The Typographic Hub

Kynoch Press

This research charts the history of a major British printers, one that should be much better known to historians of printing and in particular to those who are interested in how printing types come to be adopted, utilised and promoted by a press.

The Kynoch Press, which flourished for over a century, was the in-house printer to the huge ICI group, but it also produced quality printing for a range of other customers, work which earned it a reputation as one of the foremost British printing houses of the period. The strength of the Press lay in its composing room, which pioneered the introduction of nineteenth-century English types into Britain during the 1920s and 30s, an approach then successfully adopted by the Curwen Press and others. In addition, its unique collection of artists’ and European types attracted British industrial clients with an interest in design. After 1945, the typographic reputation of the Press was maintained as it developed a progressive and contemporary type list. The change to photocomposition was embraced and in its latter years the Press was innovative in adopting new opportunities, in particular with a complete foreign-language service offered to export businesses. However, the economic recession of the early 1980s combined with other factors forced ICI to question the viability of an in-house printer, and after an abortive sale the Press was closed in 1981.

The type face tables

This is the first and only attempt to deal methodically, comparatively and in such detail on the matter of types held by a twentieth century printing house. There is an astonishing amount of information held in the tables, which gives a valuable picture of the variety of types required to service the needs of the Press in all its various roles. Not only that, but the survey of metal types held by the Curwen Press and Percy Lund Humprhries, firms of the highest reputation, help put the Kynoch Press holdings into context.

This is the first attempt of any printing historian to provide a chronology of the actual introduction by printers of different typefaces, as opposed to one based solely on manufacturer’s literature. The tables which compare the Kynoch Press’ type holdings decade-by-decade with its competitors make it possible to understand how fashions in typographic style originated in presses like Kynoch and Curwen, and then spread though other printers. The tables which show purchase of matrices provide an understanding of the relative importance of type designs in use, as opposed to evaluation on design merit.

Oral history

Given the lack of surviving official documentation about the Press, and the relative inaccessibility of archives of its parent ICI, the oral history methods of research was both valid and necessary. The interviews cover manager, designers and craftsmen, through whom it is possible to see situations from more than one perspective. The interviews give a fulsome account of the day-to-day activities and working practices, which took place at the Press between 1929 and 1979. Without these accounts it would be been very difficult to bring the Press alive. The value of the interviews in enhanced because full transcripts have been made of all interviews.

Transcripts and copies of the research are available both at The Typographic Hub, Birmingham City University, and in the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication, University of Reading.