History of the Book

Marbling on binding by Norma Rubovits
Marbling on binding by Norma Rubovits. On A. Pope, The Rape of the Lock. Illustrated by Aubrey Beardsley. Rubovits 21.
The Virgin of the Rosary Book Box
The Virgin of the Rosary Book Box. c.1490. Inc. 52.2 (Vault).

The Newberry’s collection on the history of printing and the book arts is one of the world’s leading collections in the field. Collection strengths include the design of letter forms, calligraphy, type and type-founding, technical innovations in printing, design usage and theory, bookselling, bookbinding, papermaking, the history of book collecting, and the history of libraries.

The Newberry began to collect in earnest on the history of printing and allied fields of the book arts in the years just after World War One, under terms of a bequest by Chicago journalist and publisher John Mansir Wing (1844-1917), who envisioned “a great typographical library.” Today, the John M. Wing Foundation on the History of Printing includes nearly 100,000 volumes of technical literature, periodicals, and historical accounts of printing and book arts; over 600 cubic feet of printing and publishing-related archives (in 56 different collections); 650 calligraphic manuscripts and 2,100 printed volumes on calligraphy; 68,000 volumes of classified printing samples of every period (including 2,200 from the fifteenth century); and over 15,000 items of printed ephemera.

Wing items are listed in the Newberry’s Online Catalog and in OCLC’s WorldCat database. A more detailed outline of the Wing collection is in our research guide, Printing History and Book Arts – John M. Wing Foundation on the History of Printing Collection Description. Wing collection acquisitions to 1978 are also described in the Dictionary Catalog of the History of Printing from the John M. Wing Foundation of the Newberry Library (13 vols., 1961-1981).

Particular strengths of the Wing collection include:

  • 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 (not cataloged)
  • The Coella Lindsay Ricketts and Alfred E. Hamill collections of calligraphica
  • The Herbert M. Stone collection of Stone & Kimball imprints
  • The Norma B. Rubovits collection of marbled and decorated papers
  • Printed Ephemera (see the accompanying research guide) collected by such designers as William Kittredge, Will Ransom, and Robert Hunter Middleton
  • The Jane Gilmartin Gilchrist collection of alphabet books (cataloging in progress)
  • The Klaus Stopp collection of printed birth and baptismal certificates of the German Americans
  • The Henry Rosemont Typographical Union collection

The Wing collection is complemented by many other special collections of the Newberry, including, for example, medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, Hebraica, French Political Pamphlets, courtesy books, emblem books, Children’s Books, cartography, early music, and by the archives of such publishers as the Charles Kerr Company, the Rand McNally Company, and the General Drafting Corporation.

Newberry librarians have compiled Research Guides containing bibliographies, checklists, and other resources helpful in directing research at the Newberry. See also the following guides:

Modern Manuscript Collections of Chicago Design Interest; compiled by Paul F. Gehl, October 16, 2000

Recent Trends in the History of the Italian Book; presented to the Western European Studies Section of the American Library Association by Paul F. Gehl, July 10, 2000

Printing History and Book Arts – Publications about the Newberry Library Collections

Please call the reference desk at (312) 255-3506 with questions on our holdings, or Contact a Librarian with research questions.

Digital Resources

Below is a list of related digital resources.

Newberry Digital Collections for the Classroom are thematic collections of primary source documents selected from the Newberry’s extensive holdings.

This exhibit displays excerpts from over twenty illuminated manuscripts that span the century 1450 to 1550.

This exhibition displays French pamphlets published from about 1600 to the French Revolution, they form the foundation for current and future scholarly projects.

This exhibition presents Renaissance editions of Dante’s Divine Comedy from the John A. Zahm, C.S.C., Dante Collection at the University of Notre Dame, together with selected treasures from the Newberry Library.