Friday, May 4, 2018

In Memoriam: J. B. Dobkin

J. B. Dobkin—Librarian, Bookman, Man of Letters—1922-2018.

Friends and associates of the Tampa Book Arts Studio share a profound sense of loss with the passing of J. B. Dobkin, Chief Librarian for the Tampa Book Arts Studio’s Special Collections Library and a major donor of books and early printed leaves to our research collections.

Known to friends and colleagues as “Jay,” Joseph B. Dobkin made significant contributions to major research libraries, printing history, local history, and genealogical research collections during his 96 years of life and learning. 

Jay was born in New York City in 1922, but his family moved to Daytona Beach in 1925, where his father bought a small apartment building on the ocean and opened a business on Beach Street there called Fashion Frocks. A few years later, his father purchased a large clothing business in Charlotte, N.C., and he expanded into fashion wholesale as well as retail operations, maintaining business interests in both North Carolina and Florida. Jay grew up in the two locations, though he attended schools mostly in Florida. He graduated from Fletcher High School in Jacksonville Beach, completed an undergraduate degree at the University of Florida, and joined the Naval Air Corps in 1942. After the war, he left the service and worked with his father's businesses for a time, but soon started his own consumer finance company in Charlotte, expanding it into thirty loan offices in North and South Carolina. 

His father died when Jay was 40, prompting him to reexamine his own career choices. He knew the business world was really not for him. He loved reading and the world of books. He sold his businesses and returned to graduate school to earn a degree in Library Science. Building on his strong knowledge of history, literature, and art, he found he was able to work with special collections and rare books in ways that highlighted their strengths, extended their depth through acquisitions, and made them accessible to scholars. His professional library career included an impressive range of leadership positions, with appointments as Assistant Director in the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections at the University of Toronto, Canada; Director of Special Collections at the University of Florida, Gainesville; Director of Libraries at Arizona State University, Tempe; and Special Collections Librarian at the University of South Florida, Tampa, where he served from 1974 until he retired in 1988.

He also served for many years as Executive Secretary of the Florida Historical Society, has been both President and Vice President of the Florida Bibliophile Society, Chairman of the Pinellas County Public Library Cooperative Board, and President of the Largo Library Foundation. He was also a founding board member of Konglomerati Florida Foundation for Literature and the Book Arts, a pioneering book arts studio in Pinellas County that was funded as one of only five regional literary centers in the country by the National Endowment of the Arts. (Konglomerati’s letterpress equipment and printing collections are now part of the Tampa Book Arts Studio.)

A folio leaf from “The Golden Legend” 
printed and published in 1488 by
the German printer Anton Koberger, one
of more than 500 early printed leaves
donated by Jay Dobkin.

After retirement, Jay volunteered at the Largo Library and built the genealogy collection there into one of the largest in Florida. He also served as a volunteer archivist at Heritage Village in Pinellas County and worked tirelessly to organize and add to its collections. At the same time, he served as Chief Librarian of the Tampa Book Arts Studio Library Collections at the University of Tampa. He advised and guided us in building our special collections, and he sought out, acquired, and donated more than five hundred rare printed leaves, from fifteen-century incunabula to examples of the work of nearly every major sixteenth-century printer in Europe. He also presented the Studio with his Peter Pauper Press collection of books and ephemera, and he continued to add materials to complete it, making that collection at the University of Tampa one of the best in the world. The collection formed the basis for his 2013 reference book with Sean Donnelly, The Peter Pauper Press of Peter and Edna Beilenson, 1928-1979: A Bibliography and History. He also published numerous articles on juvenile literature—particularly boys’ series books—in collecting magazines and bibliographic publications. He co-authored or edited Spain in the New World: An Exhibition of Books, Maps, and Manuscripts (Arizona State, 1972); American Boys’ Series Books, 1900-1980 (University of South Florida Library Associates, 1987); and a popular booklet that was widely distributed and highly valued among amateur book collectors, A Non-professional’s Guide to Book Values (1976).

