The Goudy Award Interview transcript

Johnson: Professor Lawson spent more than 30 years as a member of the faculty of the School of Printing at Rochester Institute of Technology. Today, Alex, I’d like to ask you why you came to Rochester and when you came to Rochester.

Lawson: Well, perhaps I can say when first. It was in February 1946. And why I came was I wanted to continue my career as a printer. And I had been a printer from 1928 until 1941 when I went into the service in the second world war, which was in the Navy. And after three years at sea I was assigned to shore duty running a tug in Norfolk, Virginia, and in the summer of 1945 when the war was obviously winding down, I was beginning to think again about picking up where I had left off. And it so happened that I had a good friend through the Boy Scout movement who was advertising manager for Inland Printer, and when I was in Norfolk he sent me the magazine to help me catch up with what had been going on—

That’s a wonderful idea.

—in the time I had been away. And in one of the issues in the summer of 1945 I read about a school in Rochester that was offering enlarged courses, obviously to attract GIs, starting in September of 1946. Well, of course, I didn’t get out of the service until, I think it was, October of ’45, and I thought perhaps I would go back to New York where I lived and go back to the firm where I had been employed for 12 years prior to the war and where I had been a compositor, Linotype operator, stone-hand and so forth, and pick up until I had made a decision. And after two weeks back working on the floor in a firm called Guide Calcot and Burr, which was then on 45th Street and which has grown considerably since, and it’s the firm I had served my apprenticeship within Brooklyn when it was simply the Guide Printing Company. And they, obviously, during the war years, were hurting for competent journeyman printers, so it was their expectation that I continue and pick up where I left off. Well, I did for about two weeks and realized that what I wanted to do was really get on beyond that. While I had been an apprentice in New York in the 30’s, I had taken a number of outside courses. At that time there was a school that just coincidentally was called Mechanics Institute and was located on 44th Street, and they used to run courses in layout and design and typography, which were taught by people locally in the New York advertising business, and I took a number of courses there.

And then I had enrolled in courses run by the New York Employing Printers’ Association, called PIMNY, the Printing Industry of Metropolitan New York, and this was a real eyeopener to me, as simply an apprentice. And I took a course that was particularly exciting to me, which was run by a man named O. Alfred Dickman, who was a advertising production manager from New York Herald Tribune, and he was a real typophile in that sense of the word. He was nuts about type. It was apparent in the course that he knew everybody in the business. He knew people like Fred Goudy and Bruce Rogers and he was very active in American Institute of Graphic Arts, the Typophiles, and all the typical New York organizations that were concerned with typography. And this guy was a real teacher, and he just loved it. And that doggone class used to begin in the old building on 8th Avenue on 33rd Street, print and crafts building. Used to start, I think, at 7:30, and it was rare that the class broke up before midnight. It was that kind of a class.

That’s very unusual.

The entire course was the Saturday Evening Post, and he would buy enough copies for the class in the lobby on his way up to the class and distribute the 20 or 30 copies— I think there were about 25, 30 people in the class. And that was our textbook. We opened— start on the cover, the inside cover, and go through by— when we got to the end of the fourth cover, the course was over for the night. And then in this kind of a way he talked about how the ads were put together, the typography of the ads themselves, and interspersed with all of this, of course, was really exciting information about the people involved, the history of the types used, where they came from, how they were used, and so on and so on. And it was a very exciting class. And in fact, as soon as it was over, I signed up to take it again. And that way I got to know Dickman, and he was always getting the people in the class to go to AIGA shows. Any meeting in New York where somebody’d come and talk on type or typography, he would make sure we knew about it, and so on. So this was a good insight into what I thought I wanted to be involved with, which was basically more typography than simply working on the floor in the composing room of a print shop. So I thought that perhaps I could obtain some kind of employment outside of the composing room when I got back. So I went to see Dickman, and he was very interested in the concept of somebody who had been a printer, been in the service, and then wanted to enlarge his scope, because he’d done exactly the same thing in the first world war.

I see. Yes.

And then he had gone to Carnegie Tech, which was at that time, of course, a non-degree granting institution in 1920. 1919, 1920. But in any case, he had gone there and been a student there and was very active in its alumni association, and he had thought that continuing education would be a good thing too. He didn’t know much about Rochester Institute of Technology, but he said certainly that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to check up on it, and also, of course, to check up on admittance to Carnegie Tech. He also talked a little bit about going up to Vermont and working on Print magazine, which was then being published in Vermont. It was a very fine quarterly publication devoted primarily to typographic arts. But nothing came of that, but I did follow through on finding out more about what Rochester Institute was. So I think it was, oh, first week in December, maybe, and just after Thanksgiving, 1945. Took the old Empire State Express and came up to Rochester on a rainy—

New York Central lines.

