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Collecting from the Hogarth Press

By Audrey Golden. May 19, 2024. 8:07 AM.

Topics: Rare Books, Book Collecting, Literature

If you read or collect modernist literature or focus on the early twentieth century in any capacity, you’ve likely heard of the Hogarth Press. While the press is still in operation today after a relaunch of sorts in 2011, it originally operated from 1917 until 1946. As you might already know, novelist and writer extraordinaire Virginia Woolf established the Hogarth Press with her husband, Leonard Woolf, in 1917 to publish great works of modernism by writers of the time.

It remains one of the most significant modernist presses and gave the Woolfs the freedom to decide what and how they would publish works of fiction. The history of the press remains fascinating in the twenty-first century, and the novels and other works published by Hogarth Press are highly collectible and sought-after by rare book collectors. 

old-print-press-1520124_1920History of Hogarth Press

How did Virginia and Leonard Woolf decide to start the Hogarth Press? As the story goes, they’d been researching the possibility of learning the art of printing, and they found precisely what they needed while walking past Excelsior Printing Supply Company on Farringdon Road in London in the spring of 1917. According to the British Library, the Woolfs “were greeted by a helpful assistant in brown overalls who convinced them that with the aid of a 16-page booklet, they would be able to teach themselves all they needed to know to get started.” They purchased the booklet, a printing press, type, and other tools needed to get started. The press and its accoutrement were placed on the dining room table at Hogarth House, the home of Virginia and Leonard Woolf. 

The Woolfs printed flyers announcing the Hogarth Press, which read in part:

“Our object in starting the Hogarth press has been to publish at low prices short works of merit, in prose or poetry, which could not, because of their merits, appeal to a very large public. The whole process of printing and production (except in one instance) is done by ourselves, and the editions are necessarily extremely small, not exceeding 300 copies . . . . We shall, in the future, from time to time, publish other words of a similar kind.”

The first Hogarth Press publication was Two Stories (1917), which included a story by Leonard Woolf and Virginia Woolf. Only 150 copies were printed, and the object included woodcuts made by Dora Carrington. In addition to publishing works of Virginia Woolf, the Hogarth Press also published works of notable modernists like T.S. Eliot, Katherine Mansfield, Stephen Spender, Sigmund Freud, and E.M. Forster. Indeed, the Hogarth Press published editions of Eliot's The Waste Land, Freud's On Dreams, Woolf's Orlando and The Waves, and much more. By 1946, the Hogarth Press had a list of 527 titles. The press was relaunched in 2011 in a manner of speaking as Hogarth Books and currently publishes works as an imprint of Random House.

51434Collecting Books from the Hogarth Press

If you're just beginning to collect modernist literature, or you're particularly interested in one of the modernist writers published by the Hogarth Press and are considering starting a collection, the first editions of these books are extremely difficult to come by and are as expensive as you might think. In other words, the first editions of the Hogarth Press are not likely the place to start for an entry-level collector, but if you know what you're looking for and have the money to spend, these objects are simply incredible.

You might be able to find, for example, one of the first editions of Two Stories, of which only 150 copies were printed. A decade ago, a copy sold through Bonhams for more than £9,000, or the equivalent at the time of almost $13,000. The value has increased since then, and you should likely anticipate paying significantly more if you find a copy for your collection. If you don't currently have the funds to purchase, you can see a copy at several special collections libraries and archives, including at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and the British Library in London. 

Books published by the Hogarth Press often included distinctive dust jackets designed by Virginia Woolf’s sister, Vanessa Bell. If you want to add a first edition of Mrs. Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927), or another of Woolf's most prominent novels to your collection, you should anticipate spending anywhere from $10,000 to upwards of $30,000, depending upon the condition of the book and the dust jacket. 

Finally, if you have a bit more to spend, you might even be able to purchase the Hogarth House, which has been on the market multiple times in the last several years, including as recently as spring 2021. Indeed, the first editions from the Hogarth Press and the space in which those books were printed could be yours!

Browse Books By Virginia Woolf

Audrey Golden
World literature scholar and erstwhile lawyer. Lover of international travel, outdoor markets, and rare books.


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