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Special Collections & University Archives
Explore collections, university history, art, rare books, and manuscripts.

The Walter and Dorothy Donnelly Collection

Walter Donnelly and Dorothy Boillotat Donnelly collected thousands of fine books between 1920-1994, for their family library at 612 Lawrence Street, Ann Arbor, Michigan. Walter (1900-1981) was Editor of the University of Michigan Press when he retired in 1970. Dorothy (1903-1994) was an award-winning poet. Their three sons, Jerome, Stephen, and Denis, gave almost 5,000 items from their parents' wonderful collection to the University of Central Florida Library in early 1999. The collection shows the Donnellys' far-reaching interests, primarily in the humanities. Most of the books were added to the Library's general circulating collection, and many rare and unique items were designated for the Special Collections Department.

Dorothy and Walter

Walter & Dorothy DonnellyIn 1931 Dorothy and Walter were married, Dorothy completed her Master's Degree from the University of Michigan, and she won the Avery Hopwood Contest. The $1,500 prize enabled the couple to live in France and Italy for a time. Dorothy wrote several acclaimed books of poetry and numerous articles for the now-famous little magazine transition (which was always spelled in the lower case), publishing among the likes of Hart Crane, Ernest Hemingway and Carl Jung. Eugene Jolas, the French editor of transition, wrote Dorothy in 1931, "You are the only one in America whose writing seems to me to be going in the right direction." Poetry is well represented in the Donnelly Collection.

Walter published some poetry and wrote plays with playwright and screenwriter Paul Osborn when the two were in college at the University of Michigan. After living in Greenwich Village and Paris, he returned to Ann Arbor to accept a position at the University of Michigan editing Museum Publications as well as doing editorial work for the Press. The Donnelly Collection includes many University of Michigan publications.

Art Books and Book Arts

Books on art of the world and art exhibition catalogs, especially Asian, comprise several hundred books in the collection. An even larger number of works demonstrate the Donnellys' keen interest in the printing arts. Many of these books are rare and have been placed in the Book Arts section of the Special Collections & University Archives.

Necessary to the production of fine books was the commitment of their makers. Many of the books in this collection include examples of the best paper-makers, type designers, typographers, book binders, and printers as well as those artists involved in book illustrations. Nonesuch and Golden Cockerel are two fine presses represented in the Donnelly Collection. Especially notable in the collection are numerous publications of The Typophiles, a small group of New York graphic arts professionals, including luminaries like Bruce Rogers and Frederic W. Goudy. The Typophiles, who began meeting around 1932, are still meeting and publishing today.

printer's marks

Many printers from the 15th Century onward used a device or 'printer's mark' to accompany or serve as their imprint in a book. Above are devices used by Curwen Press and Rupert Hart-Davis taken from books in the Donnelly Collection.

Donnelly bookplate

The Donnellys carefully bookplated all of their acquisitions. The above plate and the one on the front of this brochure are among the most unusual.

World Literature

TheThe majority of the collection is in world literature, often in the original language or first English translations, with a preference for British literature. Walter at one time spoke 10 languages including Greek and Latin. The sons remember their parents conversing over dinner in French. The collection contains many first editions, as well as numerous works signed by the authors. Dorothy also collected many religion and philosophy books including the oldest book in the collection Via Crucis, published around 1780.

Travel Books

Although they did not travel abroad after the Depression, the Donnellys collected much travel literature, not just from Europe but from all over the world.

illustration from Randolp Caldecott's Sketches of North Italian Folk

The hand-colored illustration above is from one of only 400 copies printed of Randolph Caldecott's Sketches of North Italian Folk (London: Pickering and Chatto, 1878).

With a nod to the three Donnelly brothers who donated the collection, this graphic was taken from George Ade's People You Know (New York: R. H. Russell, 1903).
Illustration from George Ade's People You Know

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Last updated December 06, 2011 1:03:00 PM

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