Made by Pioneer Papermaker, Douglass Morse Howell: THE SONG OF MAGDALEN
Orcutt, Alice; [Douglass Morse Howell, papermaker and printer; Gerhard Gerlach, bookbinder]. THE SONG OF MAGDALEN. New York: Douglass Howell, 1946. Unpaginated. , [2 - blank], [1 - colophon] pages, on French folds of handmade paper created by Douglass Morse Howell. Paper is creamed-colored with swirls of yellow and bears Howell's "H" watermark. Original handmade paper covered boards backed in buckram, with author's gilt device on front cover; handmade paper endpapers. [22 cm.] Moderate staining and soiling to covers; wear to covers with some "pilling" of the paper fibers. Thus good plus only, however, the endpapers and text leaves are in nice condition.
FIRST EDITION OF THE AUTHOR'S FIRST AND ONLY BOOK, WHICH WAS ALSO THE FIRST AND ONLY BOOK PRINTED BY HER HUSBAND, DOUGLASS MORSE HOWELL. He set the book in Garamond type and printed it on a Washington hand press. The stated limitation is 500 copies but far fewer copies were actually made. According to Alexandra Soteriou, Howell printed only about 50 copies and had them bound by Gerhard Gerlach, a noted hand bookbinder (see "Douglas Morse Howell, Retrospective," American Craft Museum exhibition catalog, 1982).
This copy with a PRESENTATION INSCRIPTION BY THE AUTHOR. On the colophon after the printed words, “Copy Number,” Howell (or perhaps Orcutt) wrote “IMPERFECT” in block letters. Below this, Orcutt wrote, “but only typographically! With love from the author -- [signed with her symbol].” [Note: In light of the printer labeling this copy as "imperfect," it should be observed that the book is complete and shows no obvious printing errors. Upon close examination, trifling flaws in the printing can be observed (a letter or two not perfectly impressed, a few instances where the type was slightly over-inked, and an occasional stray ink mark near the lettering). Perhaps, these were the cause for the "imperfect" assessment. However, given Howell's lack of experience with letterpress printing and the texture of the paper used, it is still an admirable effort. It should also be noted this copy was considered worthy of being not only bound but presented by the author.]
Douglass Morse Howell (1906-1994) is widely acclaimed as the most instrumental figure in the revival of hand papermaking as a craft and an art form in the United States during the second half of the 20th century. A native of New York, he was raised in France and Italy and studied at the University of Turin before returning to America in 1929. He worked as a bank inspector, a literary agent (for Ezra Pound amongst others), and a magazine illustrator. He also began printing his own woodcuts and grew interested in finding better paper for his work. A visit with Harrison Elliot at the Japan Paper Company inspired Howell to make his own paper and he avidly studied the books of American pioneer papermaker, Dard Hunter. His service in World War II forced him to delay the start of his papermaking career but gave him the opportunity to visit the Richard de Bas paper mill in Ambert, France. After the war, Howell returned to New York and, in 1946, married Alice Orcutt (b. 1922). She was the daughter of William Dana Orcutt, the noted type designer, book designer, and author. In the same year, Howell rented a studio, built his first pulp beater, and began making his own papers. He also purchased a Washington hand press and printed broadsides and leaflets of poetry on his papers, which he sold at Manhattan bookstores. All these imprints are rare today, with OCLC identifying only a handful and locating only single copies of each. Howell’s fruitful period as a letterpress printer was 1946-1948. Thereafter, his interest in printing texts seems to have waned, although he continued to print engravings of both his own design and of other artists’ works in small editions for some years. By the end of the 1940’s, Howell was devoted to papermaking and he sold his papers to printmakers and many notable artists, including Joan Miro, Anne Ryan, Jackson Pollack, Lee Krasner, Dorothy Dehner, and Alfonso Ossorio. Tatyana Grossman employed his papers extensively in prints published by her Universal Limited Art Editions. In addition to sheets of paper, Howell also made individual paper works of art in two and three dimensions. Howell received widespread recognition for his papermaking. His work was exhibited by many notable galleries across the nation and purchased by prominent institutions. He had two major retrospectives, at the American Craft Museum in 1982 and at the New York Public Library in 1987. Howell is furthermore remembered for his service as an educator, who inspired and informed a new generation of American papermakers.
To the best of our knowledge, "The Song of Magdalen" was the only book Howell printed and it provides examples of some of his earliest work as a papermaker. While not noted in the colophon, he undoubtedly made the papers used in the binding. They exhibit the rich textures and varied colors for which he was known and that he achieved by using multiple types and hues of linens in each batch. OCLC records 15 institutional copies of "The Song of Magdalen," NUC finds three more, and KVK adds no others. It is rare in the trade and no copies have sold at auction in at least 40 years (so far as recorded by ABPC and Rare Book Hub).
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