In 1915, Virginia and Leonard Woolf decided to purchase a printing press to occupy their time, distract Virginia from illness, and allow her and her husband to publish their own work directly without risking comments from editors. They began with a handpress, then moved on to a treadle-operated press, and eventually to commercial printers. What was initially intended to be a recreational hobby ultimately blossomed into a business that would leave its mark on the history of printing. In a letter to Margaret Llewelyn Davis, Virginia writes:
“Dearest Margaret […] You must keep us all at bay, until you are prepared to fling yourself into the most absorbing of all pursuits. After 2 hours work at the press, Leonard heaved a terrific sigh and said ‘I wish to God we’d never bought the cursed thing!’ To my relief, though not surprise, he added ‘Because I shall never do anything else.’ You can’t think how exciting, soothing, ennobling and satisfying it is. And so far we’ve only the dullest and most difficult part – setting up a notice, which you will receive one day.”
After doing my own research of the Hogarth Press in between classes and work (and out of great curiosity) I decided to explore the archives to see what treasures I could find. One of my favorite finds: T.S. Eliot’s Poems (1919), the fourth hand set printed volume by Leonard and Virginia Woolf.
As J.H. Willis writes in Leonard and Virginia Woolf as Publishers: “They began to set the poems on January 22 and finished printing on March 19, 1919. Leonard Woolf had purchased 8s.6d. worth of Greek type needed for the epigraph to ‘Sweeny’ and two words in ‘Mr. Eliot’s Service.’ Eliot, when he saw the first page proofs, thought they were admirable, and Virginia believed the finished product was ‘our best work so far by a long way, owing to the quality of the ink.’” They printed 250 copies, of which 180 sold immediately, and were sold out within a year.
Right image: Title page for T.S. Eliot’s Poems (1919) printed on white paper and black ink. Note the “Printed & Published by L. & V. Woolf at The Hogarth Press, Hogarth House, Richmond, 1919” at the bottom.
Left image: V. Sackville-West’s The Dark Island (1934). The wolf-head logo of the Hogarth Press printed in the center was designed by Vanessa Bell, Virginia’s sister.
Sources: Leonard and Virginia as Publishers: The Hogarth Press 1917-41 by J.H. Willis, Jr. The University Press of Virginia, 1992.