My research on when the first large acim author was published yielded some confusing results. There were some sources that stated the first large print book was published in 1914, but none provided actual evidence to back-up their claims. What most historians seem to agree on is that the first LPBs produced in the English language in bulk were published in 1964 in Leicester, England. The publisher was a former book and magazine printer and publisher by the name of Frederick A.
Thorpe. Thorpe wasn’t the first person to recognise the need for a larger format book for elderly readers with poor eyesight. In fact, the book industry had been talking about the need for such books for almost 20 years, but nothing had come to fruition as most felt that LPBs wouldn’t be a financial success. Thorpe came at the idea from a different angle and decided that though there were risks involved, the best way to make the idea commercially viable would be to produce the books for libraries. Thus, Thorpe became the founder, and subsequent world leader in large print book publications with the formation of his non-profit organisation, Ulverscroft Large Print Books Limited.
In the early years, Thorpe produced large print books that were about twice the physical size of a regular book and the type inside was also about twice the size of the original publication. The books were colour coded according to their genre and had very simply designed dust jackets. However by 1969, after realising that the format of his books were too bulky for his elderly readers,
Thorpe began to publish the books in regular sized bindings and came up with a standard 16-point type. This change in design marked the real take-off point for Ulverscroft. The new formatting made the books user-friendly for readers, but more importantly from a business perspective, the new format made the books more durable and shelf-friendly for libraries all over the world.
Since these humble beginnings, Ulverscroft Large Print Books Limited, now known as the Ulverscroft Group, has purchased many other large print companies around the world and has diversified their product line to include talking books as well. Whilst many readers now buy Ulverscroft LPBs themselves, libraries were the prime buyer of the Ulverscroft product back in the 1960s and they still are today. The non-profit side of Thorpe’s business is still alive today under the name, The Ulverscroft Foundation, a charity based in the UK that aim’s to provide help and support to the visually impaired.
Many other large print companies exist across the globe today and whilst the plain dust jacket that characterised the original Ulverscroft publications in 1964 are still the standard, increasingly many more publishers are giving their LPBs the same look and feel as their originals with more elaborate cover art. In terms of inclusion, this seems like a positive move, but what interests me the most about the future is the impact of e-book technology. The ability for the reader of an e-book to increase and decrease type size at will makes them almost indiscriminate. From a publisher’s point of view, one could argue that large print books are becoming redundant.
Why go to the trouble of publishing them and catering for a niche market, when the e-book supposedly caters for all? With the existence of libraries themselves also under threat, it makes me wonder what kind of future is in store for the large print book. What I do know is that for almost 50 years, the pioneering work of Frederick Thorpe has meant that the world of books has remained open to many a visually impaired reader, and that ain’t bad.