February 25

William Morris

In a letter to the editor of the Press News on this date in 1893, William Morris proprietor of the Kelmscott Press, substantiated what he had said to a representative of the London Daily Chronicle when pressed for his views upon printing and the current state of the art in England and across the Atlantic in America. In reply to a question Morris stated, “Taking the worst view of English printing, we are far ahead of other countries. Here and there in France nice type may be in use, but not often, and now there are one or two good fonts in Germany. Italy has the worst printing in Europe, and as for American printing, it is quite abominable.”

Apparently believing that Morris had been incorrectly quoted, the editor had written for further confirmation. The reply follows: “Dear Sir,—I do think the American printing the worst from the point of view of good taste. Of course I am aware that there are technical matters in which the American printers excel; but what is the use of that, if the result is ugly books very trying to the eyes? I am, dear sir, yours very truly, William Morris.”

The Inland Printer editorialized with some acerbity, that “it ain’t so!” “Mr. William Morris is a man of taste, so far as books are concerned,” wrote the editor of IP. “The productions of his fad, the Kelmscott Press, evidence this. Yet we are at a loss to know what has induced this condemnation of American printing—insular prejudice, to which Mr. Morris should be superior, or ignorance of the subject—which is to say, Mr. William Morris is not well enough acquainted with American work to pass an opinion. It may be quite true that we do not subscribe so generously as the British public for the superb publications in which Mr. Morris and other book connoisseurs delight, but this class of book-lovers is increasing in America, and the quality of some of the work produced in this country to gratify this growing taste will not take a lower rank than the best. . . .

“First class work is far more general in America than in any country in the world. Specimens received from every country in the globe convince us of this. In simplicity and effectiveness the work of the American printer cannot be surpassed, and the taste of the American public demands that all periodicals and newspapers sustain a degree of typographical beauty which our British cousins generally are ignorant of. In thus writing we are dealing with facts of which we have positive knowledge. Indeed, it requires but a moment’s reflection to stamp the assertion of Mr. Morris as in every way ridiculous, though it is charitable to assume that he intended to characterize only as ‘abominable’ the American printing that he had seen.”

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