In the modern times of today, where perhaps as much as 90% of our printing presses are digitized, it is rare to hear of a man such as Harry Duncan, one of the last hand-printers of fine press imprints. Born in Iowa in the second decade of the twentieth century, Harry Duncan discovered his passion for the hand-operated press while attending college and art school, when he was invited to help the school district set up its own press. This endeavor he called the Cummington Press Imprint, and later became, alongside Abattoir one of the singular examples of American fine art printing in modern times.
What makes this endeavor so unique, and so intriguing? The reason is rather one of skill and expertise, as well as dedication to a dying art form. As the collector will know, the roles of book design, typography, type-setting, even layout, cover design and art direction are all key elements to making a book edition truly memorable – and the more expertise that has been paid to these elements, the likelier it is that the final edition will be collectible. It used to be common for the very production of a book, pamphlet or even treaty to be considered an art form in and of itself, which is why we, as collectors, can follow the prestigious and leading fine presses to this day.
However, now that printing technology has become industrialized, and scanning and reproduction technology mean that we can print and copy artworks and illustration with ease, much of this dedicated design work is done at the computer level rather than through hand and sight, by professional artists. Harry Duncan of Abattoir was one of the last of those professionals, who later took his Cummington Press to the University of Nebraska, where he expanded into the Abattoir fine-press imprint, specializing in rare early-modern American classics and reprints of the classics.
Should you ever choose to collect Abattoir Fine Art Press, then look out for works by American poet Robert Lowell, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore, Tennessee Williams and Yvor Winters, as well as reprints of Sir Walter Raleigh. Today the Abattoir editions are all uniquely valuable of their own right, due to their rarified nature (Harry Duncan never printed over 500 copies of any manuscript), but still have yet to break into the top bracket of desirability. Individual printed and bound volumes usually sell for anything from $30 to $75 each, with their value sure to only rise in the future.
Squires, Radcliffe. Waiting in the Bone. Abattoir (1973). 15 etching by Keith Achepohl.
Schwerner, Armand. Bacchae Sonnets. Abattoir (1974). Illustrated by James W. Mall
Logan, John. House That Jack Built. Abattoir (1974). Portrait of the Artist as a Sad Sensua, 36 drawings by James Brunot.
Damon, S Foster. Selected Poems. Abattoir (1974). Edited by Donald E Stanford
Rilke, Rainer Maria. Holding Out. Abattoir (1975). Poems rendered from German by Rika Lesser, note by Richard Howard
Goldstein, Laurence. Altamira. Abattoir (1978). Two relief prints by David Newbert.
Davis, Glover. August Fires and Other Poems. Abattoir (1978). Linocut by Lawrence Bradshaw
Hollander, John. In Place. Abattoir (1978). A Sequence.
Dubie, Norman. Thousand Little Things. Abattoir (1978). Keith Achepohl. photo-etchings of drawings
Gunn, Thom. Games of Chance. Abattoir (1979). etching by John Thein
Smith, William Jay. Journey to the Dead Sea. Abattoir (1979). Two relief etchings by David Newbert
Golffing, Francis. Collected Poems. Abattoir (1980). Four linocuts by Ruth Fine
Duncan, Harry. The Technology of Hand Printing. Abattoir (1980). A Burden for Craftsmen As Delivered Last Spring at West Chester State College and to the Colophon Club.
Quinn, John. The Wolf Last Seen. Abattoir (1980). James Trissel, illustrator.
Brummels, J V. 614 Pearl. Abattoir (1982). Paul Otero illustrator
Bradley, Ardyth. Three Winter Poems. Abattoir (1986). Bonnie O'Connell, relief block print
Emanuel, Lynn. The Technology of Love. Abattoir (1988). Bonnie O'Connell illustrator, frontispiece.
Hansen, Ron. Nebraska. Abattoir (1991). woodcuts by Karen Kunc,designed by Bonnie O'Connell.