August 28

To contemporary graphic designers, the name of Theodore Brown, Hapgood, Jr., a New England Yankee Gentleman who died on this day in 1938 is quite unknown. Yet a fellow designer said of him at his death: “He was a master designer with a passion for lettering. He believed that lettering on a tablet was as essential to the design of the whole as the ornament. . . . It is probably true that the inscriptions, tablets, altar cards, and testimonials which Mr. Hapgood designed are the finest of this kind in the U.S.A.”

Born in 1871, Hapgood took his art training at the School of Drawing and Painting of the Art Museum in Copley Square, Boston. He lived his whole life in the State of Massachusetts, maintaining for many years a studio in a building at 69 Cornhill in Boston, which housed also the Publisher Alfred Bartlett and the studio of William A. Dwiggins. It was here also that Thomas Maitland Cleland maintained for a short period a small printing office.

Hapgood’s work embraced a wide range, far beyond that of the modern designer who seeks to specialize just as soon as he is out of art school. His skills included inscriptions in wood, bronze, stone, and marble, hand-illuminated memorials, architectural monuments, and plaques. He was also adept in producing decorative designs for books, including lettering for book covers and for commercial printing. His book plates, while now somewhat dated, are models of intricate design and meticulous lettering.

A fellow Bostonian, the artist and type designer, George F. Trenholm, said of him, “I cannot recall a man who has designed for such a variety of purposes with such facility and consummate skill. He was as catholic in his taste and accomplishments as he was in his mind.”

In an age when lettering is more and more becoming a mechanical art, students of good letterform can look to Hapgood’s inscriptions as representing the highest standards of craftsmanship. Without question they can investigate to their advantage the broad range of skills represented in a single person. “He worshipped fine craftsmanship,” stated one of his close friends. “Therefore, his greatest delight was to provide master craftsmen with designs worthy of their skill.”

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