03 October 2012

George Booth and the Cranbrook Press

Today I'm celebrating George Booth, founder of historic Cranbrook Educational Community in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan and the Cranbrook Press, an Arts & Crafts bindery and press. His life story is a fascinating one, and worthy of much more attention than is practical in this forum. He was one of a rare breed of people who, having attained enormous wealth, used it to create something enduring and beautiful for the community. Perhaps this post will entice you to read more about the him and his extensive cultural contributions.

Top: The Cranbrook Press in the attic of the Detroit Evening News Building, ca. 1901
Bottom: The press served as a meeting place for the Society of Arts and Crafts in 1906
George Booth established the Cranbrook Press in the attic of the Evening News building in Detroit where he was publisher, to gratify his "strong desire for work most agreeable to my tastes and inclinations that combined the beautiful with pleasant labor and inspired by the record of the ancient printers and the modern endeavors of Wm. Morris."

At the Cranbrook Press, every detail of bookmaking was lovingly raised to the highest craft standards, from the hand-made papers, to the woodcuts, to the simple but excellent bindings.
A 1902 New York Times article  described Booth's work:
"Mr. Booth is a publisher who employs in his main business the fastest running machinery, at the same time giving vent to his love for the durable and artistic by printing and issuing a few books which he hopes will live for all time. With this end in view, a hand press was procured, type selected, and a printer found who had learned his trade before the days of linotypes. Mr. Booth at once began the designing of letters and other ornaments, choosing for his models the interlaced patterns used by the early Venetian bookmakers."

From "Cranbrook Tales" by George Booth, 1902
"Mr. Booth dwells particularly upon the world's indebtedness to Gutenberg, Caxton, Morris, and other great men, his own aim in the Cranbrook work being toward their lofty ideals of perfection."

From "Something About the Cranbrook Press and on Books and Bookmaking" by George Booth, 1902

In the article, Mr. Booth is quoted: " It seems quite enough to print the thoughts of great men in any form that all may read, but somehow it seems better still to put such thoughts into enduring monumental forms, to do which we are required to pay the further tribute of faithful, painstaking labor- the labor which is a pleasure and a life-long satisfaction."

A woodcut from The Dictes and Sayings of the Philosophers by William Caxton, and the last page of the same, published in 1901. Note the mention of George's father in law, James Scripps, who came from a long line of bookbinders in England.
The Cranbrook Press only operated in this form for two years, due to the pressures of Mr. Booth's work as one of the most prominent newspaper publishers in the country at the time. In its short life, the press exquisitely produced limited editions of titles including the following:

The First Published Life of Abraham Lincoln by John Locke Scripps, 1900
The Dictes and Sayings of the Philosophers by William Caxton,1901
Three Wise Men: Extracts from the Celebrated Works of M. Aurelius Antoninus, Francis Bacon and Benjamin Franklin, 1902
Utopia by Sir Thomas More, 1902

A woodcut from "Three Wise Men" published in 1902
A great admirer of William Morris and his Arts and Crafts ideals, George Booth went on to become a founder of the Arts and Crafts Society in Michigan, and the Detroit Institute of Arts. His work with Architects Albert Kahn and Eliel Saarinen produced even more "enduring and monumental forms" in his own arts and crafts mansion, Cranbrook House, the Cranbrook Academy of Art, Cranbrook Art Museum and the rest of the Cranbrook educational Community.

In everything he did, George Booth celebrated Morris' notion that the objects that surround us, from books to architecture, when made with pleasure and imprinted with the human spirit, in turn bring great pleasure and improve the lives of those who use them. Indeed.

To read a digitized version of Cranbrook Press and Some Books and Bookmakers by George Booth, follow this link:


  1. Hello Erika:
    Although we are familiar with many aspects of the Arts and Crafts Movement in Great Britain we have never, until now, known of the Cranbrook Press and George Booth. What an absolutely wonderful discovery and this informative account has more than whetted our appetites to learn more about the man and his beautifully produced, as your images show, publications.

    This is a most interesting post for which we thank you.

