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Letters to Mencken from the Land of Pink Lichen by Jonathan Williams.
Zinc Engraving. Williams, Jonathan, 1929-2008, author, photographer. Letters to Mencken from the Land of Pink Lichen. New York : Dim Gray Bar Press, 1994. LCCN Permalink https://lccn.loc.gov/2021659795

The Dim Gray Bar Press Archive

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In 2019, the Rare Book and Special Collections Division acquired a printer’s archive of material that belonged to psychoanalyst-turned-printer Barry Magid (1949-). Dr. Magid founded his own press, the Dim Gray Bar Press (an anagram of Magid’s name), which he operated from roughly 1989 through 2001. The press archive holds most of the print materials produced by the press during this period, along with correspondence, manuscript submissions, trial sheets, printer proofs, and the zinc-engraved blocks used for illustrations.  With this blog post, I’d like to provide a little history of the press, along with some examples of its creative output.

Magid had a long history of collecting books and an interest in printing, but he wanted something “more hands-on than writing a check.” It was the late 1980s, and he signed-up for a letterpress printing class with the New York Center for Book Arts that was taught by Carol Sturm (1949-2022) of the Nadja Press.

Whereas most students in a beginning printing class might be interested in producing a simple Christmas greeting, a business card, or even a single-sheet broadside for an initial project, Magid had other ideas. In preparation for his class, he secured the rights to publish Nicholas of Cusa’s Dialogue about the Hidden God that had been translated by theologian, mystic, and poet Thomas Merton (1915-1968). He also discovered a type-foundry that would set his selected typeface (Goudy Thirty Monotype) and send the pages ready for printing to the Center for Book Arts. Mr. Magid arrived to his first day of class ready to print a small book. Through instruction—and a good amount of trial-and-error—he completed the printing in an edition of 100 copies. The Rare Book and Special Collections Division holds two copies of this work.

Nicholas of Cusa's Dialogue About the Hidden God.
Cover.
Nicholas, of Cusa, Cardinal, 1401-1464, author.
De Deo abscondito. English.
Dialogue about the hidden God; a translation by Thomas Merton.
[New York] : Dim Gray Bar Press, 1989.
https://lccn.loc.gov/89215052

Nicholas of Cusa's Dialogue About the Hidden God.
Title Page.
Nicholas, of Cusa, Cardinal, 1401-1464, author.
De Deo abscondito. English.
Dialogue about the hidden God; a translation by Thomas Merton.
[New York] : Dim Gray Bar Press, 1989.
https://lccn.loc.gov/89215052
While working on another project, Magid came into contact with American poet and writer, Guy Davenport (1927- 2005) and asked if he could print something by him. Davenport agreed to allow Magid to print Belinda’s World Tour, a story originally from the biography of Franz Kafka (1883-1924). As the story goes, Kafka was walking in the park, when he came across a little girl crying for her lost doll. He assured her the doll wasn’t lost but instead was traveling around the world. He then began sending postcards to the little girl from the doll and describing her travels. In this book, the doll’s postcard text is by Davenport, and the illustrations are by Deborah Norden, Magid’s spouse.

Belinda's World Tour by Guy Davenport. Illustrations by Deborah Norden.
Cover.
Davenport, Guy. Deborah Norden, Illustrator.
Belinda’s World Tour.
New York : Dim Gray Bar Press, 1991.
https://lccn.loc.gov/2021659636

 

Belinda's World Tour by Guy Davenport. Illustrations by Deborah Norden.
Illustration.
Davenport, Guy. Deborah Norden, Illustrator.
Belinda’s World Tour.
New York : Dim Gray Bar Press, 1991.
https://lccn.loc.gov/2021659636

Another project would put Magid into contact with literary giant, Jonathan Williams (1929 – 2008). Often referred to as “the truffle hound of American poetry” because he could spot talented new writers, Williams was a poet and printer himself at his Jargon Society press in North Carolina. In 1994, Magid printed Williams’ Letters to Mencken from the Land of Pink Lichen. The title page includes a portrait of Mencken produced from a zinc-engraved block created by Guy Davenport.

