Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Watermark. Click to enlarge.

Steer watermark from Gutenberg Bible, 1454-55.

Book History and the Book Arts

The more than 800,000 volumes gathered at the Ransom Center make possible a study of the history of the book from its beginnings in the manuscript period through the twentieth century. Among the several hundred items in the pre-1700 manuscripts collection are Ptolemaic papyri of the third to first century B.C., an eleventh-century Bede codex from the monastery at Tegernsee, the richly illuminated Chronicles (ca. 1450) of Jean Froissart (1337-1404) and the fifteenth-century Belleville Book of Hours.

Incunabular holdings (nearly 400 volumes and a similar number of leaves) begin with the Gutenberg Bible of 1455. The Center's copy, on paper, is one of only five complete exemplars in the United States. The Center's Pforzheimer Library holds William Caxton's edition of Lefevre's Historyes of Troye (1474), the first book printed in English, along with six other works printed by Caxton. The seven copies of the Nuremberg Chronicle (1495) in both its Latin and German incarnations and including a hand-colored exemplar, are the largest holdings of any American library.

The Center houses a large collection of Aldine Press books of the Venetian printer Aldus Manutius and his successors (1495-1588), totaling roughly nine hundred volumes. The bulk of these originated in the collections of Edward Alexander Parsons and Giorgio Uzielli. The full text of the printed catalog is available online. Giambattista Bodoni (1740-1813), who directed the Ducal Press of the Duchy of Parma from 1768 until his death, is represented by ninety-eight books, including his Manuale Tipografico, which consists of two large folio volumes. Other important printers well represented in the rare book collection are the Estiennes, the Elseviers, the Plantins, John Baskerville, and Robert and Andrew Foulis. An important collection of European Emblem Books is useful for students of seventeenth-century iconography.

The Center's holdings of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century English books, which are among the largest in the United States, will be especially useful to scholars researching the history of the book. Special note should be made of the Queen Anne Collection, containing a large percentage of all English books published from 1702 to 1714.

All of the major fine presses of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are represented, with nearly complete runs of several, including the Kelmscott, the Doves, the Golden Cockerel, the Grabhorn, and Nonesuch Presses. The Center also owns a nearly complete set of the Limited Editions Club publications, which is complemented by the archive of the club's parent, the George Macy Co., and original artwork for many of the LEC books. Book holdings also include an extensive collection of reference works on printing and bookbinding, type specimen books, and color-plate books. Noteworthy original materials on the book arts may be found in the various Eric Gill (1802-1940) collections (type-specimens, alphabets, wood and stone engravings) and the Golden Cockerel Press archive (nearly nine hundred woodblocks and copperplates, as well as correspondence with notable woodcut artists such as Eric Ravilious). The center holds books, manuscripts, and art related to Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915), founder of the Roycroft Arts and Crafts colony in East Aurora, New York. It includes drafts and proofs of several Little Journey volumes, photographs, original artwork for Roycroft publications, and the rare first pamphlet printing of the widely influential A Message to Garcia (1899). Incoming correspondence to Hubbard and his family includes letters from many American politicians and business leaders. The George L. Lazarus Collection of Arthur Rackham (1867-1939) includes almost all of the works illustrated by Rackham, including ephemera; many of the books contain added original pen and watercolor drawings.

The Ransom Center has an excellent selection of twentieth-century English, American, and French artists' books and livres d'artistes, with particular strengths in the 1970s and 1980s. Artists include F. L. Schmied, Rufino Tamayo, Henri Matisse (most notably, his Jazz), Jim Dine, Pablo Picasso, Buckminster Fuller, Ian Hamilton Finlay, and Ed Ruscha. Related items, such as Robert Rauschenberg's plexiglass book, Shades, may be found in the Art Collection. Researchers may browse artists' books in the UT Online Catalog. A partial checklist of artists' books is available in the Ransom Center's Reading and Viewing Room, and online here.

French and English fine and design bindings of the modern period are a particular strength, with outstanding examples by Philip Smith, Sybil Pye, Don Etherington, Pierre Legrain, and Paul Bonet.

The publisher Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. produced many books with exceptionally fine production values and employed some of the most important designers of the twentieth century, including Warren Chappell, W. A. Dwiggins, Herbert Bayer, Elmer Adler, Claude Bragdon, and Bruce Rogers. Correspondence and designs by these figures may be found in the Knopf Archive. The Knopf Library is notable for its fine press books, many inscribed to the Knopfs.

The Center holds a distinguished collection of European lettering and calligraphy manuals. The focal point is the collection of forty-eight English, German and Dutch writing manuals formed by H.B.H. Beaufoy (1786-1851) between 1845-50. These are complemented by the seventy-two works in the Marzoli calligraphy collection. In addition to samples of the calligraphy of Edward Johnston (see above), we hold works by such modern and contemporary masters as Eric Gill, Jenny Groat, Lage Carlson, Emery Walker, Warren Chappell, and W. A. Dwiggins. The enormous collection of American nineteenth-century wooden display type formed by Rob Roy Kelly (1925-2004) is now housed at the University of Texas's Department of Design.

The Center's Photography Collection contains a large group of nineteenth-century books illustrated with tipped-in photographs, as well as hundreds of nineteenth- and twentieth-century volumes containing a wide range of early and significant photomechanical images. Among the masterworks are early publications with original mounted photographs, including the first major photographically illustrated book, The Pencil of Nature (1844-46), by William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877), as well as unique photograph albums, including the Clarkson Stanfield presentation album (1845) by David Octavius Hill (1802-1870) and Robert Adamson (1821-1848) and five personal albums by Lewis Carroll (C.L. Dodgson, 1832-1898). Also included is a complete run of Alfred Stieglitz's (1864-1946) major periodical, Camera Work (1903-1917). Works range from classic portfolios by Edward Weston (1886-1958), Ansel Adams (1902-1984), and Wright Morris (1910-1998), to artists' books by Ed Ruscha (b.1937), Michael Peven (b.1949), Michael A. Smith (b.1942), Ave Bonar (b.1948), and Limited Editions Club volumes by Edward Steichen (1879-1973), Aaron Siskind (1903-1991), Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989), and Edward Ranney (b.1942).