    1. Dear Jane and Lance,
      Thank you for your message-- I'm so glad that you found this post interesting. George Booth is a hero of mine, as is obvious, I'm sure! He was descended from a long line of coppersmiths in Cranbrook, Kent where his forebears did work for Buckingham Palace and even replaced the copper orb atop St. Paul's. As I am trained as both a metalsmith and bookbinder, I feel a special affinity for Mr. Booth's work. An interesting side note: George was such an influential member of the A&C movement here in the states that he was visited by May Morris, William's daughter. I wish I could've been there!
      I send my warm regards,

    2. Oh! I forgot to add a link to a digitized example of Mr. Booth's work! I've updated the post if you'd care to see it. Thanks again! Erika

    3. How extraordinarily wonderful is this link. Would, indeed, one could have been at a meeting of minds between May morris and George Booth.

  2. Hello Erika, I was never aware of the Cranbrook Press's place as part of a larger arts community in Michigan, and that context helps to explain how and why their great quality was achieved.
    --Road to Parnassus

    1. Hello Parnassus! Thank you for your visit-- I'm glad you found this post interesting. Yes, Mr. Booth's vision in creating a center for art and education, including Cranbrook Academy of Art, has had a lasting influence here in southeast Michigan. With its connections to Milles, Saarinen, Charles and Ray Eames, and countless fine artists and craftspeople, Cranbrook was named a National Historic Landmark in 1989. For me, it's a treasure!
      Best regards,

  3. Dear Erika - it is so interesting to learn about George Booth and the Cranbrook Press. As Jane and Lance mention I too am very familiar with the British Arts and Craft Movement but not so the American one.
    William Morris's home, Kelmscott, is just a few miles down the road from where I live, a place that I love to visit.

    1. Dear Rosemary,
      Sigh....I envy you your proximity to Kelmscott! I wonder if they'd allow me to just live in a tent in a corner of the grounds.... Did you ever read the biography of Morris by Fiona MacCarthy? Fascinating! With his family roots in England, George Booth was deeply committed to bringing art and aesthetics to the public at large--very Morrisian. At the turn of the last century, there were two major centers of the A&C movement in the states: Boston and Detoit, with incredible craftspeople working in varied disciplines in both cities, supported by patrons like George Booth, Ford, Carnegie, Mellon and Rockefeller. As I mentioned in my comment to Parnassus, May Morris was an honored guest at Cranbrook, helping spread the word about her father's work... how wonderful it must have been!

      Thanks again, Rosemary & best regards,
      p.s. I've updated the post with a link to a digitized example of a book from the Cranbrook Press if you'd care to see it. It's never like the real thing, but better than nothing!

    2. The digitised book is a great success - I enjoyed looking at it.
      I am a great fan of Fiona MacCarthy, and have several of her books including Wm. Morris. She was married, until he died in 2009, to one Britain's top designers, David Mellor. I did a post on him last January.

  4. Hello Rosemary,
    I'm so pleased that you enjoyed the book, such as it is... I love the warm attitude Booth had for the "beautiful labor" of bookmaking-- I feel that myself, as though I'm being compensated to indulge my aesthetic senses with all of the beautiful tools and materials with which I'm surrounded in the bindery. I'm off to immediately look up your post on David Mellor!
    Thank you & best regards,

  5. Hi, Erika -
    I wonder how George Booth would feel about books online now? As someone who loves antiques, traditions and items lovingly made by hand, I'm having a hard time adjusting to books online. It's sad to see many independent book sellers closing their shops. Many thanks for this post on Booth and his Cranbrook Press.

  6. Hi Loi,
    I'm sure it won't surprise you in the least that I'm not keen (to put it mildly) on online books either! I don't think I could ever be rid of my beloved stacks of books old and new... I have a strong suspicion that Mr. Booth would have been with us on this issue, with his passion for collecting rare books and lovingly creating beautiful enduring things. I feel so very sad for the archaeologists of the future: they'll have to spend their time sifting through the emails tweets and texts that are becoming the main written record of our civilization. How boring when compared to the tactile study of beautifully bound books, hand-written letters and journals of generations past! If you ever have occasion to visit Michigan, I think you'd adore Cranbrook-- every detail from the brick patterns in the buildings, to the art, to the grand vistas on the grounds are breathtaking....
    Cheers to you, Loi!

