The Rise and Fall of the Printers’ International Specimen Exchange is the first in-depth study of an institution whose goal was nothing less than a renaissance of fine printing at a time when quantity mattered far more than quality. The Printers’ International SpecimenExchange was founded in 1880, first and foremost as a means to encourage British printers to improve their technical and artistic skills, which lagged far behind those of their American and European counterparts. It came to be a far more international and influential institution than its originators imagined, its 16 volumes including the work of more than 1,000 printing establishments (several times that number of contributors, including employees and apprentices) from 28 different nations.
The story of the Specimen Exchange involves the development of new machinery and processes, the Caxton Celebration of 1877, “Old Style” vs. “Artistic” printing, the histories of the two innovative printing houses that managed the Exchange (Field & Tuer and Raithby Lawrence & Co.), cooperation and conflict among outsize personalities, and the extraordinary efforts of a few talented and dedicated people. The later history of the Specimen Exchange involves a Victorian-style hostile takeover and a breach-of-contract court case.
I am a graphic designer and book collector, and the author of a previous study, Field & Tuer, the Leadenhall Press, (Oak Knoll Press and the British Library, 2010). I have presented conference papers on the Printers’ International Specimen Exchange, the Caxton Celebration of 1877, and the Leadenhall Press. My wife, Valerie, and I live in Hopewell, New Jersey.