Most friends of RBI are aware of the Robert C. Williams Museum of Papermaking, a unique treasure trove of the history and technique in papermaking. Visitors have noticed the Dard Hunter Collection, but many guests may not fully appreciate this unique part of the permanent collection.
The collection is among the oldest to explore the history of paper. Dard Hunter dedicated decades of his life to acquiring artifacts ranging from the earliest example of mass printing to watermarks to equipment used in hand papermaking. Many of these are one of a kind. In addition to these artifacts, the collection contains works by Hunter himself—completely hand-made books, made in editions of less than 200 copies. The museum’s collection contains Hunter’s personal copies. The size of the collection is extensive—at the time of Hunter’s death, in 1966, more than 10,000 items were in the collection. Since that time, it has been expanded and, while a full inventory has not been performed, estimates reach nearly 100,000 items.
The collection was originally housed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Later, it was acquired by the Institute of Paper Chemistry and moved to Lawrence University in Appleton, WI. Dard Hunter and three moving trucks arrived with the collection in December of 1954 to set up the exhibit. On February 27, 1955 the Dard Hunter Museum held its first Open House in its new home. The collection was described as the “foremost collection of this type in the world…it covers paper-making through its progression throughout the world.” Along with the working in the museum, Dr. Hunter gave a series of lectures and seminars on the history of paper-making. At the Open House, “a sound, colored film” was shown before visitors entered the museum and was said to make the collection “more meaningful”.
Hunter gathered the collection in his years of traveling the world in an effort to understand papermaking from its inception. Pieces in the collection date back to the beginning of papermaking in China from 105 CE and go all the way to the birth of American papermaking. There are specimens of Japanese prayers from 770 that show the world’s first mass printing on paper. The watermarks include the original experiments of Sir William Congreve, who invented the first colored water-mark; George Washington’s personal water-marked paper; and hundreds of others from around the world.
The collection is now housed in the Institute’s new home at Georgia Tech and is the founding collection of the Robert C. Williams Museum of Papermaking. Many of the books and artifacts that Dard Hunter collected in his various travels make up the permanent exhibit and many more are housed in the museum’s Rare Book Room and in the collection storage. Dard Hunter’s tireless efforts to collect, record, and understand papermaking have created a collection unlike any other.