One of the essential characteristics of the private press working on the principles laid down by William Morris was the use of hand-made paper, and in practice a proprietary paper with a distinctive watermark, such as those that were manufactured for De Zilverdistel and De Heuvelpers. Morris’s rules were published in ‘The Ideal Book’, and could be checked from his Kelmscott Press books. They were initially followed to the letter by Dutch private presses, and prospectuses and publisher’s lists attest to this. The lack of information about paper in the colophons was copied after Morris’s example. However, a practical approach of printing implied that the ideal of hand-made paper was silently abandoned, when so-called hand-made Japanese papers were selected for some books, and for financial reasons papers with obsolete watermarks were used. In his printing studio, the idealistically inclined printer turned into a pragmatic artisan.
During the twentieth century, a limited edition is usually numbered, in contrast to limited editions of around 1800. This article examines a number of turning points in the history of limitation statements and copy numbering: the disappearance of copyright related numbering versus unnumbered editions of private presses (around 1800), the advent of numbered prints (1850-1900), and numbering of luxury editions and private press editions (1880-1910). The stabilization of a new tradition of numbering occurs around 1930. The development of private press publications is examined in a broad context of copyright and the production of prints, while practices in the English-speaking world are shown to differ from those in other cultures, such as the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Germany.