In the preface of his “The Private Press” (R.R. Bowker Company, 1983), Roderick Cave asks the question “What is a Private Press?” and concludes that “no simple or concise definition is possible”. However, he offers a good “rule of thumb” from John Carter (1961):
“…the fundamental principle of private press printing; the principle that, whether or not the press has to pay its way, the printer is more interested in making a good book than a fat profit. He prints what he likes, how he likes, not what someone else has paid him to print. If now and then he produces something more apt for looking at and handling than for the mundane purpose of reading, remember he is concerned as much with his own pleasure and education as with yours.”
Generally speaking, private presses are presses which prioritise the art and craft of the creation of the book over purely commercial concerns. The Massey College Presses Collection consists of books, pamphlets and other printed ephemera published and/or produced by private presses, printers, artists and artisans within Canada, the United States and Europe from the 1890s to the present day, including volumes from the Kelmscott Press, Gregynog Press, Golden Cockerell Press, Stanbrook Abbey press, Officina Bodoni, Merrymount Press, Rampant Lions Press, the Art Society Press, Bird & Bull Press, l’imprimerie dromadaire, Lumiere Press, Aliquando Press, Pointyhead Press, and others. It also includes a small uncatalogued collection of Artists’ books.
Some of the Presses Collection is catalogued, with the call number prefix “Presses”, and can be browsed in the U of T Library Catalogue by searching within “Call number” with the term “Presses” in the search box. (see here for instructions)