Report on the First Decade


THE IDEA of having a book collecting/book arts club in Portland was "hatched" in a Congress Street bookstore one wintry day in late 1983. There was something about the woodstove there and group of comfortable chairs around it which suggested the possibilities of a continuing dialogue between book lovers in this community.

The first requirement was to talk to a few people about whether they would welcome and support such a club were it to be created. Principal among these were Grace Barney, Francis O'Brien and David Turner. Grace was enthusiastic from the beginning; she had worked tirelessly in support of special collections at Bowdoin College and at the Portland Public Library, and she had a stunning private collection of books. Francis O'Brien, the dean of Maine antiquarian booksellers, stated that the only people who joined book clubs were either liars or braggarts. David Turner said that the name of Longfellow had already been taken by at least one other organization and that James Phinney Baxter might best be used to name the group. Or we could have called it the Liars and Braggarts Club as implied by O'Brien's observation.

Our first effort at having a meeting in February, 1984 had to be cancelled due to a fresh snow storm. It was not until April that year that we managed to convene our first real meeting over lunch at F. Parker Reidy's restaurant just prior to a lecture sponsored by The Anthoensen Press at the Portland Public Library. Thereafter we held more or less regular monthly meetings leading up to our first
Annual Meeting, December 11, 1984. At our monthly meeting November 13, 1984 we had adopted a Constitution and By-Laws drafted by Bruce Kennett and your chronicler based loosely on the constitutions of The Grolier Club of New York and the Club of Odd Volumes of Boston, plus some of our own notions.

We felt from the beginning that The Baxter Society (we had secured the permission of the Baxter family to use that name) should be inclusive of all people interested in either collecting or making books-an umbrella organization rather than a group restricted to one of the many specialties which contribute to the book arts. Portland was just the right size to support a bibliophilic group which was from the outset generalist in nature. Eventually the Society applied for and received Federal non-profit status under Section 501 (c) (3) of the Internal Revenue Code, enabling us to receive tax deductible contributions from individuals and granting institutions.

The Baxter Society is not the first bibliophilic club in a state rich in the book arts tradition. Around 1901 about a dozen distinguished men of Bangor formed the DeBurian Club (named for Richard DeBury, whose ancient Philobiblon is considered the first treatise on the love of books).

This club at one point numbered among its members Frederick Parkhurst, Governor of Maine, who died shortly after taking office. The DeBurians are known to have published at least four (now quite scarce) books on such topics as Peter Edes, first Bangor printer, and Moses Greenleaf, the great Maine cartographer. They apparently went out of existence on the eve of World War 1. Had the DeBurians survived to the present day, they would have ranked among the oldest of American book societies.


The oldest of these, The Grolier Club of New York City, is just one hundred years older than the Baxter Society. It would be impossible to list all of the excellent programs we have enjoyed during our first decade, but we can mention a few highlights: our first book, James T. Fields-Literary Publisher, grew out of a regular monthly program given on October g, 1985 at the Portland Club. Our speaker that evening, John William Pye of Boston, had prepared a scholarly presentation drawn from his great collection of Ticknor & Fields imprints. All of us felt that this program set the high standard to which all of our programs should aspire, in which a collector presents new insights from his or her collection rather than viewing the collecting of books as an end in itself. Other notable talks drawn from book collections would include Grace Barney on livres d'artistes, David Turner on Thomas Bird Mosher, Beth Baird on Valentine ephemera, Stephen Halpert on Henry Miller & Anais Nin Bruce Kennett on W. A. Dwiggins, and Eliot Stanley on Rockwell Kent. And these were from the regular members of the Club-we also had many speakers from away, such as William Bond on the books of the Houghton Library at Harvard, Rodney Armstrong on the collections of the Boston Athenaum and Club of Odd Volumes, and Sandra Snow Adams on American Trade Bindings.

In addition to programs based on private or institutional collections, the Society has been fortunate to have heard from the book artisans who have been an important element in its membership from the beginning. Noted worthy among such presentations were talks on binding by Jeffrey Haste, George Benington on his Coyote Love Press, Michael Alpert on his Theodore Press, Nina Rayer
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on paper conservation and preservation, Ed Holcomb on photography, and David Wolfe on printing. Many would agree that our most memorable program was the talk given by Leonard Baskin on February 27, 1987 on literature which had shaped his artistic sensibility. We also received outstanding talks from Terry Belanger, then Director of the Rare Book School, Columbia University, at the first Baxter Society Lecture, June g, 19go and from artist Lance Hidy on his poster arts, April zo, 1985, a talk which led to creation of our first and so far only four color poster announcement. Our program directors have had the tough but exciting task of finding varied presentations which would over the course of each nine-month year appeal as widely as possible to our membership, while keeping costs of transportation, lodging and so forth to a minimum. Some of our most important talks by outside speakers have been supported by discretionary grants from the Maine Humanities Council, and we thank them.