And got up on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Seems that it’s always raining here. I just came back from Georgia yesterday and there it was raining again. But in any case, I went down to see Byron Culver, whom I had written to first and had recommended I come up and talk to. It was too late, obviously, getting to school— too late in the term in December ’45, but Mr. Culver said that he was going to start a special class in midterm, which would be February, with about 20 people, and there was an opportunity for me to become enrolled in that. So we talked about it, and he thought that my experience as a printer would be fitting the requirements for enrollment, but I took two or three of the standard examinations, and apparently made out all right on those, and signed up to be admitted in February.

Now, before you go on, perhaps we should say a word about Byron Culver. Who was Byron Culver?

Well, Byron Culver was the first director of what was then the publishing and printing department of RIT. It had been formed in ’37, and he was an artist and had taught art in the art school at RIT, or the old— what was then called Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics Institute, from about 1920, and he had considerable administrative ability, and due to that he had been made director of the evening school at RIT. So when the old Empire State School of Printing, which was running in Ithaca as a means of training people for mostly work on small daily and weekly New York State newspapers, was brought to Rochester as a department at RIT, which occurred in 1937, he was named as the first supervisor of the department, principally, I think, because Mark Ellingson, who was then president and realized his ability to organize and run a department, and on top of that he also was an artist. And there was no printing had been taught at RIT, so I suppose— supposedly, they thought that this would be a good combination.

It was close enough.

And yeah, it was close enough. So Byron Culver was then the department head, or then called supervisor, and a very, very gentlemanly person – there’s no question of it – and very well informed about printing. He had made it his business to learn a great deal about practical printing when he got the job. He became active, for example, in the Club of Printing House Craftsmen, and already by just five or six years as head of the School of Printing, he had been president of the Rochester Club and become active in organizations like the Graphic Arts Education Association, so on. He had been through all the printing plants in the area, got to know the executives and the production people to know directions for the school to take, and so forth. And so he was quite knowledgeable, and it was obvious talking to him that he knew quite a bit about the printing business. But in any case, he had told me, yes, that it would be a possibility for me to come in in February, which I did. And it was a class of about 20 people. I think 19 were GIs, one person who was just a kid ready to go to college, an 18-year-old. And everything went rolling along. Now, I had been a printer, of course, but I had thought that the best thing to do was to take all the courses, whether or not they were in my own field or not, to learn new viewpoints, different interpretations, and the like. And I therefore was taking the original freshman course in hand composition, something I was very familiar with. And I got acquainted with Frank Dewitt, who was then teaching that course, and when he learned, of course, that I had been an experienced compositor, he asked me would I teach a course in the evening school—


—in that subject.

Yes. Now, I think we’re getting a little bit ahead of the story, because we should say something about your final days at the Guide Printing or Guide Calcoff [Burr] Printing.

Oh. Well, the thing was that after the war, or during the war, of course, the manpower in printing was pretty tight. Trained journeyman printers were few and far between, especially the younger men, because many of them had gone into the service. So with increased printing load and fewer people to do it, most firms were in a tight spot, insofar as having competent people. So my employer, of course, hoped and expected that I would return to my original job, which was what they call a combination man in the composing room. When the work required it, if there was enough work on the Linotype machine, I could set type. I could also— if a job required making up pages, I could do that, you see, as a compositor, set heads and the like, ads, and also lock up forms. So that it was easier to hire a person with a capability of three skills than a single skill. So obviously, he wanted someone back who had that capability. But after two weeks, I knew pretty definitely that I wanted to go beyond that. I thought I wanted to get into printing production, typography, because I had been excited by that concept when I was an apprentice in the 30s. So I thought that this was— really, after a break of almost four years, that this was the time to go in that direction.

Yes. Okay. Now, when you arrived in Rochester and settled down to the curriculum in the department of publishing and printing, as it was called then, did you have any idea that you might like to take up teaching as a profession?

