Archives Month Staff Picks, Part 3: The Making of Major Collections

Today we are wrapping up Archives Month with a third and final installment of our “Staff Picks” series, for which some of our staff members in Special Collections have picked a notable underused or underappreciated item to highlight from our collections. In this post, we will be looking at some incredible specimen pages for the Dove’s Press Bible from the Rare Book Collections and a rare comic on the Montgomery Bus Boycott from the Film and Media Archive, both of which were used in the making of some of our most prominent collections. For more staff picks, be sure to check out Part One and Part Two of this series!

A panel from the comic Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story, 1959.

The Rare Books Collection

Curator of Rare Books Cassie Brand

Washington University Libraries’ Rare Book Collections contains over 60,000 printed pieces spanning over seven centuries. Its primary strengths are in areas of literature, the material culture of the book (printing, graphic design, and the book arts), and aspects of American and world history. The curator of this vast collection and newest staff member in the Julian Edison Department of Special Collections is Cassie Brand.

The Triple Crown Press

The one thing Cassie wants everyone to know about the Rare Book Collections is that in spite of its name, it contains far more than just books. One of her favorite collections is the Triple Crown Collection, which contains virtually the complete published output of the Kelmscott, Doves, and Ashendene presses at the pinnacle of English Arts & Crafts bookmaking. What makes this collection even more valuable for researchers, however, is that it also contains hundreds of items relating to the history and production of each press, including business correspondence, proof pages, alternate bindings, preparatory sketches, and even original woodcut printing blocks.

Specimen Pages for the English Bible from the Doves Press, 1901-1903.

Cassie is particularly fond of the specimen pages from the Doves Bible, which show Dove’s Press founder Cobden-Sanderson’s preliminary plans for his opening page of Genesis.  The beautiful yet simplistic red-lettered “In the beginning” with the long “I” that sweeps dramatically down the length of the page has become one of the Dove Presses’ most famous design elements, but as we can see from the specimen pages shown below, it took Cobden-Sanderson multiple drafts to formulate the idea for this long “I.” You can read more about Cobden-Sanderson, the Triple Crown Presses and the Newman Tower Triple Crown Exhibit in previous blog posts.

Specimen Pages from the Doves Press, featuring Cobden-Sanderson’s drafts of the lettering for the beginning of Genesis.1901-1903.

Specimen Pages from the Doves Press, featuring Cobden-Sanderson’s draft of the lettering for the beginning of Genesis.1901-1903.

The Film and Media Archive

Alison Carrick, Reference and Outreach Supervisor

Just as the Rare Books Collections hold more than just books, the Film & Media Archive holds much more than just films. Its collections contain materials in a wide variety of formats that contributed to making of influential films and videos, and are especially strong in the areas of Civil Rights, African-American life, the history of Harlem, social justice, and democracy and the arts. Alison Carrick, who is currently the Reference and Outreach Supervisor for Special Collections, was the Special Collections Media Assistant in the Film & Media library for over a decade, and is intimately familiar with its expansive holdings.

A Rare Comic from the Hampton Collection

One of the Film and Media Library’s most noteworthy collections is the Henry Hampton Collection. Henry Hampton was a documentary film maker, and his collection features numerous interviews from important figures in the Civil Rights movement, as well as many cultural materials that he gathered in the process of making his films. It is one of these cultural materials that Alison has chosen to highlight. She writes, “One of my favorite items in the Film & Media Archive is the comic book, Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story. It’s an example of a unique cultural object that when it was published might have been seen as ephemeral  due to its format—a comic book—but has gone on to have a long lasting influence.”

The cover of Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story. 1959.

The comic was published in 1959, less than a year after the end of the boycott. The copy we have is extremely rare and fragile, and it really opens a window into a world of publishing that was operating outside of the mainstream press at the time. Of course major publications also covered the boycott, but the comic humanizes the people in movement, gives more background, and explains the method of nonviolence that Martin Luther King, Jr. was practicing. It is interesting to note whose stories get told in this comic, however. Although it mentions Rosa Parks’ role in the boycott, it tends to erase other women’s roles. The comic creates a fictional composite male character “Jones” who appears to be the instigator of the movement and never names women like Jo Ann Robinson, who jump-started the boycott. While the comic has been, and should be, praised for providing an angle of the story that did not come across in the mainstream press, it also reflects the culture of the mid-50s when women were not seen as leaders.

A panel from Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story introducing the composite Jones character.

The full comic has been digitized and put online here, and you can also read more about its background in our previous blog post.

About the author

Rose is a PhD candidate in English and American Literature at Washington University in St. Louis. When she is not working on her dissertation on post-1945 asylum novels or blogging about the amazing materials in Special Collections, she fills much of her time reading, writing, gardening, and wrestling.