Founded in 1965 by Geoffrey Spencer, The Alcuin Society launched with the goal of promoting a wider appreciation of beautifully produced books.
The society is named after Alcuin of York (735-804AD): Minister of Culture during the reign of Charlemagne, who was deeply interested in handwriting styles. He selected the most legible script of the time, the Caroline miniscule, precursor to our lower-case alphabet.
The Society published its first book, A Theatrical Trip for a Wager, in 1966. Printed in a limited edition of 500 copies by the late Wil Hudson using Kennerley typeface by Frederic Goudy, it featured a three-colour title page and a second colour for large initials on the opening pages of each chapter. Handsomely bound, including a slipcase, it caught the attention of book collectors in Canada and beyond.
We published eleven more limited-edition books, several chapbooks, pamphlets, and keepsakes, many of which were distributed within the society’s regular journal, Amphora. Some of these items are still available for purchase.
Amphora started as a simple newsletter before becoming a journal in 1968, designed by Wil Hudson and printed by Donald Atkins. By its second issue, it had swelled from 16 to 40 pages. During each redesign the journal featured beautifully illustrated covers and keepsakes, until it stayed in its current format: produced three times per year and featuring cutting-edge topics.
The Alcuin Awards are born
In 1981, the society organized a small competition to see who had produced the best-designed book in Canada the previous year. From modest beginnings it grew into the Competition for Excellence in Book Design in Canada, which receives more than 200 submissions every year.
We began to sell discounted copies of books submitted in 1984, thus helping to fund the next year’s competition. This led to the traditional Book Auction every November, where some of the most beautiful books in Canada are offered for sale.
The Robert R. Reid Award and Medal launched in 2007 to celebrate one of the society’s first – and finest – designers.
Throughout its history, The Alcuin Society has kept an active profile in a range of book-related activities in Canada and beyond, in large part thanks to the members and donors devoted to books. While the society has evolved over time, the passion of its directors remains the same. It continues to nurture the love and enthusiasm for books that brought it into existence in 1965.
Further Information on the Alcuin Society
Basbanes, Nicholas A. “Viva Vancouver.” Fine Books and Collections January 2009
Saunders, Jeremiah. “Flickr as a Digital Image Collection Host: A Case Study of the Alcuin Society.” Collection Management 33, no.4 (2008)