May 18

On this day just sixty years after Earnest Elmo Calkins set (and promptly pied) his first line of type in 1890, he received the medal of the American Institute of Graphic Arts, with the following citation:

“To Earnest Elmo Calkins, Printer
Writer, Collector, Dean of Advertising Men;
Founder of the Advertising Agency
As we know it today; eye and ear in the use
of effective illustrations and
typography in advertising.”

As a young man Calkins set out from Galesburg, Illinois, bound for New York carrying a compositor’s card. But instead of working at the case he became an advertising copy writer, a career so successful that he was able to begin his own advertising agency in 1902. For the next thirty years the profession was to know and admire a strong creative force in the preparation of first-rate copy, joined with stimulating typography.

At the age of four Calkins became excited about books in spite of the restrictions of tiny, illegible typefaces, poor printing, and shoddy illustrations. His “passion for beautifully printed books and for fine printing and paper” grew until, at his death in 1964, the former Galesburg comp owned a library of almost four thousand books. He once described his attitude toward books by saying, “I can never be indifferent to the way a book is made. I do not enjoy a wretchedly made book, however enthralling.”

With an associate, Calkins set up the first advertising agency art department and was responsible for attracting a number of well-known artists to the field, such as Edward Wilson and Walter Dorwin Teague. In 1958 he looked back down the years and compared the typographical standards of his formative period with those of the postWorld War II era, and heartily disliked what he there observed.

“Now a new influence of typography has arisen” he wrote, “which may just possibly be a threat to advertising typography, at least, if not to higher forms. Briefly, there is a tendency to consider typography as an art by itself, apart from, and at times inconsistent with, its real purpose. While it is not advertising but really literature, I cannot help noting a book of poems designed by GuillaumeAppollinaire. ‘It is a typography of fantasy,’ says the catalog, ‘in which words, syllables, and even letters are arranged according to rhythm or take external shapes that depict the spirit of the text. Such experiments disobey all rules of printing. In one example entitled Il Pleut (It Rains), the letters fall down the page in a shower.’

“Literature can take care of itself, but for advertising it is absolutely necessary that printing should be read. Typography is not an end, but a means to an end. Pictorial art is an end and contains within itself the materials for its own criticism. It is far more logical to compare printing with architecture, for architecture is also a means to an end. To design a building, however beautiful, that cannot be successfully used for its purpose is no worse than designing an advertising folder that cannot be read.”

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