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The Mystery Of Arthur Cousins’ Printers

September 1, 2022
by the gentle author

Tickets are available for my tour throughout September & October



(Click to enlarge this image and study it in detail)

‘A tribute to the pioneers and masters of printing who through 500 years have perpetuated and adorned the written word, spreading far and wide the rich currency of ideas, knowledge & understanding’


Who can name the printers featured in this epic wooden relief carving by Arthur Cousins in 1951? I have made some suggestions below but I call upon the superior knowledge of my readers to identify them all.

The origin of this panel, which was acquired by anthropologist & collector Dr Kaori O’Connor at a sale room in the eighties, is a mystery too. Dr O’ Connor understood it came from the office of a print union. Can anyone enlighten us further or tell us more about Arthur Cousins?

On the far left is the profile of a Chinese printer with a chronological sequence of figures from the history of printing in the West arranged from left to right. I think I identify William Morris and Eric Gill on the right, but those of earlier periods are unknown to me, although I recognise the gods Minerva and Mercury presiding overhead.

Readers may recall that it was Dr O’Connor who rescued Cecil Osborne’s murals, commissioned for St Pancras Town Hall, in a similar enlightened fashion from a general sale at Christies in South Kensington, and thanks to her initiative they have been reinstalled in the Town Hall again.

Now Dr O’Connor wants to find a permanent home for Arthur Cousins’ wooden relief of printers where it can be seen publicly. It is approximately eight feet wide by six feet high and carved into a block of oak a couple of inches thick.

If any of my readers can help, please drop me a line to and I will forward your message to Dr O’Connor.

William Morris is seated on the left with Eric Gill holding a tablet on the right. Who is standing behind Morris and who are the two men in the middle?

Who are these Early Modern printers? Could one be William Caslon?

Is that William Caxton standing to the right. Who are these Renaissance printers?

Arthur Cousins, 1951

You may also like to read about

Cecil Osborne’s Murals

A Door in Cornhill

Dorothy Annan’s Murals

The Bakers of Widegate St

23 Responses leave one →
  1. Jacqueline Jacques permalink
    September 1, 2022

    The beardless Renaissance one could be Wynkyn De Worde. He was a German who came to England and printed a great many popular religious and devotional works.

  2. September 1, 2022

    My guess is that the Arthur Cousins concerned was Arthur George Cousins CBE (1882–1949), chairman of Odhams Press and of the Daily Herald and with interests in other publications. According to the obituary in the Herald of 26 September 1949, he was president of the Lloyd Memorial (Caxton) Seaside Home for convalescent printers at Deal – which is perhaps where the mural once lived – and in 1947 ‘festival president’ of the Printers Pension Corporation. (There’s also an obituary in the Times of 26 September 1946.) Maybe St Bride’s Library, which specialises in printing, could tell you more.

  3. Adam permalink
    September 1, 2022

    Robert harrild late 18th c springs to mind, he pioneered ink rollers. George Baxter colour printer from same era, hieronymous cock , master engraver of Bruegel et al. Lots of beards in the print trade by the look of this wonderful carving.

  4. Sigrid Werner permalink
    September 1, 2022

    The gentleman in the far background with the cap and very long beard could be Johannes Gutenberg, inventor of moveable letters for printing. He is always depicted with a very long beard. Full name Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg .

  5. Bernie permalink
    September 1, 2022

    I can only add my astonishment at the grandeur and skill of the carving! It MUST be conserved and displayed, and the detail identified!

    Kudos to those involved in looking after it!

  6. Philip Marriage permalink
    September 1, 2022

    Could the chap with his back to us at the back be Benjamin Franklin? He was a trained printer and spent some time in London working around St Giles, lodging in Wild Street, Little Britain.

  7. John C. Miles permalink
    September 1, 2022

    An amazing panel – thank you for sharing, GA. I would suggest that possibilities for the Renaissance grouping might include William Caxton, Johannes Gutenberg, Aldus Manutius, William Tyndale (or perhaps Peter Quentell, printer of the Great Bible) and/or Wynkyn De Worde. The Early Modern/18th century group could include John Norton and/or Robert Barker (King James Bible), William Caslon and John Baskerville. Another possibility might be Robert Foulis…

  8. Tony Wright permalink
    September 1, 2022

    I think the person next to William Morris, is Keir Hardy

  9. James Harris permalink
    September 1, 2022

    That is an amazing piece of carving that must have taken a great deal of time to complete.

