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APHA Co-founder Elizabeth M. Harris

Text by Joan Boudreau, Curator, Graphic Arts Collection, with the help of emeritus unit colleagues Helena Wright and R. Stanley Nelson.


Elizabeth M. Harris and an Acorn press. (Credit, date, and location unknown)

Elizabeth M. Harris, emerita, served as a full-time staff member of the Graphic Arts Collection at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History between 1965 and 1994. She had come to the United States from England after receiving a Smithsonian fellowship to work with the collection of photomechanical process artifacts of the nineteenth century, housed in the Graphic Arts Collection. Elizabeth published articles on experimental printing processes in England, 1800–1859 in the Journal of the Printing Historical Society, Vol. 4, 1968, and Vol. 6, 1970, which were based on her doctoral dissertation at the University of Reading (UK). By 1965 she had relocated to the U.S. and had become a unit Assistant Curator (1965–1970), later Associate Curator (1971–1976), Curator (1977–1994), and Curator Emerita (1994–1999).


Elizabeth promoted the collecting of printing equipment for the Institution. She worked on many associated projects, among them were her efforts to save large groups of matrices from the American Type Founders, the type and library of Morgan Press Incorporated, and the
Mergenthaler Linotype Company’s Library. Her work on The Common Press (1978) with Clinton Sisson stands out as an important documentation of the parts and workings of the international workhorse printing press, in use up until the mid-19th  century. (The publication was reviewed in Printing History by J. Ben Lieberman in 1979.) She wrote an important article for Imago Mundi on the Waldeseemuller (world) Map related to the Graphic Arts exhibition in 1983- 84. In the 1990s she focused on small printing press research. Her exhibit and publication on the subject was titled The Boy and His Press. (Her publication Personal Impressions: The Small Printing Press in Nineteenth-Century America, 2004, was later well received.) Other exhibits with publications included: In Touch: Printing and Writing for the Blind in the 19th Century, The Fat and the Lean, American Wood Type in the 19th  Century and The Art of the Nature Print. Elizabeth and R. Stanley Nelson, as staff members of the Division of Graphic Arts, were honored with APHA’s first institutional award. Elizabeth returned home to England in 1999.

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