The "Heroic Age" of American Printing

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1. Introduction

The period from the 1890s to the 1930s encompassed the work of a list of American printers and, to a lesser extent, the newly-invented category of "designers," which still represents the accepted idea of fine printing in America. {1} Even today, to a student of the book, just listing the names of some of the leading practitioners is sufficient to bring back a sense of the period: Joseph Blumenthal, Will Bradley, Thomas Cleland, Oswald (Oz) Cooper, William Addison Dwiggins, Edwin & Robert Grabhorn, Frederic W. Goudy, Carl Purington Rollins, John Henry Nash, Will Ransom, Bruce Rogers, William Edwin Rudge, Daniel Berkeley Updike, et. al.

There is of course a certain irony in referring to this, today, as a "heroic" age, as some of these figures were heroes in their own minds. Many of them held views about type and printing - especially nineteenth century type - which were quite narrowminded and which have distorted both the survival of type and our view of its history. Still, most of them were very, very good printers, and perhaps that is enough.

2. Notable Printers

[TO DO: Joseph Blumenthal, Edwin & Robert Grabhorn, John Henry Nash, William Edwin Rudge, Daniel Berkeley Updike. ]

Note: For Goudy, see the CircuitousRoot Notebook on Goudy in ../../ Making Printing Matrices & Type --> History --> Letterform Designers.

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Norman T. A. Munder

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Carl Purington Rollins

3. Notable Designers

The concept that "design" might be practiced by people incapable of actually making the thing is a curious 20th century conceit to which we are still in thrall. Nevertheless, the first generation of "designers," at least, contained a number of people who were still close enough to the making of things that their work retains some merit.

Note: A number of notable figures from this period really should be filed here. They were each primarily either artists or page/book-level designers, or in fact printers. But because they also dabbled in letterform design, they're filed in the Letterform Designers Notebook. These include:

[TO DO: There were also page/book level designers who didn't also try their hand at letterform design - it's just that since my focus is type I don't have any particular examples of them here. ]

4. Notes and References

{1} Susan Otis Thompson, in "The Arts and Crafts Book," in The Arts and Crafts Movement in America: 1876-1916 (Princeton, Princeton Univ. Press, 1982), p. 96 calls this period that of the "heroic generation of American typographers" and lists Updike, Rogers, Bradley, Goudy, Cleland, Dwiggins, Rollins, Ransom, and Nash. One can only add to this list, not subtract from it.


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