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September 5, 2014

A hidden collection is unveiled at the Newberry Library


Miniature cards from the Newberry Library's Wing Collection

Miniature cards from the Newberry Library’s Wing Collection


The Newberry Library, an independent research institution founded in Chicago in 1887, is home to a number of important collections, including materials on the Midwest, American Indian and Indigenous Studies, and writers’ manuscripts and archives (the cover photograph of our own I Await the Devil’s Coming comes from the Newberry). Now a new effort aims to bring more specimens of book arts and printing history into the library’s collections.

According to Creative Review, the project, which stems from a grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources, “aims to shed light on the institution’s ‘hidden collection’ of type and printing material ‘both beautiful and homely, of all periods.’ ” These uncataloged materials, which have been backlogged for more than a decade, will be added to the library’s Wing Collection, named after the journalist and publisher John Mansir Wing, who left his personal library to the Newberry and made a bequest to allow for its expansion. 

Fortunately for us, not only are the archivists cataloging all of these ephemeral materials, including type specimens (catnip to any graphic designer), fine press books, and calligraphic manuals, but they’re sharing them online as they go, on a new Tumblr called Exploring Printing History at the Newberry. The blog makes for a perfect Friday afternoon browse, but perhaps more importantly, as the Wing Collection curator Paul F. Gehl says in the Newberry’s official release, it serves as a great reminder that small, ephemeral printed objects are a great way to look at the history of a given time and place.

I was particularly drawn to the incredible graphic quality of these chemistry illustrations from 1855 and this series of patriotic woodcuts from 1965, but three months in the blog is already an embarrassment of graphic riches. Below, check out a few more of my favorites.

Newberry 2

Newberry 3

Newberry 4


Christopher King is the former Art Director of Melville House.