The King Library Press was officially founded in 1956 by Carolyn Reading Hammer (whom later became UK Libraries’ curator of rare books). Carolyn Hammer was influenced by the Gravesend Press of Joseph C. Graves and also Victor Hammer, to whom she was married. Victor Hammer, a Viennese artist and typographer, designed a number of uncial form types, the best known of which remains the popular American Uncial.
Victor Hammer began printing in Florence in the 1920s, where he had an antique-style wooden press constructed. Victor Hammer built the press with the help of local Florentine craftsmen in 1927. Based on a press in the Laurentian Library, it was first used to print John Milton’s Samson Agonistes. The book was set in Mr. Hammer’s second uncial and christened Samson. Punches for the type were cut by Paul Koch, Rudolf Koch’s son. Samson Agonistes was issued in an edition of 103 copies. In 1933 Hammer closed his studio in Florence and the press was stored. In 1954 it was moved to the University of Kentucky where it was first used by the King Library Press in 1959.
Members of the Bur Press in the mid 1940s — artist Harriett McDonald Holladay, printers Amelia Buckley and Carolyn Reading Hammer, and hand bookbinder Mary Spears Van Meter.
However, Amelia Buckley and Carolyn Hammer had been printing at their Bur Press since 1943. When they decided to close operations at the Bur Press their Chandler & Price printing press which had been located at Hammer’s studio in Bullock Place, was moved to the basement of the King Library - which then held the Acquisitions Department - together with type, equipment, and paper.
Victor Hammer and a group of friends formed the Anvil Press in 1952. Victor designed the books for the press and Jacob Hammer was the pressman. Eventually this press was also donated to the University.
Library Staff Christmas Dinner; From left to right: Carolyn Reading Hammer, Catherine L. Katterjoler, Jacqueline P. Bull, Mary Jane Stallcup, Maona Shinkle Eaves, and Daisy Taylor Croft, 1940
Carolyn Hammer, Nancy Chambers Lair, Stokley Gribble, and Mary Voorhes had been printing some book-plates and small pieces on the press in the basement of the King Library but wanted to do something more substantial. They started working at the press on their lunch breaks at noon. The first book they printed was The Marriage of Cock Robin and Jenny Wren in 1956. They first named the press, High Noon Press but then attributed it as the King Library Press. At the time, they printed for the sheer pleasure of printing.
Hand-set type is set piece by piece, letter by letter, and by hand. Every piece of type for each letter is separate and it is used over and over again. After each use it is returned to a specially-designed case, which has larger compartments near the front so that the most-used type is more accessible. The paper that is used for printing is hand-made and some of the finest available.
Joe Graves’ Gravesend Press, is also a part of the King Library Press. There are also more modern presses including a Vandercook SP15, a gift of the Harrodsburg Herald, a Vandercook Universal I, and several by Chandler & Price.
Picnic at Gethsemane; Carolyn R. Hammer, 1967
The King Library Press is located in Special Collections of UK Libraries and is directed by Dr. Paul E. Holbrook. The work of the Press – hand setting type, printing on antique presses, and binding – is done by student interns and staff volunteers. The objective of the Press is to preserve and demonstrate historical printing techniques using period equipment and methods.
“The press gives those working with it a historical understanding of the book,” said Paul A. Willis, former director of UK Libraries. “It adds an element of distinction to the library and University which I hope we are able to maintain.”