Administered by:
University of Cambridge
19th century Oxford University Press
The Press now entered an era of enormous change. In 1830, it was still a joint stock printing business in an academic backwater, offering learned works to a relatively small readership of scholars and clerics. The Press was the product of "a society of shy hypochondriacs," as one historian put it. Its trade relied on mass sales of cheap Bibles, and its Delegates were typified by Gaisford or Martin Routh. They were long-serving classicists, presiding over a learned business that printed 5 or 10 titles each year, such as Liddell and Scott's Greek-English Lexicon (1843), and they displayed little or no desire to expand its trade. Steam power for printing must have seemed an unsettling departure in the 1830s.

It took the 1850 Royal Commission on the workings of the university and a new Secretary, Bartholomew Price, to shake up the Press. Appointed in 1868, Price had already recommended to the university that the Press needed an efficient executive officer to exercise "vigilant superintendence" of the business, including its dealings with Alexander Macmillan, who became the publisher for Oxford's printing in 1863 and in 1866 helped Price to create the Clarendon Press series of cheap, elementary school books perhaps the first time that Oxford used the Clarendon imprint. Under Price, the Press began to take on its modern shape. By 1865 the Delegacy had ceased to be 'perpetual,' and evolved into five perpetual and five junior posts filled by appointment from the university, with the Vice Chancellor a Delegate ex officio: a hothouse for factionalism that Price deftly tended and controlled. The university bought back shares as their holders retired or died. Accounts' supervision passed to the newly created Finance Committee in 1867. Major new lines of work began. To give one example, in 1875, the Delegates approved the series Sacred Books of the East under the editorship of Friedrich Max Muller, bringing a vast range of religious thought to a wider readership.

Price transformed OUP. In 1884, the year he retired as Secretary, the Delegates bought back the last shares in the business. The Press was now owned wholly by the university, with its own paper mill, print shop, bindery, and warehouse. Its output had increased to include school books and modern scholarly texts such as James Clerk Maxwell's A Treatise on Electricity & Magnetism (1873), which proved fundamental to Einstein's thought. Simply put, without abandoning its traditions or quality of work, Price began to turn OUP into an alert, modern publisher. In 1879, he also took on the publication that led that process to its conclusion: the huge project that became the Oxford English Dictionary (OED).

The next Secretary struggled to address this problem. Philip Lyttelton Gell was appointed by the Vice-Chancellor Benjamin Jowett in 1884. Despite his education at Balliol and a background in London publishing, Gell found the operations of the Press incomprehensible. The Delegates began to work around him, and the university finally dismissed Gell in 1897. The Assistant Secretary, Charles Cannan, took over with little fuss and even less affection for his predecessor: "Gell was always here, but I cannot make out what he did."

His efforts were helped by the efficiency of the print shop. Horace Hart was appointed as Controller of the Press at the same time as Gell, but proved far more effective than the Secretary. With extraordinary energy and professionalism, he improved and enlarged Oxford's printing resources, and developed Hart's Rules as the first style guide for Oxford's proofreaders. Subsequently, these became standard in print shops worldwide. In addition, he suggested the idea for the Clarendon Press Institute, a social club for staff in Walton Street. When the Institute opened in 1891, the Press had 540 employees eligible to join it, including apprentices. Finally, Hart's general interest in printing led to him cataloguing the "Fell Types", then using them in a series of Tudor and Stuart facsimile volumes for the Press, before ill health led to his death in 1915. By then, OUP had moved from being a parochial printer into a wide-ranging, university-owned publishing house with a growing international presence.