Robert Gibbings: artist, author and wood-engraver exhibition

Kingfisher detail from Gibbings woodcutRobert Gibbings (1889-1959) was a prodigious wood-engraver with a striking and vigorous style, and was also largely responsible for bringing the art of wood-engraving to the attention of the general public. This exhibition features a selection of the finest examples of publications from the Gibbings Collection held at the University of Reading Special Collections Service.

A colourful and adventurous character, Gibbings also became a best-selling author in both Britain and America with books which he wrote, illustrated and designed. Gibbings founded the Society of Wood Engravers in 1919, and took over the Golden Cockerel Press at Waltham St. Lawrence, Berkshire from 1924 to 1933. In 1936 he became Senior Lecturer in Typography at the University of Reading.

The Gibbings Collection comprises around 300 books, written and/or illustrated by, or about, Robert Gibbings. There are also books printed under his supervision at the Golden Cockerel Press, and at the University of Reading, School of Art, 1936-1941; plus manuscripts, letters, photographs, wood-engravings and blocks, and paintings. 

The exhibition will be on display at the University Library until 22 February 2011.

List of exhibits

Robert Gibbings : a bibliography, by A. Mary Kirkus; edited by Patience Empson and John Harris. With a chronological check list and notes on the Golden Cockerel Press. London : J.M. Dent & Sons, 1962. Agnes Mary Kirkus was Librarian at the University of Reading from1941to1960. She was an enthusiastic collector of Gibbings’s work, and the Gibbings Collection contains many of her personal copies of his books. GIBBINGS COLLECTION—KA1962

Sweet Thames run softly, by Robert Gibbings, with engravings by the author. London : J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd, 1940. With original wood engraving block from the Gibbings Collection. Sweet Thames run softly was the first of the ‘river’ travel books which made Gibbings a bestselling author. Gibbings had a great affection for the Thames, and wrote that ‘Every mile of water has its own character, every bridge too, and every farm whose meadows are enriched by the silts of winter floods’. GIBBINGS COLLECTION--K006/1940 & K006.

Iorana! : a Tahitian journal, by Robert Gibbings ; with wood-engravings by the author. London : Duckworth, 1932. Gibbings made several visits to the South Seas, and made his first trip in 1929. Iorana! was his first account of his adventures in Tahiti. The people, landscape and way of life of the South Seas made a lasting impression on Gibbings, and he felt a deep affinity with the lifestyle of the native people. GIBBINGS COLLECTION--K002B

Crotty Shinkwin : a tale of the strange adventure that befell a butcher of County Clare ; The beauty spot : a tale concerning the Chilterns, both tales by A.E. Coppard; engravings by Robert Gibbings. Waltham Saint Lawrence : Printed & made ... by the Golden Cockerel Press, [1932]. GIBBINGS COLLECTION--K042

Beasts and saints, translations by Helen Waddell; woodcuts by Robert Gibbings. London : Constable and Company Ltd, October 1934. Gibbings was particularly pleased with his work for Glory of Life and Beasts and saints, a collection of medieval legends translated by Helen Waddell, and twenty years later wrote, ‘My engravings in these two books were the best that I had so far accomplished …’ GIBBINGS COLLECTION--K048

Glory of life, by Llewelyn Powys ; with wood engravings by Robert Gibbings. [London] : Golden Cockerel Press, [1934]. This publication contains fifteen wood engravings, including the lettering of the title, by Gibbings. It is widely regarded as the finest example of Gibbings's book illustration. GIBBINGS COLLECTION—K046

The exhibition also includes a display of book covers from the Gibbings Collection.


The life and work of Robert Gibbings, by Martin J. Andrews. Bicester : Primrose Hill Press, 2003.

A reference copy is available in the Special Collections reading room at REFERENCE--769.942-GIB/AND. A copy is available for loan at the University Library on the 3rd floor at FOLIO--769.942-GIB/AND.

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