Well, no, when I first came, that was not at all on my mind. My mind really was probably going back to New York and trying to get into work to work up in an advertising agency for specifying type or even getting into, of course, to design of advertising. That would’ve been my original thought. But I found that I sort of liked teaching the evening school. And of course, the evening schools were pretty crowded at that time because the so-called on-the-job training of the government— that program was a great boost to all college evening programs, or what you might call adult education. And as a result, the classrooms were crowded with men who had gotten out of the service and had some educational ideas in their mind as they want to improve themselves, and of course, GI bill to help pay for it and so forth. Employers in the Rochester area, as all other cities, I assume, were utilizing high schools or using junior— well, smaller colleges that had technical facilities for helping to train people to go to work, to live.

Yes, of course.

So as maybe really adding to what might be called shop apprentice programs. So RIT, of course, took great advantage of that. But in any case, the composition courses were crowded, had 20, 25 students, and I sort of liked it and enjoyed it. So after a break of a summer— that time RIT did not run summer courses. It was a two-semester, six months per, or really about five months each semester. And during my first summer, I went down to the Ten Mile River Scout Camps. I had been a scoutmaster during the 30’s and was very active in scouting, so I had a chance of being a camp director during that first summer away. But when I came back to school and to finish the program, I’d say at this point— there were no degree programs at RIT then. Either you received a certificate for, I think it was then, two years program. If you elected to take an extra year, you could end up with what was called a diploma. But there were no degrees granted. So—

That’s because RIT essentially pioneered the idea of associate degrees.

Oh, that’s right [crosstalk]—

[crosstalk] associate degrees—

Yeah, associate and science degree. That came—

—we could say were a development that came out of RIT’s program.

Oh, it was one of the ones. In fact, RIT began the associate or AAS program in 1948. The first class graduating was 1950, and that was— RIT was the first school to grant the AAS degree in New York State.

Yes. Yes, yes.

But in that last year I was teaching two nights a week in the night school, and I really did enjoy it. Of course, I could have— I had a union card, and I worked— I had worked in addition to— in the first six months I was in school I had worked in a small weekly newspaper shop two nights, really running the Linotype machine and making up the newspaper on Wednesday before it was printed. And the following year I worked on the Democrat and Chronicle in what is called the ad alley, making up ads. But I didn’t, of course, want to continue that. I mean, it was a good living for a compositor at that time. It was easy to work two nights on a weekend. It didn’t interfere with school, and the going rate for compositors was pretty good, as it always has been as far as wage is concerned. But I liked mostly the teaching. So about, I guess, early spring of 1947, I learned that Mr. Dewitt was going to leave the institute and become connected with commercial controls, which was then developing this strike-on machine called the Adjust-A-Writer. And as you probably remember, it was right after the war that it was a flourishing industry in duplicators of all kinds, typewriter devices to set type and the like out of that, like VariTyper and so on. And this was before, of course, phototypesetting. And naturally, with Dewitt going to leave and they were looking for somebody to take his place, Mr. Culver asked me would I be interested in picking up as a full-time instructor in hand composition, as of course, it was then called.

Yes. Yes. Well, that probably was one of the most important decisions made in the School of Printing.

Do say.

I do say. And a lot has come from Culver’s decision, which I suppose was unilateral, to ask you to become a teacher. Now how did you run your courses in the early days? You taught only hand composition and—?

Oh, yes. Well, I taught hand composition and one other course that was thrown on me, a thing called correlative studies, which was sort of a wild name. In fact, Leo Smith, who was then the academic dean—

Dean, yes.

—at RIT, he said— when he first met me he said, “I see you’re down for the course.” He says, “What does it mean?” Well, nobody really knew what it meant, but I boiled it down to mean the survey of printing. To look at printing in all its aspects as a purely lecture course. And that was kind of fun because I got into areas that I had not been completely familiar with. And the idea was to look at printing processes and tell the students the various ways that printing could be produced. Got into a little bit of history, got into a little bit of bookmaking, got into such things as a look at the literature, the magazines that were available, what you could get out of them, what books were the standard books, and so forth.

So forth, yes.

And that was a one-hour lecture, but of course, on a semester basis— the school ran for 18 weeks, you see, so it added to quite a few hours when you got the whole thing together, I think. And then hand composition was strictly that. So no machine in it other than a Ludlow machine, which was in the hand comp lab. And because I had always been excited about the word typography and going beyond simply setting type, and I’d been very fortunate too in the apprentice school, the New York School of Printing Apprentices, when I was an apprentice— by union law an apprentice had to go to school one day a week for four years of his five-year apprenticeship.

Oh, yes. Yes, I know about that.

