Will too boote, and Will in ouer-plus

Today the Bodleian Libraries are celebrating their Sonnets 2016 project, which saw each of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets printed by hand this year. Small presses from around the world have sent in an amazing variety of contributions. The sonnets range from postcard-size to poster-size, with all kinds of flourishes, conceits and illustrations.

One of my favourite things about the project is that it was open to amateur printers as well as experts. When not cataloguing Crouch’s books at Balliol I can often be found messing around with ink and type, so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to print one of the sonnets.

Trial and error: sonnets large and small (left) and some early experiments with registration (right)

Sonnet 135 is bawdy, mischievous and chock-full of puns on the word Will. In this context, I wanted to use the project as a chance to experiment and play with different techniques. However, the design was also constrained by the materials to hand. These consisted mainly of a selection of Gill Sans, an Adana 8×5 press, and an awful lot of tea.

A proof of the linocut next to John Byddell’s 16th century border (Photograph by Lucy Kelsall)
A proof of the linocut next to John Byddell’s 16th century border

The border was linocut based on a design reproduced in R.B. McKerrow’s Printer’s & publishers’ devices in England & Scotland, 1485-1640 (1913). This border, McKerrow 94, was used by John Byddell in the mid-16th century. Byddell had been an assistant to Wynkyn de Worde, and printed at the sign of the Sun after his master’s death.

Fifteen copies were printed in black and red, and the remaining twenty-five in black.

Sonnet 135, printed by Frazil Press (Photograph by Lucy Kelsall)
Sonnet 135, printed by Frazil Press

More information about other contributions to the project is available on the Bodleian’s special collections blog, and photographs of many of the sonnets in progress can be found on social media by searching the hashtag #154sonnets.

By Lucy Kelsall
Early Printed Books Cataloguer (and sonneteer)



  • Blake, N.F. ‘Worde, Wynkyn de (d. 1534/5).’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
  • McKerrow, R.B. Printer’s & publishers’ devices in England & Scotland, 1485-1640. London: Bibliographical Society, 1913.
  • Pollard, A.W. and Redgrave, G.R. Short-title catalogue of books printed in England, Scotland, & Ireland and of English books printed abroad, 1475-1640. 2nd ed. London: Bibliographical Society, 1976-91.