Archetype Press and the Bentleys of Berkeley

BERKELEY e-PLAQUE

The Archetype Press and the Bentleys of Berkeley

Wilder Bentley the Elder (1901-1989)

Wilder Bentley the Younger (born 1928)


Bentley Cottage: 2683 Le Conte Avenue

Born in 1901 into a distinguished Berkeley family, Wilder Bentley the Elder was the grandson of Dr. Robert Irving Bentley, an influential Methodist minister in the late nineteenth century.  His father was a co-founder of the brand that became Del Monte.  After studies at Yale and the University of Michigan, and several years living in Europe, Bentley married Ellen Mayo in 1927.  Interested in both literature and printing, Bentley published writings while at the University of Oklahoma and studied printing at the Carnegie Institute of Technology.

After moving to Berkeley with their young children (including a son who became known as Wilder Bentley the Younger), the Bentleys established a small press in their home at 1836 San Antonio Avenue.  Successful in this enterprise, they expanded and moved the business, now The Archetype Press, to a location at 1836 Euclid Court.  Typesetter and proofreader Ellen Bentley also sewed books designed by her husband.  The Bentleys were part of a group of likeminded artists: Wilder, photographer Ansel Adams, author/mountaineer Francis Farquhar, and typeface legend Frederic W. Goudy were all members of the Roxburghe Club in San Francisco.

The Bentleys’ most famous work was the first printed book of Ansel Adams’ photographs, Sierra Nevada:  The John Muir Trail—a work that convinced President Franklin D. Roosevelt to establish Kings Canyon National Park.  

After the Archetype Press closed in the early 1940s, the Bentleys moved the press at their family home, the Bentley Cottage—an original Northside residence designed by the prominent Berkeley builder A.H. Broad that had survived the 1923 Berkeley fire.

By 1957, Wilder Bentley was teaching at San Francisco State College.  After retirement, he brought the Archetype Press back to life from the family cottage to print his culminating masterwork, “The Poetry of Learning”:  26 scrolls in different poetic forms that were printed in a variety of typefaces on an1870s-era Palmer & Rey “Washington”  hand press.

Wilder Bentley was a good friend of Chiura Obata. The famed artist helped both him and his son become distinguished artists by teaching them principles he used in his own work.  In later years after Obata had a stroke, Bentley would assist him when they fished together at Thornton State Beach in Daly City.  After a day’s fishing, the two old friends would join park rangers to share coffee, conversation, and reminisce about lives spent celebrating art, education, and nature.  

Wilder Bentley the Elder died in 1989; Ellen Bentley, a decade later.  Bentley’s papers are in the Clark Library at UCLA.  Many of his published works are in the UC’s Bancroft Library and at San Francisco State University.  Wilder Bentley the Younger carried on the tradition of producing fine books and art. The Bentley Cottage on Le Conte Avenue has been restored by new owners.

Contributed by Donald Scott, 2017


  • Wilder Bentley the Elder at the Archetype Press, Bentley Cottage, photo Bernard Rosenthal courtesy Andrew Hoyem, Arion Press

  • Wilder Bentley the Elder at the Archetype Press, Bentley Cottage, photo Bernard Rosenthal courtesy Andrew Hoyem, Arion Press

  • Wilder Bentley the Elder at the Archetype Press, Bentley Cottage/ Courtesy Andrew Hoyem, Arion Press

  • Wilder Bentley the Elder at the Archetype Press, Bentley Cottage, photo Bernard Rosenthal courtesy Andrew Hoyem, Arion Press

  • Bentley Cottage (2017), photo R. Kehlmann

Photo credit abbreviations:
BAHA: Berkeley Architectural Heritage Assn.
BHS: Berkeley Historical Society