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Couple brings new vibrance to historical prints

Powerful images of the past century roll off the digital printing press of Frank Miller and Barbara Clifford, the husband-and-wife team that supplies the Dayton region’s museums with historic posters and memorabilia.

Think posters and hand bills from the Great Flood of 1913, celebrations for the Wright Brothers, and the book covers for the first volumes of poet Paul Laurence Dunbar.

With the 100th anniversary of the Great Flood this year, the graphic arts experts behind Mill-Cliff Publishing Co. in Clayton are selling thousands of posters around the area to those rediscovering local history. A special book printed for the anniversary, “The Great Dayton Flood of 1913,” with hand-written accounts and more than 100 rare photographs from private collections, is selling briskly.

You’ll find the 100 or so different posters from Mill-Cliff at the Dayton Art Institute gift shop, National Museum of the United States Air Force gift shop, the Carillon Historical Park Museum Store, and the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park’s gift shop. Advances in digital printing have made the reproductions vivid, with brilliant color and detail.

“It helps to make a past event survive in the present,” Miller said.

The most popular posters include the 1909 “Wright Welcome Home” celebration announcement and a martial law handbill for the flood’s aftermath that discourages camera-carrying curiosity seekers escorting lady friends. It also cautions traumatized residents not to shoot first and ask questions later.

Miller and Clifford, who both retired from large Dayton companies in the late 1980s to start their business, bring lifetimes of love for books and printed matter, some of it known as ephemera in the collecting world. Miller has marketed and sold large numbers of magazines and books over the years from library and estate collections.

The two have an eBay store for their products and operate booths in two antique malls in Springfield, Heart of Ohio, and Springfield Antique Center, and at Ohio Valley Antique Mall in Fairfield. They’ve spent decades hunting down and selling the rare and unusual historical books, graphics, and illustrations. It’s a full-time job for both.

Mary Oliver, director of collections for Dayton History, credits Mill-Cliff’s work with firing up interest in the past. “It prompts people to learn more,” she said.

Mill-Cliff is the only printer that’s reproducing the items for sale locally. “To me, they’re images people are happy to see. It makes me happy to sell it,” Miller said.

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