Jay always enjoyed sharing stories and anecdotes involving his most famous relative, his great-uncle Sholem Aleichem, whose fiction formed the basis for the popular musical Fiddler on the Roof. Aleichem’s will contained detailed instructions to family and friends with regard to burial arrangements and how to observe his yahrtzeit. He told his friends and family to gather, “select one of my stories, one of the very merry ones, and recite it in whatever language is most intelligible to you. . . . Let my name be recalled with laughter,” he said, “or not at all.”

This was Jay's own attitude. He always closed his emails, “BE HAPPY!”

Jay passed away peacefully at his Largo home on Tuesday, April 24, 2018. He will be deeply missed. 

This framed tribute from the Florida Bibliophile Society was presented to Jay in 1987 upon his retirement as Director of Rare Books and Special Collections at the University of South Florida.  It recognizes his “support and encouragement to students of the book, wherever he found them,” his achievement in raising his collections “to national prominence,” and his “legacy of pride and a standard of excellence,” all principles he sustained in helping to build the Tampa Book Arts Studio collections.

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Photograph of J. B. Dobkin courtesy of Carl Mario Nudi

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Tiny and Tremendous Milestone

The Tampa Book Arts Studio’s Library Collections took another big step forward this week as J. B. Dobkin added a milestone item to the group of letterpress miniature books in our Book Arts Studio Special Collections. Jay has just donated a tiny but significant miniature almanac that completes our holdings of the thumb-sized Hazeltine’s Pocket Book Almanac through 1905. 

The new addition is Hazeltine’s Pocket Book Almanac for 1881, and it completes our collection of the quaint miniatures, starting with the first publication of the tiny almanac in 1879 through all the annual editions up to its continuation as Piso’s Pocket-Book Almanac in the early twentieth century up to 1905, the arbitrary date we tentatively set as the cut-off for our initial Victorian miniature collection. 

The unusual Hazeltine miniatures measure just 1 3/8 by 2 inches and are of interest for a variety of reasons: noteworthy as letterpress printing, miniature books,  early advertising art, and pure Americana.












***

The first edition of the almanac appeared in 1879 from the E. T. Hazeltine Company in Warren, Pennsylvania. It resulted from a partnership of Ezra T. Hazeltine, who was something of a marketing genius, with Dr. Micaja C. Talbott—also a Warren, Pa., resident—who had developed a formula for a patent medicine for consumption and other maladies. The two men decided to go into business together with a third partner, a wealthy Warren businessman, Myron Waters, who would provide financial backing, forming Hazeltine & Company, with Ezra as president. It seems to have been Hazeltine who came up with the name for Dr. Talbott’s formula: “Piso’s Cure for Consumption.”

The Pocket-Book Almanacs were promotional items for the Piso’s products, given away in drugstores to promote, in particular, “Piso’s Cure for Consumption” and “Piso’s Remedy for Catarrh,” patent medicines distributed by druggists. The formula was patented and protected, but seems to have contained alcohol, cannabis, and chloroform, among other ingredients. Ezra Hazeltine’s marketing, perhaps combined with a formulation that surely could make one feel good, resulted in increasing sales.  And the promotions, not only through the almanac, but with trade cards, postcards, and advertising—including at least one by famed illustrator Norman Rockwell—were effective, and often charming.

Hazeltine’s miniature almanac continued after 1895 as the Piso Pocket Almanac, published by the Piso Company of Warren, Pennsylvania.  Every almanac included a monthly calendar, with dates for eclipses and seasonal changes, together with testimonials from readers who were cured of coughs, asthma, bronchitis and hemorrhaging of the lungs by the Piso products.

It seems to have stopped publication after the First World War in 1919. With the first twenty-two volumes of the almanac in our collections now complete, we hope to extend our collection forward to add the last fourteen individual pieces with the help of generous donors to complete the lifetime array of the fascinating little American almanac.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Tampa Book Arts Studio Shares Some Fresh Impressions

The oldest and largest antiquarian book fair in the Southeast—and one of the largest in the country—the Florida Antiquarian Book Fair completed its thirty-sixth year over the weekend of April 21-23, 2017, at the Historic Coliseum in St. Petersburg. This year, the Tampa Book Arts Studio joined the celebration of collectable printing and bookmaking, and visitors were able to share a taste of twenty-first-century letterpress activities by printing a keepsake bookmark at the Tampa Book Arts Studio booth.

