A Papermaker’s Papers: A Fresh Look at Dard Hunter

By Eric Stoykovich, Manuscript Librarian and College Archivist

In February 2022, the Watkinson Library undertook a minor project to improve the finding aids for three archival/manuscript collections: the Dard Hunter papers; the Limited Editions Club collection; and the Roberts Brothers collection. Amy FitzGerald, Processing Archivist in the Watkinson, reformatted the finding aids by transferring them from word processing documents and crafting new collection descriptions when necessary. Additionally, FitzGerald worked to refine the physical organization and labeling of materials. Now word searchable and available to a wider public in the ArchivesSpace database of finding aids, the collections are ready for an expanded audience of users interested in papermaking, the history of the book, women authors, and bibliography.

Born in 1883, Dard Hunter (William Joseph Hunter), the self-styled “anachronism” who lived through an era of rapid technological change, closed out his eighty-three years as he had begun it, an artisan with the research skills of an academic. Hunter’s work and legacy has been well-documented in several secondary sources, including a loving tribute by his son[1] and a thorough biography by Cathleen Baker.[2] The little collection of manuscripts and limited edition book materials that constitute the “Dard Hunter Papers” at the Watkinson Library offers just the briefest taste of the breadth and depth of Hunter’s knowledge about papermaking, handmade book manufacturing, and printmaking.

The most unique pieces in Watkinson’s collection are the ten letters of manuscript correspondence from the 1920s and 1930s between Hunter and two enthusiasts of his work, Carlos B. Clark and Charles R. Green.

Clark was financial controller of the department store J.L. Hudson Company in Detroit,[3] while Green was librarian of the Jones Library in Amherst, Massachusetts. Green helped Hunter stage an exhibition at the Jones Library with five cases of a variety of Hunter’s handmade drawings, tools, and paper samples in early 1934.

Green also seems to have served as procurer of unusual or old paper for Hunter. For example, Hunter thanked Green in 1944 for sending him “carrier pigeon paper.”[4] Though a sample of that paper is not present in the Watkinson’s collection, it does include a number of examples of Hunter’s papermaking, including several light-and-shade portrait watermarks of Hunter, taken from a profile photograph of the papermaker.

The “Dard Hunter Papers” complement book-form examples of Hunter’s work, including the Watkinson’s copies of Papermaking in Southern Siam (1936) and Papermaking in Pioneer America (Rosenbach Lectures, 1952).

Dard Hunter’s search for “traditional” methods of papermaking and print culture saw him traversing the globe. With the papers he collected from remote places, he produced books of a clearly colonialist nature, though he seems to have carefully cited by name the local informants and papermakers he encountered, like Piung Niltongkum of Bangsom, in modern-day Thailand.

Besides the appearance of Hunter’s work in the collections of the Smithsonian Institution and a major permanent exhibit at the Robert C. Williams Museum of Papermaking, many libraries and archives—such as those at the College of Charleston, University of Delaware, and Smith College—have small, fragmentary Dard Hunter manuscript collections similar to the one at the Watkinson Library.

During his time as a Roycrofter in New York state between 1904 and 1908, Dard Hunter influenced the design of the publications of the artisan community’s founder Elbert Hubbard (also known affectionately as “Fra Elbertus”). The left image is from the Dard Hunter Papers, while the right image is from the Ephemera Collection (Lincolniana), both available in the Watkinson Library and College Archives.

[1] In 1950, at age 67, Dard wrote to Elmer Adler to say: “I will always remain an anachronism and I shall continue the methods of working I have long followed,” a response to the previous eleven years that Dard had spent at M.I.T. in charge of the Dard Hunter Paper Museum (Dard Hunter II with Dard Hunter III, Dard Hunter & Son (Newtown, PA: Bird & Bull Press, 1998), p. 146.

[2] Cathleen Baker, By His Own Labor: The Biography of Dard Hunter (New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 2000).

[3] “Clark Proposal Gains; Controllers’ Interest in Store Cost Method Steadily Growing” (February 18, 1934), Section N, p. 6, NYT Archive: https://www.nytimes.com/1934/02/18/archives/clark-proposal-gains-controllers-interest-in-store-cost-method.html

[4] Dard Hunter to Charles R. Green (typed letter signed), Sept. 26, 1944, in Box 1, Folder 2, Dard Hunter papers, Watkinson Library and College Archives, Hartford, Connecticut.

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