Friday, August 11, 2023

Before the Book Arts Workshop

Colophon for Three Poems by Robert Frost
The Book Arts Workshop in Baker Berry is one of the most loved spaces on campus. Students and community members can learn to set type, print something cool, and even bind it. It has been around in various forms since the late 1930s starting its life as the "Graphic Arts Workshop." Answering a reference question earlier this week, we stumbled on a tantalizing bit of the Workshop's prehistory in the activities of the "Daniel Oliver Associates."

In 1934, a group of students enrolled in Art 58 formed a book collecting club. They took as their namesake a Dartmouth alumnus, Daniel Oliver, from the class of 1785. Daniel had donated his large personal collection of books to the young Dartmouth Library while he was still a student. The group devoted their meetings to discussing book collecting with visiting practitioners of the book arts. Then they decided to try their hand at printing a book. They worked with Harold Rugg in the Library to secure rights to three poems by Robert Frost. According to the 1935 Library Bulletin, they set the type by hand, printed 125 copies of the book in the Library. We can't be sure, but this may mark the first bit of student printing to occur in the Dartmouth Library, and perhaps it served as inspiration for the thriving Books Arts Workshop we know today.

The Daniel Oliver Associates were kind enough to donate copy number one of their book to the Library and Frost inscribed the book to Baker Memorial Library on the title page. You can see the signed copy by asking for Frost PS3511 .R94T5 1935. There is also some correspondence between Harold Rugg and Frost in our Robert Frost Papers, MS-1178, Box 9, Folder 30. The minutes and constitution of the Daniel Oliver Associates in DO-67, Box 6600.