Thursday, January 31, 2019

The TBAS and Cracker Country Work Together to Produce the New Edition of an Old-Time Newspaper at the Florida State Fair

Studio Associate Joshua Steward stands on the porch of the Chronicle building. He previously worked as a docent for Cracker Country acting as resident printer for school tours.  Now at the Tampa Book Arts Studio, he helps Carl rework and update the Cracker Country Chronicle pages each year.
Joshua Steward in the printshop at Cracker Country shows
young visitors how to print a page.
Thousands of visitors to the Florida State Fair will stop by the vintage printshop in the “Cracker Country” area of the Fairgrounds this year, to watch volunteers demonstrate old-fashioned letterpress printing and to collect a sample of the Cracker Country Chronicle “hot off the press.” The “hot type” for that old-fashioned local newspaper has been set and cast in metal here at the Tampa Book Arts Studio at the University of Tampa.

Known formally as the “Mildred W. and Doyle E. Carlton, Jr. Cracker Country,” the Florida pioneer village at the Florida State Fairgrounds is Tampa's only living history museum. It includes a collection of thirteen historic buildings dating from 1870 to 1912 that were relocated to the grounds from around the state. Today they have been restored and decorated with period furnishings. Staffed by costumed history interpreters, they help portray a sense of daily living for early Florida pioneers.

Of course, a printing press was a key resource for Florida pioneer residents. It helped spread important news, share commercial messages, announce local births and deaths, and build community.
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Robin Willis standing at the turn-of-the-century platen press on which the newspaper is printed each year.
(Photo courtesy of Cracker Country)
This year the Florida State Fair, February 7-18, 2019, will be doubly significant for the Cracker Country Chronicle, since a new front-page story in the Chronicle is a tribute to long-time Cracker Country volunteer Robin Willis, who passed away in August at the age of 92.

After serving in the Navy during WWII, Robin worked for various newspapers in the South before settling in Tampa, where he lived and worked for almost sixty years. His services for both typesetting and printing were in demand, and after retiring, he demonstrated printing and hot metal typesetting on a Linotype for fairground visitors to Cracker Country. When the machine Robin had used there was no longer in operating condition, he came to the TBAS to set the Chronicle’s type, bringing his own Linotype mats with him so that the typeface would be the same from year to year.

TBAS volunteer Carl Mario Nudi typesetting at the keyboard of our Intertype linecasting machine.

Since 2015, TBAS volunteer Carl Mario Nudi has done the annual typesetting for Cracker Country Chronicle on our Intertype linecasting machine, producing newly written articles and news items, designing new headlines, and giving the form a general freshening-up each year. The annual newspaper is, all told, a labor of love that celebrates and supports the work of Cracker Country and helps sustain appreciation for the old-time letterpress printers. And in Carl’s case, working on the Chronicle newspaper is especially appropriate, harkening back to his years of doing hot-metal composition work for the Detroit Free Press daily newspaper, and then becoming a reporter for the Bradenton Herald. For this year’s 2019 Florida State Fair the work continues, as the Tampa Book Arts Studio and Cracker Country continue their collaboration, this time with a mutual admiration and appreciation for the many contributions of Robin Willis.

Carl inspects and proofs freshly cast lines of text (left) while Josh tightens the Chronicle form in its chase for proofing.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Poet Laureate Peter Meinke and Artist Jeanne Meinke Share a Taste of Letterpress Printing at the Tampa Book Arts Studio

Florida’s Poet Laureate, Peter Meinke, and his wife, artist Jeanne Clark Meinke, stopped by the Tampa Book Arts Studio recently to celebrate the publication of their most recent book, Tasting Like Gravity. He and Jeanne got the feel of making a solid letterpress impression by hand on one of the vintage Kelsey platen presses.

Tasting Like Gravity was published this fall by the University of Tampa Press in hardback and paperback editions. It features 35 new poems by Peter, including 22 “Rondeaux for the 21st Century,” with drawings and a cover image by Jeanne. It is Peter’s seventeenth book of poetry, and their sixth collaborative publication with the University of Tampa Press.

