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Lion and Unicorn Press

Named after the Festival of Britain’s Lion and the Unicorn Pavilion, the Lion and Unicorn Press was established with the aim of producing finely designed and typeset books, illustrated, printed and bound at the College. The enterprise aimed to capture the sentiment of Richard Guyatt’s inaugural lecture delivered at the Royal Society of Arts in 1950, in support of the new School of Graphic Design:

"I hope that in my School young designers will learn, with their heads, the reason for their designs – their function as designers, the scope and possibility in their chosen profession; that in their hearts this knowledge will be quickened by the excitement of designing, the delight in the search for harmony; and finally, that their hands will learn the skill to do justice to their inspiration and enable them to carry out their work as professionals."

Five Speeches by Sir Kenneth Clark
Five Speeches by Sir Kenneth Clark (1956); Lion and Unicorn Press

The College's Annual Report for 1953/4 outlined the aims of the new Press:

The Royal College of Art founded a department of typography and book production in 1949. In the years that followed, this department expanded greatly, its productions of all kinds excited wide professional interest and it has been found to have exerted some little influence. In 1953, therefore, it was decided to launch a more ambitious project and to found a College Press.

The primary aim of the Lion and Unicorn Press, as it is called, is to publish each year a few volumes in limited editions, which it is hoped will reach the highest standards of book production in typographic design, illustration and binding and in so doing to discover and foster new ability and new ideas in each field. By making use of the great variety of talent available to the College through its staff, students, past students and distinguished persons connected with it, the aim is to carry on the traditions so greatly to the reputation for intelligent experiment enjoyed by English painting.

Interest in this project has already been shown by the publishing world, for it has been recognised by some of the more enterprising firms that the resources of the Lion and Unicorn Press allow it to provide what may prove to be pilot editions of works on which, for technical reasons, they might themselves initially hesitate to embark. Various proposals for collaboration in this way are already in train.

The first year of the Lion and Unicorn Press was largely experimental. Apart from the few trivia, two small volumes were produced – the Preface to the Manuale Tipografico by Bodoni, and A Tale of Two Swannes.

These books were followed by a more ambitious production entitled Births, Marriages and Deaths, and anthology of fifteen extracts from various novels and biographies, chosen especially for their suitability for illustration. Each extract included not only text and illustrations but also a title page, and thus formed a prototype for a complete edition. Various processes of reproduction were employed including lithography, etching, aquatint, pochoir, lineblock and half-tone, and as many as fourteen different Monotype faces were used on appropriate papers. An edition limited to one hundred numbered copies in various different bindings was issued.

A judicious circulation of this and the previous volumes excited in many countries an interest both in their form and in their content, and elicited so many enquiries which the Press was unable to satisfy, that it has now been decided to launch and limited subscription scheme which will better ensure a balanced circulation of the Press’s productions.

It is proposed, therefore, to invite subscriptions of five guineas per annum which will entitle the subscriber to receive three productions of the Lion and Unicorn Press each year.

It is, of course, recognised that to subscribe to the unknown is an act of faith, but those who do so can rest assured that they will receive more than the full value for their money, since the prime object of the Lion and Unicorn Press is not a profitable balance sheet. It is proposed at present that each edition will be strictly limited to two hundred numbered copies. These volumes will be available only to annual subscribers.

Those immediately concerned with the design and production of each volume include Richard Guyatt, John Brinkley, john Lewis, John Nash, Edward Bawden, Edward Ardizzone, Reynolds Stone, Edwin La Dell and Basil Taylor.

The following books were listed in the prospectus as in preparation: the famous but rare treatise on letter forms by Wolffgang Fugger… published in 1553 and never before translated; a new translation of the great fourteenth-century alliterative poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight… a new anthology of Poems… specially written for the Press by some of the best known contemporary poets; the anatomical studies of George Stubbs, with an essay by Mr Basil Taylor…; and a portfolio of photographs of recent statues by Sir Jacob Epstein… who is at present working within the College.

– Annual Report, 1953/4

Special Collections 

The Special Collections department of the Library holds the majority of Lion and Unicorn Press publications, together with an archive of letters, minutes and accounts that record the publication process of many of the books, including associated triumphs, technical hitches and logistical nightmares. For more information, or to make an appointment to view, contact special-collections@rca.ac.uk.

"The primary aim of the Lion and Unicorn Press... is to publish each year a few volumes in limited editions, which it is hoped will reach the highest standards of book production in typographic design, illustration and binding and in so doing to discover and foster new ability and new ideas in each field." Annual Report 1953/4