'Consideration of the reader makes an ordered plainness the first, and sometimes the last, requirement of typography'.
Denis Glover, 1941
Eighty years ago, in April 1933, the members of the Caxton Club Press printed the first (and only) issue of Oriflamme, a student literary journal. The publication caused much controversy on the campus of Canterbury College, Christchurch, where it was printed. Oriflamme's importance to New Zealand's literary and print culture, however, goes well beyond the stir it caused in 1933. It was the first item printed by what later became known as The Caxton Press, which played a central role in the establishment of New Zealand's emerging national literary identity during the first half of the twentieth century.
The Caxton Press started under the direction of Denis Glover, alongside his press partner, John Drew. In 1937 they were joined by the artist and typographer Leo Bensemann. Under their direction, the press developed into a champion of creative writing, publishing (often for the first time in book form) the early works of many writers, whose names are now part of the New Zealand literary canon: James K. Baxter, Ursula Bethell, Charles Brasch, Allen Curnow, Janet Frame, R. A. K. Mason, and Frank Sargeson among others. From 1947, Caxton also started producing what has become New Zealand's pre-eminent literary journal, Landfall, under the editorship of Charles Brasch.
The Caxton Press distinguished their publications from others by paying close attention to typography and printing. This is evident not just in the press's finely-printed works, such as the Caxton Press editions of John Milton's Areopagitica (1941) and Oscar Wilde's the Ballad of Reading Gaol (1958), but also in the careful font selection and tasteful layout of its general publications, influenced by such British designers and typographers as Eric Gill and Stanley Morison.
Starting with a rare copy of Oriflamme (on loan courtesy of the Hocken Library), the items selected demonstrate the variety of printing and typographical efforts employed by The Caxton Press. The exhibition displays an array of first and fine editions, pamphlets, type specimens, journal issues (including the first of Landfall), advertisements, catalogues, and skilfully illustrated works, that together combine to stand as a tribute to one of New Zealand's most highly regarded and influential presses.