He Extended Typographic Horizons

If the measure of a man is a 36ʺ shelf of books, then Paul Bennett—who died suddenly, in his 69th year on December 18, 1966—may be remembered for a long time as very much of a man indeed. That shelf full happened to be a series of books called the Typophile Chapbooks, and they will truly be his monument for generations of printers to come.

Practically everyone who has become knowledgeable about printing during the last 30 years has heard of the Typophiles, but surprisingly few printers have taken the time to find out who they are. Writing in Publisher’s Weekly as long ago as 1944, the late Paul McPharlin called them, “Paul Bennett surrounded by a body of printing enthusiasts.” And they were just that, meeting more or less regularly for lunch in a variety of restaurants and clubs from 1930. An offshoot of a group called the Biblio-Beef-Eaters, which broke up during the construction of Radio City, the Typophiles went nameless for a year until Arthur Rushmore, production manager at Harper’s and proprietor of the distinguished private press—the Golden Hind Press—suggested the name.

The luncheons occasionally blossomed into full-blown receptions whenever an important visitor came to town. This basic idea was further formalized by the printing of keepsakes to commemorate these occasions. Thus, the publishing program was born, beginning in 1935 when the members decided to honor Frederic W. Goudy on his 70th birthday on March 7th. Twenty-two signatures were written, designed, printed, and bound into a book called Spinach from Many Gardens. Just sixty copies were produced, making this the rarest of all the Typophile books.

Spinach so delighted everyone that a short time later the group again combined talents to honor Bruce Rogers in a volume entitled Barnacles from Many Bottoms. Through 1938 five more keepsakes were turned out, followed by a specially-bound edition in 1940 of Publishers’ Weekly to celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the invention of printing. At this point it was decided to standardize the size of the books at 4½×7ʺ and to number them. The first volume to appear under a more or less formal program was Charles H. Timperley’s Songs for a Printers’ Way Goose, which became Chap Book No. 1.

In late 1965 Chap Books No. 42 and 43, Portrait of a Publisher, were issued to honor Alfred A. Knopf for his 50 years of devotion to the production of “good books well made.” While these represent the “last” of a splendid series, there will, of course, be more Chap Books to appear, since there has been a new title in the mill for every one of the last 26 years. Undoubtedly there are several in the planning stages at present.

Without Paul Bennett, the Typophiles would have withered and departed as have so many other small luncheon groups which did not  have the god fortune to have a ringleader at once so enthusiastic and knowledgeable. Visiting firemen arriving in New York on a Wednesday knew without question that they could expect a warm welcome by the Typophiles du jour, and would be allowed to participate in the always lively conversation of their peers. Whenever a member received a piece of fine printing or produced one, he brought it along to be shown around the table. His ideas on how representative of “fine printing” his contribution might be were frequently put to the test, but this never slowed down the criticism of the group.

It was always Paul Bennett who held the chair, in a most informal way, steering the conversation, informing the members of the current typographical events, and of course introducing visitors. The Typophiles never received the benefits of a strong “organization.” There was no president, secretary, or master-at-arms, or even membership cards. Paul held all of these offices in his hat and was remarkably efficient in carrying out the desires of the group.

The 43 Chap Books represent a remarkable amount of hard work by Bennett and by those members whom, he cajoled and threatened in their cause. The results of his single-purposed efforts represent the finest series of books about typography ever to be produced. While some of the texts were reprints of speeches or articles, more than half were original publications. Since they were produced “on the cuff so to speak, on a non-profit basis, they had, unfortunately, limited printings, seldom being as high as a thousand copies. But no publisher would even have thought about doing such a program; much less would he attempt to market such books.

This genial man’s love of typography and books was really a rare thing in our time. We are all the losers with his passing from the scene. In countless occasions over the past 30 years he inspired printers of every persuasion to reach the highest ideals of craftsmanship. By correspondence and conversation he never ceased to plead the cause of fine printing. His contributions to the art were solid and meaningful during the best part of his life. By far the best memorial will be a continuation of that inspired leadership on the part of those who benefited from association with him.

It is to be hoped that the Typophiles will continue to exert their influence and that the Chap Book Program will not come to an end.

The American Institute of Graphic Arts stated the case in admirable fashion on June 11, 1961 in the citation for its treasured medal: “To Paul A. Bennett, who, by his enthusiasm and knowledge and through the inspiration of his warm friendships on the whole of this continent and in Europe, has extended the horizons of fine printing; and who, over the imprint of the Typophiles, has been the sole fountainhead for a notable series of books in the graphic arts produced con amore by the craftsmen of his time.

This article first appeared in the “Typographically Speaking” column of the March 1967 issue of Printing Impressions.

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