«Printing and Publishing in
(JPR title: My Life in Printing)
JPR Interview Third Quarter, Part 1 of 2
an interview for the Library at UCLA,
third quarter of interview, Part One of Two, JPR 07
You can read the first quarter of this fascinating interview in JPR05, which includes bibliographic information about when the interview was conducted, who typed it up and so on, here, and the second quarter of the interview, which takes in Paris, the Balearic Islands including Majorca (Mallorca, in Spanish) and the town of Deyá (Deià), and Laura Riding, Robert Graves and Robert’s marital misadventures, in JPR06, here. The bibliographic information is done away with for the second and third instalments, which begin in medias res, as the Latin poet Horace advised. Photographs have been added; there were no photos in the original typescript.
The last section ended with George Macy writing to Merle Armitage:
Possibly you will not grow apoplectic at all, you may be so busy with your war work in Detroit that you cannot possibly undertake to produce this book for us; you may even have been wondering how you could let me down. If that is so, I will be greatly relieved. If you have been planning on designing the book, and will now conclude that I am letting you down, I will
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be very sorry. Cordially yours…
Merle was in the Air Force at that time. In 1942 he had enlisted as a major and at that time, was stationed in Detroit in the material procurement division, working with General Motors, Ford and others.
Merle didn’t take Macy’s suggestion sitting down. On April 13th, he wrote:
It was my suggestion that you do a book with Edward Weston’s photographs.
I have a written agreement with you to design Leaves of Grass with photographs by Edward Weston.
The fact has been advertised.
At your written suggestion, I proceeded with the designs.
My work in furthering this enterprise, including considerable personal effort and expense — as well as my achievements as a designer, are involved.
I cannot and will not accept the implications in your letter of April 10th.
Yours very truly.
On April 17th, Macy replied.
I am disappointed in the letter which you sent me on April 13. I ask you to look again at the letter which I sent you on April 10, and to compare it with your letter. It seems to me, as I look them over, that my letter to you is eminently friendly in tone, and does not justify the peculiar quality of your letter in reply.
In my letter to you, I reported the receipt of the photographs by Edward Weston; I asked your permission to turn this book over to another designer, I even suggested that, because you are now in Detroit, you would not be able to undertake to produce the book if you were the designer. Now you tell me something about the implications in my letter. Will you not explain this? To me, my letter seems forthright, I can see no implications in it.
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Would you also tell me what you would like to do?
Do you want to be paid, for the work you have done upon this edition of Leaves of Grass? There is no doubt whatever, of the fact that I asked you to serve as designer of our edition to contain the photographs by Weston, and that you prepared a dummy. I am very willing to pay your fee for doing this work, within the terms of the previous fee I have paid you.
Do you want to continue with the planning of this book? In this case you have two obligations: You would, in the first place, have to satisfy me of your ability, in Detroit, to plan the book which would be printed elsewhere; you would, in the second place, have to show me a dummy with which I would be satisfied. As you know I did not like your first plan.
Please believe, Merle, that very few of the plans which men make go smoothly. It is my job to produce some beautiful books for the members of The Limited Editions Club; but I have never yet been able to produce them without some difficulty. This edition of Leaves of Grass was planned for a series called ‘The Ten Great American Classics.’ That series was abandoned. At the present time, I am not planning further books for The Limited Editions Club, until I discover what effect the war will have had upon our members. Therefore, I am not planning to insert Leaves of Grass into our regular membership series, I am planning only to issue it as a special publication in an edition limited to only one thousand copies. If this plan does not work smoothly, I will have to abandon the idea of publishing the book until after the war. You must remember that I, like most business men, am beset with troubles, and will not willingly invite more of them.
Therefore, if I suggested turning this book over to another printer, it was only in order to cut down a measure of my troubles. Having disliked the first dummy which you prepared, I felt that there was no assurance that I would like any further dummies any better. Knowing that you were now in Detroit, I anticipated a great deal of difficulty in getting the book done if you were to design it while so far from your printing shop; and it is in my mind that this edition of Leaves of Grass must be published in August or September.
That is why I ask you to tell me what has annoyed you, whether you simply think I’m trying to evade the payment of your fee, or whether you feel that you must insist on designing the book no matter what the difficulties are.
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That leaves only one point which I must bring up. It is exactly true that you spoke to me about getting a book illustrated with photographs by Edward Weston. But so have dozens of people. Many years ago Miguel Covarrubias and Alexander King joined in presenting me with a copy of your book about Edward Weston, and at that time said that I ought to get some photographs by him to illustrate a book. The idea, that Weston should illustrate Leaves of Grass, was originated by me and not by you; this is contained in the correspondence, and there could be no doubt of it. I do not mean to make this point in an unfriendly fashion,
I consider it important only that you and I understand each other.
April 22, 1942.
My dear George Macy, Your letter of April 10, together with yours of April 17, demands a reply of some length and necessitates going into certain matters which may seem far afield, but which have a very direct bearing on my attitude.
In answer to your complaint that your letter was eminently friendly in tone, and questioning the tone of mine, I must say that your letter may be friendly in tone, but the content and the proposition which it outlines is anything but friendly.
So that you have no misunderstanding about my attitude, let me say that I shall resist with every legal, physical and moral device at my command, the proposal made in your letter of April 10, and amplified in your letter of April 17.
I first encountered the work of Edward Weston almost exactly twenty years ago and, since that time, I have constantly endeavored, by various means, to bring it to the attention of a wider public. I believe Edward Weston to be one of the significant American artists; and I further believe that no painter or artist in any other medium has a greater right to the term ‘distinguished’ than this photographer.
My interest has taken the form of presentation of Weston photographs to several museums, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York; I have written many magazine articles regarding it; I have assisted in arranging exhibitions, etc., in addition to producing the Edward Weston book in 1932. I’ve come to know him and his ideas; and this friendship has matured and stood the test of years.
It may interest you to know that the acceptance on
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the part of Edward Weston of your offer to do the photographs for Leaves of Grass required a great deal of consideration on his part. I made a trip to Carmel to talk this whole matter over with him. The amount of money paid him by you nowhere near covered his actual out-of-pocket cost of making such a trip, as it necessitated buying a new automobile and special clothes and equipment, in addition to the expenses of auto camps, hotels, gas, oil, tires, etc. Furthermore, it meant being away from his home for such a long time that his ordinary source of income from the sale of his photographs and from portrait settings would be seriously affected by the interruption. It was known that it would take several months to restore this patronage to normal.
It was only because a book of poems of Walt Whitman, with photographs by Edward Weston, and designed by Merle Armitage seemed a very robust idea, that Weston finally accepted.
It appeared to both Weston and me that this could be a monumental volume — one of those rare opportunities to match content, pictures and format to achieve something very much above the ordinary.
I keenly recall your verbal opposition when I proposed that Edward Weston should illustrate a book for you, during my visit to your summer home in the mountainside in Vermont in the spring of 1940. I have your letters of protest against photographs as book illustrations, in which you cite the work of Steichen as achieving only the effect of ‘stills’ from a motion picture in a book which he illustrated for you.
I observe,in your letter of April 17th, where you explained that many years ago two artists joined in presenting you with a copy of a book about Edward Weston and urged you to get photographs by him to illustrate a book, the following facts:
A: That you were apparently not impressed sufficiently with Weston’s photographs at that time.
B: That the book which was presented to you was a book which I had previously produced on Edward Weston.
C: That nearly ten years elapsed before there was interest on your part.
There is in addition, the very curious letter you wrote me while Weston was enroute, explaining that you were very much frightened by the type of photographs and subject matter that Weston was taking. Because of all this resistance I have little confidence in what you might do with an Edward Weston book. Nor am I impressed with the bows you are now taking for being proud of yourself for having thought of the idea.
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You would have to satisfy me that there was a designer available who could be trusted to achieve that certain contemporary, yet universal, feeling in the format and design of the book which would be proper and authoritative. After all, the man who designs this book must appropriately set the stage for two tremendous men, Whitman and Weston. Further, he would have to compensate in some manner for the fact that you have advertised me as the only man in America to design a book containing photographs (or words to that effect), in announcing this Leaves of Grass edition. I don’t think it is probable that you will satisfy me either as to another designer, or as to compensating me for the announcement.
I have no copyright on Weston, nor am I his manager. Nor shall I attempt to influence him in any way in regard to your proposition. I have, however, just received a letter from him telling me he has received a letter from you saying that you have not accepted my design and explaining about the Lakeside Press in Chicago. He says, ‘All this change is news; sad news to me.’ I obviously have no obligation toward Weston to fulfill.
There are some curious statements in your letters which are so very far off the beam, that I shall have to correct them. I will take one at a time:
1. You say, ‘Having disliked the first dummy which you prepared, I felt that there was no assurance that I would like your future dummies any better.’
This is a red herring statement. It is obvious that you have given many designers more than one opportunity on a job. You gave me three opportunities on Looking Backward. Further than that, I question your taste and understanding in this regard.
2. You say, ‘I anticipated a great deal of difficulty in getting the book done if you were to design it while so far from your printing shop.’ As you well know, I do not and never have had a printing shop. You have not experienced any impossible difficulty in working with printers as far away as England, Japan, China or Africa. It is my experience that the mails are still operating in this country.
3. Certainly you suggested that Weston should illustrate Leaves of Grass but only after I’d been campaigning for it for nearly two years and after it was impossible for you to get our first choice, Death Comes for the Archbishop.
You say, ‘You would in the first place have to satisfy me of your ability in Detroit to plan a book which would be printed elsewhere.’ The book, my dear George, is planned; it is now up to a good printer to execute it.
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I’ve written at length so as not to be under the charge that my attitude in this matter is obscure.
Your attitude is perfectly plain. You have used my name is announcing the book; you have commissioned me to design it; you have accepted my assistance and corresponded with me about the book on numerous occasions — and now — without regard to my reputation as a designer, or for the idea of a Whitman-Weston-Armitage book as an entity, or for the fact that when one makes an agreement, one attempts to live up to it; all these things are disregarded when you attempt to casually enlist my compliance in shifting me out of the picture.
I think that Ward Ritchie should print this book, as he has had plans for doing the halftones, which would have given a remarkable result; and you, yourself have stated that his presswork is impeccable.
But that’s up to you and Ward Ritchie — and I know what action should be taken if I were in Ward Ritchie’s place.