Letters to Mencken from the Land of Pink Lichen by Jonathan Williams.
Cover.
Williams, Jonathan, 1929-2008, author, photographer.
Letters to Mencken from the Land of Pink Lichen.
New York : Dim Gray Bar Press, 1994.
LCCN Permalink
https://lccn.loc.gov/2021659795

 

Letters to Mencken from the Land of Pink Lichen by Jonathan Williams.
Frontispiece Photograph and Title Page.
Williams, Jonathan, 1929-2008, author, photographer.
Letters to Mencken from the Land of Pink Lichen.
New York : Dim Gray Bar Press, 1994.
LCCN Permalink
https://lccn.loc.gov/2021659795

 

Letters to Mencken from the Land of Pink Lichen by Jonathan Williams.
Zinc Engraving.
Williams, Jonathan, 1929-2008, author, photographer.
Letters to Mencken from the Land of Pink Lichen.
New York : Dim Gray Bar Press, 1994.
LCCN Permalink
https://lccn.loc.gov/2021659795

In yet another project, Magid printed Climbing Mt. Sinai, a collection of poetry by American poet Sharon Dolin (1956-). Dolin is a recipient of the Witter Bynner Fellowship from the Library of Congress and the AWP Donald Hall Prize for Poetry. This volume is one of 126 copies with a zinc engraving of Mt. Sinai.

Climbing Mount Sinai by Sharon Dolin.
Cover.
Dolin, Sharon.
Climbing Mount Sinai.
New York : Dim Gray Bar Press, 1996.
https://lccn.loc.gov/2021659804

 

Climbing Mount Sinai by Sharon Dolin.
Title Page.
Dolin, Sharon.
Climbing Mount Sinai.
New York : Dim Gray Bar Press, 1996.
https://lccn.loc.gov/2021659804

 

Climbing Mount Sinai by Sharon Dolin.
Zinc Engraving.
Dolin, Sharon.
Climbing Mount Sinai.
New York : Dim Gray Bar Press, 1996.
https://lccn.loc.gov/2021659804

The Dim Gray Bar Press printed two works by renowned poet and National Book Award recipient Mark Doty: Favrile (1997) and An Island Sheaf (1998). These two Dim Gray Bar Press chapbooks came just a few years after the publication of Doty’s acclaimed book of poetry, My Alexandria (1993), which employs imagery of a decaying city to explore mortality in an age of HIV/AIDS.

Favrile by Mark Doty.
Cover.
Doty, Mark.
Favrile.
New York : Dim Gray Bar Press, 1997.
https://lccn.loc.gov/2021659784

 

Favrile by Mark Doty.
Title Page.
Doty, Mark.
Favrile.
New York : Dim Gray Bar Press, 1997.
https://lccn.loc.gov/2021659784

 

Favrile by Mark Doty.
Colophon.
Doty, Mark.
Favrile.
New York : Dim Gray Bar Press, 1997.
https://lccn.loc.gov/2021659784

In 2000, Magid printed Two Poems by Rachel Hadas (1948-), which includes “Change is the Stranger” and “The Crust House.” Hadas, a poet, writer, translator, and teacher, is the recipient of numerous prizes, including the O.B. Hardison Award from the Folger Shakespeare Library and an Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.

Two Poems by Rachel Hadas. New York : Dim Gray Bar Press, 2000.
Cover.
Hadas, Rachel.
Two poems / Rachel Hadas.
[New York, N.Y.] : Dim Gray Bar Press, 2000.
https://lccn.loc.gov/2021659781
The cover illustrations are taken from the 1732 Garth / Dryden translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

Two Poems by Rachel Hadas. New York : Dim Gray Bar Press, 2000.
Title Page.
Hadas, Rachel.
Two poems / Rachel Hadas.
[New York, N.Y.] : Dim Gray Bar Press, 2000.
https://lccn.loc.gov/2021659781
These are just a handful of samples of the materials held in the Dim Gray Bar Press archive. This collection and others are available for research in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division. For more information, send a query to the reference staff via Ask-A-Librarian.

 

SOURCES

Dim Gray Bar Press Bibliography : https://www.barrymagid.com/press

A Memoir of the Dim Gray Bar Press by Barry Magid: https://barrymagid.s3.amazonaws.com/documents/A-Memoir-of-the-Dim-Gray-Bar-Press.pdf

Comments

  1. Very impressive work.

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