And the employer supplied four hours of this time, and the employee supplied four hours of his free time. So if you worked days, the employer gave you an afternoon off to go to school. Then you continued until 8:00 or 9:00 on your own time. And the reverse, of course, for people working nights. But it was an ideal concept, because it gave you a means of communication with people outside of your own printing office. Different ideas. And it so happened that at the New York School of Printing Apprentices at that time there was a teacher who was just outstanding in his enthusiasm for going beyond, again, the simple techniques of learning how to set type. And Bruno Menzer was his name, and he was constantly on top of the students to go to shows, exhibitions, attend lectures, read books, read magazines, read the literature that was being published by manufacturers, and so on. And he had a little workshop in a corner where he used to collect all the goodies that’d come along, since the giveaways that weren’t generally available to working printers, but, let’s say, to maybe front offices of print shops. Publications like Westvaco’s Inspirations for Printers, Doc Leslie’s PM Magazine, that kind of thing. So he would collect stacks of these, you see, and give out to those students that he thought were really interested in them. He would hound the type foundries for type specimens, and then they’d send him packages and he would collect them and give them out to students.

And this was, of course, something that apprentices just didn’t get on the whole. I mean— so Menzer’s influence was very strong, because I could see the enthusiasm of his approach. So I picked up that and the enthusiasm of Alfred Dickman and tried to coordinate the two together into what I would like to be doing at RIT. And I did very much the same thing. One thing about Byron Culver is he gave everybody pretty much carte blanche to pretty well coordinate their own courses, do what they wanted in the courses, and that was the way I— with that freedom, of course, and the opportunity to do things far beyond just hand composition. And out of that came, of course, advanced courses in comp just the second year, which would go, of course, beyond simply learning how to set type, and get into the design and setting of standard work that you’d get out of the— the comp would do small ads, letterheads, business forms, and that kind of thing, and even got into setting title pages, chapter openings for books, and so forth.

That’s wonderful.

And then after about two years, I think it was, I talked Mr. Culver into allowing a third-year course. This would be taken— and by this time RIT was now running summers, which of course, added time. Instead of just four semesters, it was six semesters, you see, because you added two summer semesters during the period of two years, into a course we call Hand Composition 3, and this began, I think, about 1950, in which there was no course material whatsoever, but the enthusiasm of the student working with the instructor. And out of that concept, of course, in that year came the so-called private press idea, which we called Press of the Good Mountain, meaning the Anglicization of Johannes Gutenberg’s name.

Gutenberg. Yes.

And the first work done by students in which we used that imprint appeared in 1950, and then through—

And it’s still going strong. The press. Yes.

And it’s still going strong, and over a long period of time, done some pretty nice printing. In fact—

And some of the work I think is really excellent, even though I might be considered partial. But yes, some of the work has been excellent.

Yeah, so. So this was a— other than that, I don’t think there was any other course I taught for a number of years. But then, of course, as the school grew in the 50’s— the AAS degree was granted in 1950, and then, I think, 1956 we were up to giving a bachelor of science degree, and there was great growth, many, many more students, enlarging of laboratory facilities, and of course, the opportunity for enlarging the course material. Then I got into, I think, in the 50’s a course on the development of printing types. A specific lecture course, no lab, in which we tried to trace the whole history of the making of printing types and to get students more involved in history than they might otherwise be, and simply a laboratory course where they were learning techniques. And that was a course that, of course, was very close to my heart because I was more interested in printing types.

Well, of course [crosstalk].

And then, of course, the whole philosophy of the school changed. Prior to, let’s say—

Well, before we get into that, Alex, perhaps we should talk a bit about your influence with typographer, the Press of the Good Mountain, and the added cultural dimension that you brought to the School of Printing.

Well, as we got into the Press of the Good Mountain work and the students are— this was an elective course. It was a course that didn’t have to be taken, therefore you could work very well with a student because it was something they wanted to do. They wanted to do something to go beyond simply the beginning courses in typesetting. And this, of course, meant if they were going to do some printing on their own in the form of booklets, what we used very frequently was a short essay that had been written by well-known printers, historic references and so forth, made up into folders, broadsides, quotations from printers, that kind of thing. Then obviously, it was necessary to enlarge library facilities. Now, the library at RIT then was run by a very lovely lady, Marian Steinman, with very little help. And I think she had student assistants once in a while, a paid part-time assistant, and she ran that whole library. And she was very much excited about the concept of enlarging the printing library. The printing library, when I came there, was, let’s say, a bit less than adequate. The standard books were in there, but more in the line of how-to-do-it books. The manuals, the craft books, and so forth. [crosstalk]—

The ordinary craft books.

