This feature originally appeared on the Incubator Project on September 19, 2012.

Last winter I had the pleasure of taking an “official” incubaTOUR through Silver Buckle Press, located in Memorial Library at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This is a fantastic resource for those interested in art, design, typography, and print history. Enjoy! ~ Laura

The text for this feature is adapted from the Silver Buckle Press website and introduction to the Silver Buckle Press digital collection. Writing by Tracy Honn, director of Silver Buckle Press.

Silver Buckle Press is a working museum of letterpress printing dedicated to preserving the craft of fine printing through educational programming, publications, exhibitions and tours. The Silver Buckle Press collection of books, wood and metal type, presses, and printing equipment is part of the University of Wisconsin–Madison Libraries.

Walk in to Silver Buckle Press, and you’ll be greeted by Tracy Honn, Press director, printer, and print historian. The space is airy, with high ceilings, but filled with wooden trays, vintage printing presses, and beautiful clean prints hanging neatly on the walls.

The original collection was put together by Robert Shaftoe (1921-1972). Shaftoe was an art director at the Ford Motor Company, and a hobby printer.

He named his press “Silver Buckle” after the nursery rhyme, Bobby Shaftoe. It begins “Bobby Shaftoe’s gone to sea, silver buckles on his knee.”

In 1973 the Silver Buckle Press was purchased from Robert Shaftoe’s estate by the University of Wisconsin libraries, upon the urging of Professor Walter Hamady (now retired) of the University of Wisconsin–Madison Art Department.

When the Silver Buckle Press came to UW-Madison, it was set up by the libraries as a working museum. The museum part of that description refers to the preservation of the Press’s distinguished holdings of type and printing equipment; the working designation describes its role in preserving the practice of printing through use of the equipment for publications and demonstrations.

Wander through the Projects page of the Silver Buckle Press website to get a feel for some of the interesting collaborations (many with libraries or that involve literary arts!) with which the Press is involved.

The Silver Buckle Press collection includes all the tools necessary to run a complete printing shop. Highlights of the collection are an 1860s Washington Hoe, an 1869 Albion handpress, a Vandercook 4T proof press, platen jobbers, and small card presses. There are over eighty complete fonts of wood type and one hundred twenty-five fonts of metal type as well as printer’s ornaments, borders and cuts.

Silver Buckle Press and the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections Center partnered to make several of the Press’ rarest or most unique books in the collection available to students, scholars, designers, and typography enthusiasts in the digital form. Visit the Silver Buckle Press Digital Collection.

Books in the Silver Buckle Press Collection database represent printing history materials from the Press’ reference shelf, and consists primarily of type specimen books – sales catalogs or in-house specimens. These items were used to demonstrate the different types for potential customers.

Type specimen books are becoming increasingly scarce. Though many of them were lavishly produced and substantial in size, type specimens were essentially sales catalogs and therefore ephemeral. Many simply did not survive intact—either because of heavy use, or because the books were discarded when new issues appeared.

Few libraries collected or retained these now highly valued printing history items. Many of these books are in the category of library materials said to be “medium rare,” that is, they were once readily available but are now becoming difficult to locate. These materials are essential for research in type, design and printing history. Silver Buckle Press is committed to growing the digital collection to continue to make these items widely available.

A very special thank you to Silver Buckle Press director Tracy Honn, who facilitated my visit to Silver Buckle Press.

Photos by Laura Damon-Moore.

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