Gaberbocchus Press exhibition

Gaberbocchus drawingAn exhibition of books produced by the Gaberbocchus Press took place at the Special Collections Service 10 January to 29 February 2008.

Gaberbocchus Press was founded in 1948 in London, by Stefan and Franciszka Themerson. It was the product of an artistic collaboration that had begun in Warsaw, when they worked together as experimental film-makers. With Franciszka as artistic director and Stefan as editor, the Press published sixty titles, during forty years, and the University of Reading Library holds fifty-nine of these titles, in various editions.

The Themersons used their small press as “a vehicle for introducing new ideas”, and selected intellectual avant-garde texts. These ranged from poetry to philosophical novels, from authors such as Bertrand Russell and Raymond Queneau, to first English translations of Alfred Jarry and Heinrich Heine.

The name ‘Gaberbocchus’ was taken from the Latinised version of Lewis Carroll’s poem ‘The Jabberwocky’, a source which already points to a surreal and often absurdist sensibility running through the publications. Both the choice of text and the illustrations display a concern for morality and ethics, as well as a keen sense of the ridiculousness of human beings. One common characteristic of the publications is the intimate relationship between image and text as an expression of content.

A key objective was to produce “best lookers rather than best sellers”. The Themersons felt little sympathy for mainstream taste, with Stefan once identifying a ‘refusal to conform’ to be both the Press’s primary strength and primary weakness. The Press attracted curiosity from critics, who saw it as odd and yet appealing, observing in the words of one that Gaberbocchus books show “a pleasing and intelligent originality in presentation, which make them quite different from anything else appearing in London”.

The University Special Collections Service is fortunate to hold a copy of every title that the Press published, together with a collection of ephemera material.

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