However, if you intend to have the book printed at the Lakeside Press, or any other press, I shall insist that the dummy which I have prepared with reasonable modifications, shall be used, with full credit to me as designer.
For the record I am sending a copy of the correspondence both to my attorney in Los Angeles, and to Edward Weston.
One of the great regrets resulting from this incident is that I am always loathe to lose a friend.
I have thoroughly enjoyed you; always found you a most just and likable human being. I am reluctant to have to believe otherwise.
May 21st, 1942.
Dear Merle: The letter you sent to me on April 22nd is the damnfoolist letter I have ever received in my life.
I now offer you three alternatives:
1. I will agree to release Edward Weston’s photographs to any publisher or printer who will pay me for them the actual amount which I have paid Mr. Weston and will take over my obligation to Mr. Weston. If you know of some such person, you may want to act upon this offer.
2. I will agree to pay you the sum of two hundred and fifty dollars now, the agreed total fee for your
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work in designing an edition of Leaves of Grass for us, if you will agree to discontinue further correspondence between us. If you accept this alternative,
I will of course make other arrangements for the designing and printing of the book.
4. I will agree to permit you to continue as the designer of this book. If this is the alternative you desire, there are certain necessary conditions of which you must be reminded.
a. It will be necessary for you to give me the assurance that you, a commissioned officer in the United States Army, are free to begin this work and carry it through to a proper conclusion.
b. It will be necessary for you to give me the assurance that you, now resident in Detroit and working with a printer in Los Angeles, can complete this work within a reasonable time. Please remember that Leaves of Grass is not an ordinary book to plan typographically; one cannot set up a sample page, as one could do with a novel, and expect this page to prove suitable for the entire text; there are textual problems arising on page after page, which the designer of the book must solve.
It will be necessary for you to present to me a typographic plan for the book with which I am satisfied, before the printer may proceed. I do not think this an insuperable difficulty: I have greatly admired some of the books you have planned in the past, although I have considered that others of your books show little taste or sense. When you showed me a dummy for Carmen, I thought it was very bad; and struggled out of a feeling of affection for you, to get you to drop the book without being hurt and take up Looking Backward instead. When you sent me a dummy for Death Comes for the Archbishop, I thought it very bad; but I told you I was not interested because the top copyright was not available. When you sent me a first trial for Leaves of Grass, I thought it very bad; but I told you only that there were some things I didn’t like about it, and then postponed a decision about the plan for the book. I now regret infinitely these hypocrisies on my part.
If you will send me a new dummy for Leaves of Grass, I will give you my comments bluntly. If you wish to send me the old dummy, I will comment upon it in detail. I will, of course, hope that you will show me a typographic plan with which I will be satisfied, in order that this matter may be concluded; but if you desire this third alternative, it is necessary for you to remember that I will not risk thousands of dollars of my company’s money upon a
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typographic plan with which I am not satisfied: this satisfaction having been implicit in all of our dealings. Affectionately yours.
May 25th. This is a letter from Merle Armitage to me.
Dear Ward:It looks as though we have won our battle with Macy. I received a letter from him today, cursing me wildly but giving me three alternatives, one of which is for us to go ahead as we originally planned. Now it is your turn to laugh!
In the meantime, will you please get in touch with Elise and take off her hands the matter of shipping me the dummy?
He also wrote to George Macy on the same day.
My dear George:
We have a little sign in our office which says, ‘Nothing short of right is right’ and I think the third alternative stated in your letter of May 21st is decidedly in that category.
I am having the dummy sent on from Los Angeles, and I am sure there is nothing to prevent all of us from doing a swell job.
You are certainly entitled to your opinions about some of my books and I know you will allow me to have my opinions about a great percentage of yours. Those are matters upon which no two people agree — let alone fifteen hundred — could ever possibly agree.
I am taking up the matter of my handling the revisions and the proofs with my Commanding Officer, and I see no reason why I should not be able to handle that part of the work, as I am naturally interested in seeing it all through to a logical and unified conclusion.
I hold no rancor and see no reason why we cannot have a very pleasant and profitable experience working together again.
Then on June 1st, Armitage wrote Macy that he had received from his commanding officer a clearance, saying, ‘This has been checked. As long as no Government funds are involved, you are at liberty to proceed on this project
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to any extent you may desire and at will.’
He also wrote to George Macy the same day.
My dear George,
I am mailing you the dummy of Leaves of Grass tomorrow, Tuesday.
I believe the cover of the book in both its design and its tonality should remain substantially as indicated; also, the end papers which are striking but not undignified. The sub-title page with the W W and the E W holds well, seeing it again after six months had elapsed, and the same is true of the title page.
I should like to standardize on putting the chapterheads on a lefthand page facing the beginning of each chapter but, I believe, we could find a more handsome type for the text. The text must be printed in a type heavy enough to live and stand up against the impact of the photographs and, in reviewing all the typefaces I can think of, I believe Bodoni is the one which will do it, using about the same size as the Garamond in which the proofs in this dummy are made.
It is true that each page will require individual handling and this I am prepared to do; and I am used to working with the Ward Ritchie Press on similar details. In the back of the book, I have folded in a proposed design of the lettering for the spine.
I would be very glad to have your comments and, remember, that this is a dummy in a very rough state.
On June 10th, 1942 Macy replied.
I acknowledge receipt of the dummy for our forthcoming edition of Leaves of Grass, which you have sent to me. This is, so far as I can see, the identical dummy which you sent me over a year ago and which I told you I did not like. I am sorry to have to tell you that I do not like it now. But I will
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give you details.
1. It makes a big and heavy and clumsy book.
Since the text is so long and since the illustrations will have to be printed as halftones on coated paper, I don’t know how we can avoid making it into a big, heavy and clumsy book; although one method would be to divide it into two volumes, each volume being easier to handle. I bring up the fact that further delays in the production of this book may cause a serious trouble, since the assurance has been given that coated paper will be the first kind of paper to be cut down when the cutting down starts.
2. So far as the design of the outside of the book is concerned, I am pleased with the fact that you have chosen black and grey as the colors; black and white, as you used them on the outside of your own Weston book, would be the ordinary colors to think of, black and grey are a little different. But the method of running the title in a ladder down the spine, but on only one side of the spine, and the method of running a grey strip down the outside of the cover, does not appeal to me; I do not see that they have any value so far as pleasure is concerned, they seem to me to be different only for the sake of being different. The idea for the end papers, of a design of actual leaves of grass, seems to me too obvious for it to be placed in so fine an edition as ours is supposed to be.
3. The title page may be dynamic but I find no pleasure in it, and I feel that the lettering itself is no good.
4. This is what I feel about the type selected for the text. Garamond bold may have color with which to match the color of the photographs, but it is in itself, a bad letter-design, bad because it is not easy to read. The width of the measure for this size of type, seems to me impossible; I can think of no psychology laboratory in the world which would defend this width of measure with the statement that the human eye will go all the way to the end of the line without being tired. If the line is to be so long as this, then the type itself must be larger; if the type is to be as small as this, then the line has to be narrower; this may sound dogmatic, but it is based upon the first criticism that may be made of any book, that the book cannot be read with ease and pleasure.
Since you have elected to send me, as a project for the creation of our edition of Leaves of Grass, the same dummy which you sent me last year and which
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I did not like, I must now ask you the simple question: ‘Where do we go from here?’
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[«»] Tape Number: TAPE TEN, SIDE ONE
May 11, 1965
Ritchie: We shall continue with the correspondence between Merle Armitage and George Macy regarding Leaves of Grass. This letter, dated June 12, 1942.
My dear George:
I agree with you that Leaves of Grass should be two volumes, making it easier to handle and less heavy.
The matter of running the title and the letters on one side of the spine is to get away from the static and wholly uninteresting placement in the center. I am surprised that the value of this would escape you, as it has been understood by the Chinese since recorded history, and by practically every other generation of artists who have made any contribution.
The grey strip down the outside of the cover carries the tonality of the photographs, themselves, and relieves the cover from the funereal aspect which it would have if only the grey lettering were on a completely black book.
As for the end papers, the repetition of the grey and black tonality is achieved by introducing a frieze of ‘Leaves of Grass’ which certainly is not an ‘obvious’ effect but something quite stunning.
The lettering on the title page is only a rough job to give the general effect which, I took for granted, you would understand. The fact that you find no pleasure in it is certainly not criticism.
As for the type, if you will read my last letter, you will see that I proposed Bodoni. If you go into two volumes, then the type can be larger. The use of the Garamond of that size, set wide, was to make the book as compact as possible.
I see no reason why, in as much as you know the number of photographs you are going to use, the coated paper cannot be ordered immediately, whether or not it is a one or two volume edition.
Now, my dear George, you must understand one thing. When you engaged me to design the book, I gave it a great deal of thought, and, never in anything I have ever done, has it been done for the sake of being different. I have always tried to explain the
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reasons for these various things to you, but I have never been able to communicate with you. You are in the modern world but certainly not of it, as far as design is concerned. If you wish to call this revolting and violent as you did of my other letter, that’s your privilege.
It would seem to me as a very good business man that you would understand that when you engage a book designer to design a book, he is supposed to design the book; otherwise, why engage him? I am certainly not going to put my name on a book which you design.
The objections which you have made to the rough dummy seem to be wholly devoid of a critical or constructive attitude. You have simply expressed your own whims and stated that something or other did not give you ‘pleasure’. If I design a book to give you “pleasure” it would certainly be nothing I would want to sign my name to.
It is stated again that my job, as I see it, is to give an appropriate setting to the photographs of Edward Weston and the text of Walt Whitman; and that is what I think this design — when refined as it certainly will be after it goes through the various processes — really accomplishes.
As to where we go from here — that, my dear friend, is entirely up to you. I know where I am going.
On 2 June, 1942, Macy replied:
I must conclude that your letter dated June 12th puts a final period to our correspondence about the production of an edition of Leaves of Grass to contain the photographs of Edward Weston.
When I got the notion, that Mr. Weston might want to make photographs to illustrate Leaves of Grass, I asked you to approach him in the project and I also asked you to design the book. But it is a stated part of every negotiation into which I enter, that I as publisher must be satisfied with the work which is done for The Limited Editions Club. That is proved in the contract with Mr. Weston, the fact that his work must prove satisfactory. That has always been understood in any negotiation I have had with you. It was clearly repeated in the letter which I sent you on May 21;
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I gave you three alternatives, and stated that, if you were to decide that you wanted to continue as the designer of the book, it would be necessary for you to present to me a typographic plan for the book with which I am satisfied.
