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Harry Kessler

Wealthy Paris-born, English-educated son of a German-Swiss father and an Irish mother, a diplomat and patron of the arts, Count Harry Kessler established his private press, the Cranach Presse, in Weimar in 1913.

In 1904 he came to London to seek the advice of Emery Walker on the design of books for Insel Verlag, the innovative Leipzig publishing house. While there he was introduced to Eric Gill and Edward Johnston, both of whom he commissioned to draw title pages for Insel Verlag.

Kessler later asked Walker to produce a type for the Cranach Presse. Just as Walker had done with types whose design he had supervised for other major private presses — Kelmscott, Doves and Ashendene — he chose Edward Prince to cut the punches. Unfortunately for all concerned, and despite help from Johnston, Prince had serious problems cutting the italic, seemingly unable to interpret the designs of Tagliente. The punches were finished only after Prince’s death and barely used.

Kessler’s interests in fine printing were interrupted by World War I and his posting to Poland as ambassador. He left Germany for France in 1933, with the rise of the Nazis.

Cranach published classic works by Shakespeare, Virgil, and Petronius, and such contemporary authors as Rilke, van de Velde and Hauptmann.

Kessler’s life story provides us with a valuable insight into the Weimar period of German history.