Barwon Booksellers - Secondhand and Collectibles


  • Treasure From The Golden Cockerel

    2 June 2016 -



    Each page of a book is a leaf among leaves, fallen from the tree of knowledge into the human hand. Each book, no matter its subject, has in it somewhere the quiet and tang of the forest.


    An interesting by-product of our digital era is how it has refreshed the context for the publishing of fine paper books. The other side of the present epidemic of screen-addiction is a renewed appreciation of handset type, hand-stitched bindings, artist-books, illustration, engraving and analogue design traditions. England’s Golden Cockerel Press is a case in point.


    The Golden Cockerel began in 1920 in rural Berkshire, after its founder Hal Taylor had unsuccessfully tried his hand at fruit farming. Taylor turned instead to his love of fine books, took a lease on an army surplus hut, found a patron to finance the cost of the printing equipment, and promptly set up a publishing cooperative. The Golden Cockerel Press was born and immediately began producing exquisite books with handset type, on handmade paper, in limited editions.


    In 1924 Hal Taylor fell ill with tuberculosis and so was forced to sell the Press to the Irish wood engraver and writer Robert Gibbings, who ran the show until 1933. It is for this period that The Golden Cockerel is largely known, as Gibbings introduced a sylvan aesthetic with an emphasis on wood engraving illustrations. He also recruited the typographer and artist Eric Gill (of the 'Gill Sans' font in your scroll-down menus) to design typefaces and illustrate the press’s new editions of classic texts. Gibbings himself was an accomplished engraver and well connected in artistic circles, thus bringing such wonderful artists as Eric Ravilious into the Golden Cockerel circle.


    A great amount of the Golden Cockerel’s craftsmanship and energy during the Gibbings years was put into two very beautiful editions of Chaucer, both illustrated with engravings by Gill. Troilus & Criseyde was produced through 1926 and 1927, followed by The Canterbury Tales, which was published in four volumes, again with illustrations by Gill, between 1929 and 1931.


    These Golden Cockerel Chaucers are now seminal editions in the history of English fine press publishing. So much so that in the last five years the Folio Society have accepted the significant challenge of publishing facsimile editions: Troilus And Criseyde in a limited edition of 1250 copies, and The Canterbury Tales in an edition of 1980 copies. Both come with accompanying quarter-bound commentaries on the original texts and their presentation in the Golden Cockerel editions.


    Currently we have No. 452 of The Canterbury Tales and No. 360 of Troilus & Criseyde here at BB. Both are the complete Folio Society facsmile editions in fine condition. The Canterbury Tales is $400, Troilus & Criseyde $500.    

    (*The Canterbury Tales is now sold.)


    Another Golden Cockerel Press edition we are lucky to hold concerns a topic a little closer to home than Chaucer. By 1946 the Press had changed hands and location, and was now being run from London by Christopher Sandford, who took over the Press from Robert Gibbings in 1933. Sandford introduced lithography and also colour collotype to Golden Cockerel, which published over 120 works during his era. Perhaps Sandford’s favourite illustrator in the stable was John Buckland Wright, who hailed from Dunedin, New Zealand. In 1946 Sandford commissioned illustrations from Wright for a Golden Cockerel edition of Matthew Flinders' Narrative Of His Voyage In The Schooner Francis. This beautiful book is printed on Arnold’s mould-made paper in a limited edition of 750 copies. We have No. 534, once again in fine condition. $550.


    It is a rare treat, a booklover’s joy in fact, to hold a Golden Cockerel edition in the hand, and that’s the case whether or not it’s in fine or well loved condition.We also have no. 218 of the 450 copy edition of The Golden Asse of Lucius Apuleius, which is particularly special given that it was published by Golden Cockerel in 1923, during its first iteration in Berkshire under the Press founder Hal Taylor. This is a pre-illustrative Golden Cockerel book, in which the paper stock, handset type and typesetting are to the fore. $75.


    Rest assured, all those years after Taylor’s orchard failed and he requisitioned the army surplus hut to pursue his vision, the fine books of his Golden Cockerel Press are still providing much pleasure. Of course we also have a substantial amount of Folio Society editions on the shelves, including the lavish facsimile edition of the William Morris manuscript of The Odes of Horace. Please also see below a rare edition of Eric Gill's 25 Nudes.


    Happy reading in the forest of leaves.