Cummington Press records and Harry Duncan papers,1933-1998

Emory University

Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library

Atlanta, GA 30322


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Descriptive Summary

Creator:Cummington Press.
Title: Cummington Press records and Harry Duncan papers,1933-1998
Call Number:Manuscript Collection No. 936
Extent:20.25 linear ft. (42 boxes)
Abstract:Records of the Cummington Press and personal papers of Harry Duncan, including subject files, business correspondence, manuscripts, administrative and financial records, printed material, and photographs.
Language:Materials entirely in English.

Administrative Information

Restrictions on Access

Unrestricted access.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

All requests subject to limitations noted in departmental policies on reproduction.


Purchase, 2002.


[after identification of item(s)], Cummington Press records and Harry Duncan papers, Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University.


Processed by Laura L. Carroll, Amy E. Elkins, and Michael Hessel-Mial, February 2011.

Collection Description

Biographical Note

The Cummington Press was founded as a part of the Cummington School of the Arts, a summer program emphasizing collaborations across the fine arts, directed by musician Katharine Frazier in Cummington, Massachusetts. In 1939, Harry Duncan (1916-1997) began attending the Cummington School summer sessions during breaks from his graduate education at Duke University. That year, Frazier invested in an antique hand-press with the aim of introducing Cummington students to manual printing. The participants in the school, led by Duncan, made their first attempts to operate the press from 1939-1940, and by 1941 had completed the first book under the Cummington Press imprint, an edition of whaling letters titled Incident on the Bark Columbia.

Frazier and Duncan began printing in earnest, collaborating on the production of books by authors such as R.P. Blackmur and Wallace Stevens. At this time Katharine Frazier began to suffer from the cancer that would take her life in 1944, and though Frazier remained an intellectual collaborator, her involvement in further book production was limited. In the year of Frazier's passing, Duncan met Paul Wightman Williams, Jr., a poet and illustrator, who began to participate in book production, providing woodcut illustrations for several volumes. At this time, the Cummington Press published additional works by Stevens and Blackmur, as well as works by Robert Lowell, William Carlos Williams, Robert Penn Warren, Allen Tate, and Marianne Moore. The press also published translations of Rainer Maria Rilke and works by earlier authors, including Daniel Defoe and Charles Dickens. This productive period was interrupted by a car accident that took Paul Williams' life in 1957.

In the following years Harry Duncan balanced printing with academic appointments at the University of Iowa and the University of Nebraska. In 1957, Duncan was invited to join the University of Iowa faculty to teach typography and book arts for the School of Journalism. Duncan accepted, continuing to operate The Cummington Press part-time in Iowa City. During this time the Cummington Press began to publish works by poets involved with the University of Iowa Writer's Workshop, including writers whose careers had not yet been established, depending less on contact with established writers to procure manuscripts. In 1972, Duncan was offered a faculty position at the University of Nebraska which enabled him to teach half-time and print half-time. He established the Abbatoir Editions imprint for works published under the auspices of the University of Nebraska, while continuing to produce Cummington Press works. Duncan remained at Nebraska until retiring in 1985; recognized by the printing community and the general public as a critical figure in the post-war small press movement. Duncan continued book production until his death in 1997.

Scope and Content Note

The collection consists of the records of the Cummington Press and the personal papers of Harry Duncan from 1933-1998. Records of the press include subject files, business correspondence, manuscripts, administrative and financial records, printed material, and photographs. In addition to the Press records, the collection also includes the personal papers of Harry Duncan, such as family correspondence, teaching materials, and his writings. Other personal papers include a small amount relating to Katherine Frazier and Paul Wightman Williams.

Arrangement Note

Organized into two series: (1) the Cummington Press records and (2) Personal papers.

Description of Series