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Rare Books

History of Printing, Graphic Design, and the Book Arts

From its earliest years, Washington University’s School of Art has valued graphic design and the book arts. It taught bookbinding as early as 1902. Today, Washington University students continue the tradition of bookmaking in the Nancy Spirtas Kranzberg Studio for the Illustrated Book, generously funded by Nancy and Kenneth Kranzberg and jointly administered by the College of Art and the University Libraries. A number of rare book collections support research and teaching in the Book Studio and in other classes that emphasize visual communications and the history of typography, design, and printmaking. New and developing collections include the Modern Graphic History Library, emphasizing 20th-century illustrators of popular media, and the Urban Book Collection of works depicting cities and the urban experience.


Eric Gill Collection

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Eric Gill (1882-1940) was an English sculptor, calligrapher, engraver, and writer, but he is perhaps best known as a designer of typefaces, including the famous Gill Sans. Acquired in 2005, this collection documents Gill's interests and activities over the course of his lifetime and includes books, drawings, hand-lettered alphabets, woodblocks, proof pages, and correspondence. Scarce and ephemeral items such as issues of The Game, a homey periodical produced by the community of craftworkers co-founded by Gill, provide insight into the combination of practicality and pirituality that governed the artist's life and work.

Holly Hall Book Arts Collection

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Under the influence and guidance of Holly Hall, head of Special Collections from 1975 to 1995, the Department developed its collections in the book arts. Hall was interested in books that encourage discussion of the nature of the book itself -- the relationship of text and image, and the ways in which design contributes to reading and understanding. Items purchased for this collection include artists' books and works by fine presses, and often feature unusual structures or thought-provoking design elements.

Isador Mendle Memorial Collection on the History of Printing

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In 1968 Mr. and Mrs. Maurice Mendle established a collection in honor of Mr. Mendle's father, Isador Mendle (1882-1935), a leader in the St. Louis printing industry and the founder of the Mendle Press, INc. Mendle's interest in the printing processes of the 20th century suggested a new focus within the Libraries' printing history collections, namely, developments in printing since the Industrial Revolution, with an emphasis on the last 100 years. Included are examples of fine commercial work that represent early uses of new technologies, as well as works that describe technical developments. Notable holdings include process materials from the innovative Gogmagog Press, as well as the papers of printing historian James Moran.

Triple Crown Collection

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The Libraries' 1998 acquisition of a copy of the Kelmscott Press's magnificent Works of Geoffrey Chaucer (1896) complemented Special Collections' substantial holdings of private press books and spurred the Department to further develop its collections related to the English Arts & Crafts movement. The Triple Crown Collection, built over 68 years by collector Charles Gould, was acquired by the Libraries in 2000. The collection includes virtually the complete published output of the Kelmscott, Doves, and Ashendene presses, which together represent the pinnacle of English Arts & Crafts bookmaking. What makes this collection especially valuable for researchers is that Gould also amassed hundreds of items relating to the history and production of each press. The collection includes business correspondence, proof pages, alternate bindings, preparatory sketches, and even original woodcut printing blocks.