Carl Mario Nudi, Letterpress Coordinator at the Tampa Book Arts Studio, discusses the printing action of our little Kelsey tabletop press with Allen Singleton and Amber Shehan of the popular rare book online website Biblio.com. Allen holds the bookmark he just printed. (Photo by T. Allan Smith, Florida Antiquarian Book Fair.)


Along with the press demonstration, we also displayed an exhibit related to our holdings of the only surviving matrices for a rare and unique typeface—Companion Old Style—designed by famed American type designer Frederic Goudy in the late 1920s as an exclusive typeface for the Woman’s Home Companion.

Today Companion Old Style brings a unique and historic touch to the pages of Tampa Review, the literary journal published twice each year by the University of Tampa Press. Tampa Review is the oldest literary journal in Florida, now celebrating 53 years of publication. It is also the only hardback literary journal in the nation, and subscriptions are still only $25 for two issues.

* * *

Also on display in the TBAS booth was a small tabletop “proof press” that was recently restored at the TBAS by Letterpress Coordinator Carl Mario Nudi and Studio Associate Joshua Steward. It is a small flat-bed cylinder press manufactered by the mid-century Doehler Die-Casting Company, and was probably used for making signs and sales notices, as well as print work by hobby printers.

Jonathan Tomhave of Everglades Books in Naples, Florida, prints a bookmark on the Kelsey press. Visible in the background is the TBAS Doehler tabletop cylinder press. Photo by T. Allan Smith, Florida Antiquarian Book Fair.





Thursday, January 19, 2017

In Memoriam: R. C. H. Briggs

Author and Barrister R. C. H. Briggs

The editors and staff of the University of Tampa Press and the Tampa Book Arts Studio share a deep sense of loss at the passing of a friend and mentor, the British writer, barrister, and editor R. C. H Briggs.  He died peacefully on December 28, 2016, in his bed at home in Coombe Bissett, near Salisbury, with his family around him. He was 92.

Ronald Charles Hawkswell Briggs was born in West Yorkshire, and graduated from New College, Oxford. After serving in the Royal Armoured Corps (RAC) from 1943 until 1947, earning the rank of Captain, he completed a Master of Jurisprudence degree and an advanced degree in French.  He became a barrister at law, and following a period of practice at the Common Law Bar, in 1972 he accepted  appointment as Legal Secretary for the independent legal watchdog organization Justice, the UK section of the International Commission of Jurists. There he advanced the group’s mission of “promoting human rights” and “improving the system of justice.”

During his years at Oxford University, and even as he began his legal work, Ron was also becoming a leading authority on the work of William Morris. He was drawn to Morris for a host of reasons, from printing to politics.  In 1957, Ron proposed and successfully launched the first important traveling exhibition of Morris’s work as a printer and typographer: The Typographic Adventure of William Morris. He completed a groundbreaking "Handlist of the Public Addresses of William Morris” in 1960, which called attention to Morris’s speeches as a central and neglected part of his achievements. He launched the first issue of the Journal of the William Morris Society in 1961, serving as its founding editor, and continuing to edit and publish it for seventeen years and making it the single most important source for William Morris studies. In his "Editorial" for the first issue, Ron wrote: “Morris’ central theme, epitomized by him as ‘Reverence for the life of Man upon the Earth,’ led him to criticize much in the world around him; and much that Morris criticized still exists.”

As a leading light for the William Morris Society, he served as its Honorary Secretary as well as a trustee of the Kelmscott House Trust.  He designed numerous publications and led the Society’s publishing program, including introducing a custom of hand printing an annual Christmas greetings card, often in the Kelmscott House basement, which housed a treadle-operated Arab press and one of the original Albion presses from the Kelmscott Press. He organized excursions to important Morris sites, launched the William Morris Centre at Kelmscott House, and was instrumental in the historic home’s preservation and improvement. Today it continues to be home to the William Morris Society.