Yeah, the ordinary craft books. And then as the demands came about that we needed to enlarge this, then she got to know me very well. And I read the printing publications to find out what books were coming out. I’d go to ask her would she buy the book, and in most cases she would, but RIT budgets then were quite tight, and $25, in fact, was a very, very high price for a book. And of course, not very many books were being printed at that price. But in trying to fill in the collection and going to the out-of-print books, sometimes it was necessary to go into that price range. I recall in ’48 going to a printers’ convention in Boston and, while I was there, going into Goodspeed’s bookstore, which was then the great bookstore in Boston.

It still is.

And I ran into a set of books called The Fleuron. Now, this is a seven— as you remember, a seven-volume set of books on typography published in England between 1923 and 1930. And certainly, they’re the best annual ever done on the field of typography. Now, these books were printed fairly limited, 1,200 copies, and they very quickly were sold as the books came out, and we didn’t have this set. And this was a very desirable acquisition for any printer’s library. So I ran into a set in Goodspeed’s and they wanted $60 for it. That was just about $9 a volume. Well, that was a reasonable price at that time. I thought a good one, not too expensive, so I came back and saw Marian Steinman, and she said, “Oh, we couldn’t afford that. You’re going to have to see Dr. Ellingson.” So I went to see the president to purchase this $60 set of books, and he asked me about them, their value, how they could be used in the course material and the curriculum and so on. I said I thought that we really should acquire these books, so, “Okay,” he said, “go talk to the director of purchasing.” And there was a nice old lady who was then in that job, and she said, “We’ll buy these only if we get an educational discount.” So believe it or not—

That’s incredible.

—Goodspeed’s gave us an educational discount. So we got a set of Fleurons in 1948 for about $48. And as you know today that that set is worth about $700.

It’s at least $700, yes.

So it was a good bargain. It was a good bargain. But that was the kind of thing we were trying to do to build up the library over a period of time.

Right. Now, you know that what you’ve said in a sense tells me that what you were doing here at RIT was almost exactly what Porter Garnett was doing— or had done a few years earlier in Pittsburgh. But Garnett, of course, was fired. So what made you feel that—

Well, Porter— I knew, of course—

—this would work at Rochester?

—from Alfred Dickman, and reading the trade journals about Porter Garnett, and I think his problem there in teaching a course in, let’s say, craft typography, which I was endeavoring to do in a limited way in Press of the Good Mountain, was that it ran against the spirit of the institution where he was employed. Carnegie Tech was long the only college in printing. That is, it produced printers with a bachelor’s degree.

With a certificate or a bachelor’s degree. Right.

Yes. And the problem there was that as being the only school, the industry looked to it for the development of executive talent, and they didn’t feel that they should go to Carnegie Tech to get a man who was going to work a trade. They wanted management talent. So the course that Porter Garnett instituted there— he was an artist and a writer, and he was imbued with the traditions of printing. In fact, everything had to be strictly in the craft concept in his course. He called it the Laboratory Press. It was an elective course. And he did what we later did at the Press of the Good Mountain, except at a higher lever, and spent a great deal of time looking through the literature of printing for reprints of important documents and the like. He let students work on individual projects in which the typesetting all had to be done by hand, where at all possible the paper on which the job was to be printed was to be handmade, and it had to be printed on a hand press. Now, this was carrying the thing back, of course, to the 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th centuries. Now, this idea was really un-ideal, and it didn’t seem to go down too well with the printing industry that said, “What we need are people who know more about the current techniques and so forth.” So even though it was elective and students didn’t have to take the course, there was enough pressure from the industry itself and from individuals who were graduates of Carnegie Tech to drive Mr. Garnett to resignation. So the Laboratory Press existed from about 1923 to— I think about 9 years, 10 years, 1932, ’33. Now it so happens I got to know a lot of the students who had taken those courses, and Alfred Dickman was one.

Yes, I know.

And they were the men who became very important later on in typography.


Many of them book designers, typographers, and so forth. And they just thought the world of that course and never forgot the experience that they had.

Well, I don’t think that it’s unfair to say that the Laboratory Press is perhaps the one outstanding feature of the entire Carnegie program from the 20’s and 30’s.

The program that people remember the most.

People remember, yes.

It’s the program that’s remembered the most. And the result of the printing, of course, is still there. In fact, we now have in the Cary library a enormous— I think one of the very, very few complete collections—

Yes, I know. Yes, I know.