In writing to me on May 25, to decide that you would like to proceed with the third alternative, you automatically assumed the obligation of presenting me with a typographic plan with which I would be satisfied. What you did was to send me a dummy, representing a typographic plan, with which I had already expressed dissatisfaction. I rendered you the courtesy, when I got this dummy, of sending you a detailed letter of criticism.
Now you write me to say that you do not think my criticisms are worth anything, that you consider them whims. You add that, if you were to design a book which would give me pleasure, it certainly would be nothing to which you would want to sign your name.
I cannot spend this corporation’s money upon the production of a book with the typographic plan of which I am not satisfied. Since you say that you will not undertake to produce a book which will give me pleasurable satisfaction, this means that you state an intention which precludes any further need for wasting time upon additional correspondence. I am attaching a check for $250, in full payment of the fee which it was understood would be yours for the production of a design for our forthcoming edition of Leaves of Grass. I consider myself free now, to arrange to have this book designed and printed elsewhere.
June 29th, 1942.
My dear George Macy,
It is impossible for me not to accede to your latest demand because of the fact that Edward Weston is involved.
An injunction against the publishing of this volume, or any other prohibitive measure would naturally result in Weston’s not receiving his full compensation for work completed.
I am accepting the check in payment for the actual work accomplished on preparing the dummy and the typographical design of Leaves of Grass.
There are still many other scores to be settled,
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including the insulting broadside sent to the subscribers with copies of Looking Backward.
In the announcement of Leaves of Grass, it was stated in print, sent out to your subscribers and to book dealers, that Merle Armitage was the one man in the United States to design a book containing photographs, or a similar statement. It did not state that Merle Armitage would design it providing the design he submitted gave you pleasure. Therefore, this matter is still to be settled. I will expect an immediate answer from you, giving me your views on how you propose to handle this matter, as I shall demand that it be handled satisfactorily to me. In other words, I do not intend to be publicized widely as a designer of a book without the matter being satisfactorily concluded.
The devious manner in which you have gone about this whole affair brings up a number of philosophical questions. We are, at this moment, fighting to preserve freedom in this country, but it is not my conception that freedom includes protecting questionable practices.
I am putting the check received from you in a special fund, and it will be kept there until you and I have reached a conclusion of our differences.
I may want to investigate the whole status of the socalled ‘Limited Editions Club, Inc.’ Is it a Club, or is a one-man dictatorship? Obviously, I am the victim of a man or an organization which has the authority of a critic, but without the qualifications for that position. I cannot — and will not — be complacent about such a situation.
That ended the correspondence as far as I know, except for one more letter, dated December 11th, 1942, from Merle Armitage:
‘My Dear George: I took Leaves of Grass home last night and have changed my mind in regard to my comments, as I think, in justice to you, something should be said.
You and your associates have succeeded magnificently in turning out the world’s most deluxe grass seed catalog. Sincerely.‘
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There was an amusing epilogue to this correspondence — unfortunately I can’t find the letters at this time, but I remember them in essence. George Macy wished to join the Navy and get a commission. Merle was a major in the Air Force at that time and had some knowledge and influence. George wrote Merle a very friendly letter, asking him if he would give him a letter of recommendation which he could use in his application for enlistment. Merle replied with a glowing letter, extolling the virtues of George Macy, suggesting that he would be a fine addition to the Naval forces of the United States. Their differences had been forgotten.
In 1963 when Armitage wrote an account of this episode for a catalog of an exhibition of his books held at the University of Texas he summarized it as follows: ‘The late George Macy of the Limited Editions Club was a friend, and I designed two books for him. Then I suggested an edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, with photographs by the late Edward Weston. Macy was enchanted with the idea. He at once commissioned Weston to take a tour of the country and make the photographs, and asked me to design it. Macy eventually got the photographs, and decided to design the book himself.
‘But when Edward Weston heard of this switch, he was dismayed and angry, and wrote me that he would cancel his part of the agreement, as it was distinctly understood
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that this was to be a Merle Armitage book. I advised Weston against this and he reluctantly went ahead. I happened to be with Weston when the two-volumed edition arrived. Macy had printed a pristine Edward Weston photograph in green for the cover, and then had placed a green border around every print in the book. Weston was ill with disappointment and revulsion.
‘Throughout this edition, the typography appears accidental and unrelated to the crisp, deeply felt and evocative photographs. The dummy of what I would have done with this opportunity exists to prove my point.’
Merle was busy during the war. The greater portion of it was spent in Detroit renegotiating contracts, primarily with General Motors and the Ford Motor Company. Later he was given the job of helping rehabilitate Air Force officers who had been in combat too long. There was a facility at Atlantic City and also one in Santa Monica. Pilots would be brought back and allowed to live in luxury for three or four weeks to get over their combat fatigue. It evidently was quite an important position which Merle held. He seemed to be in charge of this whole program.
At the end of the war, I don’t know whether he received a medal, but among other things Merle sent me some letters from various commanding officers, recommending him for a medal for his work in this effort.
Also, inasmuch as my partner Gregg Anderson had been killed in the Normandy Invasion, Merle was quite interested
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in the possibility that there might be an opening or a chance to join me at the press after the war. However, when Mrs. Anderson decided to come in and take Gregg’s place, it eliminated that possibility for him. He did come back to California and looked around for a job.
At one time he was being considered for the directorship of the Los Angeles County Museum. Unfortunately Merle had the facility of making enemies as well as making friends, and some of his enemies were much more violent in their feelings about him than his friends were. So there was enough resistance for this county job, and he wasn’t given it.
During the war, he had flown over the Mojave Desert, and remembered a beautiful section of it with great rock pinnacles. Coming back to California after the war, he sought out the place and homesteaded several acres of it.
During the war, he had divorced Elise and married his secretary, a handsome, earthy girl by the name of Elsa [Stuart]. In addition to her physical attributes, she had a keen mind but not much background, except that she had at one time been the bowling champion of her hometown. Under Merle’s tutelage she grew immensely.
Merle had so many contacts and friendships with artists and writers and she absorbed, from the conversations that she heard, a great deal of knowledge and culture. She and Merle, when they moved back to California after the war, made several camping trips up to the desert area that had intri-
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gued Merle so much and decided that they would eventually like to build there.
In the meantime, Merle was appointed art director of Look magazine. Look magazine at that time was a very sleazy imitation of Life magazine. It was done cheaply; the layouts were bad; the paper was inferior. It didn’t have the reputation nor the sales of Life. I don’t know how or what brought about this job, but I do know that Merle was running around Los Angeles for a few weeks prior to going to New York, getting ideas from everybody he could, and having some of the typographers set sample pages.
Merle did do a fantastic job in redesigning and upgrading the magazine. He was there for several years and a real right hand to Cowles, who was the editor and owner of the magazine. He was included in most of the top management and editorial discussions, and he gave the magazine a bold, clean appearance.
He was probably there for three or four years. We visited Merle and Elsa in their New York apartment a couple of times and got to know Elsa better. Finally the amity between Russell Cowles and Merle Armitage cooled. Merle was given a nice settlement in leaving, plus a three or four years’ continuance of his salary.
After leaving Look he consulted as art director for a couple of very small magazines in the East, but these weren’t enough challenge for the talents of Armitage. An opportunity
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came for him to come to California as art editor of Western Family. With his usual enthusiasm he rearranged the appearance of the magazine. He put paintings by his artist friends on the cover, and made many editorial suggestions. Within a short time Merle was in charge of everything — editor and art director.
But Western Family, for some reason or other, was not a successful magazine, and eventually it went under, which gave Merle plenty of time to devote himself to his house on the desert.
It seemed an unlikely project, because there was no water within ten or twelve miles from the place. It was mere sand and rock. There was no road to it. It was necessary to leave the Joshua Tree-Victorville Highway and follow a mere path for a couple of miles and then take off over the sand for several more miles until you found his ‘Manzanita Ranch.’
The first visit we made was while the place was still under construction. We had a letter from Merle inviting us to come out to his desert paradise, and neither my wife nor I knew where it was, except it was in the desert area somewhere in the vicinity of Palm Springs. My wife prepared herself as if she were going to Palm Springs. We met Merle in Joshua Tree because he knew very well that one couldn’t find the place without guidance, and we followed him across the desert until we got to his hide-out.
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Our first view was most interesting. The main house was under construction. It was a concrete block house which they were building, and as we drove in, we looked with astonishment upon the beautifully endowed Elsa enjoying an open air primitive type shower. She waved at us with glee while the workmen, up on the building, pounded away hardly interested in her nudity. This was typical of Armitage’s and, of course, Elsa’s feeling about conventional attitudes. They had no inhibitions. Life was completely natural.
The Armitages, that night, slept inside their partially constructed building. We were given a cot and a mattress outside in the sand. The ‘facilities’ were also quite primitive. Armitage called it the ‘illusion of privacy’. It consisted of a large hole in the ground, about a hundred yards from the house, with two boxes straddled with a plank. Life in the open and in the raw was what we experienced.
But we had a fine time — avoiding rattlesnakes, wandering up the hills and over the desert. Armitage insisted that we also get some land out there; so we spent a good deal of time in his four-wheeled truck, running down dry stream beds and over manzanita and cactus looking over possible places. Unfortunately it was almost impossible to tell which plot was which without a surveyor.
Eventually, Merle built an incredible complex of buildings — as one would expect, interesting in architectural
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design and concept. He says that he has put about a hundred thousand dollars into the place, which I can see he could have easily done. But still, no water.
Eventually, he bought a water truck. Once a week or so, he would drive to a well several miles away and fill up the truck. He’d put it up on the side of the hill in back of his complex and attach hoses and have running water, to a certain extent. We were always warned not to use it too extravagantly.
It was always fun being with Armitage because of his great enthusiasms. One time when we were out there, he had ‘in residence’ a New York sculptor working in one of the barns, back around the hill. He was a welder of metal, which he had picked up here and there. He made one piece for Merle which is ensconced in a huge boulder on the hill overlooking the house — a symbol of the ranch.
Merle continued to design and publish a certain number of books. In a sense, the books that he has designed vary somewhat in quality dependent upon the ability of the printers that printed them for him. He has had a number of them interpreting his layouts.
