July 22

Born into a family of clothiers in Rochester, New York on this day in 1884, Elmer Adler proceeded slowly to the printer’s craft, taking thirty-six years to become involved in a printing office. But at his death in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1962, he was counted among a small group of men who have made a singular contribution to that craft during the present century.

Adler was unmotivated by a succession of schools during his youth, and failing to receive the formal recognition of a diploma from any of them, he found himself in the family business, handling advertising and promotion. From this exposure to the world of print he developed an interest in books and with an inherent sense of good taste gravitated toward those volumes which were most representative of the art of the printer.

In 1922 he abandoned the apparel business and established in New York City a unique printing firm, the Pynson Printers. This company for a period of eighteen years produced a wide range of distinguished printing, encompassing books, promotional pieces, announcements, and all the ephemera of the commercial printer, with one basic difference from that of the competitive firms in New York. And that was the fact that Adler was more than simply a printer—in fact, he had a horror of becoming merely a manufacturer of the printed word.

During this period Adler also became the guiding spirit behind the publication of the bibliographic quarterly, The Colophon, a periodical more in demand today for both its content and fine printing than it was during its palmiest days. In 1940 both the periodical and the Pynson Printers were terminated, and Adler began a third career—one that was probably closest to his heart, that of teaching.

From 1940 to 1952 Elmer Adler was the central figure in an extracurricular study group at Princeton University which was primarily concerned with the graphic arts. The seminars he conducted during this period became a notable feature of campus life and attracted many students who later became connected with publishing and printing.

Three years after his retirement from Princeton he accepted an invitation to visit Puerto Rico to help upgrade book design and printing on that island. With his usual enthusiasm Adler established a museum in a dilapidated building which he completely restored and named Casa del Libro. Under his guidance this museum became the foremost library specializing in the art of the book to exist in this hemisphere outside of the United States and has become a suitable memorial to a man who throughout a long life insisted that good taste be the governing factor, no matter what career he followed.

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