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The John Ryder Archive


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The archive comprises working papers, personal papers, correspondence, photographs, objects, and material relating to the private press movement arranged into the following series:

  1. Private Presses
  2. Personal Papers
  3. Professional Papers
  4. The Bodley Head
  5. The Bodleian Library
  6. Societies, Clubs, and Galleries
  7. Institutions, Libraries, and Museums
  8. Book Trade
  9. Book Production
  10. Giovanni Mardersteig and the Officina Bodoni
  11. John Ryder: Associates
  12. John Ryder: Correspondence
  13. Book Jackets


  • Creation: Creation: Majority of material found within [1548]-2001
  • Creation: Creation: [1890]-2001


156.22 Linear metres (440 boxes)

Language of Materials

  • English
  • Afrikaans
  • Chinese
  • Czech
  • Danish
  • Dutch; Flemish
  • Finnish
  • French
  • German
  • Italian
  • Japanese
  • Latin
  • Norwegian
  • Polish
  • Russian
  • Spanish; Castilian
  • Welsh

Conditions Governing Access

Some material is closed.

Preferred Citation

Oxford, Bodleian Libraries [followed by shelfmark and folio or page reference, e.g. MS. 21435/1].

Please see our help page for further guidance on citing archives and manuscripts.

Full range of shelfmarks:

MSS. 21435/1-432; MS. 21435 Photogr. 1-6; JL 1057

Collection ID (for staff)

CMD ID 21435


Papers and correspondence of John Ryder (1917–2001), book designer, art director, and typographer.

Biographical / Historical

Born in Leigh-on-Sea on 6th October 1917, John Ryder began his career in the mid-1930s as a bookseller at John Baker's Phoenix Bookshop. Soon after, Ryder acquired his first hand-press (an Adana flatbed) and began experimenting with it under the name of The Miniature Press.

During the Second World War, Ryder registered as a conscientious objector and worked in the Non Combatant Corps before joining the 224th (Parachute) Field Ambulance. He was posted to Normandy, Germany, and Palestine. Ryder oversaw the printing of Over the Rhine: a Parachute Field Ambulance in Germany (1946), an account written by members of the 224th unit about their time in Germany.

After the war he returned to work for John Baker, by now running the publishing imprint of Phoenix House (a J.M. Dent subsidiary), and was put in charge of production. Ryder’s first two books on printing followed: Printing for Pleasure in 1955 and A Suite of Fleurons, marking the start of a long collaboration with Tinlings of Liverpool, in 1956.

Ryder joined The Bodley Head publishing house as art director in 1957, a position he held until 1987 when The Bodley Head was acquired by Random House. With the encouragement of the proprietor, Max Reinhardt, Ryder became a respected book designer, designing classics such as the 1960 edition of James Joyces’ Ulysses and books by Graham Greene (himself a director of The Bodley Head between 1957 to 1968).

In 1962, Ryder began writing a series of articles in Librarium entitled ‘A Bibliophile's Letter from Great Britain’ in which he wrote about a variety of topics concerning printing, publishing, and book collecting. One early topic was the acquisition by The Bodley Head of the defunct imprint Nattali & Maurice, under which Ryder published a series of books on printing and the graphic arts. With the advent of the influence of computing on typography, Ryder published The Case for Legibility in 1979.

Ryder was influenced by the work of printers such as Jan Tschichold and Giovanni Mardersteig of the Officina Bodoni in Verona, on whose works Ryder became an authority. Among Ryder’s personal and professional associates were the lettering designer Michael Harvey (1931-2013) and the illustrator and writer Maurice Sendak (1928-2012). For many years Ryder was a member of the Double Crown Club and of the Garrick Club.

Ryder’s association with the Bodleian Library began in 1969 when he began to correspond with Michael Turner, Keeper of the John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera. Ryder decided to donate his archive and printed book collections to the Bodleian, and the first batch of material arrived in 1970. An exhibition of Ryder’s work at the Bodleian followed in 1974. Though Ryder worked for some years on an introduction to his archive at the Bodleian, this was never completed.

John met his wife, (Agnes) Herta Hagen (d.1995), in London shortly after the end of the Second World War and they married in May 1946. Herta was born in Berlin but had left Germany when Atlantis, the publishing company she worked for, closed the doors of their Berlin office at the onset of war. Having no work permit she was unable to work at the company’s Zurich office and relatives secured a work visa so she could move to London to avoid having to return to Germany. Herta continued to work in publishing, eventually running her own literary agency. The Ryders’ apartment was located on the edge of Richmond Park, filled with books and paintings avidly collected by them.


The archive was sorted into thirteen broad subject categories in 2001 after the final batch of material was received by the Bodleian Library and this arrangement has largely been maintained.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by John Ryder to the Bodleian Library in 1970, with further donations of material in the 1980s. A bequest of additional material and books came to the Bodleian Library after his death in Jan 2001.

Related Materials

University of Reading

  1. BH - Bodley Head Ltd Archive, 1929-1989.

British Library

  1. Add MS 88987 - Max Reinhardt papers, 1899-2006.

Separated Materials

Books from John Ryder's collection (including a collection of Officina Bodoni publications) have been catalogued separately.


  • Jonh Ryder and Francis Meynell, Printing for Pleasure: A Practical Guide for Amateurs (London, 1955).
  • John Ryder, A Suite of Fleurons (London, 1956).
  • John Ryder, Miniature Folio of Private Presses (London, 1960).
  • John Ryder, The Bodley Head 1887 to 1957 (London, 1970).
  • John Ryder, Flowers & Flourishes (London, 1976).
  • John Ryder, The Case for Legibility (London, 1979).
  • John Ryder, Intimate Leaves from a Designer's Notebook (Newtown, 1993).
  • M.L. T[urner], ‘The John Ryder donation’, Bodleian Library Record, 9 (1974), p.67.
  • C. Hurst, ‘The Ryder archive’, Bodleian Library Record, 17 (2002), p.353-354.
  • M.L. Turner, John Ryder, Book Designer and Art Director (2002).
Catalogue of The John Ryder Archive
This catalogue was produced by Rachael Marsay and Carolyn Lewis based on a finding aid prepared by Liz Roberts in Aug 2001. The collection had previously been indexed by a visiting American library student in 1970 and by Stanley Gillam in 1995.
Language of description
Script of description
Catalogued with the generous support of the Roy Davids bequest
Edition statement
First edition

Repository Details

Part of the Bodleian Libraries Repository

Weston Library
Broad Street
Oxford OX1 3BG United Kingdom