News | May 3, 2010

Thornwillow Press to Vassar

The Archives and Special Collections Library of Vassar College Libraries has become an official repository of the publications of Thornwillow Press.

POUGHKEEPSIE, NY— The Archives and Special Collections Library of Vassar College Libraries has become an official repository of the publications of Thornwillow Press, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. This collection, from the Newburgh, New York-based company, will join other major collections of Hudson Valley-based publishers in the Special Collections Library, including those relating to the Women’s Studio Workshop in Rosendale, NY, and The Village Press, founded by the famous type-designer Frederic W. Goudy who for many years worked in Marlboro, NY.

Founded in 1985 by Luke Ives Pontifell, Thornwillow Press is a printer and publisher of handmade, limited edition books, with titles that vary widely, from President Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address, to a collection of George Washington’s documents compiled by W.W. Abbott, to a volume of short stories by John Updike. Their goal is to present the author’s words in a manner that enhances the relationship between the reader and the text by adding an aesthetic dimension. Thornwillow Press endeavors to make books a powerful and enduring means of communicating ideas.

Thornwillow’s books are now in the permanent collections of The White House, The Library of Congress, the Bibliotheque Nationale, the Federal Reserve Bank, the Beinecke Library, and Houghton Library, among many others. However only in the Special Collections and Archives Library of the Vassar College Libraries will the entire oeuvre of Thornwillow Press be represented.

“In a world of increasingly disposable and ephemeral communications, I feel it is exceedingly relevant to have books,” explained Pontifell. “Books provide a tactile quality just as hearing music live provides a very different auditory sensation than listening to the same work on CD. An Ebook cannot convey the same sensory pleasures—the feel of leather or cloth covering, the scent of paper and ink—as the printed book.”

Pontifell stressed that his press uses the most modern design techniques melded with the traditional art of the hand press. It is through this merging of the contemporary with the traditional that he hopes will inspire generations of future students, just as Pontifell was himself inspired.

Ronald Patkus, head of Special Collections at Vassar, noted his hope is that “undergraduates will be moved by these volumes, and that they’ll want to touch them and open them, and will be drawn by their beautiful design.” He hopes that in the future students at Vassar will also create their own volumes on a Vandercook press at the college, finding their inspiration in typography and design from these volumes.

In addition to establishing the Thornwillow Press collection, Pontifell and Patkus have envisioned an ongoing collaboration that will engage students in the art of the handmade book joined with modern technologies. They are currently accepting applications from college-age students for semester and summer internships, with the possibility of residence, and eventually they hope to form a residential academy at the Press.

In addition, Patkus has begun to research, compile, and write a definitive bibliography of Thornwillow Press and will present an exhibition centered around Thornwillow Press this fall in the Vassar College Libraries.

About Luke Ives Pontifell and Thornwillow Press

Inspired by a course in printing and binding and the old books in his parents’ library, Luke Ives Pontifell founded Thornwillow while still in high school. At that time he printed his first book, a children’s story by a family friend (Barbara England’s Hello Sun), and bound the edition on the kitchen table.

During his summer vacations from arvard College, Pontifell continued to print and bind books. He brought the finished editions to bookstores, slowly building a small following of collectors. After graduating from Harvard with four titles on his list, he found that what had started as a labor of love had evolved into a small business.

Over the last two decades, he established operations related to the different aspects of book making in New York City, West Stockbridge (Massachusetts), Prague (Czech Republic), and Pensacola (Florida).

In 2004 he set up workshops in Newburgh (NY) in a complex of 19th-century factory buildings dedicated to perpetuating the crafts of traditional hand engraving and letterpress printing, paper making, illumination and hand lettering, leather bookbinding, and fine press publishing.

Pontifell is a trustee and secretary of the board of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, a member of The American Antiquarian Society, The Boston Athenaeum, and a fellow of The J.P. Morgan Library. He is also a trustee of The Newburgh Institute.

For additional information about Thornwillow Press, see

About Archives and Special Collections

The Catherine Pelton Durrell '25 Archives and Special Collections Library is the principal repository of the College's noteworthy collections of rare books, manuscripts, archival records of Vassar College, and other special materials.

Works in Archives and Special Collections are accessible for research and review. To make an appointment, call (845) 437-5799 or email For additional information about Archives and Special Collections, see

Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential liberal arts college founded in 1861.

Posted by College Relations Monday, May 3, 2010