Kistler, as I mentioned before, was the first. We printed several for him. Rudge in New York printed some for him. Others have been printed by smaller houses, not too knowledgeable or too experienced in book printing, and the result in these is sometimes a bad use of type and sloppy execution. While his design
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shows through, it becomes an uninteresting book.
Merle has always been his own best publicist. He would get out a book and then write you a letter advising you that you had ordered a copy: As for instance:
For once — you have got to buy a book — my autobiography — Accent on America — it is to be published next year in a Limited Edition and Weyhe had to know the number of subscribers by Nov. lst — (it looks like 3,000). So I sent in my check for your copy — along with orders from a group of other friends. So send me a check for $5.50 to balance my books!
Also, Ward, and none of your procrastination, send me the cut of the little eagle we used on page 275 of the Navy book! Have your office do this — and wrap it well.
Also, you owe me two letters — and when I hear from you — I will give you all my news and there is a lot of it. I have a new appointment and a new project, new address: Biarritz Apts. 37 S. Iowa Ave, Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Love and kisses.
Eventually, Elsa must have tired of Merle with his constant activity. Of course. Merle was fifteen or twenty years older than she. I think that that may have been one cause. She went abroad one year, and Merle was a little unhappy about it because he found out that she had travelled with, I believe, the music critic of Life or Time magazine. Merle later said he’d be darned if he was going to pay for this chap’s vacation with his wife. So they broke up.
Merle soon after married one of Elsa’s very close
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friends, [Isabelle Heymann], a French girl who had been in the underground in France during World War II and had come to America afterwards. They settled on the ranch. In time, Merle helped to get her children away from a French husband and brought them to live with him. Her mother also came and lived there. So they had quite a menage.
It must have been an extremely lonely life for a woman. Once a day, of course, there was the going to town, fifteen or so miles, to get the mail. She turned more and more to her religion during this time, having little’ else to occupy her time.
And then unfortunately he wrote something (I’m not sure in what book it was), that caused him to be fearful of a libel suit. He transferred his assets, including the ownership of the ranch, into his wife’s name. We hadn’t heard from Merle for some time. I sent him a Christmas card and mentioned that we hadn’t heard from him lately. We received one of the strangest Christmas letters ever.
It was just wonderful, having your note. When you receive the enclosed shocking letter, you will know why I am glad to have 1964 back of me and a new day ahead.
I am at the Manzanita Ranch, (in which I have a life tenure) and starting life over again. So that you will know some of the things I have been up to, I am sending books — a package containing four… two of them reconstructed reprints, two of
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I will eventually send you the Atomic magazine, which I redesigned for the Los Alamos Laboratory… before and after copies. Got to find them first.
Beginning about January 15th, I am sort of tied up with Dr. Elmer Belt, who is about to do some work on me, and I assume I will be incapacitied (How is that for spelling) for several weeks. After that, I want to come and see you.
Am so glad you are out of that other house, it never seemed right for you, but dark, forbidding and old world. The new place sounds fine, and I suppose all of the kids have taken off.
My Chama (his daughter) is a freshman at Sarah Lawrence College, where she is leading her class. I am sending a picture of her, not very good, as she looks mad, but the best I have. She really is not mad… just had a fine letter from her. Fortunately I had just sent Chama $15,000.00 to take care of her four years at College, a week before Isabelle drew all of the cash out of our joint account, prior to telling me she was getting a divorce. I must say, my life is a demonstration of the fact women have the wrong chemistry for me, loving them as I do!
Drop me a line, and be happy.
Enclosed was this printed Christmas letter for 1964.
Isabelle and I met in New York when she was with Lily Daché and I an executive at Look magazine. At my Manzanita Ranch, she recovered from a very fast life in New York, and eventually, at great legal and travelling expense, we were able to bring her mother and her two children here. This took a great battle with her ex-husband, and after rescuing Agnes and Marc, we saw them through naturalization, and an education. Marc caused us a great deal of expensive trouble.
To accomplish this I sold my very select library, my correspondence with celebrities, and many of my works of art. Eventually, Isabelle became increasingly absorbed in religion, to the point that no conversation, except on religious matters, was
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She belongs to the Altar Society, sings in the choir at the Cathedral, teaches religion at St. Francis School, studies theology at St. Michael’s College, teaches religion and ethics at Loretto Academy (although twice divorced) and is now the secretary of the Santa Fe Archdiocesan Council.
Despite all of these pious pretentions, she coldly informed me that she would keep my Manzanita Ranch, stocks and bonds, income property and some of my choicest works of art, including some very rare Picassos, Paul Kleés, Kandinskis, a stunning Goya and a great Miro. Also, a Henry Moore which she gave me as a present a year ago. All these things had been put in her name on the advice of counsel when I had been threatened with a very heavy lawsuit, although all were my property before we had ever met!
I am seventy-two, and have devoted the last eleven years of my life to her welfare, and spent a modest fortune on her and her family. When I asked her how she could, in Christian conscience and charity, be so sadistic, she informed me that she would look after her conscience! It is a matter of fascinating speculation how her confessor and eventually, God, will see it.
Isabelle Heymann Auerbach still insists on using the name Mrs. Merle Armitage.
The most bitter of Isabelle’s actions which I have had to accept is her shattering betrayal of my daughter, Chama. Manzanita Ranch which was ten years in the building, and which cost approximately $100,000, (worth twice that now) was, of course intended for my daughter, Chama. Although this was all completed (except two rooms built on for her family) before I met Isabelle, she has held it. In the richest of faith and love, it was put in her name in a time of trouble. Isabelle’s daughter Agnes, on the other hand, was rescued from her cruel father in France, given an American education, and received into a Convent, (her dearest wish) at my expense in worry, litigation and money.
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Well, you can see that Merle was pretty bitter at that time. He came to see us a few weeks ago and stayed overnight, and possibly some of his bitterness had worn off because Merle was his jovial self again.
He was happy working on new projects. We got a note from him later to say that he was at Los Alamos on another project. All in all, Merle’s contribution to our time will be considerable. He has little use for the traditional printers, and many of them have little regard for him. But you have to admire the vitality of the man, and his basic feeling for design.
I think this is exemplified in an instance several years ago. He visited Santa Fe and dropped into [in to] the Laboratory of Anthropology. He looked at some of their publications. He particularly noticed one book with beautiful colorplates inside it, but with a dull cover typical of many institutional books. It was extremely dull, in stodgy grey wrappers.
The Museum director complained that despite the importance of the material they couldn’t seem to sell the book. Merle suggested that if they’d give him a couple of hundred dollars to play with he thought he could sell them.
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They agreed, and Merle designed a jacket with color and some Indian motifs. They put this jacket around the old cover. Visitors started picking them up, and once they’d seen the material inside, they bought. It was a matter of merchandising and Merle recognized that an attractive package would sell a product.
George Macy, to follow on with his story, had been doing The Limited Editions Club books since 1928. The Twenties was a booming time for private press books, and Macy took advantage of it. Then came the crash of 1929 which practically killed off the fine book market. Macy was able to survive and was able to keep his 15OO subscribers through most of the Depression years.
He was one of few that survived along with the Nonesuch Press and the Golden Cockerel in England. The Grabhorn Press in San Francisco was also among the survivors through their ‘Western Americana’ series. But they were selling these books to subscribers for two and three dollars a piece, while Macy continued to charge ten dollars a copy. He issued a book once a month.
We printed Looking Backward designed by Merle Armitage. Macy had wanted to have a very modern designer do this book of the future. We also started a Carmen, after Looking Backward, and Armitage had designed it. We had set it completely in type before Macy decided not to do it, or not to have Armitage do it. I have forgotten
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now which it was, but we were paid off completely. There was another book on which I worked with Macy which also fell through. This was Ambrose Bierce’s Tales of Soldiers and Civilians for which Paul Landacre was to do the illustrations, and I’m afraid that in this particular case, it was my design which Macy didn’t like.
Then several years lapsed until the early fifties. Macy was out here in Los Angeles, and while discussing doing another book, I suggested Millard Sheets as an illustrator. The Macys, Helen and George, met Millard and were fascinated by him. In many respects, Millard is like Armitage with abundant vitality. Each is capable of doing a dozen things at the same time and each has an incredible facility to work and create. Millard may have more talents and many more accomplishments but they both were talented and somewhat controversial.
Sheets started out as a painter, as a youth at Chouinard Art School. He early won several prizes which meant that at seventeen or eighteen he had already achieved a reputation as a leading California artist. In addition to his painting, he has designed buildings all over the United States. He created the mall at Pomona which was a forerunner of the rejuvenation of depressed downtown areas. I believe he’s working on one at Sacramento right now.
The most spectacular of his works have been his murals and frescos. The one at the library of the University of Notre Dame is, I would say, about seventy-five
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feet high. It covers the whole side of the library.
It was a breathtaking job. He made a small sketch for this originally. Of course, no studio would be large enough to encompass this whole thing, so he had to lay it out in sections. On the wall of his studio in Claremont he would draw a section on paper in color and then designate which piece of colored rock would go in each spot.
He got samples of colored rocks from all over the world to match the colors he needed in this huge fresco. They were put together by a firm in the east following the exact, and precise instructions on these pencilled layouts and inserted in concrete, I would surmise, on the façade of the library. It is in the tradition of the frescos with which the great artists of Mexico decorated their university. Millard’s now dominates Notre Dame more than the Golden Dome does.
This meeting of Millard and the Macys started us on a joint venture for The Limited Editions Club. The text selected by the Macys for us to do was The Beach at Falesá by Robert Louis Stevenson. Millard had done quite a number of paintings of South Sea subjects. He had visited Hawaii many times and had a sympathetic feeling for the area. At this time, he was also intrigued with the process of silk screen printing. That year, for his Christmas card, he had printed a picture of a South Sea girl in silk screen. Our first idea was for this to
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be the first book illustrated in silk screen. Millard was going to make the screens, and he was going to have his students, working under his supervision, print all of the illustrations in the book. It was an intriguing project.
Millard starts a project with incredible enthusiasm. If you can get him started immediately he creates so fast and with such extraordinary facility, that it is done beautifully within a matter of days. But if he puts it aside and gets on to any of his dozens of other projects, then it’s almost impossible to get him to finish.
