History of the Book

Notable examples and secondary works in Special Collections speak to history of printing and publishing, book design, paper, writing, and alphabets. The Private Press collection contains products of significant and representative 20th- and 21st-century presses; holdings of the Aldine and Giolito presses are also noteworthy. Also pertinent to the book arts are collections of bookplates and decorated paper, as well as examples of decorated trade bindings included in the online project Publishers’ Bindings Online, 1815-1930. Strong collections of British and American amateur journalism relate both to history of printing and to English and American writers, amateur and professional.

In addition to the named collections below, Special Collections includes other important holdings (especially early printed books) relevant to book history and print culture history. Check the Library Catalog and the card catalog in Special Collections for more information.

For more in the UW-Madison Libraries about the book arts and the history of print culture, see also the Silver Buckle Press (a working letterpress museum in Memorial Library), holdings in the Kohler Art Library (including its large Artists’ Book Collection), circulating and reference collections in Memorial Library, and collections of the SLIS Library. Activities of the Center for the History of Print and Digital Culture (co-sponsored by SLIS, the Wisconsin Historical Society, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries) also speak to issues of authorship, reading, publication and distribution of print and digital materials.

Book and Print Culture History Collections

  • Reference Collection, documenting aspects of books and the book arts, including printing, design, history, paper, writing, and alphabets. The collection also includes catalogs of many libraries, some published in the 18th and 19th centuries, and numerous exhibit catalogs. A shelf list is available in the Department’s card catalogs; most titles are also cataloged in the Library Catalog. Other titles concerning book history and print culture history are available in the circulating collections of Memorial Library and in the Library and Information Studies Library (SLIS).
  • Aldine Press. The Department’s holdings include some fifty volumes printed by the Aldine press in Venice (1494-1597). The collection also includes facsimiles, exhibit catalogs, and an English translation of a petition (1502) by the founder of the press, Aldus Manutius, to the Venetian Senate, requesting official protection against piracy of his typefaces.
  • Bookplate Collection, consisting of about 10,000 bookplates, cataloged and mounted by former librarians Flora Davidson and Gilbert Doane. The collection includes bookplates of famous writers, artists, political figures, college professors, book collectors, librarians, and libraries, as well as special collections of Wisconsin, medical, animal, and punning plates. Many of the bookplates are mounted in fifty loose-leaf notebooks; others are preserved in envelopes and boxes. A finding aid is available in the Department.
  • British Amateur Journalism Collection. Collection ZB. Containing some 8500 items dating from about 1912 to the early 1970s, collected by Ralph A.L. Breed. A few reference titles are cataloged individually with call numbers beginning Coll. ZB. The Library of Amateur Journalism Collection also contains some British materials.
  • Decorated Paper. Collection C. A small collection of marbled papers used as endpapers; assembled by Flora Davidson.
  • Giolito Press. Titles from the press of Gabriel Giolito de Ferrari; many use an italic typeface. Shelf list available in the card catalog in the Department (see call numbers 1262490 noncurrent – 1262722 noncurrent). See also Annali di Gabriel Giolito de’ Ferrari by Salvator Bongi, 2 vols., Indici e cataloghi, Nuova serie, 11 (Rome, 1890-1895) in the Special Collections reference collection.
  • Incunabula. Forty-four printed titles from the period 1450-1500 have been identified among the holdings of Special Collections. See the Historical Collections and Services in Ebling Library for the Health Sciences for more incunabula (along with many other collections of interest).
  • Library of Amateur Journalism Collection. Collection ZL. Gift of The Fossils, an organization dedicated to the history of amateur journalism, especially in the United States. This large and complicated collection includes, among other materials, the Edwin Hadley Smith Collection. Notable among the Edwin Hadley Smith materials are scores of bound volumes of issues of amateur journals from the 19th century through the middle of the 20th. Other portions of the Library of Amateur Journalism Collection include issues of amateur journals of more recent vintage, arranged by amateur journalism organization and then by date. A preliminary finding aid is available in Special Collections.
  • The Department’s Manuscripts Collection consists mainly of European manuscripts, ranging from English manor rolls of the 14th century to documents of the 19th and 20th centuries. The collection also includes a set of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts primarily of Italian provenance. Additional manuscripts are included in the Cairns Collection of American Women Writers and other author collections in Special Collections.
  • Penmanship Collection (also known as the Benjamin Berry Penmanship Collection), containing textbooks on penmanship, acquired by the Library in 1944. A shelf list is available in the card catalog in Special Collections under call numbers 803002 noncurrent – 803030 noncurrent); most individual titles are cataloged in the Library Catalog.
  • Private Press Collection, consisting of representative examples of fine printing, including publications of the Kelmscott, Golden Cockerel, and Perishable presses. Many of the titles are by authors also represented in other collections in Special Collections. Shelf list in the Department; many titles are also cataloged in the Library Catalog. Some are acquisitions made possible by the Reeder Family Fund; some others came to Special Collections as part of the Reeder Family Gift. In some instances, titles in this collection have been acquired in conjunction with the Kohler Art Library and its Artists’ Book Collection.
  • Reeder Family Gift, the gift of William G. and Lynn Reeder, as described in the exhibit catalog Reeder Family books: Gifts and acquisitions covering six centuries [1992], containing descriptions written by John Dillon, John Neu, Yvonne Schofer, and John Tedeschi. Other additions to the holdings of the Department of Special Collections have been made possible by a generous endowment fund, the Reeder Family Fund. In the years since the publication of the exhibit catalog, William Reeder has also donated to Special Collections many individual titles.