The Richard Minsky Collection: American Decorated Publishers' Bindings, 1872-1929

In Januay of 2007, University Libraries acquired a collection of over five hundred incredible examples of American publishers’ bindings assembled by one of the nation’s foremost book artists, Richard Minsky. "Purchasing the Minsky Collection was possible only because of the generosity of the Library Leadership Board. Without their support the Libraries would have had to forgo this major acquisition," said Louis A. Pitschmann, Dean of Libraries.

Minsky acquired all examples of these binding designs specifically for the purpose of developing a catalog, American Decorated Publishers' Bindings, 1872-1929. The catalog is a rich work of scholarship and art. Now the source material, these five hundred 19th and early 20th century books, will be housed in the W.S. Hoole Special Collections Library along with the first signed copy of Minsky's limited edition catalogs.

This collection offers examples of the work of more than eighty known binding designers such as Margaret Armstrong and Sarah Wyman Whitman, as well as numerous anonymous artists. The books in the collection reflect numerous artistic movements such as Art Nouveau, Futurism, Surrealism and many more. They not only serve as an excellent body of materials to help support research, teaching and learning in several UA programs including the MFA program in the Book Arts, as well as American studies, Art, and Graphic Design, but also complement the physical holdings of the Hoole Library and virtual holdings in The University of Alabama Libraries collaborative digital project, Publishers’ Bindings Online, 1815-1930: The Art of Books or PBO (bindings.lib.ua.edu).

“This is a huge boon for The University of Alabama. Minsky’s collection perfectly complements the holdings in the Hoole Library and are a great addition to the PBO project, developing greater holdings in publishers’ bindings from the latter part of the 19th and the early part of the 20th century,” said Jessica Lacher-Feldman, project manager for the PBO project. “What’s more, an unusually large number of the books are in superb condition, which is increasingly uncommon for books of this kind. This allows researchers to gain a true sense of how the books looked when they were first produced.”

Minsky is the founder and current chairperson of the Center for Book Arts in New York City, a pioneering institution that has mounted over 130 exhibitions to date. The Center has played a key roll in defining the book arts movement through exhibitions, teaching and publishing. Among the students and instructors at the Center for Book Arts are graduates of The University of Alabama’s MFA program in the Book Arts, including Rory Golden, the previous Executive Director of the Center.

Minsky expressed great pleasure in his collection’s future home. “Several institutions presented compelling reasons for their acquisition of it,” said Minsky, “and the decision went to the University of Alabama. In addition to a library school with a MLIS program, it has one of the best MFA in Book Arts programs. They also have created the Publishers' Bindings Online project to promote the appreciation and study of publishers' bindings ca. 1815-1930, and are building on an existing collection strength on this subject to develop a major research collection pertaining to publishers' bindings.”

The collection and the catalog are critical to the study of the publishers’ bindings era. “In one leap Richard Minsky has put himself in the forefront of collectors and scholars of this period when each cover was a work of art,” said Sue Allen, author of
many works and one of the world’s foremost scholars of publishers' bindings. Ms. Allen also serves on the advisory committee for the PBO project and has served as a guiding light
to the PBO project participants as well as to Richard Minsky.

The books are now included in the PBO project, and housed physically in the W.S. Hoole Special Collections Library. This is a benefit for the entire UA community and the community at large.

“For the Book Arts Program this commitment toward the study of
the book and its history is yet another example of what makes The University of Alabama a special place in the world of the art, craft, and history of the whole book," said Steve Miller, Professor & Coordinator, MFA in the Book Arts Program, School of Library & Information Studies.

“This is a wonderful national resource for those who make and study the book, said Anna Embree, Assistant Professor and bookbinding instructor in the Book Arts Program, School of Library & Information Studies. Dean Pitschmann noted, "By acquiring the Minsky Collection, the University Libraries significantly expands its support of teaching and research interests pertaining to the books arts, material culture, and art history. This collection is truly one of the premiere collections of publishers' bindings in the United States."

Biographical/Bibliographic Sketch of Richard Minsky

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