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Isador Mendle Memorial Collection on the History of Printing

Creation of the Mendle Collection

In the fall of 1968 Mr. and Mrs. Maurice Mendle made a $50,000 gift to Washington University to establish a collection in memory of Mr. Mendle's father, Isador Mendle (1882-1935), a leader in the printing industry in St. Louis and founder of the Mendle Press, Inc. (of which Maurice Mendle is a former Chairman of the Board). This generous and much-needed gift was to be used to:

  1. form a distinguished collection of books and related materials on the history of printing and
  2. create a new room in the Library's Rare Book Department for housing and providing service on the collection.

At the outset there were decisions to be made about the nature of the collection and the kinds of services the Mendle Room might best provide. Recognizing that examples of fine printing have educational and inspirational value, distinguished libraries almost invariably have assembled representative examples of the work of the great printers. Desirable as they might be, such books would not in themselves give special significance to the collection at Washington University.

Primary Focus of the Collection

Isador Mendle's interest in pioneering new techniques suggested a special area of concentration, developments in printing since the Industrial Revolution, with special concentration on the last one hundred years. As envisaged, such a collection would include examples of fine bookmaking and of the early uses of new printing techniques; the background books necessary to study seriously the history of recent technical developments; and a collection on the arts and crafts related to printing, papermaking, binding, illustration, etc.

At the same time the collection could not simply ignore all that had gone before. The coverage for the years up to the middle 1800's would be selective; for the last one hundred years the coverage would be as complete as available funds and opportunities for purchase would make it. Even in that period there would have to be limitations. Since many libraries had extensive holdings of the books produced by the great private presses in the United States and Europe, Washington University could choose to be highly selective in this area.

A constant effort is made to aquire for the Mendle Collections books having both textual and artistic interest. Also not every piece useful to printing history is printed. The Mendle Collections contains original source materials, manuscripts, letters, trial proofs, and the like which support the study and writing of the history of printing. The collection includes proofs for productions of the innovative English press, the Gogmagog Press. Also letters of Stanley Morison, scholar, type designer, editor, and astute businessman, who played a central role in the resurgence of fine commercial printing in the twentieth century.

Literary scholars will find in the Mendle Collection extensive material on publishing history in the nineteenth century. For economists there is material on printing unions, labor conditions, the effects of the new technology, etc. The technical changes in printing during the last one hundred years have been so rapid that bibliographers and textual scholars, who must understand the physical make-up of the books they are describing, have been unable to keep abreast of developments. The Mendle Collection is an ideal place to pursue such studies.

Text: William Matheson
Former Head of Special Collections

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