Ron was deeply committed to issues of human rights and human dignity, equitable justice, political integrity and reform, historical preservation, international thinking, and the preservation of the environment.  He worked to sustain and contribute to many of the works and perceptions that Morris advocated.  His friend and colleague Martin Williams, who served with him as an officer of the Morris Society and later became a founding trustee of the Emery Walker Trust, aptly observed: “Ron was a remarkable character—inspirational, idiosyncratic, and truly larger than life. There was something of William Morris about him, with that continuous energy and unrelenting pursuit of what he perceived to be the right.”

As a dedicated amateur printer, Ron was also drawn to the achievements and influence of Morris’s friend and Hammersmith neighbor, Emery Walker.  He campaigned in many ways for greater recognition of Walker's achievements, promoting him as not only an inspiration and virtual partner in Morris’s Kelmscott Press, but for his many impressive achievements as a photographer, photographic engraver, printer, and founding partner of the influential Doves Press. Ron championed efforts that led the London County Council to place a blue plaque at Walker’s residence at 7 Hammersmith Terrace in 1959.  For that occasion, he produced the earliest draft of another influential work, which was later revised and published by the University of Tampa Press—Sir Emery Walker: A Memoir

Ron is survived by his wife, Joan; his children, Julian, Roland, and Jeni; and his grandchildren, Sylvie and Sasha.

A memorial service was held in Salisbury on January 12. In lieu of flowers, the family suggested donations to one of Ron’s favorite charities, the Tibet Relief Fund.

Ronald Briggs at his home a few months before his 90th birthday.


Thursday, September 15, 2016

Good Things Come in Small Packages

The phrase “good things come in small packages” may bring to mind a diamond ring in a blue Tiffany gift box, but it can be applied to the world of books as well, in the shape of miniature books. To be considered miniature, a book must be no more than three inches in height, width, or thickness. The origin of these small wonders can be traced to the earliest days of writing. As long as 4,000 years ago, scribes and scholars made miniature clay tablets, scrolls, and manuscripts. Soon after the invention of printing in the fifteenth century, miniature books became regular productions of presses throughout Europe. It is estimated that about 200 miniatures were produced in the 1500s – including forty-six Bibles and editions of Dante and Ovid. Until the late 1800s, miniatures were often on religious subjects or made for children. Then, grown-up bibliophiles began to discover their charms, and clamored for miniatures of their own. Now, Conclaves are held annually by the most devoted collectors; fine printers specialize in making them; and miniatures are eagerly sought by private and institutional collectors. One of the largest collections is at the Lilly Library at Indiana University, where they have 16,000 miniatures. The Tampa Book Arts Studio is still working on its first 1,000, but we are delighted by those donated by our generous patrons, Lee Harrer and J. B. Dobkin.

Lee recently hand-delivered dozens of miniatures to our office, housed in a custom bookcase. As we cataloged them, two stood out: The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry (1978) and Frontier Tales of the White Mustang by J. Frank Dobie (1979). Though they share the same imprint—Somesuch Press—they were produced by different printers – Andrew Hoyem and David Holman, who signed and numbered their books. They are both of high quality, but are also distinguished from one another by typography, paper, and binding. This brought to mind the approach taken by the Limited Editions Club, established in 1929 by George Macy, who hired a different team of typographers, printers, binders, and illustrators to produce each of his books. And so we wondered who was behind the Somesuch imprint. The fact that the press was located in Dallas gave us a clue. A little research revealed that Stanley Marcus, of Neiman-Marcus fame, and his wife Billie were behind these handsome books. Stanley was a famous bibliophile with a deep interest in miniatures. It was his wife’s idea to have a miniature edition made of Stanley’s memoir, Minding the Store. That led to the creation of the Somesuch imprint and nearly two dozen handsome books. We hope the two that we own will have company on the shelves before long.

