Raymond Franklin DaBoll (1892–1982)

Raymond Franklin DaBoll, one of the most talented calligraphers in America, moved to Newark (Independence County) in 1952, where he continued producing masterpieces of calligraphy.

Raymond DaBoll was born on June 19, 1892, in Clyde, New York. Several generations of his family published the well-known Daboll Almanacks from 1773 until 1969, when it merged with the Old Farmer’s Almanac. When DaBoll was a youngster, because of constant mispronunciation of the family name by others, his father and uncles changed the spelling of the name from “Daboll” to “DaBoll.”

While in his third year of high school, DaBoll won first place in an art contest sponsored by the Rochester Training School for Teachers. Encouraged by this accomplishment, he dropped out of high school to attend the Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics Institute, now called the Rochester Institute of Technology. In 1912, he finished his schooling after three years of studying art.

He then attended the Art Institute of Chicago for a short time before a lack of money caused his departure. He next went to Chicago’s Academy of Art for night lessons and later worked for famed typographer Oswald Cooper. He planned a move to New York in 1929 to work in an advertising agency but pulled out of the deal at the last minute. From that moment on, he was a freelance artist, known much of the time by his initials “R. F. D.” He created a wide range of works, from ads appearing in magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post and National Geographic to countless unattributed contributions to other publications in the form of title pages, headlines, and maps to patriotic pieces during World War II. Among his works were book covers, end papers, book plates, and newspaper mastheads.

DaBoll married Irene Briggs on April 8, 1917. They had two sons. Their residence for many years was in Hinsdale, a suburb of Chicago.

One of his most famous pieces of calligraphy was a 1948 broadside (a paper specimen sheet) titled, “Disciplined Freedom,” composed and illustrated entirely by DaBoll. He said of it, “[I]t is, I believe, the most far reaching of anything I have done for the cause of calligraphy.” Well-known artist Lloyd Reynolds wrote of “Disciplined Freedom,” “Who can organize a large amount of copy with the skill of R. F. D.? No one can equal his ‘Disciplined Freedom’ broadside. It has miraculous clarity and symmetry. It seems as natural as a wildflower or tree. It has the excellence of things that strike one as being perfect, and it has the quality of the inevitable. It could be no other way.”

His work was displayed at exhibitions in many large U.S. cities and at least once in Europe. He was a member of the American Institute of Graphic Arts and was a founder of the Society of Typographic Arts, which honored him by making him a fellow of that group. He was also a fellow in London’s Royal Society of Arts, and in fact, it was written that the Queen of England was a fan of his work.

In 1952, the DaBolls moved just outside Newark into a home situated on forty scenic acres. A working studio was located in the house. In explaining his move to Newark, he said he was simply tired of the hustle and bustle of the big city and, always fond of rural areas, wanted to semi-retire in the country. In addition, their son and daughter-in-law lived within twenty miles on a large farm of their own. His friends and colleagues who anticipated his quick return to city life were disappointed as the DaBolls quickly became a part of the community of Newark and Independence County. In 1973, the couple decided the farm was becoming too much to take care of, so they moved to Batesville (Independence County).

Not only was DaBoll a master of calligraphy, but he was also a gifted and clever writer with a keen sense of humor. It was written of him in the book Two Thousand Years of Calligraphy that “his calligraphy catches the spirit of each text that he writes, modifying his classic hand to modern use with grace and humor.” DaBoll was equally fluent in poetry and incorporated many original verses in his works. His creativity is reflected in his self-designated title “Ozarkalligrapher,” so proclaimed upon his move to Arkansas. Because of DaBoll’s traveling around the country promoting his adopted home state of Arkansas, Governor Sid McMath honored DaBoll with an “Arkansas Traveler” designation in late 1951.

DaBoll used his talents for a wide variety of projects. While continuing to work for the big-city clientele, he also got involved in many statewide and local projects. For Winthrop Rockefeller, then-chairman of the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission (now the Arkansas Economic Development Commission), he designed that organization’s Award of Distinction, and he completed many other projects for that commission and for the Rockefeller family personally. He used his abilities to try to sell, unsuccessfully, the proposed “Tri-County Span Plan” to put a ferry in place linking Independence, Jackson, and Lawrence counties. He worked with a local printer in Newark to produce radio station mailings that were used all over the United States. His annual Christmas cards and letters were works of art that were treasured by their recipients.

Perhaps his greatest accomplishment while living in Newark was his collaboration with his wife on the book Recollections of the Lyceum and Chautauqua Circuits, published in 1969. Irene DaBoll’s early professional career was as a part of those performing circuits singing soprano. A series of articles about her experiences led to the 170-page book. Filled with numerous photos, the book was remarkable in that literally every word composed for the book was hand written in DaBoll’s inimitable calligraphic style or examples from some of his equally talented peers. A limited edition of 250 copies was hand-decorated throughout with coloring, personalization to the original purchaser, and other such specialties by DaBoll himself. Another 3,750 trade copies were mass-produced.

In 1978, a tribute to DaBoll was published. With Respect… to RFD was “An Appreciation of Raymond Franklin DaBoll and His Contribution to the Letter Arts.” The 140-page book showcased much of DaBoll’s creations as well as work supplied once again by his small group of peers.

Due to problems associated with old age, DaBoll stopped taking jobs for hire, yet he continued to dabble in calligraphy. Despite his advancing years and an increasingly shaky hand, he turned out an occasional project.

Toward the end of their lives, the DaBolls moved back to Illinois. On January 2, 1982, DaBoll died at Elizabeth, Illinois, at the age of eighty-nine. His wife died in 1985. They are buried in Oaklawn Cemetery at Batesville.

For additional information:
DaBoll, Irene Briggs, and Raymond F. DaBoll. Recollections of the Lyceum and Chautauqua Circuits. Freeport, ME: The Bond Wheelwright Company, 1969.

Two Thousand Years of Calligraphy: A Comprehensive Catalog of a Three-Part Exhibition Organized by the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Peabody Institute Library, and the Walters Art Library. New York: Taplinger Publishing Company, 1980.

With Respect… To RFD. Freeport, ME: The Bond Wheelwright Company, 1978.

Robert Craig
Kennett, Missouri


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