This book lingered on for three years or so. We had the type set all of this time, and from time to time I would be prodded by the Macys, and in turn would prod Millard. He and I would get together, but in the meantime, all of the plans that we had previously made had been forgotten so we would have to start over again. It wasn’t until George Macy died of cancer that Millard settled down to finish his drawings. We finally got the book out in 1956. Unfortunately Macy never saw the project he had planned so many years before.
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[«»] Tape Number: TAPE TEN, SIDE TWO
8 June, 1965
Ritchie: I recollect that we were talking about George Macy and the fact that we had been working on a book for his Limited Editions Club, Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Beach of Falesá which Millard Sheets was illustrating, and the fact that it had taken so long to do that and Macy had died before it had been completed.
George and his wife Helen had been in the habit of coming to California every year, primarily as a vacation. But incidentally, as a good businessman like Macy would, also to make contacts with artists and printers. They usually stayed at La Quinta for the month of February and would come into town for incidental visits with some of us, either on their way to La Quinta or on their way back.
Occasionally, we might be invited down there to spend the weekend, which was very pleasant. It must have been about 1955 when George was stricken by a terrific back pain. The local doctor was baffled and called in Dr. Elmer Belt from Los Angeles, who diagnosed it as cancer. George was taken into Los Angeles where he was operated on, and one of his kidneys was removed.
After a short time in the hospital, he was removed to a suite in the Beverly Hilton Hotel. It was while he was recovering there that Paul Landacre and I wanted to send him a get-well card. Paul at that time had been
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working on the illustrations for Lucretius, for The Limited Editions Club and we, of course, were working on The Beach of Falesá. Paul pulled out one of his old woodcuts, and I set up some appropriate words, and on a hand press, we printed a pleasant sentiment on some nice handmade paper and sent it to George.
The next time Marka and I went to see him in his hotel room, he was sitting, propped up in his bed, talking like a magpie. He was so full of talk and ideas that we couldn’t stop him. Helen would come in from time to time and say, ‘George, you must stop and let the Ritchies go.’
And he’d say, ‘No, no, let them stay for another ten minutes or so.’
He was quite interested in the card which we had sent him and he said, ‘You know, you printed that wood engraving of Landacre’s so beautifully, I would like to have you print the Lucretius, if you would.’ Well, this naturally pleased me very much. And then we got into a discussion as to the design.
He said that Bruce Rogers had been his choice to do the Lucretius design and that Rogers had submitted style pages, but he didn’t really like them. There was very little sympathy between Bruce Rogers and Landacre. Bruce Rogers had made his design following the pattern of his latter days. He had done the World Book Bible with the same type of illustrations, and it was not Rogers at his best. Macy was disappointed.
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Landacre’s illustrations were quite modern. Lucretius is a tough book for an illustrator to interpret because there is so little to portray graphically.
Landacre had done quite an inspired job, I thought, in making abstract woodcuts. When he first got the commission from Macy, he had rushed over to see me, and tried to think of some way that he could handle the illustrations and make them interesting. At that time, we discussed the possibility of a sort of Japanese treatment with the main illustration and with an imprint in a little block, in red, down the corner. We worked out some trial pages, and this treatment seemed to please Landacre.
Eventually he submitted his illustrations in that way to Macy but these just didn’t fit in with Bruce Rogers’ typographic ideas. The two had no compatibility. So Macy asked me if I would like to try my hand at designing the book. Naturally I was most flattered, because it’s not very often that one is asked to replace the great master of book design in our time, Bruce Rogers.
I worked out a title page and some sample text pages which I showed to Macy a few days later, and he seemed to be very happy with them and said, ‘Go ahead.’ So at that time, we were printing two books; neither of them were completed before his death, but at least he did get to see the pages of the Lucretius in a fairly complete form.
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He stayed out here for a month or two, taking cobalt treatments, and he was finally thought to be cured — they could find no more traces of cancer. We jubilantly saw him off from the hotel. He left his filing cabinet.
His working habits were to bring all of his correspondence along with him on a trip together with his filing cabinet. During the day, he would dictate his notes and letters and these would be sent to his New York office to be typed and processed. The filing cabinet seemed to be a little cumbersome to take back and as it had been somewhat dented in transportation, he said, ‘Here, this is yours.’
After he left, I got it out into our station wagon and I found that he had written on one of the Limited Editions Club’s labels, which had been beautifully and colorfully designed by W.A. Dwiggins, ‘Bless the house this file is in. Keep Old Pappy off the gin; Help Mamma to put on weight. Damn the boys when they are late.’
It was a cute and wonderful remembrance from George Macy and that was, of course, the last time that I saw him alive. He returned to New York, and within a month or two there was a recurrence of cancer in his other kidney, and he passed on very soon thereafter.
Helen Macy stepped in the breach and has continued to operate the Limited Editions Club and the Heritage Club quite satisfactorily. She missed George, his
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vibrant enthusiasm and selective intuition, but the people that were working for George helped to continue the Clubs in his original concept and they are still flourishing.
Millard, finally, after George Macy’s death, felt compunctions and finished the illustrations for The Beach of Falesá. We printed it and we bound it, also here in Los Angeles, and sent the books on East, where they were distributed to the members, as was the Lucretius, which we finished a few months later.
The next book that we were asked to do for The Limited Editions Club was Jack London’s Call of the Wild. We made preliminary plans for this. My wife and I were to be in New York, and Mrs. Macy asked us to come over and discuss the plans for the book with the man that they had selected to illustrate it, Henry Varnum Poor.
We arrived in The Limited Editions Club office, and I was delighted to meet Mr. Poor, one of the fine artists of America. He was a big burly, bewhiskered man. We sat down and to the consternation of all present, he produced all of the finished drawings. Mrs. Macy was quite perplexed by this because they were only in the discussion stage with him at that time. They hadn’t decided on format; they hadn’t actually decided on the treatment, but here they were. He had gotten a letter from her and started reading the book and had become so excited by it that he had gone to work.
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Well, it produced a problem for us because the way that the illustrations were done would necessitate our printing them in four-color process, which would have made the book more expensive than The Limited Editions Club wanted. Naturally, they didn’t want to throw Poor’s work out because it was good. I thought there might be a way of salvaging them and still keeping within the budget.
I took a few of the drawings back to California with me, and we photographed them in black and white. We printed these up in single colors — a grey blue, a warm brown and others. These we sent back to Poor and he put an acetate sheet over each of the prints, and with black brush strokes, reconstituted his paintings, so we were able to reproduce the drawings in two colors rather than in four color process as we would have had to do if we’d followed the original drawings.
We didn’t bind Call of the Wild out here. It was bound in the East, and I was quite surprised when I saw the binding.
George Macy’s idea was to dramatise each book and naturally was continued by those who followed him. As for example, when they printed the Golden Ass many years ago, they bound it in ass skin. Macy also wrote a tempting letter which was sent out before each of his books was shipped, telling what was to be expected. He liked to have a gimmick of this sort to excite the imagination and whet the appetites of those who were to
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receive the book. For our Call of the Wild, he was able to get some of the material they use in making lumber jackets. It was a heavy plaid material. It made an extremely interesting and possibly unique binding. You can see how it made an interesting tie-in for The Call of The Wild. Though it might not be in the best taste of bookmaking, it added an imaginative punch to the book.
Next time Mrs. Macy was out, we talked about doing another book, and she wondered who would be a satisfactory artist. The book she had in mind was Joseph Conrad’s The Nigger of the ‘Narcissus’.
After several considerations, we decided that probably Millard Sheets was the most competent. She had some misgivings after our last experience, but I thought if we could kindle Millard’s enthusiasm enough he might get into it and finish it in no time, as he could. He is so extremely facile that once he puts his hand to any work, it takes him a matter of days or a week at the most to finish it.
The problem is that there are so many people attempting to excite him for a project. He hasn’t the ability of saying no. Almost anyone who comes to him with an interesting position gets a yes, and before he knows it, he is involved in so many places, with so many things, and with so many speeches (because he does that too), that he has no time for any of his projects until a final deadline comes. Then he has to forego everything else and concentrate on this one.
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These books of ours were never of that exigency. While, I believe, The Limited Editions Club paid him $2,000 for illustrating a book, the very paintings and drawings that he did were worth many times that. Compared with other projects for which he is commissioned — his buildings, murals, mosaics and paintings — illustrating a book could mean very little in either prestige or money.
In the case of this book, I didn’t rush it immediately into type, as I had on the previous one with Millard, because letting type sit around for three years, being moved from place to place, is a little hazardous. Anything can happen to it, including lots of banged letters.
We did set up style pages, and we got approval of them. Actually, what I did was to have our own artist, Cas Duchow, rough in some sketchy drawings to show how we wanted the pages to look. After the Limited Editions Club approved them, I turned them over to Millard to go on from there.
Time dragged, and Mrs. Macy would write frantic letters, pleading letters. I would talk to Millard on the phone or see him, when I was in Claremont. He would get enthusiastic about the book. Finally one day he called me and said, ‘Ward, I have done my color illustrations.’ He made six illustrations in full color. I shipped them to Mrs. Macy, and she liked them. The time had come, I thought, to set the type — which we did.
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But there were a dozen or more incidental illustrations for chapter headings and tail pieces which had to be done. These were things, I thought, which wouldn’t take Millard very much time but then the Notre Dame fresco intruded and the Pasadena Home Savings and Loan mural and other jobs. He never had time for these little drawings.
When he finally did them, they didn’t look like Millard Sheets’ work. They didn’t have his quality. Our artist Cas Duchow came to me and said, ‘Ward, you can’t allow Millard to put these into a book. They look like very poor early Rockwell Kent.’ Well, it’s a little difficult to tell an artist of the stature of Millard Sheets that his things aren’t good, but I think Millard himself realized this in this instance.
There were many problems. He hadn’t followed the spirit of my layout. He had just made some drawings. In attempting to fit them into the pages, it made uncomfortable situations. What I did was to make some line cuts of them (he hadn’t done the color part of them) and sent them back to him. I also sent back some of the original layouts to show him that I didn’t think these fit [fitted] very well. Millard called me (I had made no suggestion whatsoever) and said, ‘Ward, I’m going to do these over.’
He did. and they were completely different in feeling and more compatible to the book and our conception of its
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design. The book was eventually finished and we were able to maneuver Millard over to the shop for two days to sign all of the colophon pages, as each copy of a Limited Editions book is autographed by the artist. That was our last responsibility.