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Our commemorative bookmark celebrating the new book’s official debut  reproduces a small apple-tree woodcut by J. J. Lankes, with the opening lines of the first poem in the collection, handset in Kennerley Old Style types designed by Frederic Goudy:


falls around me

like apples from a music tree

tasting like gravity . . .

Tasting Like Gravity is now available
for purchase in paperback and hardback editions.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Christopher Morley — A Life in Books

     Lee Harrer has enriched the TBAS Special Collections Library with another generous gift: his collection of Christopher Morley books and ephemera lovingly assembled over several decades. TBAS associate Sean Donnelly recently brought half a dozen empty boxes to Lee’s home and gently packed the collection for its journey from Clearwater to Tampa. As Sean cataloged the collection, he looked over its many gems with Richard Mathews and Joshua Steward, and they decided the books would make a great exhibit. This tribute to Morley and our friend Lee can now be seen on the second floor of the Macdonald-Kelce Library.

     The most striking thing about the books is their visual appeal, thanks to the fact that Lee bought examples that include the scarce jackets. These jackets from the 1910s to the 1940s reflect the artistic styles of the time. The influence of Art Deco is perhaps the most obvious, but even within that idiom there is great variety. The jackets designed for the books of this popular and prolific author provide a microcosmic glimpse of the entire period between 1919 and 1940.

     Christopher Morley (1890-1957) was a “man of letters” in the classic sense. Over the course of a forty-year career he wrote everything: essays, poetry, novels, short stories, journalism, plays, and biography. His popularity made him a public figure and he used that fame to share his love of literature. He did so as a columnist for the Philadelphia Evening Public Ledger and the New York Evening Post; as contributing editor of the Saturday Review of Literature; as one of the founders of The Baker Street Irregulars, the most famous club devoted to Sherlock Holmes; and as editor of two editions of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations.

     Beginning with The Eighth Sin, published in 1912 while he was studying at Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship, he embarked on a prolific career, often publishing more than one book a year. By the time a series of strokes slowed him down in the early 1950s, he had more than 100 books to his credit. Most of them were published by “the trade,” that is to say major publishing houses like Doubleday and Lippincott. Those books are the basis for the part of this exhibit entitled “Between the Wars: Book Jacket Design, 1919-1940.” Eighteen books were chosen to show the range of handsome work done by American publishers during the period. They are in the window display. A complementary selection of books representing Morley's private press publications is on display in an adjacent standing case.

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~ The Display ~

The last title shown in the window display (bottom shelf, far right), Kitty Foyle, was
Morley’s greatest literary success, selling over one million copies. It was also adapted
into an Oscar-winning film that starred Ginger Rogers.

(A portion of the pamphlet accompanying the exhibit is shown below. Included is a catalog of
titles selected for the two parts of the exhibit: jacket designs, and private press publications.)

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Morley’s Private Press Publications 

     Aside from his “trade” publications, Morley is also well-represented as the author of many books published by the private presses of his day. The interwar period was a Golden Age for the American private press movement. Despite the Depression, book lovers found the money to support these independent ventures. Their books are distinguished by the high quality of their printing, their small limited editions, and their distinguished designs. 

     One of Morley’s private press books, In Modern Dress (1929), was an early publication of the Peter Pauper Press. Their books are close to the hearts of the Tampa Book Arts Studio’s staff because one of the best Peter Pauper Press collections to be found anywhere is right here in our TBAS library. The collection was made by J. B. Dobkin and then donated to the Book Arts Studio. The standard reference book on the Peter Pauper Press—The Peter Pauper Press of Peter and Edna Beilenson, 1928-1978—was based in large part on this collection.

     One other title found in the case lies a little outside the scope of the exhibit, but no bibliophile would forgive us for excluding Morley’s paean to bookstores and those who love them: The Haunted Bookshop (Doubleday, Page - 1919). This is a sequel of sorts to Parnassus on Wheels (1917), which introduced the bookstore’s owner, Roger Mifflin.

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 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.