  10. September 1, 2022

    I could be very wrong, but I think the two men betweem Morris and Gill may be Emery Walker and Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson. Walker worked for Morris and was his executor, founded the Doves Press with TJCS, but it ended badly with type being thrown into the Thames (and since recovered, a fascinating story). The man at the back in profile perhaps Leonard Woolf?

    Among the incunabula men, perhaps Gutenberg with long beard on left, and Wynken de Worde behind him, then John Lettou (John the Lithuanian) who set up in London as a rival to Caxton, and Caxton himself on the right?

    I think the early Victorian man with the bewigged group must be Robert Harrild (, and could the two on the left be the Cambridge University printers Buck and Daniel? Of the two standing men, the one on the left (hat on, plain hair), possibly Andrew Sowle, the Quaker printer, and John Baskerville with his back to us???

    Please do keep us updated with further identifications and news of where the wonderful plaque might be displayed? perhaps at the Stationers’ Hall, or St Martin’s Ludgate?

  11. Roger Whitaker permalink
    September 1, 2022

    The wooden relief showing William Morris, I would suggest Keir Hardie is sitting next to him and the man behind is not Atlee but Arthur Henderson, leaders of the Labour Party.

  12. Linda Granfield permalink
    September 1, 2022

    Key is the carved date of 1951. Arthur George Cousins CBE died in 1949. What a puzzle!

    I first thought Gutenberg (fellow on left/flat hat) but now think it might be French printer Robert Estienne (1503-1559). Photos online corroborate RE. But how could this be carved without Gutenberg?
    And where’s Ben Franklin? Is he the man in the peruke?
    A fine carving. I hope it finds a worthy home.

  13. September 1, 2022

    “adorned the written word” ……. What a lovely phrase, and what an exceptional wooden panel!
    I chuckled to read that perhaps the slender, elegantly-groomed, be-wigged gent was Benjamin Franklin. Although he would be honored to join such exalted company, I don’t think Franklin was ever depicted in such a mannerly flattering way. Our beloved Franklin looked like the proverbial unmade bed — and would probably never “turn his back” on attention.

    The astute knowledge of your readers impresses me every time!
    Thank you, GA.

  14. Paul Loften permalink
    September 1, 2022

    I agree with Bernie . They must be conserved. May I digress just a little to mention my small connection with the print trade. It may raise a smile with some readers . At Parmiters School in the later years of the 196o’s I recall that some of the boys who left in the 5 th year aged around 16 were attracted by the good wages offered in the print. However it was a closed shop then you could only get a job if you had a relative or perhaps a close friend in the union that would recommend you. A job in the print was considered like gold dust .
    I recall I had a friend that promised to ring me with a possible job. Fortunately the call never came . I say “fortunately “ because I later learned of the initiation ceremony that one had to go through . I wouldn’t like to repeat it here . I don’t think I would have ever submitted to it though . However I did take a job working in Fleet Street offices of The Nottingham Evening Post around 1968 and that didn’t require any initiation ceremony.

  15. Sonia Murray permalink
    September 1, 2022

    The carving is wonderful. Thank you! Please let us know when and where it is finally installed.

  16. September 1, 2022

    What a magnificent work!
    Perhaps tangential, but might the Worshipful Company of Stationers be interested…?

  17. Bill permalink
    September 1, 2022

    Aldus Manutius? Venetian printer/scholar.

  18. Alison Felstead permalink
    September 1, 2022

    Fascinating! I’ve forwarded this post to my partner who is a member of the Printing Historical Society, and he has shared it with the PHS email discussion list.

  19. William, New York permalink
    September 2, 2022

    I found this architectural embellishment attributed to Arthur Cousins. Mercury House, London. Not much else.

  20. September 3, 2022

    I agree with Caroline Murray.
    Pretty sure that the chap with the moustache standing behind Morris is Emery Walker – of the Kelmscott Press & Doves press.

    Eric Gill I think on the far right. He made a self-portrait of himself in that folded (paper?) hat.

  21. September 12, 2022

    I’m going to guess that the man between Walker and Gill might be intended to be Stanley Morison, without glasses of course, and I think with his hair parted on the wrong side. Maybe not a very convincing portrait, but if you were looking at a British pantheon created at this time, he would be a likely inclusion, on the typography side rather than printing per se.

  22. Mike permalink
    August 23, 2023

    Arthur George Cousins, publisher, editor and banker and a Lt-Col, was my paternal grandmother half brother. Any information on this family tree please contact me. Mike.

  23. oliver branston permalink
    November 22, 2023

    Arthur Cousins was my great grandfather and i have lots of his artwork and carvings, i actually have a few photos of him carving this wonderful piece of work. If anybody has any other information on him please get in touch. Oliver Arthur

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