As we were sitting around afterwards, he said, ‘Ward, I don’t know if we’re going to be liked after this book.’ Of course, I knew what he meant because the word ‘nigger’ is a little touchy.
When the project had first been suggested to us, Millard and I had wondered about the propriety of doing the book at this particular time. I had written Mrs. Macy about it, and she wrote back that this was a classic. It was a kindly treatment of the colored boy in the story. Then she sent the introductory essay, which also felt that this was too great a book to be allowed to be in any way embarrassed by a title which had become unfortunate. We had continued with it, but still Millard had some qualms to the end even though the title was available in paperback in all of the book stores.
Back in 1931 (this was soon after I had returned from my sojourn in Paris and had worked that memorable month for Jake Zeitlin in his bookstore on Sixth Street before Jake had suggested that I might make a better printer than a bookseller), I started working with the firm of Hackett & Newell, which we later changed to Hackett, Newell & Ritchie. Gregg Anderson had come down from San Francisco to work for us as a compositor in this little
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printing shop. We had great friendship for Grant Dahlstrom, another printer. And we all were quite close friends of Jake’s. Arthur Ellis, a lawyer in town and also an avid collector of books about printing and about the West, suggested one day that we should form a bibliophilic organization.
The idea appealed enough to the four of us to lead us to gather on October 28, 1931 for dinner together at the French Restaurant and then sojourn to Jake’s book shop to talk about the formation of such a group.
There was another such organization in Los Angeles, the Zamorano Club, which was made up of the older, wealthier and more staid book collecting members of the community. Naturally, we felt deprived, not being members of this older organization, so we decided, with Arthur Ellis’ blessings, to form our own.
I believe that I was responsible for initially calling it the Thistle Club because of my great admiration for Bruce Rogers, who used as his mark the little Scotch thistle. As we sat around in Jake’s shop, we decided to make some type of formal organization. We selected Grant Dahlstrom as the first president, and I was selected as secretary-treasurer. In order to be secretary you have to take minutes, naturally, and Jake scurried around looking for something on which I could take minutes. He found a dummy book which Bruce McCallister
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had submitted to him for Sarah Bixby Smith’s Adobe Days. Aside from the title page and the green unstamped binding, it was a completely blank book. I immediately started taking notes of this first meeting. It was decided to meet once a month or whenever the spirit or an incoming distinguished guest moved us.
The members present, the founding members, were Jake Zeitlin, Grant Dahlstrom, Gregg Anderson, and Ward Ritchie. We, at that time, considered some of the other younger men around town — Bill Wooten, for one. Bill had worked or was, working with Jake at the time. He had a great flair for calligraphic design, he was interested in printing and books. Later he became more interested in music and forwent the graphic field.
Saul Marks, a young printer; Lawson Cooper, another printer; Karl Zamboni, who worked at that time for Jake Zeitlin, a great bibiliographic mind he had; Roland Baughman, who was a young librarian at the Huntington Library; Lindley Bynum, also at the Huntington Library; Orson Durand, who worked for the Satyr Bookstore on Vine Street near Hollywood Boulevard and had a little press up on the balcony of the bookstore; and Thomas Perry Stricker, another blossoming young printer. These were the people to be considered for future membership in the club.
It was also decided that the meetings were to be held, the third Thursday night of each month. The next
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meeting was held on November 19, 1931, it was still called the Thistle Club, by the secretary. It was held at Jake Zeitlin’s home. He lived up in the Echo Park area at that time, at 1559 Altivo Way. Jake, Gregg, and myself gathered there for dinner. Grant Dahlstrom came late, bringing with him Saul Marks.
Jake suggested that we should never take in more than two new members at a time. Then, of course, we had to go through this trying session of deciding on what the dues were going to be. Jake suggested twenty-five cents a month, which evidently was considered.
He also thought we should have a publishing venture and in this way support the treasury. We could do a combination book between the various printers. He suggested Gods in Exile.
There’d been a Mexican artist up here who had done some very delicately-fashioned woodcuts or wood engravings, I believe they were, for Jake and Grant for their Ampersand Press. I think Grant had set some sample pages of the book and had planned to print it on the hand press. It was never followed through. It must have been about thirty years later when Grant finally did a small edition of the Gods in Exile, using these blocks which had been around all that time. Jake’s suggestion was booed as too much ripe commercialism.
Then some new names were suggested for the club — Rounce & Coffin. I believe Grant was the one who sug-
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gested Rounce & Coffin, though Jake may have had an influential finger in this. The rounce is the part of the old hand press, the handle which cranks the bed in and out, and the coffin is the bed of the press upon which the type is placed before it’s printed. While it has to most Americans a sort of a college fraternity sound, it actually has a very authentic place in the history of printing.
Other names were: the De Vinne Club, after the eminent American printer; and the Merrymount Club, after Updike’s press. As usual it was decided to continue thinking about it rather than to make a decision at the time. Grant Dahlstrom was delegated to set up a letterhead with Rounce & Coffin and Ward Ritchie was to make one for the Thistle Club.
Then we got back to dues, and they were confirmed at fifty cents a month. It was also moved that each new member selected must present the club a printed souvenir as a credential. Saul Marks and Paul Landacre were elected to membership. The secretary was required to print and send out announcements for each of the meetings. Sure enough we collected dues of fifty cents from everyone present, as the treasurer’s report shows for that month.
For the first year the club was pretty consistent in having a meeting every month at the various members’ houses. The next one in December was at Grant Dahlstrom’s
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house. Landacre was there — his first meeting — and since Landacre wasn’t able to produce much in the way of cash he suggested that he would give a print which Jake Zeitlin could sell and that would be enough to cover his dues.
We thought this was a great idea. The club still didn’t have a name, and typical of procrastinating printers, neither Mr. Dahlstrom nor Mr. Ritchie had come forth with a letterhead as suggested during the previous meeting. But Mr. Zeitlin, according to the minutes, unnecessarily prolonged the meeting with a carefully prepared oration to move that the name of the club be called the Rounce & Coffin Club.
The motion was greeted by huzzas and boos. The huzzas seemed to have won. Then it was also decided that Landacre and Dahlstrom, this time, would design and present a letterhead. Zeitlin would write copy for an initiation certificate. The next meeting would be held at Ritchie’s, and the presentation of credentials by Marks and Landacre would be postponed until that time.
The next meeting in January was held at Ritchie’s house. Hugh King was there as a new [sic] neophyte. Hugh King and his brother had worked in Lime Rock, Connecticut with Dard Hunter, who had his little paper mill there. The King boys evidently were the craftsmen in the mill. The money for this mill had been put up by an uncle of theirs, a man by the name of Beach who had staked Dard Hunter in this endeavor.
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During the Depression, of which this was about the bottom, the sale of handmade paper was extremely limited throughout the United States and the mill had closed down. The King brothers had moved west to California, still with great enthusiasm for papermaking. One of the first things they did was to have a demonstration in the basement of the Los Angeles County Museum.
They actually set up a small paper mill there. They ground the pulp. And with a borrowed paper mold from John Henry Nash, with John Henry Nash’s watermark in it, they demonstrated to people as they came to visit, how paper was actually made. The Kings were quite an addition to the small coterie of printers around here.
Also, they brought with them from the east many reams of Dard Hunter handmade paper, which I believe supported them for the first year of their life out here.
It is amazing how inexpensive this beautiful paper was at that time. For many of my earliest projects, I bought and used their paper. I used it for some of Mrs. Doheny’s books, for one of Mrs. Millard’s catalogues, and several others. It was necessary to learn how to dampen paper before printing it, but it had such beautiful texture and such great quality — I’ve never seen anything better since that time. Hugh King was the newest member of the club, and at this particular meeting, he gave us a talk on the paper that he had made at the Los Angeles Museum. Finally
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the man who suggested the founding of the Rounce & Coffin Club, Arthur Ellis, came to a dinner. This was on March 17, 1932, and we held this meeting at Saul Marks’ shop, in the Printing Center building on Santee off Pico Street.
Mr. Ellis brought a paper mould to show us, which John Henry Nash had given him, and he talked about the history of printing — the earliest printing in the United States by Stephen Day — and told about the two early presses in the Smithsonian Institute and the Franklin Hall in Philadelphia.
The Rounce &Coffin Club from the beginning was informal and fun loving — a tradition which was started in the early years and has continued. Except when there might be a distinguished guest who would be offended by the hilarity and horseplay of the members, the meetings are most informal.
Usually the guests quickly acclimated to this jovial informality of Rounce & Coffin Club meetings and joined in the fun. Recently Ray Nash from Dartmouth was at a meeting with R.Hunter Middleton of Chicago. It just broke loose, and they were as witty as any Jake Zeitlin that we ever had.
At a much earlier meeting at Jake’s house, Edward Doro came as a guest — later he became a member. He had been born in California and as a young man had gone to England to write. He had a small volume of his poems privately printed there and he sent a copy to Conrad
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Aiken. Conrad Aiken was impressed with them and took him under his wing, giving him praise and publicity. Later, he wrote a foreward to a subsequent book of Doro’s poem.
With Doro at this meeting it turned mostly into a discussion of poetry, with Doro reading many of his own.
The next meeting was at Saul Marks’ home and Doro was further pushing his own ideas on the Club, and he even suggested that we have a supplementary organization devoted to the promulgation of the members’ poesy. The lay members applauded the plan, under the influence of vinous liquids. There was an amount of bad verse originated during the evening. Examples of it are:
Whose type stick was unusually itchy.
In a furious rage
He set up a page
And drowned all his sorrows in Vichy.
There was a fine printer named Dahlstrom
Who spiked all his ink with bay rum
Not inking his type
He guzzled the tripe
And spilled all his lunch on the rostrum.
The devil was his mother
The devil ’was his dad
Those were the only parents
Landacre ever had.
Most of these sad effusions came from Ed Doro, so Dahlstrom finally retorted:
He laughed like goat
The blankety-blank poet.
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Finally there was an epitaph for Saul Marks:
His going was our gain
He went to pi *
But by and by
He’ll set him up again.
* A pi font: A font of assorted mathematical or other symbols, designed to be used an an adjunct to one or more text fonts. Robert Bringhurst, The Elements of Typographic Style, page 294.
