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Davis Library is reviving the past with a new historic printing press that invites students to experience the age-old art of printing through hands-on involvement.
The 19th-century printing press, an 1884 Luigi Ghisi Albion, arrived at Davis Library in November and is set to become a focal point for experiential learning opportunities beginning in spring 2024.
“We’re interested in creating spaces where students can engage with learning as a hands-on activity and do some of the things that they’re learning about, theoretically, in classes,” Elizabeth Ott, interim associate University librarian for special collections and director of Wilson Library, said in a statement. “Davis Library provided the best location for being able to put the press to use for students in a variety of different educational opportunities.”
Initially the press will serve as a demonstration tool, allowing students to delve into the history of printing, as they undergo training to operate the press safely. Officials anticipate having a launch event when the printing press is operational.
“Students could come as part of a class, and a library staff member would teach them about the press, about its operation, and then they would be able to print something on the press and take it home with them,” she said.
Donated by the family of Gregor G. Peterson, a venture capitalist who established the Huckleberry Press imprint, which prints fine press books, the press has a long history. It was manufactured in Italy in 1884 and later acquired by letterpress pioneer Richard-Gabriel Rummonds before making its way from Italy to Cottondale, Alabama, where Rummonds founded the book arts program at nearby University of Alabama. Peterson acquired the printing press in the 1990s and moved it to Lake Tahoe, Nevada. Donations from Peterson’s sons, Eric and Chris, and a gift from John A. Powell ’77, allowed the press to find a permanent home at Carolina.
“One of the things that students can learn from it, even if they never use it, is the fact that every book that you encounter, including the ones that were printed just yesterday, are things that were manufactured by real people,” Ott said. “It can teach us a lot about how humans communicate. Printing was a major way that people were able to communicate across distance in the past, and machines like these printing presses drove that communication.”
— Cameron Hayes Fardy ’23