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Green, Percy Gordon (1889–1972)

by J. Hagan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Percy Gordon Green (1889-1972), printer and typographer, was born on 6 March 1889 at Akaroa, New Zealand, eldest child of Edward Charles Green, carpenter and farmer, and his wife Emma Lucretia, née King, both New Zealand-born. While attending schools at Ashhurst and Woodville he helped his father on a farm and delivered the tri-weekly Woodville Examiner. After about a year at High School, he became a 'printer's devil' at Palmerston North.

In 1912 Green migrated to Toowoomba, Queensland, and worked for the Harrison Printing Co. Ltd. Soon he began to study lettering and printing design by a correspondence course run by the Inland Printer, the 'Bible' of self-improving printers in the United States of America. At the Wesley Church, Kangaroo Point, Brisbane, he married Clementina Margaret Dunstan (d.1961) on 25 January 1916. Both were musical: he played several instruments, and also conducted; she sang in church choirs.

Moving to Sydney in 1918 as a factory manager, Green saw that specially designed lettering could be combined with illustrations within one block to much better effect in advertisements. This led to the founding of the Green Press Ltd at Glebe, as a letterpress printing firm, working in close collaboration with firms of commercial artists, notably (S. Ure) Smith & Julius. But Green also wished to demonstrate his artistic talent by printing limited editions. In 1921 he produced The Windsor Book, largely an essay by J. H. M. Abbott with etchings by Lionel Lindsay and Ure Smith. He hand-set the type and used an Albion hand-press. In the 1920s and 1930s Green produced other prestigious books including A Century of Journalism, the centenary history of the Sydney Morning Herald. Hardy Wilson's Grecian and Chinese Architecture, limited to an edition of 100, was illustrated with copper half-tone blocks, set in Caslon type and printed on goatskin parchment paper. A foundation member of the Australian Limited Editions Society's technical committee from 1936, Green produced his most famous book for the society in 1938—Watkin Tench's Narrative of the Expedition to Botany Bay, originally published in 1789. Green set the book in Caslon's Old Face, in the manner of Caslon's original 'English' face, manufactured about 1730; it was exhibited at the San Francisco World Fair as one of the best fifty books of the year. He also designed an edition of Henry Lawson's Romance of the swag for the society but during its production the Green Press was reorganized; Green was 'shunted' and took the book to Waite & Bull to print and bind.

The episode distressed Green and he moved to Melbourne where he continued to work as a compositor and typographer, sporadically with the Age. In 1940 he published A Sentimental Story and in his eightieth year, he set and hand-printed fifty copies of I am Evergreen, a brief history of his family. He died in hospital at Camberwell on 28 August 1972 and was cremated. Two sons and two daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Limited Editions Society, Prospectus (Syd, 1936)
  • Australian Book Review, Sept 1972
  • Graphic Arts, 20 Sept 1972.

Citation details

J. Hagan, 'Green, Percy Gordon (1889–1972)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/green-percy-gordon-6472/text11085, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 15 December 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

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