December 29

“The death of Daniel Berkeley Updike removed the last and the most widely influential of the notable group of Victorian writers, learned in both the practice and the history of the printing and allied trades, who, together, contributed a body of archeological research and industrial application whose richness and quality must arouse the admiration of future generations.”

So wrote the typographic historian, Stanley Morison, of the death of America’s great scholar printer, who died on this day in 1941, just two months short of his eighty-second birthday and the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Merrymount Press.

Updike, whose reputation as a fine printer was international, was asked by Harvard University to give a course on the Technique of Printing in the Graduate School of Business Administration. He accepted the offer, and from 191 1 to 19 16 lectured at Harvard upon that subject, giving particular emphasis to typographic history. The immediate result of this course was the enlargement of his lectures into a two-volume work entitled Printing Types, Their History, Forms, and Use, A Study in Survivals, published by Harvard University in 1922.

This great work has since established itself as one of the principal sources of present-day knowledge of the typography of the book through its first four centuries. Its even greater impact has been in the inspiration given to later scholarship, which in the last forty years has helped to fill in the gaps of our knowledge of the historic types. Stanley Morison. whose own career was in its formative years when Updike’s book was published, has written, “No more need be said here than that this publication was the most exciting event of a decade. Its value to a country that had been starved of typographical literature since 19 11 can hardly be imagined by Americans. To us at that time the book had a messianic quality. Despite the immense amount of research that has been done since, and which Updike’s work was designed to inspire, Printing Types remains absolutely essential to the understanding of the subject. . . .”

The book went through three printings up to 1927. Ten years later it was revised, with some attempt being made to include the findings of the later scholars, particularly when important new facts had been brought to light. A third edition was published in 1962, the only change being an appreciative introductory memoir written by Lawrence C. Wroth, and hand-set in Oxford type by the late Steve Watts.

The book remains the solid cornerstone of any typographic library and will continue to be read, influencing generations of printers yet to come.

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