We have mentioned the first of our book publications above. Our second book, The Jewel-a Romance of Fairyland by Rockwell Kent was something of a coup for our fledgling publications program. We were able to secure the rights to publish the sole authorized facsimile edition of Kent's earliest actual book, hand-made by him in a single original in 1917, three years before his first commercial publication. The owner of that exceedingly rare book had seen our first book and was impressed by the quality of that project. In taking on a project of national scope, we received support and recognition from many major libraries and financial help from the Payson Foundation here in Maine, as well as from many private benefactors. The jewel, as well as its predecessor James T. Fields, (4) received Printing Excellence awards from the Maine Graphic Arts Association.

Our third book, A Passionate Intensity-The Life and Work of Dorothy Healy, published in 1992 due to the special work of Frances Peabody, Gael May McKibben, William David Barry and Bruce Kennett, was a salute to late second president of the Society. Among the many tributes to her in the book, one essay had this to say about r contributions to the Baxter Society:

As president of the club, Dorothy's administration was crucial to the establishment of the Baxter Society as a credible community and state book-arts club. She 'attracted excellent people to membership and picked up the pace of programs and activities, giving the group a growing sense of its unique mission and : esprit de corps. She was a highly respected person in Portland and Maine when she joined the club, and she gave us confidence that the cultural community of Maine and New England found validity in our existence. If someone as distinguished as Dorothy Healy felt that this club was worthwhile, all who were members were complimented. Thus she was, in fact, one of the true founders of the Society, and without her the club would not be the viable organization it is today.

One outgrowth of this spirit of community involvement came in 1992, when President David Turner led the Society to involve itself in an important fight to preserve the Portland Room, repository of the city's special book collections in the Portland Public Library. Members of the

(5) club appeared and spoke before a hearing of the Library Board and "weighed in" to prevent cuts in funding and staffing which would have substantially harmed a cultural resource important to Portland and to all of Maine. This was our first venture, as a club, into community activism and we believe our efforts made a difference.

Serious as that fight was, the club exists primarily for the pleasure and enlightenment of its members. We have derived great fun from our annual holiday parties following Annual Meetings in December, from our summer show and-tell meetings at which members get up and talk about some very peculiar personal acquisitions and collections, and from our summer expeditions to state and regional book arts institutions, presses, libraries and the like. We have traipsed around New England from Hancock and Seal Harbor downcast to Portsmouth and Boston southerly, and as far west as Vermont to look in on book arts activities.

Finally, two particular undertakings of the club during its first decade deserve mention. The first was the creation of the Stephen Harvard award for excellence in the book arts which the Baxter Society established in 19go to honor the memory and work of our late Honorary member, a gifted designer, printer and calligrapher. The first Stephen Harvard award went to Michael Alpert in 19go for his edition of Orfeo ed Euridice: in 1992 the first prize was shared by Barbara Cash for a setting of the essay by Francis Bacon Of Gardens, and Bruce Kennett for design, typography and copy photography of A Noble and Dignified Stream: The Piscataqua Region in the Colonial Revival, 1860-1930. Our judges are leading figures in New England book arts activities: Roderick Stinehour, Philip (6) Isaacson, Anita Walker Scott and David R. Godine, and and : we thank them for helping to establish this competition as tural a means to recognize the best fine press and trade books This = produced in Maine. To support this activity, the Society has held two book auctions, one in collaboration with F. O. Bailey, Auctioneers, Portland.

The second special activity of the club was creation of the Dorothy Healy Book Fund, supported by sales of the book A Passionate Intensity and by special contributions, to assist in the work and acquisitions of The Maine Women Writers Collection which Dorothy directed at Westbrook College. Over $6000.00 has already been raised for this fund, signifying the club's commitment to strengthening the Collection and to preserving the memory of our friend. As we close out this first ten years, the Society is already at work on another book publication project under the direction of Siri Beckman as publications committee chair -- a compilation and annotation of significant Maine imprints beginning with earliest colonial publications up to the present period. And the Baxter Society has been invited to become a charter member of the new Federation of American Bibliophilic Societies. We are honored to have been the "youngest" club invited to the formational meeting of this new federation, sitting at the same table with representatives of The Grolier, The Philobiblion of Philadelphia, the Rowfant of Cleveland, Odd Volumes of Boston, Caxton of Chicago, Roxburghe of San Francisco, Zamarano of Los Angeles, and the Book Club of California. We welcome the next decade with high anticipation.