to the books of the English Private Press movement, the first international recognition of his influences. ‘Certainly no other books I have ever seen embody more successfully the lightness of touch, gaiety and colour which have their place among the ideals of fine printing no less than splendour and dignity’. The book was designed by Rogers, with a typically attractive title-page, and was printed by his old friend Carl Purington Rollins at his Dyke Mill Press.

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Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528). Of the Just Shaping of Letters. Translated by R.T. Nichol. New York: The Grolier Club, 1917. 215 copies on paper, 3 on vellum.

The first of the books Rogers designed for The Grolier Club, Dürer’s Of the Just Shaping of Letters was printed in London at the ill-fated Mall Press. The Press was in trouble owing to the war-time shortages of everything, including the compositors and pressmen. Rogers (who moved to London in 1917) had some of his new type, Centaur (which debuted in 1915) shipped over, and he installed it in a greenhouse in Hammersmith. Although he had some help, he printed Of the Just Shaping of Letters himself, the only time he actually printed one of his own books. It was set two pages to a form, but the press itself was located in Shepherd’s Bush; thus after a form was locked up in Hammersmith, BR had to carry it to Hammersmith Road, take a tram to Coningham Road, and carry it the rest of the way. There was no heat and the paper had to be dampened in a converted kitchen, causing chilblains to his hands and feet.  It took nine months to produce, including touching up the large letters by hand to make them blacker. It was the only production of the Mall Press and was naturally chosen by him as one of the ‘Thirty’.

Part Two 1906-1917