September 15 - November 14, 1998
One Text, Two Results: Printing on Paper and Vellum
From the Bridwell Library at Southern Methodist University
Curated by Decherd Turner
From 15 September through 14 November 1998 the Grolier Club mounted an exhibition of 96 extraordinary books from the Bridwell Library at Southern Methodist University, illustrating the art of printing on paper and on vellum. Each of these 48 landmarks in the history of printing were shown in two copies, one copy of the text printed on paper, and one on vellum.
The exhibition included some of the most beautiful books ever printed. Featured were the "triple crown" of fine vellum printing: the Kelmscott Chaucer (1896; one of only thirteen copies printed on vellum), the Doves Press Bible (1903-1905; one of two copies on vellum), and the Ashendene Dante (1909; one of six copies on vellum). Sumptuous examples of earlier vellum printing were also shown, from the marvelous 1462 Mainz Bible, to a copy of the 1816 Magna Carta. Rounding out the show are further examples from the Kelmscott, Doves and Ashendene presses, as well as the Shakespeare Head Press, the Golden Cockerel Press and others.
Seen side by side, these paired copies make an important statement about the varying visual impact of books printed using different materials. Books were often printed on vellum--"the aristocrat of printing surfaces"--as presentation copies to a sponsor, a king or other important person. Although they were the product of the printing press, these unique works (whether printed on paper or vellum) were anything but mass-produced texts. Rather, they were intended as works of art, rendered in the union of classic text, quality materials, and artistic skill. Hand-made paper, the finest animal skins, special fonts of type, the touch of a master typographer, and skilful presswork were combined to produce objects exhibiting the highest level of bookmaking.
The exhibition was curated by Dr. Decherd Turner, recently awarded Southern Methodist University's highest accolade, Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, in recognition of his lasting contributions to the University, and to the book arts.