A Hidden Collection Comes to Light

CLIR Grant to Bring Almost 30,000 Uncataloged Items Into Wing Collection

January 2014

The Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) has awarded the Newberry $216,100 to bring 29,800 additional items into the library’s John M. Wing Collection, one of the world’s best collections on book arts and printing history. Backlogged for a decade or more and dating from 1605 to the present, materials in this “hidden collection” include examples of type and printing, ballad sheets, advertising posters, direct mail pieces, and books, both beautiful and homely, of all periods.

“The Wing Collection attracts scholars from around the world, particularly members of the design community and historians of printing,” said Newberry President David Spadafora. “It is therefore very important that these materials be available to them, and we are grateful to CLIR for making this project possible.”

Chicago journalist and publisher John Mansir Wing (1844-1917), envisioning “a great typographical library,” donated his personal book collection to the Newberry and made a bequest for its support and expansion. The initial impulse of the collection was to represent as many different printers and type faces as possible from the earliest period of printing with moveable type, and the design of letter forms remains a central theme. Calligraphy, type and type-founding, technical innovations in printing, design usage and theory, book-selling, book-binding, paper-making, the history of book-collecting, and the history of libraries are also well represented.

“The backlog contains significant additional material in all these categories, especially those small and ephemeral printed objects that make up the bread and butter of everyday communication,” said Paul F. Gehl, who has curated the Wing collection since 1987. “Getting it processed will enrich our sense of how pervasive print was and remains in daily life –an important historical lesson.”

Particular strengths of the Wing Collection:

  • Incunables, chosen specifically to represent the type faces of the fifteenth century
  • Specimens of calligraphy of all periods
  • Printed calligraphic manuals
  • Type specimens from around the world
  • The products of such Chicago printers and publishers as A.C. McClurg, W.B. Conkey, R.R. Donnelley & Sons, Stone & Kimball, and Way & Williams
  • Fine and private press books, whether English, American, or Continental European
  • Books and ephemera from the Officina Bodoni (Verona, Italy)
  • Editions of Terence

Several important collections assembled by individuals are to be found within the Wing collection, notably:

  • John M. Wing’s own extra-illustrated books
  • The Coella Lindsay Ricketts and Alfred E. Hammill collections of calligraphica
  • The Herbert M. Stone collection of Stone & Kimball imprints
  • The Norma B. Rubovits collection of marbled and decorated papers
  • Printed ephemera collected by such designers as William Kittredge, Will Ransom, and Robert Hunter Middleton
  • The Jane Gilmartin Gilchrist collection of alphabet books
  • The Klaus Stopp collection of printed birth and baptismal certificates of German Americans
  • The Henry Rosemont Typographical Union collection

The grant was made as part of CLIR’s Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives program, which is generously supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. CLIR is an independent, nonprofit organization that forges strategies to enhance research, teaching, and learning environments in collaboration with libraries, cultural institutions, and communities of higher learning. It aims to promote forward-looking collaborative solutions that transcend disciplinary, institutional, professional, and geographic boundaries in support of the public good.