Posted by: Lisa Hill | February 16, 2011

The Fanfrolico Press (2009), by John Arnold

The Fanfrolico Press by John Arnold is a history of Australia’s first ‘private press’ in the arts-and-craft tradition which became The Fanfrolico Press that flowered briefly in Bloomsbury in the 1920s and 30s.  It was a venture which mainly starred Jack Lindsay – the son of the artist, sculptor and author Norman Lindsay – without whose fame the whole business would probably have amounted to nothing. 

The first title, Fauns and Ladies was published in 1923.  It was a book of bawdy lyrics for collectors, illustrated with Norman Lindsay’s wood-engravings. Its proprietors were youthful Bohemians, rather perilously ambitious given their joint lack of business expertise and capital.  They did surprisingly well however, eking out a living despite the risky move to London and upheavals in ownership that saw the departure in 1927 of Kirtley who set it up first with Lindsay; then a partnership with Stephenson from 1927-30; and the final period from 1929-30 by Jack Lindsay alone.

The press specialised in printings of classics and forgotten works that were suited to Normal Lindsay’s extravagant style.  (For copyright reasons, you need to click on this link and the one on Lindsay’s name in the first paragraph above to see Lindsay artworks).  Fanfrolico  was scornful of modernism and with its florid style determinedly backward-looking.  Judging by the facsimiles with which this history is lavishly illustrated,  the books were undoubtedly handsome but they appear to have had limited appeal even in the rarefied world of book-collecting, and Norman Lindsay himself chafed at the pressure to produce illustrations for them.  It was not the sort of work he wanted to do, but he knew that the Press depended on his artwork for success.  When he finally said ‘no more’ Fanfrolico struggled on for a while but folded not long afterwards.

Published in the same tradition as a handsome addition to any bookshelf, The Fanfrolico Press  is an 8vo printing from The Private Libraries Association.  My first trade edition copy is one of only 850 bound in this way, out of a total edition of only 900.   It is a scholarly work, but Arnold’s style is easy reading, and the book itself is an interesting look at a forgotten era in Australian publishing.  It is good to see that there are still publishers around who are willing to invest in producing works of historical significance like this.

Author: John Arnold
Title: The Fanfrolico Press, Fauns, Satyrs and Fine Books
Publisher: The Private Libraries Association, Pinner 2009
ISBN: 9780900002977
Source: Personal copy, purchased at the launch from Kay Craddock Antiquarian Booksellers, ($95.00 AUD) (Type Fanfrolico into the search box). 

For international availability, visit Oak Knoll Books, and
locally try Fishpond at this link: The Fanfrolico Press: Satyrs, Fauns and Fine Books

Transparency statement: The author, John Arnold, is the son of a friend of mine.


  1. This sounds wonderful Lisa ,I would love to have lived in 1920’s always seemed such a vibrant time for the arts ,all the best stu


    • Yes, I think the time when brave souls could have-a-go at a venture like this are long gone. It’s sad, I think.


  2. Oh, I do love books about publishers and publishing – like Hilary McPhee’s Other people’s words. This sounds fascinating, though at $95 I’m probably not going to rush out to buy it right now.


    • Sue, I think they’ve reduced the price now, so it may not be so expensive.
      I’ve got Other People’s Words on the TBR, I really must find time to read it. McPhee is one of my heroes because the McPhee-Gribble imprint produced such wonderful stuff in its day.


      • It’s a great book – you’ll love it. Meanwhile I’ll keep an eye out for this.


  3. […] a much fuller account of this press see a blog post reviewing John Arnold’s 2011 book on the history of this first private press of […]


  4. […] a much fuller account of this press see a blog post reviewing John Arnold’s 2011 book on the history of this first private press of […]


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