On Feb 8, 2023, FABS member societies from opposite ends of the continent gathered via Zoom for “The Nation Bracketed,” a joint quadragennial celebration. “Forty is a fine and promising number and it bodes well for the future of the clubs and the Republic of Books to which we all belong,” said Reid Byers, President of the Baxter Society, as he opened the festivities. For his part, Book Club of Washington President Gary Ackerman noted that “Invention is brought about by necessity,” and explained how BCW’s online programs, a response to the pandemic, have enabled the club to host speakers from around the world. Membership in both clubs is thriving, as each pursues a combination of online and in-person programming.
Eliot H. Stanley, past President of the Baxter Society, told of the club’s beginnings on a cold and wintry night in 1983. He happened to be walking down the street in Portland, Maine and stepped into Cunningham Books, a little shop that was open late and had a wood-burning stove. The meetings of likeminded book lovers there grew into a full-fledged society with bylaws and ambitious objectives to advance the quality and diversity of libraries, promote excellence in the book arts, and support those who make, preserve and collect books. Stanley displayed the official bookmark of the Baxter Society, with a capital B designed by W. A. Dwiggins, as well as the first certificate of membership, which was letterpress printed with the names of founding members.
The Baxter Society is named for James Phinney Baxter (1831-1921), historian, book collector and benefactor of Portland, Maine. Among the activities of the Society during its 40-year history, highlights include talks by illustrator Leonard Baskin and Rare Book School Director Terry Belanger, many summer trips around Maine to visit printers and book artisans, and an active publication program including The Mirror of Maine: One Hundred Distinguished Books that Reveal the History of the State and the Life of its People (2000). The club was able to place this list of important books from the Colonial Era to 2000 in school libraries throughout the state.
Gary Ackerman explained that The Book Club of Washington was preceded by a group of 1970s booklovers called The Bibliovermis Club, of which Seattle native Kim Turner, “a voracious collector with an encyclopedic memory,” was a member. The Bibliovermis Club owed its origins to University of Washington extension classes on advanced book collecting taught by George H. Tweney, himself a noted collector of Americana including material on Lewis & Clark. His students’ desire to continue their book camaraderie after classes ended resulted in the creation of the Bibliovermis Club, many of whose members later migrated to the more formal and ambitious Book Club of Washington when it was organized.
Dennis Andersen, a founding member and past President of BCW, took up the tale at this point, relating how national perceptions of Seattle as a “cultural dustbin” stuck in the civic psyche during the 1970s, but during the decades that followed, the culture of the book stepped into the light. The Book Club of Washington was formed in 1982 on the model of The Grolier Club and The Book Club of California. The first meeting took place in an art gallery owned by Carolyn Staley, and was attended by booksellers, librarians, the head of the University of Washington Press, conservation experts and local collectors. A lively era of publications, keepsakes, lectures and convivial dinners ensued. Among the many publications of the Club was The Washington 89 by George H. Tweney (Sagebrush Press, 1989), issued in commemoration of the Washington State centennial in 1989.
Cindy Richardson, assisted by Tim Schmidt, presented a slide show of images from the early days of BCW, whose archives are held in Special Collections at the University of Washington. These included the inaugural address by founding BCW President Robert D. Monroe on “Building the Book Club of Washington,” an early recruitment poster printed by Day Moon Press, publications including The Quarterly and the Journal of the Book Club of Washington, and the first and current BCW logos.
To close the celebration, Presidents Byers and Ackerman read lists of the founding members of each society, copies of The Mirror of Maine and The Washington 89 were exchanged as gestures of ongoing fellowship, and the assembled members drank a toast “to the founders of our clubs, and to the future of bibliophily, the love of books that binds us together.”