«Tragara Press, Scotland's leading private press of the 20th century»

The National Library of Scotland 1


[ This section is in preparation ]


Alan Anderson, before Tragara 

23 August Alan Alexander Anderson is born in Dunfermline, Fife, the only child of David Allan Anderson, master draper, and Penelope Farquharson Sim. Alan shows an interest in books and book collecting from a young age.
He starts working as a bank employee in the town of Lochgelly, in Fife, where he meets his future wife Janet ('Jennie') Easton Thomson (Fergusson 2016).
He serves in the Royal Navy as a signalman, aboard a number of British and French ships, mostly in the seas of the Mediterranean. Begins a lifelong friendship with his shipmate John Talbot White (1925-1983). During his ship's brief stay in Naples, Alan finds the opportunity to make his first visit to Capri.
Capri, from Ischia
Capri, from the island of Ischia. Photo by James Fergusson.
He joins the family drapers' firm in his hometown Dunfermline.
Visits Capri again, this time with Jennie, his fiancée. For Alan, Capri is also significant for being the home of the author Norman Douglas, whose work Alan admires and collects.
April His father dies. Alan considers his options beyond running the family business (Fergusson 2016).
August Alan and Jennie are married. They spend their honeymoon in Capri. They meet Norman Douglas, assisted by a letter of introduction from Cecil Woolf (1927-2019), who will publish Norman Douglas's bibliography three years later. Their daily meetings culminate with a visit to Norman Douglas' villa on the famous and picturesque Via Tragara (Allan 2016).
February Norman Douglas dies in Capri.
March Alan and Jennie move to Edinburgh, where Alan finds employment at the antiquarian bookshop John Grant. He meets fellow bookshop employee (at James Thin's) Edward Nairn (1918-2013), who will become one of his best friends in the trade (Fergusson 2013).
July Alan organises a "Memorial Exhibition of Works by Norman Douglas" at the Edinburgh Central Library to honour the memory of the author. Alan's own collection is used as the basis for it, but material is further provided by John Carter, the bookseller and author George Sims (1923-1999), Cecil Woolf, and others. Alan Anderson and Cecil Woolf compile the bibliographical catalogue of the exhibition.

This exhibition was the first of many collaborations between Alan Anderson and George Sims, and marked the beginning of their friendship.

In the same month, Alan and Jennie's first child, Penelope ('Penny'), is born.
Autumn Alan Anderson registers for a two-year evening course in printing at the Edinburgh College of Art.
Alan and Jennie's son, David, is born.

Alan Anderson acquires his first printing machine, an Imperial Octavo "Peerless" platen press, and names his Press "Tragara".

A part-time hobby: The Tragara Press, 1954-1974 

Alan begins to print on his "Peerless" press in his spare time, as a hobby.

His love for poetry and knowledge of literature, the 1890s, Oscar Wilde and his circle determine his choice of subjects from the very early days. He discovers and prints little known, and hard-to-find texts by poets and authors that he likes.
Autumn Alan produces his first booklet, A Phial, a poem by the Edinburgh fin de siècle poet, and priest, John Gray. This is followed by A Letter from Oscar Wilde to the actress Helen Terry, and by an almost miniature edition of Thomas Nashe's poem In Time of Pestilence.

All three publications were printed in a very limited number of copies that were not for sale, and which Alan offered to friends like John Talbot White, Alex Frizzell, and George Sims.
He prints his first commissioned work, Richard Aldington's poem The Berkshire Kennet, for George Sims and his Peacocks Press, in 310 copies.
In Quiet, a short story by one of his favourite 1890s authors, Vincent O'Sullivan (1868-1940), is printed in 25 copies.
George Sims, already a publisher of Frederick William Rolfe ("Baron Corvo") writings, commissions Alan to produce A Letter from Baron Corvo to John Lane, the first Corvo edition to be printed at the Tragara Press. Alan decorates this edition of 30 copies using an original Eric Gill woodblock from his collection.

In much of his early work so far, Alan has been trying printing on different types of paper (such as parchment, grey Ingres, and blue Hodgkinson), wrapping his booklets in equally stylish Ingres, patterned, and marbled papers. But much of the beauty of these works comes from his page composition style, which is characterised by the elegant and balanced way in which texts are presented.

The three typefaces that he has used so far, Bembo, Baskerville, and Perpetua, will continue to be among his few standard choices in the present and the next century as well.
Alan leaves John Grant. He buys the North Bookshop in Dundas Street, Edinburgh, becoming an independent bookseller specialising in modern literature and limited editions (Burnett 2005). He continues to print in his spare time, as a hobby.

