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Will Ransom papers

Identifier: Wing-Modern-MS-Rans

Scope and Content of the Collection

Correspondence and notebooks containing printing prospectuses and other ephemera.

Largely organized by Ransom himself in the year before his death (a task completed by his daughter Frances Rogg in 1955 in view of the gift of the papers to the Newberry), the collection contains the extensive correspondence between Ransom and members of the Anglo-American private press movement between 1920 and 1950, together with prospectuses, other printed ephemera from these presses, and detailed notes about their publications. The notebooks contain many press clips, including advertisements and reviews of press books. There are also files on Ransom’s own design and printing projects and biographical materials. Particularly important groups of material concern W.A. Dwiggins, Norman Forgue, Frederic Goudy, Dard Hunter, Douglas McMurtrie, John Henry Nash, Bruce Rogers, Carl Rollins, Hervey White’s Maverick Press, and Elizabeth Yeats’s Cuala Press.


  • Creation: 1883-1954



Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The Will Ransom papers are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 1 box at a time (Priority III).

Ownership and Literary Rights

The Will Ransom papers are the physical property of the Newberry Library. Copyright may belong to the authors or their legal heirs or assigns. For permission to publish or reproduce any materials from this collection, contact the Roger and Julie Baskes Department of Special Collections.

Biography of Will Ransom

Printer, designer, and typographer.

As a writer, Will Ransom (1878-1955) was also the first historian/bibliographer of the fine press movement. Born in St. Louis, Michigan and raised in Snohomish, Washington, he early developed enthusiasm for the Arts and Crafts movement, which led him to found his own private press and publish a small number of gift books in limited editions. In 1903 he enrolled in the School of the Art Institute of Chicago but left shortly afterwards to collaborate with Frederic and Bertha Goudy at their Village Press. After a year, he gave up printing to work as a bookkeeper.

In 1911, he began to freelance as an artist and lettering man, working for commercial clients, music groups, and Lawrence Woodworth’s Brothers of the Book. In 1918 he designed the Parsons typeface for one of his major clients, the Carson Pirie Scott department store. In 1921 he re-founded his private press using the imprint, “Will Ransom, Maker of Books.” In 1930 he left Chicago to join the Printing House of Leo Hart. In the late 1930s he held several short-term positions and free-lanced again. In 1939 and 1940 he served as executive secretary to the American Institute of Graphic Arts’ Gutenberg centennial project and worked briefly for the Limited Editions Club. From 1941 to 1955 he was art director of the University of Oklahoma Press, with the rank of Associate Professor. Ransom wrote extensively about the fine press movement.

A series of articles he did for Publisher's Weekly in the 1920s eventually became his Private Presses and Their Books (R. R. Bowker & Co., 1929), a standard reference on the subject for many years, eventually extended by a series of Selective Checklists of Press Books (1945-1950). From 1937 to 1945 he wrote for Bookbinding and Book Production magazine. He also contributed to many bibliophile and technical printing works. Ransom died on May 24, 1955.


61 Linear Feet (94 boxes and 150 loose-leaf notebooks)


Printer, commercial artist, bibliographer and author of works on American printing history and private presses who did freelance work in lettering, design and typography before becoming art editor at the University of Oklahoma Press. Largely the correspondence between Ransom and members of the Anglo-American fine press movement between 1920 and 1950, together with printed ephemera from these presses, and detailed notes about their history and publications. There are also files on Ransom's own design and printing projects and biographical materials.


Papers are organized in the following series:

Series 1: Files on presses and book artists, approximately 1920-1954
Boxes 1-80
Series 2: Loose-leaf notebooks, approximately 1920-1954
150 notebooks, numbered 2499-2648, and Box 81
Series 3: Design works, 1899-1954
Boxes 82-89
Series 4: Biographical materials, 1883-1952
Box 90
Series 5: Appendix: artifacts and oversize, 1899-1941
Boxes 91-94

Collection Stack Location

4a 28 3-7; 4a 29 6


Estate of Will Ransom, 1955. Additional items were purchased from Dawson’s Bookshop (Los Angeles) in 1955 and gifted by Willard A. Lockwood in 2003.

Related Archival Materials note

Correspondence relating to the 1955 gift of the Ransom Papers is filed in The Newberry Library Archives (Stanley Pargellis Papers, NL Archives 03/05/03, Box 5, folder 214a).

A number of items were separated from the Papers at the time of the gift. Ransom’s 1901-1903 diary is cataloged as Wing MS Z 311 .R17; his account books from the same period are Wing MS Z 311 .R172.

Four early calligraphic manuscripts are cataloged as Wing MS ZW 983 .R17, Wing MS ZW 983 .R18, Wing MS ZW 983 .R187, and Wing MS ZW 983 .R19. Copies of his published writings and books he printed are also cataloged.

Some Ransom family papers are also held by the University of Oklahoma Library.

Processed by

Adrian Alexander and Paul F. Gehl, 2009.

Inventory of the Will Ransom papers, 1883-1954
Adrian Alexander and Paul F. Gehl
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the The Newberry Library - Modern Manuscripts and Archives Repository

60 West Walton Street
Chicago Illinois 60610 United States