—of the Laboratory Press printing. So when I started the concept of the Press of the Good Mountain, I realized that we should bring it a little bit up to date and utilize methods and procedures which were more current and not be too definitely concerned with simply craft and nothing else. Garnett took this to an extreme. I think he wrote an article about the hand press which was published in one of the issues of the Dolphin, and which it started— I think it said, “The hand press not only reproduces, it glorifies.” So you see, that concept is great, but in a busy college where people are concerned with many, many other things besides that, it’s just one phase. And I think, well, at least the example of Garnett and the Laboratory Press at Carnegie Tech gave me the idea that it wouldn’t be reasonable to go that far, and to make it be a little bit more reasonable and still give the students—

But it was a formative influence, is what you’re trying to say.

Yes. Still give the students a concept and feeling of good typography and good printing, you see. Tying it in.

Right. I understand. Now let’s skip ahead a few years to 1969 when, I suppose, perhaps you scored your greatest coup as professor when you brought to the institute the Melbert B. Cary Junior Graphic Arts Collection. Perhaps you could tell us a bit about that.

Yeah, well, before that, Herb, of course, you’ve got to— I mean, I can’t go and skip a couple of— can’t skip 25 year, 20 years.

No, no, I don’t—

I’ve got to think just a little bit about—

Yes, okay.

—here I am sitting talking to a guy named Herbert Harrison Johnson who happened to be a student in my courses, and one of which was the Press of the Good Mountain and Hand Comp 3.

Oh, yes. My most enjoyable days, Alex.

Oh, okay. Well, so I think that’s an example of the fact that the concept of the course was a reasonable one, and that you got out of it inspiration for your own career.

Yes, that’s true.

Going on into—

Book design.

—book design.

And book production, yes.

And also, of course, becoming interested in a particular printer named Bruce Rogers, and—

Quite true.

—engaged in a— which will be someday the important bibliography of the work of Rogers.

We can hope so.

And other students are like that, and these are the things that have been very important in that long period that you’re skipping. And I’m sure that you know many of the students who took the same course, and I remember them and still hear from them and correspond with them and talk to them. And this is all really part that’s made that 12-year period that you’re skipping so abruptly very meaningful.

Well, okay.

Because we can still go back to it. But I know what you want to talk about.

Well, but before we do, I think I should mention that, yes, of course, my days as an undergraduate here at RIT and the many, many hours that I spent in the typo lab, that is, on evenings and weekends— I suppose, in some sense I probably produced more printing as an undergraduate than almost anyone else in the—

You probably did. Yeah.

—typography lab.

But of course, that’s one thing we’ve always tried to do with that course, is to open the laboratories five days a week and plus. So whenever the lab was open, students who were interested in going far beyond course requirements would have the—

Right. That’s right.

—opportunity to use the facilities.

Remember I cast that Californian type to be used to set Fred Goudy’s essay called Type Design? I think I printed 100 copies and—

Yes, that’s right. That’s right.

—I wanted to bind it myself, but I believe I got as far as the sewing and then I couldn’t get the paper to adhere to the boards in an unwrinkled fashion, and so I gave it up. You remember that?

Yeah. We sent them out and had them bound.

Then you sent them out and had them bound. Right. Right.

Yes. But it was still a very desirable item. It turns up in booksellers’ catalogs every once in a while.

Well, the great book from the press, of course, is the Bodoni, which—

Oh, well, that came later.

—you did with Archie Provan.

Yeah, but still, there were a lot of very good pieces of printing came out of that course, and many of which are now collected.

Oh, yes.

Because for students, it was a labor of love, and that’s been exciting that many of these students still remember those things and—

I think they remember it—

—hearken back to them [crosstalk].

They remember the days in the comp lab and your lectures, particularly development of printing types, as really the highlight of undergraduate days here.

Well, it’s nice of you to say so.

Yes. Well, it’s the truth.

But to pick you up again, in ’69 there came about a very unusual situation in which you had some bearing on, by accident, let’s say. I read in a Rochester newspaper about a lady who had died in New York who had left a great deal of money to the state of New York for public purposes. And this rated a front page, I think, two-column headline in the corner of the Rochester Times Union. And I— because it was unusual, somebody leaving money to then-Governor Rockefeller—

Oh, I know.