The Rounce & Coffin Club has had a considerable influence on Western bookmaking. Until 1935, the club had followed a haphazard path, having only occasional meetings at various member’s houses, when Gregg Anderson returned from a three-year stint at the Meriden Gravure Company in Meriden, Connecticut. Roland Baughman, Gregg and myself formed a steering committee.
The three of us had many meetings, and Gregg, being a practical fellow, wanted to make the club into a serious organization. Previously, each announcement had been imaginative. Landacre had made little engravings for some and found old engravings for others and had lots of fun with them. But serious Gregg decided that the announcements would be a plain card saying what was the subject and speakers and where it would be. We changed the meetings away from various members’ houses to the Constance Hotel in Pasadena.
A couple of years later, at his suggestion, we decided to have a Western Book Show. The American Institute of Graphic Arts in New York, of course, had had the Fifty Book Show for many years. The conditions
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were different here on the West Coast. We usually printed books in small editions, individually designed and produced. It was the product of the individual craftsmen rather than the product of industry, such as it was getting to be in New York where book designers were completely separated from the printing business. There, the books are designed and then put into a printing plant to produce. The printers themselves are not involved in the actual appearance of the book.
So we decided to have a Western book show — the first of the regional book shows. We got out announcements and sent them to all printers that we could think of on the West Coast, and in 1938, the first of these shows was held. They continued until World War II.
After the war we had a retrospective show of the books produced during the war years — and since then every year, the Rounce & Coffin Club has sponsored the ‘Western Books.’ For the last several years, there have been two showings of each of the selections going to libraries all over the West and some in the East. The American Institute of Graphic Art shows it. It goes to Boston; it goes to Texas; it goes to Kansas; it goes to Chicago. We don’t have enough time available for all of the libraries that want to have this show.
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The meetings of the Rounce & Coffin Club now are held irregularly and only when a distinguished person in the graphic arts field visits Southern California. For instance, the last one was when Brooke Crutchley, the printer to Cambridge University, was visiting here. We will soon have another one for Beatrice Warde of the Monotype Company in England and we have had one for Hermann Zapf from Germany, when he was here. [Wikipedia: ‘German: (tsapf); November 8, 1918 — June 4, 2015) was a German type designer and calligrapher who lived in Darmstadt, Germany. He was married to the calligrapher and typeface designer Gudrun Zapf-von Hesse. Typefaces he designed include Palatino, Optima and Zapfino.’]
They are held about three times a year at the most at a variety of restaurants. It still has some of the warm frivolity of years past, though possibly not quite as much as previously because a great many of us who have been members for thirty years or more are not quite as kittenish as we were at one time. But when you get Jake Zeitlin, and occasionally Larry Powell, and some of the others, you have an exciting and interesting meeting, and the visitors seem to enjoy it.
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[«»] Tape Number: TAPE ELEVEN, SIDE ONE
June 22, 1965
Ritchie: Arthur Ellis, who had suggested the formation of the Rounce & Coffin Club, certainly can be considered the father of book clubs in California. It was he who was primarily responsible for the formation of the Zamorano Club, the oldest book club in California. After its formation, he was also instrumental in starting the Roxburghe Club, a similar organization in San Francisco. The reason for starting the Zamorano Club was to help one of the grand old men of books, W. Irving Way.
Back in the nineties, Way had a publishing firm in Chicago, Way & Williams, which did some of the best work of that time. Among other things, he had the Helmscott Press in England print a book which was distributed in America by Way & Williams, the only commercial work that the Kelmscott Press ever did. This was Rossetti’s Hand and Soul. The firm of Way & Williams didn’t last too long in Chicago, and Way eventually made his way to California. I don’t know if he had any occupation at all; he seemed to support himself primarily by selling an occasional book from his own library. It was in this way that he became acquainted with some of the local book collectors in Los Angeles.
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I believe the first one was Gaylord Beaman who was a catalyst of a sort. When I first knew him, he was in the Insurance business, but he was better known as the greeter of Los Angeles. When any distinguished person in the literary or the printing world arrived in Los Angeles, it was always Gay Beaman who met him at the train, escorted him around, introduced him to the people who’d interest him.
Gay belonged to all of the clubs to which it was possible to belong. He always circulated at the meetings of these clubs. He was shaking hands with this one and chatting with this person and seldom even sat down to eat. Well, Gay Beaman introduced Irving Way to Will Clary, an eminent lawyer with the firm of 0’Melveny & Myers, who in turn introduced him to Arthur Ellis.
These men felt that they would like to do something for Irving Way. They didn’t want to offer him money, so they had a meeting one evening in October of 1927 to talk about books. It was on the night of October 19th. Arthur Ellis, Will Clary, Garner Beckett, who later was the president of the Riverside Cement Company, gathered together with Irving Way. The four of them discussed the possibility of a book club for Los Angeles. The seeds were then planted, and on January 25, 1928, a club was formally organized. They had, in the meantime, surveyed the bookish people in the Los Angeles area and among the original members were Robert Schad, curator of
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rare books at the Huntington Library; Bruce McCallister, an eminent Los Angeles printer; Charles K. Adams, one of the kindliest and most scholarly of all the early Zamoranans — he worked for the Santa Fe Railroad, was an omnivorous reader and collector of all sorts of literary material; Gaylord Beaman; and Thomas Treanor, who at that time was president of the Riverside Cement Company.
W.Irving Way was elected to honorary membership, and he was also made librarian of the club, though at that time they had no books, but by this gesture they were able thus to offer him a small sinecure. I doubt if it was more than $50 a month, but they felt this was a way to give him something, though it’s never been in the official records that this was the purpose for the founding of the club.
I was told by early members that this was the reason for its formation, and it did give Irving Way a little help in his later years. They had Way’s portrait painted in life-size which hangs in the club rooms, but unfortunately, he didn’t live too much longer. But the club, founded then, has survived to this day and grown.
The first officers were Arthur M. Ellis as president, William. W. Clary as vice-president, and Garner A. Beckett as secretary-treasurer. These in addition to the other members I’ve mentioned were the founding nucleus, and inasmuch as it was thought important that everyone have a
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position (there were eight founding members), a Board of Governors of seven was decreed as the ruling body. The eighth member was the secretary-treasurer. It was decided that each member of the board would serve for seven years, and one new member be elected each year. So the original board had to draw by lot to see who would serve one year, two years, up to seven years. As new members were admitted to the club, they became eligible to eventually be chosen as a member of the board.
The club decided that they would like to have quarters, and early they took a room in the Bradbury Building. Soon after that, they got a suite in the old Alexandria Hotel at Fifth and Spring Street. They paneled it with wood, and it was really a very Impressive-looking room.
The Depression did not curtail the activities of the club, but it did have its effect on the Alexandria Hotel. One meeting night, the manager explained to them that the hotel was closing down, and they would be expected to get out of their paneled rooms which they had done at their own expense. It was a heartbreaking experience, but the club was able to arrange for new quarters at the University Club on Hope Street, where it has remained since then, in very nice rooms with their library around the walls in bookcases which have been built over the years. It will soon have another move, as the University Club is being
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torn down. The University Club itself is being housed in the new building of the Lincoln Savings and Loan Association at the corner of Sixth and Hope. The Zamorano Club, however, will move to the Biltmore Hotel.
I was invited to become a member in May of 1934, at the suggestion of Robert Schad. The club has a luncheon roundtable every Wednesday, except the first Wednesday of the month when they have an evening meeting at which there is a speaker. Occasionally, an outsider is asked to come in and speak to the club, but in general — and this was probably more true during the early years than in the later years — the papers are given by members of the club.
The first one that I gave was on the evening of Wednesday, April 24th, 1935, when I divided the evening’s time with Bruce McCallister. We spoke on the subject of private presses; McCallister spoke about those in the United States and I about the private presses of Europe. As it says in the announcement, at the close of the speakers’ remarks the meeting will become an open forum for further discussion of this subject.
We had many questions at the time, and I had brought along among my notes some of the impressions I had of printers in Europe at the time I had been a student over there. I pulled out these diaries and read the account of Bruce Rogers when he was there working on the Great Oxford Bible, the lectern Bible which he designed and was printed at the University Press.
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This evidently impressed Dr. Max Farrand, who was the director of the Huntington Library, because several years later the Huntington Library and the California Institute of Technology sponsored a series of talks by Daniel Berkeley Updike, who along with Bruce Rogers was the most eminent of American printers of that era.
Updike, in addition, was a great scholar; his two-volume book entitled Printing Types is considered the greatest scholarly work to be produced in America, or possibly in the world, on the subject. I believe there was a series of three lectures divided between the Huntington Library and the Athenaeum at Caltech. Following these, Dr. Farrand wished to entertain Mr. Updike and the members of the Zamorano Club at his home on the Huntington Library grounds.
Farrand had been one of Updike’s most ardent admirers and had collected perhaps the most complete library of Merrymount Press books in existence — later given to the Huntington Library as the basis of the great Updike collection now housed there.
Much to my surprise, Farrand called me, at the time he was making arrangements with Updike to come West and asked if I would be willing to be the speaker on that evening for Mr. Updike. With many qualms, I accepted because you don’t turn down the director of the Huntington Library. He suggested the subject to be on type ornaments. To be asked to speak before the great authority on
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printing types and type ornaments, on a subject of which he knew much more than anybody else, caused me considerable consternation and worry. But it turned out to be a most delightful and educational experience for me because it required that I delve extensively into the subject, not only historically but also into the contemporary use of type ornaments.
These little pieces of decoration had been used by printers since the 15th Century. You can combine them in innumerable ways with an almost endless variety of decoration. They were contrived originally by the printers who couldn’t afford or didn’t want to use new art work or new engravings for each book. By using these in different arrangements, they could put decoration into their books with material on hand.
It stemmed, I suppose, from the decorations of the Arabs. Certainly, it had been suggested by the ornamentation of the bookbinders; the bookbinder’s tools were very much like the original printer’s flowers and they probably evolved from them. In some eras, they were used to a greater extent than in others — especially in France during the 18th century, when Fournier developed them to the peak. The French arrangements were extremely beautiful and handsome and innumerable variations were available at that time.
During the latter part of the 19th century, there was another vogue in quite a different tradition. The
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English and the American type founders created a great deal of pictorial material which could be pieced together in various arrangements. We think of it now as Victorian printing. The style was quite fussy, and went along with the exotic types which were developed during the latter part of the 19th century.
