June 17

It was on this day in 1965 that the writer received from Don Canfield, the Utica, New York typesetter, a most welcome gift in the form of a copy of Typographical Printing Surfaces by Lucien Alphonse Legros and John Cameron Grant, a book which is long out of print and without which no technical library on printing is complete. In 1900 Legros, a mechanical engineer acting as a consultant in the development of the Wicks Rotary Typecaster, was astonished to learn that there existed no technical treatise on the manufacture of printing type and typesetting machines. In the precise no-nonsense approach of an engineer, he thereupon researched his subject and with the help of a popular English writer, published such a book in 1916.

At the price of $17.00 the 732-page work sold not at all, so little interest existed in the technical aspects of the craft. In 1932 the book was remaindered at $4.00 and again found but few takers. During the post-war period, however, with the technological advances taking place in typesetting procedures, the demand for the volume has greatly increased. When available, it now fetches a handsome price, depending upon how much the purchaser wishes to have it. This recent popularity has no doubt been engendered by the remarkable increase in the number of collectors who are specializing in printing books, particularly those devoted to the technical aspects of the craft.

Typographical Printing Surfaces, notwithstanding its formidable title, is the most informative volume ever put together on the subject of typesetting machines. It is well documented and well illustrated, and has absolutely no rivals in the encyclopedic coverage of its subject matter.

Many readers of the book have been intrigued by the paragraphs of quotations which precede each chapter, most of which contain the credit line “Mirrour of Printing.” Operators of private presses, a group always searching for an item out of copyright with which to exhibit their prowess as printers, have spent many an hour pouring over bibliographies looking for this book, but with no luck, simply because it doesn’t exist outside of the imaginations of Legros and Grant.

Under the heading of the first chapter, “Printing-Surfaces,” is the quote: “Raised work of Metal engraved and eke of Wood, wherefrom Impressions may be wrought before Men’s Eyes, outshooteth the Art of him that Prynteth Books; For they be Many and of Diverse wise, and out of their knowledge and by us not to be treated. The Prynter hath Woes of his own enow: God knoweth!”

The quotation accompanying the chapter on type design was: “God hath given us Eyes, but herein is Mystery, for the Devil of his Malice hath them marred that they see not at all Times aright.” The quote for the chapter on type faces represented a quizzical viewpoint indeed: “He that readeth a Face at Sight hath the Gift of Kings; And verily for him that is of the Craft it is a Dower-Royal so to tell Face from Face, for some be Right-Rogues and offend in any Forme.”

As a final sampling, here is the authors’ viewpoint on the obtuse subject of legibility (Chapter XI): “He that laboureth in the Craft laboureth in vain be not that which he Setteth up plainly to be observed and understood of all Men’s Eyes; Nay, even of him whose Sight is somewhat marred by Smoke and Sin God us Forgive and the Setting of ale-jug to ale-jug, albeit it be done without ill Intent and in all clerkly Fellowship and Learning.”

Leave a Reply