Missouri Center for the Book Showcases Rare and Fine Book Printing
An exhibition of rare and fine printing from the 15th through 21st centuries and drawn from the collection of the St. Louis Mercantile Library will be on display at Ellis Library on the University of Missouri campus in Columbia from December 1, 2012 through January 30, 2013. The exhibition is free and open to the public.
The exhibition was organized by The Missouri Center for the Book, a not-for-profit organization, to bring the words and ideas of books into the thoughts and lives of Missourians. Funding for the exhibition and programming is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts and the St. Louis Mercantile Library Association.
According to John Hoover, curator of the exhibit and executive director of the St. Louis Mercantile Library, the exhibition documents the origins of fine printing, demonstrates how it developed to a very high level in England and in America in the 19th and 20th centuries, respectively, becoming a worldwide art form in the traditional format of paper binding in the 21st century.
Early printing burgeoned in tandem with development of movable types and proper inks for the efficient, broad dissemination of knowledge at the end of the Middle Ages. Similar to the birth of the Internet in the 21st century, the growth of printing and the explosion of mass production of information in every subject came quickly. Examples include leaves from The Nuremberg Chronicle, printed by Anton Koberger in 1493; Petrus de Monte’s Repertorium utirusque iuris, printed in Padua by Johann Herbert Seligenstadtensis in 1480; and an early example of printed English from The Golden Legend (1483; Westminster), among others. The work of Johannus Gutenberg, who created the groundbreaking 42-line Bibles and the earliest secular encyclopedia, is shown through a mid-20th century facsimile from Cooper Square Pageant Press of the Biblia Sancta Latina, giving the viewer clear approximations of binding, color and format.
The revival of the printing arts in England is beautifully illustrated through the work of William Morris and his Kelmscott Press, including The Romance of Sir Isumbras of 1897 and a rare surviving leaf of Morris’s edition of Beowulf printed on vellum in 1895. Other works are shown from The Cuala Press and the Whittington Press, among others.
In the 20th century, American printers from New York City and the Hudson Valley, upstate New England, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles demonstrated great skill in the rich tradition of fine printing. The exhibition includes items from Coleman’s Prairie Press, Beilenson’s Peter Pauper Press, the Grabhorn Press, Updike’s Merrymount Press, and Valenti Angelo’s 1937 Hawthorn House illustrated edition of Moore’s A Visit from St. Nicholas, just to name a few.
One of the most decided trends of modern fine printing is in the craft of combining well-designed typographical editions as frames for illustrations by distinguished artists, who may or may not have been trained in the tradition of book illustration. Works of modern fine printing and livres d’artistes include Tales and Fables written and illustrated by Vincent Torre in 1987; Flowers for My Father, printed and illustrated by Shirley Jones; The Cat’s Meow with woodcuts by Gunther Stiller; and The Bible and Beyond: Fifteen Images of Saints, Sinners, and the Sacred by Dmitry Sayenko.
“We are thankful to the National Endowment for the Arts and to St. Louis Mercantile Library for providing this opportunity for Missourians to view these great treasures,” said Wicky Sleight, president of the Missouri Center for the Book who also currently serves as interim director of the Marshall, Missouri Public Library. “It is heartening also to know that many current-day publishers, artists and authors are committed to continuing the tradition of fine printing and the use of exceptional works of art in their work.”
About the St. Louis Mercantile Library
Established in 1846 by civic leaders and philanthropists, the Mercantile exists today as a vibrant community, and cultural asset. It is the oldest library west of the Mississippi and the grandparent of all cultural institutions in St. Louis.
The task of the Mercantile Library as a research library is to make its collections, which have come to concentrate on Western Expansion and the history, development, and growth of the St. Louis region and of the American rail and river transportation experiences, available to the widest number of local and national users.
About the Missouri Center for the Book
The mission of the Missouri Center for the Book is to bring the words and ideas of books into the thoughts and lives of Missourians. It is the only statewide organization that promotes the importance of books and reading to Missouri residents, celebrates the state’s literary heritage, and recognizes the contributions of Missouri’s authors, book illustrators, booksellers, publishers, librarians, and others involved in the library arts.