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Biscuit City Press Archives, 1970-1992

Historical note

“The Biscuit City Press exists because of the delight I derive from its product. I seek to print a page that is not only pleasant to the eye but also to the touch, so that the choice of paper and the bite of the letterpress into the sheet are as important as the design of the printed matter. But, above all, the Biscuit City Press exists because of the sheer pleasure I derive from setting type by hand and from printing with my old Albion Press."-Robert M. Gutchen

The Biscuit City Press had its inception after Professor Robert Gutchen, a professor of English History at the University of Rhode Island, purchased a Kelsey five by eight hand platen press in 1969. The printing establishment was named after the street on which he resided in Kingston, Rhode Island. His first production, printed on January 31, 1970, was the program for the New England Historical Association annual meeting . He and members of his family used the Kelsey press until 1972.

While Professor Gutchen and his family were in England, in 1971, he purchased from the Excelsior Printers’ Supply Co. a Harrild & Sons Albion, 16" by 11" press, No. 2521 dated 1870. “The very first pull taken on the new Albion Press of the Biscuit City Press; done at 3:10 p.m. on Sunday March 19, 1972 at 7 Benford Rd, Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire in the presence of the entire Gutchen family” (Notebook, Vol.1). After this, the Albion became the principal hand press for creating ephemera and book productions. He would later go on to purchase a Vandercook SP15 proof press, an engraving press, book binding presses and paper making equipment. His wife, Sylvia, was involved in many of the productions of the press. He also collaborated with University Professors Paul Petrie (a poet) and Fritz Eichenberg (a wood engraver) in printing their works.

Professor Robert Gutchen was as meticulous in keeping records of his printing as he was in the pieces he printed. Samples of all his printing from the mundane to the exquisite were kept in a series of notebooks (see Series I and II). Each piece is identified by at least the hand press used, date, paper and type face. Sometimes quantity or other anecdotal information is included with the pieces.

In 1976, Bob joined Professor David Maslyn in establishing the New Leaves Press in the University Library, Special Collections Unit. To celebrate the Bicentennial, the library purchased an 1841 Albion hand press, 33” x 32”, from the same dealer in London, England. Professors’ Masyln and Gutcher team-taught a library graduate credit course in fine letter/press printing for three years. The New Leaves Press still functions with the addition of an Adams Acorn and Washington (circa 1830’s) hand presses.

The Biscuit City Press ceased production of major works by 1983, a victim of the computer age. The last publication was in 1990. Professor Gutchen started devoting his spare time to computer designed type faces and other facets of computer printing. His Albion and the Press archives were given to the Library’s Special Collection Unit in 2004.