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Partners preserve and expand accessibility of Silver Buckle Press

January 21, 2016 By Natasha Veeser

The new year will usher in a new collaboration aimed at advancing the Wisconsin Idea and preserving a treasured piece of University of Wisconsin–Madison history. Beginning in January, the UW–Madison Libraries launch a partnership with Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum to house and care for the Libraries’ historic Silver Buckle Press and its collection.

Silver Buckle Press is a working museum of letterpress printing dedicated to preserving the craft of fine printing through educational programming, publications, exhibitions and tours. When Silver Buckle Director Tracy Honn announced plans to retire in 2016, discussions about how to maintain Silver Buckle began immediately. Due to budget cuts, the libraries realized filling Honn’s position wouldn’t be possible. While Honn’s departure isn’t a result of the budget, it did present a challenge for ensuring the future of Silver Buckle. The desire to preserve its mission and history, as well as maintain the integrity of its collection, was paramount.


Director Tracy Honn conducts a workshop on Cartonera printing at Silver Buckle Press. Courtesy of UW–Madison Libraries/Silver Buckle Press

An opportunity to preserve Silver Buckle while increasing its accessibility soon presented itself, thanks to a longstanding relationship Honn had generated with the internationally known Hamilton museum in Two Rivers, Wisconsin.

“We have been able to craft an elegant solution to a difficult situation,” says Ed Van Gemert, vice provost for libraries and university librarian. “Tracy’s exceptional knowledge of Silver Buckle’s importance and her relationship through the years with Hamilton will help us keep one of our treasured pieces of history intact and accessible. Our partnership with Hamilton will preserve a unique collection and continue to make it available throughout Wisconsin and beyond. This is truly the Wisconsin Idea in action.”

Hamilton is the country’s largest museum dedicated to type and printing and is a working printing museum offering workshops and classes to people from all over the country. The addition of Silver Buckle to the museum will increase Hamilton’s ability to instruct visitors while expanding the reach of Silver Buckle by pairing it with an internationally recognized museum solely focused on letterpress printing history and education.

Silver Buckle was acquired by the Libraries in 1973 from the estate of Robert Shaftoe, an art director at the Ford Motor Company and a hobby printer, at the urging of retired UW–Madison Art professor Walter Hamady. At UW–Madison, Silver Buckle Press staff have produced hand-printed books and broadsides of distinction along with symposia and exhibitions. Countless university students have received special instruction via individual and group tours that covered printing history, including hands-on demonstrations of typesetting and printing. Students on staff had the rare opportunity to work with significant printing history materials and receive specialized training in printing and curation.

Gutenberg type from the Silver Buckle collection.

Gutenberg type from the Silver Buckle collection.

“This is an excellent solution to what felt like a dire challenge. Importantly, the transition will preserve the collections and mission of Silver Buckle Press,” says Honn. “I’m convinced the move represents new opportunities for teaching and access that we don’t have now. For UW–Madison students, the press will not be right around the corner, but the sense that it is a home away from home will always be true.

“Hamilton is committed to honoring the press and to this new partnership with the UW–Madison Libraries. We could not have better stewards than the staff at Hamilton, who will give our collection new life. I am excited to see the work that will emerge.”

The Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum is the only museum dedicated to the preservation, study, production and printing of wood type. With 1.5 million pieces of wood type and more than 1,000 styles and sizes of patterns, Hamilton’s collection is one of the premier wood type collections in the world.

“We are honored the University of Wisconsin will allow us to be the caretakers of this stellar printing history collection. This partnership with the university will be beneficial to the museum in many ways,” says Jim Moran, the museum’s director. “Silver Buckle Press will expand the range of Hamilton’s educational offerings, fitting our core mission to preserve printing history. Our commitment is to maintain Silver Buckle Press as a secured collection. It will be used by teachers and students of book arts to support the intensive study of hand-set metal type and fine printing. This is a new opportunity for us, one that we are very excited to support.”

A visitor observes a display of wood type samples at the Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum.

A visitor observes a display of wood type samples at the Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum.

As part of the agreement, Hamilton will receive Silver Buckle Press as a long-term loan beginning in the spring and running through December 2025. The Silver Buckle collection will have its own dedicated and secure space at Hamilton, helping to preserve the name of Silver Buckle Press and honoring its UW history. In addition, the UW Digital Collections Center will work with Hamilton on digitization projects related to Silver Buckle’s and Hamilton’s collections, which will be hosted through the Libraries’ online collections. The Libraries and Hamilton continue to discuss additional ways to partner, such as helping to facilitate an annual visit to Hamilton for a special workshop for UW students and faculty.

An open house will be held from 3 to 6 p.m. Jan. 29 at Silver Buckle Press in Memorial Library. Visit the Silver Buckle website for more information.