He sends a letter to Ted Hughes, offering to produce a leaflet with one of his poems. The poet suggests that Alan prints one of his wife's poems instead, and so Alan produces A Winter Ship, the first publication by the then unknown American poet Sylvia Plath.
August Alan Anderson meets Lawrence Durrell in Edinburgh during the time of the Festival. The two of them discuss the possibility of printing Durrell's recently published poem A Persian Lady in a broadside edition of very few copies. In the following years, Alan will be shipping books to Durrell at his home in France (Baldwin, p.168).
October George and Beryl Sims (1921-2022) take Alan Anderson to meet Helen Thomas (1877-1967), author and widow of Alan's most beloved poet Edward Thomas (1878-1917), at her home, Bridge Cottage, Newbury.
Beryl Sims, Helen Thomas and Alan Anderson (October 1963)
Alan Anderson, with Beryl Sims and Helen Thomas at Bridge Cottage, October 1963. Photo presumably by George Sims, courtesy of Penny Stevenson.
9 April Alan publishes A Third-Class Carriage, his first Edward Thomas publication, in 40 copies, "to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the author's death" in the Battle of Arras.
Alan acquires a more powerful printing machine, a Crown Folio "Arab" platen press. The previous "Peerless" machine, too light for printing on hand-made paper, is in turn acquired by Alan's friend Alex McLeish Frizzell (1920-1996), who uses it to start the Castlelaw Press in West Linton (Birkbeck 1970).

Edward Lear's Letter to R.W. Raper, the 17th publication of the Tragara Press, is the first booklet printed on the Arab, in a total of 38 copies.
Fellow Scottish printer John A. Birkbeck (d.1971) publishes a brief account of the Tragara Press and its publications, in an edition of 60 copies. He notes that "many items of unique interest have been produced", and that "[their] scarcity is reflected on the price asked when an item finds its way into the rare book market".
Alan acquires Centaur, which quickly becomes a regular choice of typeface, along with Bembo, Baskerville, Perpetua, and their italic variants. Other typefaces, like Jan Van Krimpen's Romulus, are only sporadically employed.

For nearly 20 years since the opening of the Press in 1954, and working in his bookshop after hours, Alan has been offering texts by some of his favourite authors, in the form of beautiful, handcrafted booklets. Some of these texts are otherwise impossible for most readers to find, as they were either printed for the first time, or published in various magazines in the early 20th century, or even earlier. A printer with a good knowledge of modern British literature, Alan uses his page composition and printing skills to present poems, letters, and other texts in an clear, inviting, and very pleasing way.

Alan's work is beginning to be appreciated by a wider audience, a fact also evidenced by the increasing number of commissions. His knowledge of the bookselling trade, and the contacts that he has established over the years, are an asset. He is now ready to take the next step.

Full-time printer: The Tragara Press, 1974-1991 [incomplete] 

Alan closes his bookshop to focus entirely on printing and publishing.

He prints typeface samples and price lists to promote his business. His books are sold mainly via friend booksellers James and Mary Sullivan, in Carlisle, George Sims, in Berkshire, and Edward Nairn, who became an independent bookseller in Edinburgh in 1965 (Fergusson, 2013). In addition to selling Tragara Press publications to their customers, the Sullivans, Sims, Nairn, and Alex Frizzell are also privately building their own significant collections of Alan's works.

Alan publishes collections of poetry by two well known writers, Julian Symons (1912-1994) and Roy Fuller (1912-1991), both introduced to the Tragara Press by George Sims. The two writers will continue to publish their works regularly at the Press in the following years.

Lifelines, a selection of four poems by Lawrence Durrell is published in a total of 115 copies.
Alan prints the first booklets commissioned by Harold Alexander ('Alan') Clodd (1918-2002) and his Enitharmon Press. The collaboration between the two Alans will bring about more than 30 collections of poetry and books of essays, most of them by Kathleen Raine, David Gascoyne, and Jeremy Reed.
Alan publishes The Tragara Press, 1954-1979, a bibliography of the works produced by the Press in the first twenty-five years of its operation, listing 63 publications of the Tragara Press and 32 commissions. He dedicates this milestone edition to his wife Jennie.
George Sims compiles a catalogue of his personal collection of Tragara Press items, giving the catalogue the title "The Tragara Press - A Catalogue of a complete collection of the Press's publications from its inception in 1954 to 1980; also of the privately issued & commissioned work, some unique items & the printed ephemera". Eventually, he sells his collection to the Library of Congress, which becomes the first major institutional collection of works by the Tragara Press.
Alan publishes two short stories by the celebrated Irish writers of Gothic fiction Sheridan Le Fanu and Bram Stoker, for the first time since their publication in 19th century magazines. Borrhomeo the Astrologer, published anonymously in 1862, was definitively attributed to Le Fanu by W. J. McCormack, the publication's editor, in 1980, while Stoker's The Dualitists had been rediscovered just a few years before.
June Alan and Jennie leave Edinburgh, moving a little south to the town of Loanhead, where the Tragara Press finds its new home.
Alan Anderson publishes The Tragara Press, 1979-1991, the second volume of the bibliography of the Press, listing 81 publications of the Tragara Press and 24 commissions, published in the twelve years since the publication of the first volume, in 1979. He dedicates this second volume to his grandsons Gordon and Gavin.

