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.

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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.