March 5

Typography at the Ithaca Typothetae

In a letter written to the editor of The American Printer on this day in 1921, a printer from Pittsburgh tried to express his attitude toward his work. Undoubtedly the personal philosophy of James E. Creech has been matched by countless other printers who remain completely anonymous, particularly in the days when men accepted simpler standards and were given to expressing themselves in less prosaic terms than at present.

“These are the words of a printer,” the letter began. “These are the thoughts of one who, being incapable of adding to the wealth of worthwhile literature, has found pleasure in reproducing for the benefit of the readers and thinkers of the world the gems of thought which have been expressed by the inspired masters of the universe.

“Where there has been one masterpiece of art it has been my privilege, my pleasure and my ambition to reproduce thousands of copies. It has been a duty as well as an interesting pleasure to attempt in every case a reproduction as near the warmth and beauty of the original as the pigments, oils and varnishes of today would permit. How well I have succeeded in my ambitions and my efforts is of little concern to those who will read these words. I must say, however, that I have not had time to get tired of work. It has been interesting and I have not had time to acquire a store of worldly goods, nor have I had time to hate or let jealousy become part of my makeup. . . .

“I suppose the reader is beginning to wonder what am I driving at—what is the object of this discussion. As explained in the beginning, I am not capable of adding to the wealth of the world’s literature. This is not intended as a treatise on printing. It is not intended as a word picture to be hung before the eyes of men for the inspiration of their minds; it is the simple expression of the thoughts of a printer. . . .

“The true printer—the one who is a printer at heart—is so wrapped up in his work, he is so contented and so busy creating masterpieces of his art and reproducing masterpieces of others’ art that he is seldom bothered by a craving for worldly goods. I know I will be accused of being a dreamer. Are not all printers dreamers? Where is the person who can go to the case or the press and create a masterpiece of typography or a work of real art unless he has previously gazed into vacancy and perceived in all its glory the beauty he aspires to match in his product? Have not all men in the past, locked in prisons, gazed through solid walls and seen the rarest beauty of open fields and rich meadows?

“Yes, you must be a dreamer to be a real printer, but don’t confuse the terms ‘dreamer’ and ‘sleeper.’ Dreams of real worth come only to those who are wide awake. Dream on, ye printers, and may all your dreams result in work of real value to the Art Preservative—but as you dream don’t fall asleep.”

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