After 37 years of printing and publishing, Alan closes the Tragara Press, but decides to continue printing, from now on almost exclusively for other publishers.

Alan's personal collection of Tragara Press publications is acquired by the University of Delaware Library.

After Tragara [incomplete] 

Alan produces a 169-page hand-set edition of George Gissing's travel book By the Ionian Sea, in 45 copies, the most ambitious project of his career.
He prints precarious under the owl, the first of three collections of poetry by the influential bookseller Peter Jolliffe (1947-2007), partner at Ulysses Bookshop, London, an important outlet for Tragara Press publications in the 1990s. Peter Jolliffe becomes the latest bookseller to create a significant private collection of Tragara Press items.
August The 75th birthday of George Sims is celebrated with the private edition of "My Favorite Purchase from George Sims", in 20 copies, compiled by Sims' American bookseller friend David Holmes. In his own contribution, Alan Anderson recalls "the greatest support and encouragement" that Sims gave the Tragara Press "from the outset", and their friendship, "unbroken for close to fifty years".
November George Sims dies.
January Alan's wife, Jennie, dies.
The National Library of Scotland organises an exhibition of Tragara Press books, acknowledging the work of the 80-year old printer Alan Anderson.
Alan produces Blue Remembered Hills, a collection of poems that he and Jennie both loved and considered significant in their lives, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Tragara Press. The 20 ad personam copies are printed on Alan's favourite paper, hand-made by the Amatruda family in Amalfi, and are given to friends. Some of the poems that are collected in this anthology, including Dream-Pedlary and Dover Beach, are among the very first poems printed by the Press in the 1950s and the 1960s.
Alan Anderson in front of the Amatruda paper mill
Alan Anderson in front of the Amatruda paper mill, in Amalfi, November 2002, holding a roll of hand-made paper. Photo by his daughter, Penny Stevenson.
Steven Halliwell produces Fifty Years of Hand-Printing: A Bibliography of the Tragara Press, which he publishes via his Rivendale Press in 400 copies. In addition to the publications listed by Alan Anderson in his two bibliographies, Halliwell lists publications from 1991 to 2005, single-sheets and broadsides, and ephemera.
Alan leaves Loanhead to live with his daughter Penny and son-in-law Douglas in Beauly, setting-up his Press in their garage.
He produces At Century's Ebb, a collection of unpublished English prose and verse from the 1890s, discovered by the great comedian, passionate book collector, and good friend of the Tragara Press, Barry Humphries, in his own library.
Alan prints Olivia Mist and Thomas De Quincey, his tenth and eleventh publications with works by Vincent O'Sullivan respectively.
June Alan prints Distances, the first published collection of poetry by his 92-year old friend, and co-owner of probably the most important Tragara Press collection ever put together, bookseller Edward Nairn.

The National Library of Scotland purchases about 230 Tragara Press items from a private collector, and adds them to the items it has already acquired over the course of five decades. The combined collection is placed in the Special Collections department.
The ninety-year old Alan Anderson produces his final book, an obituary of the poet Rupert Brooke (1887-1915) written by Edward Thomas, in 45 copies.
June Edward Nairn dies in Edinburgh.
Alan and Jennie's son, David, dies.
6 June Alan Anderson dies in Beauly.


Allan, M 2016, 'Alan Anderson, 1922-2016', Norman Douglas 9. Symposium. Bregenz und Thüringen, Vlbg. 7./8.10.2016, pp. 118-120.

Baldwin, P 1992, Conon's Songs from Exile - The Limited Edition Publications of Lawrence Durrell, The Delos Press, Birmingham.

Baldwin, P, 2017, 'Lawrence Durrell - The private publications Part 2', Parenthesis, no. 32, Spring 2017, pp. 4-9.

Birkbeck, JA 1970, The Tragara Press, Rathalpin Press, Dundee.

Burnett, D 2005, 'Introduction', in S Halliwell, Fifty Years of Hand-Printing: A Bibliography of the Tragara Press, Rivendale Press, High Wycombe, pp. ix-xviii.

Burnett, D, 2017, 'Alan Anderson', Parenthesis, no. 32, Spring 2017, pp. 34-35.

Fergusson, J 2016, 'Alan Anderson', The Book Collector, vol. 65, no. 3, pp. 505-509.

Fergusson, J 2013, 'Edward Nairn', The Book Collector, vol. 62, no. 3, pp. 515-517.

Fergusson, J 2008, 'Peter Jolliffe', The Book Collector, vol. 57, no. 1, pp. 145-151.

Risk, T 1975, 'Alex Frizzell, Portrait of a Scottish Private printer', The Private Library, vol. 8:2, Summer 1975, pp. 75-90.



1 A statement made by the National Library of Scotland on various media, e.g. at https://media.nls.uk/resources/anderson01