Joseph Ishill and the Authors and
Artists of the Oriole Press


Joseph Ishill (1888-1966) emigrated to the United States in 1909 and settled in New York City. Having been apprenticed in a print shop in Rumania, he found work as a typesetter in the city. An anarchist by the time he came to the U.S., Ishill soon began attending the lectures of Emma Goldman and other notable radicals. He was a frequent visitor to the Ferrer Center in New York, and when a Ferrer Colony was founded in Stelton, N.J. in 1915, Ishill was one of the original members. Ishill began helping print the Colony's magazine, The Modern School, and a year later he published Oscar Wilde's The Ballad of Reading Gaol. From the publication of that book in 1916 until his death fifty years later, Ishill published more than 200 books and pamphlets, all of them typeset and printed by hand. In spite of toiling in relative obscurity he has been lauded both by radicals, who recognize him for his efforts in publishing radical materials, and by fine press enthusiasts, who consider him to be one of the finest American printers and typographers of the twentieth century.

The Labadie Collection at the University of Michigan has one of the largest collections of Ishill's published works in the world, as well as an extensive correspondence between Ishill and Agnes Inglis, the original curator of the Labadie Collection. Ishill distributed almost all of his publications free to individuals who would value them for their content, and to institutions that would preserve them for posterity. It was the anarchist Benjamin Tucker who originally introduced Ishill to the Collection when he requested that a copy of his pamphlet, Why I am an Anarchist, be given to the Labadie Collection in 1934. From that time on Ishill donated a copy of most all of his publications to the Labadie Collection, and he also attempted to donate copies of all that he had published prior to 1934.

Although Inglis and Ishill met only once, they shared a mutual admiration and a friendship that lasted from 1934 until Inglis' death in 1952. Following her death, Ishill's commitment to the Labadie Collection did not diminish, as he continued to donate copies of his publications for the rest of his life.

This exhibit attempts to highlight some of the most important authors and artists published by the Oriole Press. Always an idealist, Ishill was not content simply to print beautiful books; a text had to appeal to his intellect before he would set it in type. Among those who appeared in the pages of an Oriole Press book are such well-known radicals as Emma Goldman, Benjamin Tucker, Havelock Ellis, and Theodore Schroeder, to name but a few. The author whose work appeared most frequently was Ishill's wife, the poet Rose Florence Freeman. She translated many of the texts which Ishill printed and he served as the sole publisher of her highly acclaimed poetry and essays. Among the artists whose work appeared in Oriole Press books, Louis Moreau (1883-) is certainly the most important. It was his hand that gave the press its distinctive colophon, as well as many other woodcuts that illustrated various books.

Thomas A. La Porte, Exhibit Curator
Special Collections Library
Hatcher Graduate Library
University of Michigan