In the early part of this present century, along with the revival of the many classic typefaces following William Morris, there was a revival also of many of the early type ornaments and type flowers. Sir Francis Meynell was one of the first who began delving back into the beautiful Caslon ornaments and his early Nonesuch books used this type of decoration to a great extent.
In America, there were many experiments with the geometric ornaments that came into vogue in the 20th century, being considered ‘modern.’ They were quite often used to build pictures or as with Alvin Lustig, they were used to make interesting abstract designs.
The man who created the most impressive of these type pictures was Albert Schiller, who worked at one of the type houses in New York. I had seen some of the creations he had made — large, complicated and fairly realistic pictures made of a variety of rules and ornaments and geometrical squares and circles. In working on this paper on printer’s flowers, I wrote to Schiller, among others, and he explained that he did one of these
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pictures each year to be sent out as a Christmas gift by the firm for which he worked. He devoted practically a whole year to each of these projects — they were so intricate and elaborate. He would start out with a sketch or a design and then gradually piece together the elements over the year. These were printed in many colors and were quite pictorial. You would never realize that they were made out of extraneous pieces arranged together. But, while they are most interesting examples of a typesetter’s ingenuity they are important primarily as curiosities, showing what can be done with this material. They are tours de force and don’t have the charm that many simpler and less forced designs using type ornaments have.
I also corresponded with William Addison Dwiggins, who, I think, was the best of the American book designers of this era. He is now dead. While Bruce Rogers and Daniel Berkeley Updike are usually considered the great ones of that time, they didn’t create a new style. They absorbed from the past and refined and perfected it.
But Dwiggins was originally an artist and his books are conceived more as an artist would design them than as a printer would. He inserted a new feeling, a new quality that no previous books have had. He early illustrated some books for Updike and other printers. But he concluded that as an accompaniment to type one should have
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done to here
decorations other than a drawn illustration. He envisioned something new, but in the tradition of the printer’s flowers type of things.
He started experimenting with stencils. He would cut in stencil various small abstract designs which he would piece together in much the same way that the printer’s ornaments were put together. Only he had a more freedom with this method since he could maneuver and manipulate them in various ways, where the printer’s ornaments were pretty set and rigid.
During our correspondence — generous and wonderful man that he was — he got out all these stencils and put them on a single sheet, which you’ll see. There are literally hundreds of them. Some of them are quite abstract while others show little figures and simple flower shapes. With these, as you can see, he could make a great variety of wonderful decorations to enhance a book. His bindings were especially handsome using these decorations. He loved to use a shiny black cloth with lots of gold stamping.
He wrote on the showing of his ornaments, ‘Elements for making pattern to be used with type. Cut in celluloid, .075 mostly. These discharges show the stencils as cut. Some of them are made with the idea of touching in the tie breaks with a pen to finish, but mostly used as cut. W. A. D. August 26th, 1940.’ Then he adds, ‘The
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property of Ward Ritchie. Will he consent to have it copied via photostat if the occasion for so doing might arise. W.A.D.’ [laughter]
Updike did arrive. Updike gave his lectures and I gave mine too. I had several nice letters from Updike about it. He died a few years later.
The Zamorano and Roxburghe Club, while they had similar purposes and were founded approximately the same year, had had absolutely no contact with one another. There had been a few members who had belonged to both clubs inasmuch as they had moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles or vice versa. So there was some communication and we knew of one another. It must have been about 1952 or ’53 that the suggestion was made by Theodore Lilienthal of the Roxburghe Club and Dr. Marcus Crahan of the Zamorano Club that the two clubs join together for a meeting, that the members could become more friendly and get to know one another. The Roxburghe Club in San Francisco made the first gesture and invited us up to meet with them. It was my duty that particular year, as president of the club, to arrange for the Zamorano part of meeting and to herd all of the Zamoranans up to San Francisco for the weekend of September 11th and 12th of 1953.
I arrived up there and found out, among other things, that I would have to make a speech to the Roxburghe mem-
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bers, as one of their members was to make a speech to us. As I was working on something to say, I thought that there should be a keepsake for this memorable occasion. In one of the little antique shops, I found a battered old pewter plate. [laughter] Albert Sperisen and I inscribed on it the signature of Agustín Zamorano, the first printer of California, for whom the Zamorano Club had been named, and also we tried to put on it the coat of arms of the Duke of Roxburghe for whom the Roxburghe Club had been named. During the course of my presentation of this to the club, I fabricated a meeting between these two great and illustrious men and explained how this particular plate had happened to belong to both of them. [laughter]
This ‘priceless’ pewter plate has become a treasured part of the Zamorano-Roxburghe tradition, now, and it is passed back and forth from one club to the next. The next year, the Roxburghe Club encased it in a beautiful leather and velvet box when they returned it to the Zamorano Club.
These meetings started out to be yearly affairs, but it was found that it was too much of a chore to gather forty or fifty men and entertain them for two days every year, so now it’s every other year. One year the Zamorano Club will go to San Francisco, and the next time they will come down to Los Angeles. The object is to show off the bibliographical treasures of one part
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against another, so naturally we have visited all of the libraries and museums and places of bibliophilic interest in both areas. There is always one big banquet on Saturday night and for the rest of the time we are bussed around to the points of interest, interspersed with food and cocktails.
Both the Zamorano Club and the Roxburghe Club have published several books. The most important one, I believe, that the Zamorano Club has done was the splendid biography of Augustín Zamorano which was written by George Harding of San Francisco, who is a member of both clubs. Many others have been done, including Bullion to Books by Henry Wagner, Islands of Books by Lawrence Clark Powell.
A few years ago, in 1961, when the Grolier Club of New York came West to visit both the Roxburghe Club and the Zamorano Club on a tour, the Zamorano Club took upon itself the production of a keepsake for them which was called A Bookman’s View of Los Angeles. It was printed by the various printer-members of the Zamorano Club, at that time consisting of Gordon Holmquist, who printed one section; Saul Marks, who printed another section; Grant Dahlstrom, who printed the third; and ourselves, who printed the fourth section. W.W. Robbinson wrote for it a profile of Los Angeles and its cultural background. Then, the directors of the four
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important libraries here — the Clark Library, the Honnold Library, the Huntington Library and the Southwest Museum Library — wrote about their libraries.
Tyrus Harmsen, the Occidental College Librarian, wrote a history of the Zamorano Club, and I attempted to summarize the history of fine printing in southern California which seemed to flower during the late ’20s, and continue through the ’30s and ’40s, and is still to a certain extent in its bloom. During the ’30s there were many small presses developing and trying to do fine printing.
It’s pretty much come down to Dahlstrom and Marks and our own enterprise now. Each of the printers designed his own piece. The first one, the profile of Los Angeles by W.W. Robbinson, was done by Gordon Holmquist, and then the section on the four libraries was printed by Saul Marks, and I did the one on fine printing, and Grant Dahlstrom did the little history of the Zamorano Club. We all got our handiwork in.
Back at the time when these book clubs were being founded, the first serious attempt at publishing also started in Los Angeles. Books had been done haphazardly by many printers, as you can tell by going through the section of Los Angeles imprints at the UCLA Library. But they seem to have been the work of printers who were given a job to print by an author or some organization. The
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Powell Publishing Company had done a series of books on Western history and there may have been others who actually published, but this is the first legitimate publishing venture in Los Angeles of which I am aware.
After Bruce McCallister had done the superb Warner’s ranch history, he became bitten by the possibility of doing another fine book. He talked to Jake Zeitlin about it, and Jake was naturally enthusiastic about anything that had to do with creating books. At the time, Marguerite Eyer Wilbur had been translating a German book about Los Angeles. I believe it was calledEin Blumen… I don’t know the exact German title (I have a copy of it someplace), but she had translated it under the name of ‘ Los Angeles in the Sunny Seventies.
Certain portions of it had been appearing in Touring Topics, the magazine of the Automobile Club of Southern California. Jake talked to Phil Townsend Hanna, the editor of this magazine, about the possibility of making a book out of it, and Phil thought it was a great idea. Naturally, Marguerite Eyre Wilbur was interested in this. Bruce McCallister was happy because this was the type of book he would like to do.
Oddly enough, when I first went to see Bruce McCallister about getting into the printing business and he had sent me over to Frank Wiggins Trade School to learn something about it, he mentioned to me this book and said that he and Jake were planning to publish it. He wanted
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it to be a fine book and he would like to have it hand set. And if I could learn typesetting fast enough and was competent enough, he might give me a job, working on this book. But it turned out he was a little impatient [laughter] and couldn’t wait that long, and had it set by Monotype, I believe. He and Jake issued the book, and it was the earliest book that Jake had really sponsored as a publisher.
It set Jake’s mind to work, too, and a young poet that he met through Sidney King Russell came to see him. His name was Leslie M. Jennings who was at loose ends at the time, and they concocted the idea of starting a publishing firm — which they did under the name of The Primavera Press. This was about the end of 1929, or was operating in 1930.
From the early records, it would appear that it was a vanity press and that the earliest publications were paid for by the authors. The first one was a book by the name of Enoch by a Mrs. Nichols; and another book, Cavalcade by David Weisman; and An Anthology of Southern California Verse by the Verse Writers Club of Southern California.
Then a rather important book came to them, Adobe Days, which had been written by Sarah Bixby Smith and had been published or printed for her by the Torch Press of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in a rather miserable looking little edition,
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many years before. She wanted to have a really nice edition of this book, which Jake took upon himself to do with the help of Bruce McCallister. It was printed and designed by the firm of Young and McCallister and published by Jake. Jake owned a two-thirds interest in The Primavera Press and Leslie M. Jennings a one-third interest.
But the arrangement, while it was profitable to a certain extent to both of them, wasn’t completely satisfactory, and Jake, by the end of 1931, had taken it over himself. While there was a still a certain amount of vanity printing done by The Primavera Press, it gradually became legitimate, and they began selecting books because of their intrinsic value rather than because somebody was willing to pay for them.
The first of these was Phil Townsend Hanna’s Libros Californianos, or five feet of books on California, which became an important tool for the collector as the first discriminative selection of valuable California books for the collector. Phil Hanna, in addition to his own selection, included those of Robert Cowan, Henry Wagner and, I believe, Leslie Bliss, the Librarian of the Huntington Library. The publication of this book came right after I had been working for Jake, and one of the compensations I got for leaving him was the privilege of printing the book at the firm of Hackett, Newell & Ritchie.