Elston Press (1900 - 1904)

In her book "American Book Design and William Morris", Susan Otis Thompson has this to say about the Elston Press:

The most important of the New York private presses was in a suburb. The Elston Press began in Manhattan in 1900, but its owner, Clark Conwell, moved it to New Rochelle in 1901. Conwell, with the aid of his designer and wife, Helen Marguerite O'Kane, was one of the most brilliant of the Kelmscott disciples. His books exemplify the best in the private press spirit: with traditional models as a point of departure, they achieve freshness of their own. They were printed by handpress in limited editions on handmade paper and Japan vellum, bound in boards or cloth or vellum with ties.

While Thompson compares the Elston Press books to those of the Kelmscott Press, many of the Elston books are closer in style to the books of the Vale Press of Charles Ricketts. Either way, the books of the Elston Press are some of the finest examples of printing and book design ever done in America.


Pre-Raphaelite Ballads by William Morris, 1900
Johnson #1, Not in Ransom.

Sonnets from the Portuguese by Elizabeth B. Browning, 1900
Johnson #2, Ransom #1.

The Philobiblon of Richard DeBury by Richard Aungerville, 1901
Johnson #3, Ransom #2.

The House of Life by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1901
Johnson #4, Ransom #3.

The Vision of William Concerning Piers the Plowman by William Langland, 1901
Johnson #5, Ransom #4.

Tale of Gamelyn from the text edited by Reverend Walter W. Skeat, 1901
Johnson #6, Ransom #5.

The Sonnets of Shakespeare by William Shakespeare, 1901
Johnson #7, Ransom #6

The Art and Craft of Printing by William Morris, 1902
Johnson #8, Ransom #7

Some Notes on Early Wood-cut Books by William Morris, 1902
Johnson #9, Ransom #8.

Comus, A Maske by John Milton, 1902
Johnson #10, Ransom #9

Endymion: A Poetic Romance by John Keats, 1902
Johnson #11, Ransom #10

Rosalynde, or Euphues Golden Legacie by Thomas Lodge, 1902
Johnson #12, Ransom #11

The Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope, 1902
Johnson #13, Ransom #12

Five Arthurian Poems by William Morris, 1902
Johnson #14, Ransom #13

Pandosto or the Historie of Dorastus and Fawnia by Robert Greene, 1902
Johnson #15, Ransom #15

The Song Story of Aucassin and Nicolete translated by Andrew Lang, 1902
Johnson #16, Ransom #14

Sir Galahad: A Christmas Mystery by William Morris, 1902
Johnson #17, Ransom #16

The Patterne of Paine Full Adventures by Laurence Twine, 1903
Johnson #18, Ransom #18

Poems Selected from the Hesperides by Robert Herrick, 1903
Johnson #19, Ransom #17

The Cenci: A Tragedy in Five Acts by Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1903
Johnson #20, Not in Ransom.

The Most Pleasant and Delectable Tale of the Marriage of Cupid and Psyche translated by William Adlington, 1903
Johnson #21, Ransom #19

L'Allegro and Il Penseroso by John Milton, 1903
Johnson #23, Not in Ransom

A Masque of Love by Charles Erskine Scott Wood, 1904
Johnson #25, Ransom #20

Daphnis and Chloe by Longus, 1904
Johnson #26, Not in Ransom

Prospectuses, Announcements and other Ephemera

Prospectus for The House of Life, 1901
Johnson #4

Announcement for Sir Galahad: A Christmas Mystery, 1902
Johnson #22

Announcement for Poems Selected from The Hesperides and The Cenci, 1903
Johnson #25

Other Items of Interest

Signature of Clarke Conwell, 1901

Inscription from Conwell & O'Kane, 1911

Bookplate of H. M. O'Kane

Bookplate of Lucie Aline Tower (possibly by O'Kane)

Elston Press References

Notes on the Elston Press, by Herbert H. Johnson, Published by Douglas M. Harris, Wilmington, Delaware, 1997
By far the best reference on the Elston Press. If you have any interest in the Elston Press, this book is a must. It is rather expensive, but you might be able to find a copy at a major library or via interlibrary loan. The book includes a checklist of Elston Press books and numerous pictures of the books and H. M. O'Kane's illustrations and chapter initials.

American Book Design and William Morris, by Susan Otis Thompson, Published by Oak Knoll Press, New Castle, Delaware, 1996
If you are interested in American fine press books from the Arts and Crafts period, this is the most important book you can get. It has surprising depth in its analysis of the presses, designers, and printers working under the influence of William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement. Three Elston Press books are pictured: Sonnets from the Portuguese (1900), The House of Life (1901), and Sir Galahad: A Christmas Mystery (1902).

Book Decoration in America 1809 - 1910, by Laurie W. Crichton, Chapin Library Williams College, Williamstown Massachusetts, 1979.
A catalog of an exhibit held at the Chapin Library. One Elston Press book is pictured: Poems Selected from the Hesperides (1903), and the colophon graphic from Cupid and Psyche (1903) is used on the cover.

The Private Press by Roderick Cave, Published by R. R. Bowker Company, New York, 1983
A good overview of private presses in America, England, and Europe. This is my second favorite general reference for fine press books. Not as much depth as Susan Otis Thompson's book, but has a couple of great chapters on English presses (such as the Kelmscott, Vale, and Doves presses), and other chapters on presses in Europe. Two Elston Press books are pictured: Sonnets from the Portuguese (1900), and The Rape of the Lock (1902).

The Arts and Crafts Movement in American 1876 - 1916, Edited by Robert Judson Clark, Published by Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1972
This book has a chapter on "The Arts and Crafts Book" written by Susan Otis Thompson. Three Elston Press books are pictured: Pre-Raphaelite Ballads (1900), Sonnets from the Portuguese (1900), and The House of Life (1901).

"The Art that is Life": The Arts and Crafts Movement in America, 1875 - 1920, by Wendy Kaplan, Published by Bullfinch Press, Boston, Massachusetts, 1998
The seminal book on the American Arts and Crafts movement. This book is a wealth of information, but that information can be hard to find. Some of the most valuable information in the book is contained in the voluminous foot notes. Unfortunately, this book has no index; that makes it hard to find what you are looking for. The only Elston Press book pictured (on page 291) is Sonnets from The Portuguese (1900), but several other A&C books and presses are discussed.

Private Presses and Their Books, by Will Ransom, Published by R. R. Bowker Company, New York, 1929
This book is mainly a checklist of private presses and the books printed by those presses, but there are some interesting tidbits about the different presses. Many of the checklists are not complete. The Elston Press checklist, for example, lists only 20 books. Herbert Johnson lists 26 in Notes on the Elston Press.

The background of this page is the Elston cat watermark - drawn by H. M. O'Kane. Paper with this watermark was used in seven of the Elston Press books.