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Detail from a page in the Farnsworth Hours; illumination attributed to Flemish artist Willem Vrelant, ca. 1465, Booth Family Center for Special Collections

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The Printer's Art: A Selection of American Fine Printing 1899-1989

Howard W. Gunlocke Rare Book and Special Collections Room
March 1, 1992
June 1, 1992



This exhibit is the fourth at Georgetown since 1981 to be devoted to some aspect of fine printing in the United States. Previous displays have surveyed the development of an American style in fine printing, explored the sometimes beautiful and always interesting byways of printed ephemera, and commemorated the remarkable achievements of Peter Beilenson and his Peter Pauper Press, Walpole Printing Office, and Press of the Blue-behinded Ape.

On this occasion we hope to help clarify an issue often either ignored or obscured: the place of fine printing in an academic library. Some institutions devote a substantial portion of their rare book and special collections budgets to collecting in the filed of the book arts and in particular in assembling sizable collections of the work of well-known presses. Some, like Georgetown, rely almost exclusively on the benefactions of donors to develop collections in this area. In a small number of cases the book arts collections in academic libraries support active programs of research and scholarship; in far larger number, however, they do not.

When pressure is felt on the budgets of academic libraries, collections devoted to the book arts and to fine printing must compete for acquisitions and management funding with all those other collections which are not absolutely central to the basic educational mission of the university. Especially now, when emphasis on electronic information media is mushrooming, the right-to-life of collections whose emphasis is on the beauty or dignity or tranquility or wit of their presentation in print may often be in doubt.

What is often overlooked in the quest for information is the effect that its presentation makes on the seeker. Access to one or more electronic databases may provide specific information; a student assigned a novel may find the text in a trade paperback; cocktail tables everywhere are mines where may be found opulent photographic records of the world, its inhabitants, and their manifold possessions. Yet none of these alternatives provide in the fullest sense the effect of the well-designed and well-printed book, where the author's text comes to the reader's eyes filtered through and interpreted by the imagination and skills of the designer or illustrator or printer or publisher -- or all of them together.

Fine printing is nothing if not a rejection of the minimal, for it is an art. In its most exalted form it marries excellence of materials, intelligence and mastery of design, and the highest standards of craftsmanship, creating objects that have the same kind of imaginative appeal and cultural resonance as any others produced by the fine arts. Yet it is an art that functions as a medium for communicating a further work of art: the text that occasions the production of the printed piece. To this extent it is subject to an infinite gradation of constraints. Time, money, materials, and purpose may all place limits on the level at which the art is attempted.

Items in the Exhibition:

Aucassin & Nicolete: Being a Love Story Translated Out of the Ancient French by Andrew Lang

East Aurora: Roycrofters, 1899.
Decorative work probably designed by Samuel Warner.

Empedocles on Etna. A Dramatic Poem. By Matthew Arnold.

[Portland: Thomas B. Mosher,1900]
Copy number 351 to 450 on heavy paper. Presentation from the publisher, 1908, to Anne M. Batchelder, inscription in the recipient's hand.

The Dictes and Sayings of the Philosophers.

[Detroit: Cranbrook Press, 1901]
Copy number 187 of 244. Designed and printed by George G. Booth.

Songs and Sonnets by Richard Lovelace.

New York: R. H. Russell, MCCCI ]i.e., 1901]
Trade book, the small cuts derived from an earlier source, stylistically consistent with the design attempted here.

Spoil of the North Wind.

Chicago: Blue Sky Press [1901]
No statement of limitation. Anthology edited by Edward Martin Moore, the cover, title page, and initials by Frank B. Rae, Jr.

The Jargon of Master François Villon.

[Boston: Houghton Mifflin,1918]
One of 385 unnumbered copies. Printed at the Riverside Press.

The Work of Stephen Crane Edited by Wilson Follett. I The Red Badge of Courage and The Veteran.

Introduction by Joseph Hergesheimer. New York: Alfred A. Knopf [1925]
One of 750 unnumbered copies. Designed by Elmer Adler and printed at the Plimpton Press. The first in a ten-volume set.

Champ Fleury. By Geofroy Tory.

Translated into English and Annotated by George B. Ives. New York: Grolier Club, 1972.
One of 390 unnumbered copies on wove paper. Designed by Bruce Rogers and printed by William Edwin Rudge. Unsewn, folded sheets together with trial binding.

Certain Letters of James Howell Selected from the Familiar Letters as First Published Between 1645 & 1655.

New York: William Edwin Rudge, 1928.
No statement of limitation.

The Book of Job.

