April 10

The imprint, “Press of A. Colish,” was for many years an indication of quality in printing far beyond the ordinary. Its proprietor, who died on this day in 1963, can well be considered one of the fine American printers of his time.

Abraham Colish was introduced to the printer’s craft in the ’90’s when, in his twelfth year, he went to work for a Bridgeport, Connecticut printer for a weekly wage of seventy-five cents. His first job was selling a labor paper printed by his employer. When that periodical failed, he learned the skills of the compositor and the pressman. Within a year or two the boy was earning as much as three dollars a week. As an experienced printer at the age of sixteen, he then decided to try his luck in New York City. Going into a small shop on Canal Street, he was emboldened to ask for a job at $3.50 a week, and was thereupon hired.

After a year with this firm, he took a better paying job as a pressman, but soon tired of this, telling himself that it would be more fun to set type at half the amount he could earn by feeding a press. By 1903 he became the composing room foreman of Post and Davis on Fourth Avenue. Here he remained for three years. Later he took charge of the composing room of Rogers & Company, which was at that time doing work for the new advertising agency business. Colish soon learned that the setting of advertisements was not considered by employing printers to be a lucrative endeavor for a commercial printing firm. With a prophetic look to the future he wrote letters to a number of agencies enquiring whether they would be interested in a specialty composing room devoted to setting advertisements.

When the agencies expressed interest, Colish left Rogers & Company in 1917 to set up what was probably the first firm to engage exclusively in advertising typography. The firm prospered and soon branched out into the production of promotional printing. After a few years cylinder presses were added to the growing pressroom. During the Twenties Colish began to print small editions of books. His reputation as a fine printer became established. Today he is remembered and honored more for the distinguished books which he has printed than for his pioneering in advertising typography.

A most important collaboration took place when Colish was selected to print the 41-volume Shakespeare issued by the Limited Editions Club and designed by Bruce Rogers. A number of other Rogers books were produced, culminating in a splendid joint venture, the printing of a great Lectern Bible.

Rogers and Colish first discussed such a project during the printing of the Shakespeare. Together they produced a dummy for a folio bible, which came to the attention of World Publishing Company, specialists in the production of bibles. This firm then commissioned the printing of the finest bible yet to be produced in the United States. Colish personally supervised every detail in the production of this splendid book, a monument to his skill as a printer. In his description of the making of the World Bible, William Targ wrote, “Only Mr. Colish’s enthusiasm and personal interest in the project could induce him to undertake so enormous a labor of love. He is craftsman enough to believe in old-fashioned vigilance. No half measures are allowed, no compromises. . . .” With each passing year there seem to be fewer printers who can measure up to such standards.

Leave a Reply