CURWEN PRESS AND OLIVER SIMON Papers of Oliver Simon of the Curwen Press
Lot 210
Papers of Oliver Simon of the Curwen Press, comprising autograph letters etc. by Edward Ardizzone, Edward Bawden, Edmund Blunden, Evelyn Dunbar, Barnett Freedman, Eric Gill, Paul Nash, John Piper, William Rothenstein and others
Sold for £ 8,125 (US$ 10,369) inc. premium

Lot Details
Papers of Oliver Simon of the Curwen Press, comprising autograph letters etc. by:

(i) Ardizzone (Edward) Five autograph letters signed, describing, inter alia, an episode serving as war artist with the 8th Army in September 1943, which he illustrates with a pen-and-ink sketch ("...Perhaps the best was a picnic lunch I ate with two companions in an orchard of young olive and almond trees just north of Lentini. It was a jolly and carefree affair. To drink we had a bottle each of Moët and Chandon Brut, date unspecified and stamped 'Reserved for the German Army'. A wine we had acquired a few days earlier. To eat a local goats milk cheese, fresh figs, grapes and a sweet melon. A minor battle to which we paid little attention, was in progress to our right. But what we did not know and only learnt to our horror some hours later, was that we had been making merry bang in the middle of 200 hidden enemy para shoot troops. Another and more epic meal was when Major Geoffrey Keating and myself dictated the terms of surrender to the Military Commander of Taormina, an Alpini Colonel, over an enormous dish of pasta and bottles of champagne..."), the latter scene also sketched in outline; another illustrated letter thanking him for a gift of wine ("...It's Catherine's birthday so we have opened a bottle of the Moselle. Now half empty, it stands under a bunch of daffodils. The windows onto the balcony are open, the sun comes in and Catherine & I drink to you in great contentment..."), 1939-1952

(ii) Bawden (Edward) Autograph letter signed, written stationed with the army, an as official war artist, at Aldeburgh, teasing Oliver for his taste for drab picture postcards ("...Do you come home with your bags packed with buckshee stationary, or are these the only kind you can get through the customs...") and reposting in kind with a drawing of his Cairo hotel ("...You see me leaving the hotel followed by five dragomen. The pimp who is clutching my sleeve is saying 'O sar, nothing doing!' His voice is filled with pathos. You will observe that I am taking no notice of him. With Major Cheeseman I have finished an exploration of the source of the Blue Nile..."), 1943

(iii) Blunden (Edmund) Three autograph letters signed, about Signature ("...This letter by the way is written with a shattered pen and my manuscript may be better worth considering for the possibility of a plain facsimile..."), with a typescript of his poem celebrating the last number of the magazine, 1953

(iv) Curwen (Harold) Autograph letter signed, discussing the problems with regard to the printing chapels of Simon joining his press full time [c.1921]

(v) Dunbar (Evelyn) Illustrated autograph letter signed, inviting Oliver to a dance; the letter festooned with mice at play ("...I thought the absurd little mice might amuse you..."), 1933

(vi) Freedman (Barnett) Six autograph sketches for a colophon or bookplate, showing a snake coiled on two open books (two on tracing paper, one in pencil and three in ink, the last with added body-colour) with accompanying note

(vii) Gill (Eric) Autograph letter signed, with a card and letter signed, thanking him for The Woodcut Annual ("...I am glad to have this & to see the work of Eric G...") and confessing himself delighted "to know that you like the 'Perpetua'", 1930-31

(viii) Johnson (John) Twelve typed letters signed, written in his capacity as Printer to the University of Oxford, discussing the progress of collecting ephemera for his monumental Sanctuary of Printing ("...Now you and Michael Sadleir and Holbrook Jackson have sufficiently filled my gap. Naturally I do not seek to be complete. I seek only to be representative. For I founded the collection for no other purpose than to be educational both in Social and Typographical history. Therefore I bless you. I am still worrying the 17th century. And the results to me become more and more thrilling as I am sure they are becoming more and more devastatingly dull to anyone but me... I am much more interested really and truly in the 19th century, and should love some day to write a Paper on the Victorian Age seen through its Prospectuses...") and praising the work of the Curwen ("...You have made the world of print your playground and greatly enriched it..."), with three letters by his successor, Charles Batey, 1931-1953 and 1953-54

(ix) Nash (John) Two autograph letters signed, one illustrated with a sketch of a pig [c.1930]

