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University of Michigan’s William L. Clements Library Acquires an 1851 Columbian Press from Howard Iron Works

Press release from the issuing company

On April 11, 2016, after 2 1/2 years and an over $17-million dollar renovation, the Clements Library has re-opened. Besides the extensive 80,000 books and 30,000 maps, Clements now has another piece of history and as rare as some of the treasures on the shelves. An 1851 George Clymer “Columbian” printing press - one of the most beautiful machines ever invented - sits proudly in the magnificent Avenir Foundation Room. For good reason, it’s possible that even some of the books held could have been printed on such a press. 

Howard Iron Works and Howard Graphic Equipment Ltd. teamed up with Clements Library’s Director, J. Kevin Graffagnino, in the fall of 2015. It was Kevin’s dream to have a restored printing press in the newly revamped facility and he was very specific about that press being a Columbian.

Liana Howard comments “We are so very proud to supply one of our restored printing presses to Clements. It’s an absolute honor to be able to assist Kevin in his dream to showcase the unique and breathtaking qualities of the restored William L. Clements Library. Our restorative skills could not find a more appropriate partner”.

Designed by Michigan architect Albert Kahn, the Clements Library, located next door to the President’s house, is a landmark on U-M’s central campus that houses one of the most comprehensive collections of early American history in the world.

Its name comes from the building’s benefactor, William L. Clements, an Ann Arbor native, U-M alumnus (1882) and former regent of the University who made his fortune supplying equipment for the construction of the Panama Canal and other major engineering projects at the turn of the century.

As his personal wealth grew, so did his passion for history. Clements began collecting the rare books and manuscripts that make up the heart of the existing collection.

Since then the library, which remained open in an off-campus facility on Ellsworth Rd. while renovations took place, has continued to specialize in preserving and collecting original primary source documents, maps, manuscripts, correspondence, books, prints, and early photography from 1492 to 1900.

The collection is particularly strong in material relating to the American Revolution, Mr. Clements found the descendants of many of the key players in the Revolution (Lord Shelburne, General Sir Henry Clinton, General Nathanael Greene, and others), bought their ancestors’ papers and brought them to Ann Arbor.

Other highlights resulting from more than 90 years of collecting at the Clements include documents relating to the exploration and discovery of North America, Native American history, Colonial Wars for conquest, the American Civil War and the anti-slavery movement, and the move westward.


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