April 27

Henry Lewis Bullen, one of the most prolific writers on the subject of typography, died on April 27, 1938 in his eightieth year, honored for a unique and outstanding career devoted to the advancement of the printing craft. Indefatigable in his efforts to raise the standards of the ordinary printer, this Australian-born typographic historian and his work remain unknown to most ordinary printers, but he has left a living monument which can never be forgotten—the great American Type Founders Typographic Library at Columbia University.

Bullen was apprenticed as a printer at the age of fourteen in his native Australia. Four years later his nervous ‘energy and boundless ambition led him to make the long journey to the United States where the opportunities for advancement seemed greater than at home. He arrived in New York in 1875. For the next five years he worked in several other American cities as a compositor, finally going to Boston where in 1882 he left the case and became editor of promotional material for Golding & Company, manufacturer of platen presses and printer’s tools and supplies. His efforts were so productive that he was named sales manager the following year.

In 1885 Bullen met Henry O. Shepard, publisher of The Inland Printer, a recently established trade periodical. This connection led to an anonymous article concerning platen presses which appeared in October, 1885. Until June 1931, Bullen was a constant contributor to the printing journal, probably being best known for the department which bore the title “Collectanea Typographica,” that appeared monthly from January 1918 to June 1931, with a few gaps occurring in 1925, 1927–28. His first important article in a series for The Inland Printer was “The Discursions of a Retired Printer,” written under a pseudonym. The series appeared in a number of issues and the articles remain an authoritative source of information on the history of American typefounding.

In the first “Discursion” article Bullen suggested that American Type Founders Company finance a typographic library. Of course he hinted that he would be happy to cooperate. Robert W. Nelson, president of the firm, became interested. The result of the suggestion was that Bullen became librarian of the nucleus collection of printing books which ATF gathered in its Jersey City plant in 1908.

During the next thirty years Bullen put together the finest typographic library ever assembled in the United States, spending all of his waking hours in the promotion of the books and of the industry which they represented. His enthusiasm for the literature of printing was inspiring to a young assistant librarian he hired directly from the library school of Columbia University. Beatrice Warde has certainly, in the ensuing years, been a loyal pupil of her former mentor in Jersey City.

When Robert Nelson died in 1926, Bullen seemed to lose much of his enthusiasm. During the depression years of the thirties, the management of the foundry listed the library and its upkeep as a liability. Fortunately the magnificent collection was not broken up to be sold piecemeal, but has since remained intact at Columbia University where it continues to enhance the heritage of the printer.

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  1. […] W. Jones has been described by Henry Lewis Bullen as the “best all-round printer that Great Britain has ever produced” and by Bruce […]

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