Archives Diary: Word Art Comes to the Burns Library

Sister Hildelith Cumming, hard at work in the pressing room in 1976.

Sister Hildelith Cumming, hard at work in the pressing room in 1976.

Typography art is all the rage these days. Hoodies, posters, cards, and other letterpress or digital typography art: Etsy overflows with it. And did you know there’s a National Stationery Show, featuring all kinds of paper-made goodness?

At the Burns Library, we have just finished processing a collection of fine press materials from an English Benedictine abbey, featuring letterpress cards, printed materials, hand-drawn illustrations, and illumination (think gilded letters).

A 1962 print illuminating the words of Marcellus in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 1.

A 1962 print illuminating the words of Marcellus in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 1, Box 3, Folder 2, Stanbrook Abbey Press Collection, MS.2003.020, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The Stanbrook Abbey Press collection, processed as part of the year-long project that Adrienne mentioned back in July, came to us through not one but THREE librarian donors: Philip J. McNiff, who was the Director of the Boston Public Library when the modern section of the library was constructed; his first wife, Mary (Stack) McNiff, who was herself an assistant to the librarian at St. John’s Seminary; and former University Librarian here at Boston College, Thomas F. O’Connell.

The collection is made up of two major parts: correspondence with the head printer of the Stanbrook Abbey Press, Sister Hildelith Cumming; and all of the wonderful paper goods produced by the Press. All of the items date from the time period that is considered the height of the Press: starting after World War II in 1955, when Sister Hildelith took over the press, until the late 1980s. When the Burns Library received the materials in the late 1980s, it also bought some additional printed items from the Press back catalog in order to make the collection as complete as possible.

A 1968 printing of The Lisping Goddess by Scotsman Sir William Russell Flint.

A 1968 printing of The Lisping Goddess by Scotsman Sir William Russell Flint, Box 4, Folder 3, Stanbrook Abbey Press Collection, MS.2003.020, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

And so we have for your aesthetic and spiritual pleasure, items from the only English Nineteenth Century Press still in existence (according to London’s Times Bookshop as of 1967, anyway).

My favorite works in the collection are the earlier ones, which display hand illustrations by scribe Margaret Adams as well as illuminated majuscule letters. Though you may not spy it on the scanned image of the lines from HamletAct 1, on the actual item, faint pencil lines on the starburst show the artist’s hand at work.

This advertisement for The Lisping Goddess displays Jan van Krimpen’s typeface Cancelleresca Bastarda. The font was a notable one for the Press; it decorates a number of other works in the collection, including wedding program pamphlets.

Stanbrook Abbey Press print of the Luke 1:46-55 verse.

Stanbrook Abbey Press print of the Luke 1:46-55, Box4, Folder 1, Stanbrook Abbey Press Collection, MS.2003.020, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Though the Stanbrook Abbey Press printed a number of items for commission that were perhaps more works of art than spirituality, the collection also showcases religious printings. The Press made many prayer cards as well as greeting cards for Christmas and Easter. My favorite religious item is this broadsheet of the Magnificat, also set in Cancelleresca Bastarda.

Outside of the Stanbrook Abbey Press, the Burns Library is also home to books printed by the Press.  These are not your average texts. For example, one is a miniature book printed on the occasion of Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee – 25 years on the throne. The book is palm-sized, bound in teal leather, and decorated with a golden lion and a golden unicorn.

If you feel like indulging your love of typography, come in to the Burns Library and see what Stanbrook Abbey Press can offer.

 

The front and back of the Silver Jubilee address by Queen Elizabeth II, printed by Stanbrook Abbey Press.

The front and back of the Silver Jubilee address by Queen Elizabeth II, printed by Stanbrook Abbey Press.

 

  •  Stephanie Bennett, Processing Assistant, John J. Burns Library

Bibliography

Butcher, David. Stanbrook Abbey Press,           1956-1990. Lower Marston, England:         Whittington Press, 1992.

Stanbrook Abbey. The Stanbrook Abbey         Press: Ninety-two Years of Its                   History. Worcester, England:                                                                                                             Stanbrook Abbey Press, 1970.

About John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections at Boston College

The University’s special collections, including the University’s Archives, are housed in the Honorable John J. Burns Library, located in the Bapst Library Building, north entrance. Burns Library staff work with students and faculty to support learning and teaching at Boston College, offering access to unique primary sources through instruction sessions, exhibits, and programming. The Burns Library also serves the research needs of external scholars, hosting researchers from around the globe interested in using the collections. The Burns Library is home to more than 200,000 volumes and over 700 manuscript collections, including holdings of music, photographic materials, art and artifacts, and ephemera. Though its collections cover virtually the entire spectrum of human knowledge, the Burns Library has achieved international recognition in several specific areas of research, most notably: Irish studies; British Catholic authors; Jesuitica; Fine printing; Catholic liturgy and life in America, 1925-1975; Boston history; the Caribbean, especially Jamaica; Nursing; and Congressional archives.
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