The Cummington Press 1939 - 1997

Harry Duncan (1916-1997)

typographer / printer / publisher



Harry Duncan began printing at the Cummington School of the Arts in Cummington, Massachusetts in 1939. Using a hand press, he published books of contemporary poetry under The Cummington Press imprint first in Massachusetts, then in Iowa and Omaha, Nebraska.

From 1956 until 1972, Mr. Duncan directed the typographic laboratory and taught typography, book design and production full-time at the School of Journalism of the University of Iowa in Iowa City.

In 1972 he came to the University of Nebraska at Omaha where his full-time position was half teaching and half printing. He founded Abattoir Editions here, publishing three or four titles a year. Following his retirement from teaching in 1985, he resumed printing under The Cummington Press imprint from his shop on the university campus in Omaha.

Newsweek magazine said in 1982 that Mr. Duncan had come to be "considered the father of post-World War II private-press movement." In 1978, Fine Print magazine said: "Harry Duncan's virtuosity, taste and experience have enabled him to reconcile the esthetic and practical demands of printing and typography and weld them together with literary excellence."


In 1989 Harry Duncan wrote of his work:

An addiction to printing books by hand has possessed me for nearly fifty years. Retired now and left to my own declining devices, and aware that old men should be explorers, I feel that it may be time to kick the habit and try something entirely new. But I can't think of anything else that holds a candle to the recurrent fascination of trying to find suitable graphic forms for poetry, whose multifarious development deserves to be read in the light of our great typographical tradition. Why then don't I begin to explore the new technology? Perhaps I should if it weren't so apparent to me how far I have failed to master the old one. Meanwhile, the manuscripts continue to arrive in the mail, surprisingly many of them of compelling interest. I still am hooked on the only way I know to produce books, by hand in a composing stick and on a Vandercook or Ostrander Seymour press.

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