From the Translation Prepared at Cambridge in 1611 for King James I. With a preface by Mary Ellen Chase and Illustrations by Arthur Szyk. [New York]
Limited Editions Club, 1946.
Copy number 1,843 of 1,950. Printed by Lewis White.

Specimens: A Stevens-Nelson Paper Catalogue. [New York, 1953]

Promotional volume, each brief section the work of a different designer and/or printer. The text shown recto designed by Bruce Rogers and printed at Thistle Press, New York.

The Metamorphoses of Ovid.

An English Version by A.E. Watts with the Etchings of Pablo Picasso. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1954. 
Trade book, designed by John B. Goetz.

Novum Psalterium Pii XII. An Unfinished Folio Edition of Brother Antoninus, O.P. Los Angeles [Plantin Press] 1955.

One of 9 unnumbered copies (beyond the stated edition of 48) reserved for presentation by Estelle Doheny. Designed and printed by William Everson. Additional presswork by Saul and Lillian Marks.

Merle Armitage Bibliography. M. A. by Robert Marks. New York: E. Weyhe [1956]

One of 350 unnumbered copies bound in boards (of 500 in all). Designed by Armitage and printed by Cole-Holmquist.

Mr. Franklin. A Selection from His Personal Letters. Edited by Leonard W. Labaree and Whitfield J. Bell, Jr. New Haven: Yale University Press; London: Oxford University Press, 1956.

Trade book, designed by Walter Howe, and Alvin Eisenman, printed at the Lakeside Press.

Hamlet: A Television Script. Adapted by Michael Benthall and Ralph Nelson for Presentation on the CBS Television Network, by The Old Vic Company on February 24, 1959 at 9:30 pm EST. [n.p., 1959]

Promotional book, illustrated by Ben Shahn; no information given as to designer or printer.

A Country Doctor by Franz Kafka. Translated by Willa & Edwin Muir. Relief Etchings by Claire Van Vliet. Philadelphia: Janus Press, 1962.

Copy 129 of 250. Typography by James H. McWilliams. With presentation inscription from Van Vliet to Bruce Chandler, 1972.

Bestiary / Bestiario. A poem by Pablo Neruda. Translated by Elsa Neuberger. With Woodcuts by Antonio Frasconi. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World [1965].

Copy number [number not inserted] of 300 beyond normal trade edition of 3,500. Printed at the Spiral Press. Frontispiece printed from original blocks and signed by the artist.

Frankenstein; Or, The Modern Prometheus. By Mary Shelley. The 1818 Text in Three Volumes. Illustrated by Barry Moser and with Essays by Ruth Mortimer, Emily Sunstein, Joyce Carol Oates, and William St. Clair. Printed by Harold McGrath.

West Hatfield [Massachusetts] Pennyroyal Press, 1983.
Copy number 268 of 350. With a separate suite of prints.

Anne Frank. Diary of a Young Girl. Het Achterhuis. [West Hatfield, Massachusetts] Pennyroyal Press with Jewish Heritage Publishing, 1985.

Copy number [number not inserted] of 350. Designed by Barry Moser and printed by Harold McGrath. Illustrated by Joseph Goldyne. With a separate suite of prints.

The Fall of the House of Usher. Edgar Allan Poe. Illustrated by Alice Neel. [New York] Limited Editions Club, 1985.

Copy number 588 of 1,500. Designed by Ben Shiff and printed by the Anthoensen Press.

The Flounder. Written and Illustrated by Günter Grass. Translated by Ralph Manheim. New York: Limited Editions Club, 1985.

Copy number 588 of 1,000. Designed by Ben Shiff and printed by Wild Carrot Letterpress. Three volumes.

Arthur Rimbaud. A Season in Hell. Translated by Paul Schmidt with Photogravures by Robert Mapplethorpe. [New York] Limited Editions Club [1986]

Copy number 75 of 150 (of 176 in all). Designed and printed by Michael Tarachow.

The Pentagram Press Commonplace Book. A Selection of Typographic Interpretations. Minneapolis: Pentagram Press, 1988.

Copy number 75 of 150 (of 176 in all). Designed and printed by Michael Tarachow.

How I Came to be Governor of the Island of Cacona by The Hon. Francis Thistleton [William Henry Fleet] Introduction by Robertson Davies. San Francisco: Arion Press: 1989.

One of 325 unnumbered copies. Designed and illustrated by Andrew Hoyem.

Lost & Found. Daniel Berrigan, S.J. [n.p.] Caliban Press [1989]

Copy number 27 of 125. Designed and printed by Mark McMurray. Illustrated by Timothy Ely.