  7. Dear Erika,
    I do like the Arts and Crafts Movement and the philosophy that stood behind it. I don't think that movement achieved its aims all of the time but then that is based on purely personal bias.
    Like Lance and like Rosemary I didn't realise that there was a major arts and crafts movement in America. Mind you I wonder how many know of the smaller Arts and Crafts Movement in Australia?
    I think that one area in which the movement excelled was in the printing of books and I see that George Booth was a perfect example. I agree with Loi in that I have a difficulty in accepting the world of digital books. Many of my students feel the same way. They like the feel, the touch and the smell of books. A digital version of the A&C style of books may have its appeal but to see it and touch it in the flesh so to speak is a more rewarding experience. Just as viewing the original Botticelli 'Primavera' is infinitely superior to seeing it reproduce over the Internet. Or at least that is what I think.
    Thank you for introducing me to George Booth.
    Bye for now

  8. Dear Erika,

    As I mentioned to you earlier, I was aware of Cranbrook by way of one of my professors, but I didn't fully appreciate its history and reach, so thanks for this posting.

    I've always loved really beautifully illuminated initials, and one of these days — when other projects are cleared from the hopper — I'll do a whole alphabet!

  9. Hi Mark,
    Thanks for your message! I could go on about George Booth and Cranbrook all day...what an inspiration. He not only designed those initials in his books, but every decorative detail in the furniture and structure of his home. I hope you get to that illuminated alphabet project-- it sounds like a huge but rewarding undertaking! There is a library, the Newberry, in Chicago, that has a large collection of illuminated manuscripts, and, wonderfully, some hard to find titles about calligraphy and illumination in their shop. You might enjoy taking a virtual browse at their collections and bookstore: http://www.newberry.org/ It's a wonderful place to visit-- I often ponder coming up with a research project that will get me into those stacks & collection rooms!
    Warm regards,

  10. Wonderful post, Erika! GGB was my great-grandfather and I spend a good deal of time amusing myself as my own Cranbrook archivist. Although I didn't live on campus (save for one week in the boys' school dorms), I lived but 1-1/2 miles away and had the distinct privilege of growing up there. After several years in the professional realm of traditional newspapers and magazines, I was an early adopter of electronic publishing in the mid-'80s. There was much to learn of that nascent industry, when much fuss was made over digitized typefaces! Today I'm a technical writer, but spend more time designing marketing materials where all of my acquired skills—and those I inherited—come into play. This morning a reprint of George's 'Something About the Cranbrook Press" arrived; it will join the one original Cranbrook Press volume I acquired several years ago from a collectible books website.

  11. Dear Chris,
    Thank you for your message! What a pleasure it is to hear from you. I'm so glad that you enjoyed this bit of admiration for your ancestor-- it's clear that his traits live on in you! The Booth legacy at Cranbrook is truly a national treasure, and I often think of GGB as I'm working in my own small bindery. Some of my favorite items in the archives are the scrapbooks he assembled as a teenager-- so charming! I envy your Cranbrook Press collection-- every time I visit Cranbrook House, I spend far too much time drooling over the books in the Cranbrook Press cabinet.... Someday I'd like to have a shelf-full myself!

    Thank you for visiting-- you are always most welcome.
    Best regards,

  12. Dear Erika,
    It is a pleasure to discover this site and your passion for my Great Grandfather Booth (yes, Chis M and I are cousins). He was a visionary and very talented man. I have several of his books in my collection, but due to circumstances will need to find happy homes for them. I plan to offer then to Booth family first, but if you are interested, please contact me at CEScripps@aol.com.

    Best regards,
    Carolyn Scripps (granddaughter of Henry Scripps Booth, GGB & ESB youngest son)

  13. Beautiful ! I love vintage fabrics, but never thought to take pictures of them or scan them into my computer to use. Maybe that's because I'm a bit afraid of the whole digital thing. I'm not very computer savvy. And I did notice the butterfly has different wings, not to mention color on each side. :)