The title page of “Frontier Tales of the Wild Mustang”

* * *

Jay has been pursuing the books of Achille St. Onge for some time. He has now assembled a substantial run of St. Onge’s handsomely made books. Lee had several in his collection as well, and by luck they didn’t duplicate what Jay had bought. We now have nearly half of the forty-six miniatures published by St. Onge between 1935 and 1977. Though he began with Noel, Christmas Echoes Down the Ages and closed his career with Addresses of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the majority of his books are very American in flavor – Presidential inaugural addresses, works by or about Abraham Lincoln, Henry David Thoreau, and Paul Revere, and others on the Mayflower, St. Augustine, Florida, and the Declaration of Independence. Beyond the excellent choice of subjects for his books, St. Onge paid special attention to the quality of the books and their design. Some early titles were printed for him by D. B. Updike’s Merrymount Press and The Chiswick Press (the latter with bindings by Sangorski and Sutcliffe). By 1959, though, the venerable firm of Joh. Enchede en Zonen, in Haarlem, Holland, had become St. Onge’s printer of choice, and they produced a long series of uniformly handsome leather-bound editions for him.

The Achille St. Onge titles of the TBAS miniature collection

Friday, April 22, 2016

Official Publication Day for “The Rich Mouse”


Today is the 56th anniversary of the death of the American woodcut artist Julius J. Lankes and it marks the official publication date for our letterpress first edition of his previously unpublished story, “The Rich Mouse.” Since completing the printing of the text last year, we have been working on a companion volume, “The Rich Mouse Compendium,” which includes essays, photographs, and even reproductions of the author’s original draft manuscripts.

The title-page spread from “The Rich Mouse Compendium” set in P22 Village digital type
















The special letterpress edition also celebrates another milestone American artistic achievement. It is handset in a special foundry casting of Frederic W. Goudy’s original Village type, and the fact that it was typeset and printed during the year marking the 150th anniversary of Goudy’s birth made it even better.
Today, coinciding with the official “Rich Mouse” unveiling, P22 Type Foundry is releasing the first digital version of Village type, designed by Paul Hunt. This is the same Open Type font we used to produce the “Rich Mouse Compendium” volume, which is the first book publication for this unique type in digitized form. P22 are celebrating an anniversary of their own today—their 22nd Anniversary of offering unique digital types—and are offering the digital Village font for 50% off this month, with an additional 22% discount on April 22. Be sure to visit the P22 website for a full showing

Over the next month we will be gathering, collating, and carefully packing the completed pieces of our special edition. It will be mailed first to the supporters who made the project possible by being a part of the original Kickstarter campaign.

Copies of the letterpress edition are still available, but the edition is limited to only 150 copies!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Binder David Barry Ties Up ‘The Rich Mouse’ Loose Ends

Binder David Barry binds a signature of the book; nearby, the board-patterned cases he has
already completed for The Rich Mouse await being united with the finished book blocks.
Bookbinder David Barry has been working steadily since the beginning of the year to complete the binding of the TBAS letterpress edition of The Rich Mouse.  The first of March finds him threading his way toward the end.

Now all of the signatures are folded and punched, the boards have been covered with the letterpress decorative papers we made especially for this edition, and David has finished all the cases. He is currently sewing the signatures for the complete edition of 150.

We had originally hoped to be mailing copies to subscribers by the end of January, but complications in the final stages of printing—combined with some longer-than-expected research going into the Rich Mouse Compendium companion volume—has slowed us down.

Now we’re a little more than a month behind where we guessed we would be. Still, the array of supplementary photographs and information in the Compendium will make the Rich Mouse even richer!  It still remains to finish this second book—which has just passed 100 pages—so that David knows how big to make the slipcases that will contain the two volumes!

But for those of you waiting for your copies, we think you will agree it's worth the wait! And for those of you who are interested in purchasing one of the remaining copies, you can do so by clicking here!


You can reserve your copy of
“The Rich Mouse” at