April 19

“It is one of the more felicitous privileges of the bookman’s life to meet in this hall. In the sixty-odd years of the Grolier Club’s existence, it has made a distinguished name for itself as an association of book collectors and book makers. And I think it is sometimes overlooked that without book makers, that is to say, without the artisans who print and bind books, there would be no book dealers, book collectors, or book guardians—that is, librarians.”

So began a talk given by Carl Purington Rollins, Printer to Yale University, at the opening of an exhibition of his work at the Grolier Club on this day in 1949. Titling his remarks, “Souvenirs of My Inky Past,” Rollins, one of the very fine printers of our times, spoke from the viewpoint of a practical printer, reminding the bibliophile audience of the contributions of the craftsmen to the book arts.

“It was Theodore De Vinne and the Grolier Club,” he said, “which first in this country emphasized the ‘mechanick exercise’ of printing and book making as of equal importance, at least, with the sentimental lore of book loving.

“Even the most devoted printer must acknowledge that he must have a text to print, though I have known customers who seemed to labor under the delusion that the printing could begin before the copy was ready! But manners must adorn knowledge, and it is the printer’s province to take the raw material of the book, the text, and give it comely form. It has not infrequently happened that the printer tends to mistake his calling, and attempts a primary object of artistic creation, confusing the means for the end. It was probably a fit of exasperation at the édition de grande luxe which caused Mrs. Warde to write that ‘type must be invisible.’ . . .

“The printing press, by its very name, implies that the type is to be impressed into the paper, and by that means rendered readable and permanent. For it is the permanence of print which is one of its great contributions to human development. Permanence, of course, is a relative term, when applied to the handiworks of man, and five hundred years, the life span of the oldest printing, is a short period as compared with the Spanish cave paintings or the Rosetta stone. . . .

“Fond of our archaic cast lead type, accustomed to our uncouth roman letters, preferring the solid, penetrating impression into the surface of the paper made from linen rags, I am by no means sure that these elements of printing are sure to last. Chinese and Arabic symbols are much handsomer than even Jenson’s or Bodoni’s or Caslon’s or Bruce Rogers’ type forms. The energetic protagonist of the manuscript hand suggests a new calligraphy. The camera, which was the key to the ubiquitous and loathsome half-tone printing block, has now been harnessed to the composing machine. And finally Senefelder’s method of surface printing, developed into the offset press, permits of a much greater flexibility than the printing press. It may well be that before the six-hundredth anniversary of Gutenberg’s invention rolls around, the whole process of printing will be changed. The devoted apostles of electronics may even eliminate printer’s ink, and the plasticists, paper! But so far as one may see at the moment, printing will still provide us with the readiest, cheapest, most useful and permanent way of recording human thought.”

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