Behind many Fine Presses you will often find a small team of dedicated people, or an individual whose own commitment to their craft is total. It is perhaps one of the wages of being a publisher that they must be people of extraordinary singular focus.
Such a publisher was the Typographer, Printer, and Publisher Harry Duncan – one of the key figures behind the Cummington Press, who saw it from its inception at the Cummington School of Arts to its end with his own sad demise. Newsweek referred to Hary Duncan as ‘the father of the modern private press movement in America’ – and that claim is no exaggeration.
The Cummington Press was actually the brainchild of a lecturer at the Cummington School of Arts, Miss Frazer, who, along with the students, had agreed to spend the entire art budget for their year on a hand press. What followed was a steady and continual fascination on the part of Harry Duncan towards the art of printing. He, along with Miss Frazer, took the Cummington Press from a student’s hobby-practise to producing actual books, eventually buying the press outright and relocating it to Iowa, and later Omaha. Alongside Cummington, Harry Duncan is also, obviously, known for his editions under the Abattoir imprint.
There are many stories that surround the character of Harry Duncan and the Cummington Press – all of which add color (living in the pressroom; traversing by skis to the shops; breaking a trailer trying to move the Cummington); however, for the collector the most important feature is how fine the work is. The works of the Cummington Press are thought to be amongst some of the best examples of hand-pressed books in modern America. A signed copy of poet Robert Lowell’s Land of Unlikeness by Cummington is worth easily $5000, whereas Wallace Stevens 1942 Notes Towards a Supreme Fiction (one of only 80 copies) could be worth $7000. A very fine example of a larger run might be the poet Rainer Maria Rilke’s Primal Sound and Other Prose Pieces (1943), available at a very affordable $400!
Bronk, William. Five Cummington Poems 1939.. Cummington Press (1939). 300 copies; Other contributors include Harry Duncan, Samuel French Morse, and Jane Ward
Mccorkle, Samuel. Incident On The Bark Columbia. Cummington Press (1941). Being Letters Received And Sent By Captain Mccorkle And The Crew Of His Whaler, 1860-1862; 300 copies printed in Polyphilus & Blado types on Georgian paper by Harry Duncan, Katharine Frazer and Jane Ward.
Stevens, Wallace. Notes Towards A Supreme Fiction.. Cummington Press (1942). 273 copies; 190 arabic-numeraled copies printed on Dutch Charcoal paper; 80 copies on Worthy Hand and Arrows, signed by Wallace Stevens
Blackmur, R. P. The Second World. Cummington Press (1942). title-page decoration by Eugene Canade; 300 copies; the Centaur and Arrighi types set by hand by Katharine Frazier and printed on Sterling Laid paper by Harry Duncan and David Newton.
Stevens, Wallace. Notes Toward A Supreme Fiction.. Cummington Press (1943). 330 copies printed in Centaur types on Andria paper
Rilke, Rainer Maria. Primal Sound And Other Prose Pieces. Cummington Press (1943). Translated With An Introduction By Carl Niemeyer. Illustrated With Woodcuts By Paul Wieghart; 175 copies.
Tate, Allen. The Vigil Of Venus. Cummington Press (1943). Pervigilium Veneris, The Latin Text With An Introduction And English Translation By Allen Tate; 430 copies.
Morse, Samuel French. Time Of Year. Cummington Press (1943). A First Book Of Poems Introduced By Wallace Stevens; 475 copies
Lowell, Robert. Land Of Unlikeness. Cummington Press (1944). Introduction by Allen Tate; Woodcut by Gustav Wolf; 250 copies.
The Book Of Job. Cummington Press (1944). From The King James Bible; 300 copies printed in Poliphilus and Blado types on dampened Dacian paper, illustrated with wood engravings by Gustav Wolfe, with a textual note by Alfred Y. Fisher
Williams, William Carlos. The Wedge. Cummington Press (1944). Title-Page Decoration By Wightman Williams; 380 copies; includes Paterson: The Falls, The Dance (In Breughels great picture), The Semblables and To Ford Madox Ford in Heaven, Ars Poetica.
Tate, Allen. The Winter Sea. Cummington Press (1944). A Book Of Poems; 300 copies
Hoskins, Katherine. A Penitential Primer. Cummington Press (1945). Poems; set up by hand in Centaur & Arrighi types and printed at Cummington, Massachusetts [by Harry Duncan] in an edition limited to 330 copies
Stevens, Wallace. Esthetique Du Mal. Cummington Press (1945). A Poem By Wallace Stevens With Pen & Ink Drawings By Wightman Williams; 300 copies printed on in Centaur type on Italian Pace paper;Total 340 copies.
Warren, Robert Penn . Blackberry Winter. Cummington Press (1946). A Story Illustrated By Wightman Williams; 330 copies (including 50 deluxe copies)
Feibleman, James. Journey To The Coastal Marsh. Cummington Press (1946). 250 copies; Printed from the American Uncial Type cut by Victor Hammer; printed on Hand and Arrows paper by Jacob Hammer in Aurora, N.Y
Rilke, Ranier Maria. Five Prose Pieces. Cummington Press (1947). 275 copies; Contains the short pieces Gym Period, An Encounter, Dolls, An Experience, and Primal Sound; Illustrated with wood engravings by Wightman Williams, translated by Carl Niemeyer, type composed by Harry Duncan.
Blackmur, R. P. The Good European. Cummington Press (1947). Poems; 40 roman-numeraled copies printed in Victor Hammers American Uncial type on French Arches paper, signed by Blackmur; 310 copies
Stevens, Wallace. Three Academic Pieces.. Cummington Press (1947). The Realm Of Resemblance, Someone Puts A Pineapple Together, Of Ideal Time And Choice; 92 copies on Beauvais Arches with handcolored initials; 246 copies.
Williams, William Carlos. The Clouds, Aigeltinger, Russia. Cummington Press (1948). 61 poems; 310 copies.
Tate, Allen. The Hovering Fly And Other Essays.,. Cummington Press (1949). 245 copies with twenty-six woodcuts by Wightman Williams
Eberhart, Richard. An Herb Basket. Cummington Press (1950). 155 copies; Relief etching by Wightman Williams.
Cunningham, J.V. Doctor Drink. Cummington Press (1950). Poems; 200 copies; with an original etching, signed and numbered by the artist, Wightman Williams.
Tate, Allen. Two Conceits For The Eye To Sing, If Possible.. Cummington Press (1950). 300 copies; Wood-engraved vignette by Wightman Williams
Van Duyn, Mona. Valentines To The Wild World. Cummington Press (1958). Fred Becker, Illus; Poems; 180 copies, signed by Van Duyn and Becker.
Berg, Stephen. Bearing Weapons. Cummington Press (1963). 250 numbered copies signed by the poet
Agee, James. Four Early Stories. Cummington Press (1964). Collected By Elena Harap And Illustrated With Intaglio Etchings By Keith Achepohl; 285 copies.
Heinemann, Katherine Arnstein. Brandings. Cummington Press (1968). Poems By Katherine Arnstein Heinemann; Engravings By Roderick Mead; 236 copies.
Schwerner, Armand. The Tablets I-VIII. Cummington Press (1968). Transmitted Through Armand Schwerner; 150 numbered copies signed by Schwerner, hand printed on Okawara paper by Harry Duncan and David Pollen; 320 copies