—that perhaps read the story. And it said that this lady was Mrs. Melbert B Cary Junior, and I thought, “Well, now, how about that?” Because I knew Melbert B Cary Junior. Didn’t really know him. I hadn’t met him, but I simply knew of him. He had been, during the 30’s, the president of American Institute of Graphic Arts, and he had been proprietor of a very fine private press, the Press of the Woolly Whale, been very active in New York typographic circles, had done a bibliography of Frederic Goudy’s Village Press, and the like. And I thought, now, isn’t that— here we are, the School of Printing, and always looking for outside support, and here’s the widow of a printer, leaves money to the state of New York. And I think I was answering a letter of yours that had come in, and I enclosed the clipping or mentioned it, that Mrs. Cary had died and left money to Rockefeller, supposedly, and then I forgot about it. And I think about two weeks later, in came a letter from you with a small clipping from the New York Times in which it stated that the executors of Mrs. Cary had made the statement that her money was not to be left to the state of New York. This was an erroneous impression that the newspapers had picked up. And it was to be used for charitable purposes, to determine later.

Right, yes.

And so I took this clipping— just two paragraphs. It named Mrs. Cary’s executor, so I took this over to Alfred Davis, who was then vice president of development for RIT, and said, “If you’re going to New York sometime, you might call this gentleman up and say that you had realized that here was a printer’s widow leaving a great deal of money, and perhaps there might eventually be an opportunity that RIT could be considered when it came to the distribution of the trust.” So he did. He was in contact with the trustee, and the trustee told him that they’d certainly keep RIT’s needs in mind, and Mr. Davis told him that we had been working somewhat along the lines of Melbert Cary. We had our private press and we were interested in developing a—

But you told him. You gave him this information. Yes.

I gave him this information. And I guess some time later he was invited down to talk further with one of the trustees of the estate, and then this was just a little bit later we moved to this campus in Henrietta. This would be in 1968.

’68, okay.

Late ’68 we came out. Well, I think it was in the winter of ’68, ’69, one of the trustees came up to RIT, unknown to us, and just looked the place over.

That was Mr. Bentley.

This was Mr. Bentley, the late Mr. Bentley. And he looked into the library and he apparently had with him a list of books in Mr. Cary’s library, and he was looking to see if, I suppose, that we had some of the books or didn’t have some of them, and so on. In any case, another almost accident came in. He met a young fellow in the library who was a student working part time who was very, very friendly to him, showed him all around, told him where everything was, and he was very much impressed. So when he got back to New York he called Mr. Davis immediately and said, “Come on down. I want to talk to you.” So from that there were conversations, and the end result was that – I think it might have been late March or early April 1969 – all of the Cary trustees came up to RIT. And it so happened that we had in our new school a room right next to the hand composition lab that Mr. Culver and I had planned as a lab or maybe a small museum dedicated to the famous type designer, Frederic Goudy. As you remember, in the old campus we had— my office was a small Goudy museum—

Yes, I know.

—which we had— we were very fortunate having picked up in 1960 a lot of Goudy memorabilia from Marie Coggeshall, whose husband had been Goudy’s printer. And when—

Yes, Howard. Then you also received the so-called lost Goudy types at that time.

Yes, out of that came— Mrs. Coggeshall gave us all of the types that her husband had used that were cast by Goudy, many of which were one of a kind because the mats and drawings had all been lost in the great fire in 1939—

In the great fire, yes.

—when Goudy’s workshop burned down. And we had this collection, and obviously, no funding. I think one student in 5, 8, 9 years had given the school $5 to be an actual contribution sent in as—

This is the Coggeshall collection?

For the Goudy collection. Goudy Coggershall collection. In any case, in our new campus, of course, we had an enlarged room, and we had— what crowded the small office downtown rattled around a bit. And of course, I was quite conscious of the fact that eventually somebody’d come along and say, “This is much too much space to be given at a time when the school starts to grow once again.” But in any case, we brought the Cary trustees into this room and we had a library table and we sat down and talked about the possibility of if they could agree that Mr. Cary’s personal library, which was to be given to some institution, might be brought into this particular room. Mr Cary had a personal library of about some 2,500 books, and—

Now, at this time the trustees were Mrs. Helen Lee Stanton—


—Mr. Edward Bentley—

Mr. Bentley.

and Mr. Frank Stubbs.

Mr. Frank Stubbs. And Mr. Jacobi.

And Mr. Jacobi, yes. Herbert Jacobi.

That’s right. And they all came up and I told them a little about Fred Goudy and about Goudy’s relationship with Melbert Cary. Not very well known, Goudy had been a vice president of Cary’s Continental Type Founders, which is a type importing house, which he ran from, I think, 1926 to—

About ’26, yes.

—1939, somewhere in there. And Goudy was very friendly with Cary. They knew each other quite well. In fact—

And as a matter of fact, Cary had sold Goudy’s types.