(x) Nash (Paul) Twenty autograph letters signed, one on a postcard, the early part of the series concentrated on discussion of the Press's production of his illustrated edition of Browne's Urne Buriall and The Garden of Cyrus ("...The page Curwen sent me the other day leads me to believe that between us we have achieved something quite rare – a true unity of decoration and type. But your reader must be wrong or Brown [sic] must. The Convolvulus has a right twist, that is, it moves in an elipse from right to left but the flower moves in contrary direction from left to right. It was carefully drawn from nature, is all I can add but I may have gone a little mad in the process..."), with a list of drawings, notes of their dimensions, etc.; later letters discussing his work during the Second World War ("...I hear there is not much chance of getting a booklet or something of the sort got out of my Raiders because the Treasury say it is 'luxury painting'... If you get a chance & like the idea do give a shove. I would add a few more designs & do a good cover. I believe it could be quite useful propaganda. I have just finished my first instalment of Aerial Creatures – the Bombers – about fifteen drawings in all in a new technique which I rather fancy. Next I shall begin on the Fighter Command & move up into a very different zone of operation. This is sure to open up a lot of new sorts of work..."); letters also touching on fellow artists ("...It is only a matter of time and opportunity before Burra makes a considerable stir as an illustrator...") and other projects; together with an impression of his wood-engraving Coronilla.2, inscribed as "unpublished" and "Edition 25 a Roland for an Oliver/ artist's proof", signed and dated 1928/35, mounted on limp grey card ("...Meantime here is a strange little print I happen to have by me... could the Curwen Press pull me an edition for a reasonable fee?..."), 1932-1945

(xi) Piper (John) Autograph letter signed, on Victorian writing-paper headed with a steel-engraved view of the Vale of Ffestiniog, discussing John Betjeman's plans for a study of nineteenth-century guidebooks, 1946

(xii) Raine (Kathleen) Five autograph letters signed, lavishing praise on the manner in which Curwen has produced her books; adding in one that "David Jones is upstairs, painting a watercolour every day – some of them lovely", 1946 where dated

(xiii) Rothenstein (William) Autograph manuscript of his obituary of T.J. Cobden Sanderson, opening "After a visit to Cobden-Sanderson, I usually had the sense of a cushion of air between my feet...", titled and marked for printing at the head (published in the first number of Simon Oliver's Fleuron, 1923; reprinted by the Silverado Press, Birmingham, Michigan, in 1951) [1923]

(xiv) Rothenstein (William) Seven autograph letters signed, lavishing praise on his nephew's work, including the Fleuron ("...looking through the 3 numbers of the Fleuron I thought what a fine career you have made for yrself, & through yr own energy & excellent taste...") and Signature ("...I have long felt that contemporary artists express themselves best in the minor arts... How entertaining are Duffy's wine merchant's illustrations, Piper's Cheltenham, the Picasso line-drawings & the Bawdens & Raviliouses..."); in other letters, he agrees to draw Stanley Morison, whom he liked very much, and refers to his RAF drawings, 1926-1944

(xv) Rutherston (Albert) Four autograph letters signed, the first sending condolences on the death of Simon's mother (Rutherston's sister), others praising his work, one illustrated with a festive self-portrait; together with Simon's Curwen change-of-address card, to which his uncle has added a self-portrait and details of his own change of address, 1918-1934

(xvi) Sitwell (Edith, Osbert and Sacheverell) Two autograph letters signed by Edith, eight by Osbert and five by Sacheverell, discussing sundry publications in hand with the Curwen Press, 1925-1966

(xvii) Other correspondents include the typographer Imre Reiner (12, many illustrated), the artist Kathleen Sutherland (4), Gerald Wilde; plus letters by Simon to his brother Bobbie, one by his widow Ruth on his death, and correspondence concerning his appointment as OBE


  • 'WE HAVE ACHIEVED SOMETHNG QUITE RARE – A TRUE UNITY OF DECORATION AND TYPE' – papers of Oliver Simon of the Curwen Press. Simon was introduced to the press by his maternal uncle Albert Rutherston and, after a year's training, joined the company full time in 1921, being responsible for adding book-production to the firm's activities. In addition, he helped found the Double Crown Club and published the highly-influential periodicals Fleuron and Signature: 'Although he was recognized internationally as a typographical authority with an intimate knowledge of the importance and influence of the famous English private presses, Simon's aim was to do first-rate contemporary and commercial printing. Under his guidance, the Curwen Press played a major part in the improvement of printing in all its aspects after 1918. He encouraged many artists to use their talents in the direction of printing and book design' (G. Wren Howard, DNB).
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