June 16

Mr. Porter Garnett, associate professor of graphic arts at Carnegie Institute of Technology, received a letter, dated this day in 1925, from Mr. Henry L. Bullen, curator of the Typographic Library and Museum of the American Type Founders Company, at Jersey City. This correspondence stated in part:

“The Library has just received specimens Nos. 17 to 26, inclusive, of the work of your students. These are welcome additions to our collection of fine printing of all periods. I find that, during my long absence, preceding specimens of this series were received. These are very acceptable gifts. From time to time we have asked a group of printers whose standards of excellence are high to send us specimens of any printing they may have done ‘which they believe will be admired a century hence.’ We never get many specimens under this test. I think it is the ultimate test. Your Specimens I feel sure will be admired centuries hence as they deserve to be admired today. This library has assumed the duty of transmitting them to posterity.”

Porter Garnett was naturally delighted to have on the record Bullen’s opinion of the work of his students. Just three years previously he had established in the School of Printing at Carnegie Institute of Technology a course in the principles of fine printing. The practical work of the students was to be produced in a printing office equipped with the finest types and was to be printed upon a hand press. The name given to this printing office was The Laboratory Press.

The prospectus announcing the new course was widely praised by many of the first-rate typographers and printers, both from the viewpoint of its effect as a piece of printing and as representative of an idea in graphic arts education. It was as roundly damned by a number of the practical printers, who felt that the only college course in printing should be concerned primarily with the requirements of the industry. This could be readily interpreted to mean that the industry needed more executives who could produce printing cheaper and faster and at a greater profit to all concerned.

The pages of the trade periodicals carried some of the criticism directed at the new program. J. Horace McFarland, one of the most successful printers of the time, wrote an article in The Printing Art, under the title “What is Fine Printing?” in which he stated that in his opinion it did not fulfill the primary function of printing—to convey thought. “The boys who are to be taught printing at Carnegie, splendid institution that it is, ought to be directed toward the best possible selling effort through the printed page, an ideal considerably higher than the ideal contemplated by the course in fine printing.”

But criticism or not, the work of The Laboratory Press went forward, and a generation of students received an opportunity to conceive and produce printing which met every requirement inherent in the term, fine printing. These young men were inspired to carry into their careers the enriched spirit of a great craft, and there is not much question but that the industry benefited greatly from their exposure to such high standards.

The student projects produced at the press are still much sought after as examples of the printer’s art, and with the current emphasis towards photo-mechanical printing, they may indeed fulfill Bullen’s “ultimate test.” Oddly enough, the present administrators of the school are no longer aware of the Garnett contributions. When the type designer, Hermann Zapf, visited the campus in 1961 he had to visit a private library in order to examine the work of The Laboratory Press.

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