Yes. So he sold them through Continental. He also, of course, printed that bibliography of the Village Press. So I made note of this association, and it was meaningful, and the fact that this room which was our Goudy collection, and therefore not a big one, but one that had potential for growth, and it’s— the beautiful thing about it was that it was right next to the composing room where type was set, so that if we could enlarge that library, then the books would be very adjacent to the students who could use them the most. So after a two- or three-hour discussion and a tour of the Wallace Library and a possible place where the books might be put if they came to Wallace Library, we had dinner, and the Cary trustees decided that night that we would— first we would get Melbert Cary’s library here—


—and made arrangements to—

That’s very fast action.

—ship it up to Rochester.

And so now you had the dedication ceremonies in September of that year.

So yeah, so—

So how did you get all of this organized in such a short time?

Well, we sat down and talked it over about how could they support the school in a meaningful way that would be a memorial to Melbert B. Cary Junior. So—

No, but I mean, how did you get the physical facilities arranged and ready for a dedication in September?

Well, we had it in—

I mean, after getting the agreement from—

This was in March.

In March, yeah.

Or it might have been early April. I can’t remember the exact time.

Well, you didn’t have too much time.

We discussed how they could help the institute. So what they did— we brought up a number of things which they thought about and talked about and took under consideration. And then some things they agreed to immediately, and one— these were primarily that they would provide funds for a professorship, and it would be called the Melbert B Cary Junior Professor of Graphic Arts. They would provide money for scholarships, undergraduates. They would provide funding for certain graduate fellowships, and they would also provide money for an annual lecture to be given in the name of Frederic W Goudy and would fund the bringing of outstanding practitioners in the craft of printing to Rochester to give a talk and to receive an award. And this all took place in the early spring of 1969. They also agreed that they would redecorate this room into a fitting house or home for Melbert Cary’s library. So we had that worked on during the summer of 1969, and we also agreed within the school that we would ask Hermann Zapf, the famous German type designer, if he would accept the Goudy award and to give the first Goudy lecture. Well, Hermann Zapf very graciously agreed to do that, and in 1969 we initiated the whole Cary program here at RIT, and we opened the library and we had Hermann Zapf give the first Goudy lecture. And that, of course, has been an annual event, and just three days from now we’ll have the 13th annual—

13th, yes. Yes.

—which has been very meaningful to the industry, and of course, to the school—

And the students.

—because here is something that is no longer being done, or very rarely. As you remember, back for many years the American Institute of Graphic Arts gave a medal to an outstanding printer, and he gave a talk, and that talk was always printed, and it was this well-attended lecture. This has sort of gone by the board. So I would think now that the Goudy lecture is building up to be a very important one. And—

Yes. I would agree. Well, I think it is— it’s perhaps the only internationally recognized award given to a type designer or a fine printer.

Yeah, that’s right. And as you know, we’ve had some of the great printers of our time come up to Rochester, and many of the— very often we’ve tried to get the person who receives the award to spend at least a day or two days with students. Now, in the case of Hermann Zapf, he thought that it would be good if the students could produce a project and that he would review the work that they had done and talk to them about it. So we had a number of students begin ahead of time, really, to prepare work that Zapf could look at and discuss.

Yes. I recall that I was—

And he spent two days just talking to students. He talked to the art students, talked to printers, and this was a great opportunity for undergraduates to meet the man who really was the world’s outstanding type designer. And out of that, of course, has come the fact that later Mr. Zapf took my place when I retired as a professor for a year, and only the problems of distance between Germany and the United States has prevented a greater association.

And he likes to say the severity of the weather.

The severity of Rochester weather, yes.

Right. Well—

Yes, well, Hermann Zapf, as now you know, comes and gives seminars, two each summer that attract full classes and—

Right. Now, Alex, it seems to me that— well, we obviously have run out of time for this particular tape, and perhaps we could schedule another hour so that we can—

Well, well, I think students will want to view this tape, and certainly, this is a part of the record, and I would like to have you say more about the Cary collection and the books in the Cary collection. Certainly, I would like also to put in a few words of my own, words of praise for the wonderful way in which you organized a collection and the wonderful way in which you decided that the books would be available to the students, that the Cary library would not be a glassed-in memorial, but really a living one.

Well, yeah [crosstalk].

I think we were all thankful to you for that wise decision.

Well, there are too many books locked away behind glass cases.

I agree.

As you well know.

Okay. Well, thank you very much, Alex. We’ll continue on another tape.