'A Genesis of Sorts' at St Brides

The original first page of the King James Bible
(Have a look at the 'M' of Moses and 'N' of Genesis)
The rather amazing hand-made 24pt Matrix for the 'N' in Genesis

This year, 2011AD, is the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible; which according to Wikipedia (where else?) was the third official English translation by the Church of England. It was first printed back in 1611 by the King’s printer, Robert Barker as a large looseleaf folio, and to mark the anniversary, Norwich Cathedral decided to recreate it. Or rather ask type founder, punch cutter, mould maker, printer, historian and expert, Stan Nelson to recreate the first two pages. 
After, I assume, many months of toil the pages have been printed and we went to hear and see Stan talk about his efforts at St Brides. Not knowing quite what to expect, we were overawed by the skills Stan, and a group of talented friends, used in the project. Quite rightly, Stan wanted the re-printed bible to be as accurate as possible, but being made 400 years ago, this posed a problem in itself. Or it should have done. 
Stan talked through matching up the Roman, and the English, or blackletter typefaces to the originals, how it was set, the spacing used and the wooden quoins used to lock up the forme. Then pointed out some beautiful and unusual characters, namely very unique serifs on the ‘M’ and ‘N’ and some very old and elegant figures. And nowhere can these be found these days. Luckily, Stan is a dab hand at punch cutting mould making, and type casting (you can see him in action on you tube and some results on flickr). So he made the characters from scratch, and at this point left us thorough in awe – the punches he carved are tiny and exquisite. And the printed results are astounding. 
The new pages are impressively close to the originals – some minor differences here and there, but overall prints are almost identical. No mean feat after so many years. Yet splendid as the prints are, they were overshadowed by Stan bringing along and allowing us to touch his punches, matrices and (hand-made) moulds. All in all, a very inspiring evening, with a true craftsman. 


  1. Hi Guys,
    I found you after one of Elizabeth's tweets was re-tweeted by typocircle. I'm interested in what you are doing as, like you, I'm a graphic designer getting frustrated with sitting in front of a computer monitor all day and I find my thoughts turning to more traditional methods of print-making, letterpress in particular.

    Anyway, I just wanted to say Hi and wish you both luck with your new venture. I'm sure you'll have a blast.

    Keep updating the blog when you get the chance.

  2. Hi Paul,

    Thanks for the comment, its nice to hear from people in similar situations – frustrated or otherwise! I think its interesting as graphic design itself becomes more digitised, there is a definite want from the designers to step away from it and become more hands on again. We're certainly enjoying our decision to get mucky and inky with letterpress. Although it is a long and steep learning curve… 'Apple Z' is much quicker than physically undoing mistakes!

    Good luck with your thoughts (and hopefully actions) into more traditional methods, do let us know how you get on. It's good fun, so I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!


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