May 21

On May 21, 1948 Bruce Rogers was honored with the gold medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Chauncey Brewster Tinker, who had made the presentation, stated in part:

“I have the honor to present to Bruce Rogers, designer of books, the gold medal of the Academy for special distinction in the arts. This award is made on certain occasions in recognition of the whole output of the recipient. This is the seventh award. In the present instance the corpus of the artist’s work is as extensive as it is distinguished. The designing of books is, like architecture, one of the indispensable arts; life may go forward, after a fashion, without poetry, painting, sculpture, or even music; but shelter and books man must have. For better or worse the arts of building and book-designing must live on.”

In his acceptance of the award, BR said:

“Though I am, as the citation states, a designer of books, and not, in the accepted sense of the term, a printer (as Benjamin Franklin was proud to assert of himself), I would like to speak of the art in its broader aspects. Design is but one factor in printing; but even as a designer I can still get a thrill out of taking a dingy rectangle of type, smearing it with still more dingy ink, laying on a sheet of paper, and pulling a lever. The thrill comes when you lift the paper and find you have perhaps a page of Professor Tinker’s mellifluous writing about The Wedswood Medallion of Samuel Johnson, or about An Unknown Portrait of James Boswell. . . .

“I hope that the question of my age did not enter into this award; for it is said that so long as a man retains his illusions he doesn’t grow old; and after sixty-five years of trial and error I still labor under the delusion that someday I shall produce a perfect book. In that length of time I have used millions of words, chiefly as raw material for working up into pages of type. But when I started to gather together some fitting ones to express my feelings of appreciation on this occasion, I found that of those millions very few could be unearthed from the printer’s hellbox that constitutes my vocabulary. . . .

“This is a great day for printing, and a red letter day for me as an exponent of that art. Had I the production of the invitations, programmes, and other matters connected with this day’s ceremony, you may be sure they would all have been printed in red.

“Printing has had many great days—when Gutenberg (or somebody) pulled the first proof from movable types; when Caxton set up his press in Westminster; when Jenson first used his beautiful Roman type in 1470; when the King James Bible was finished in 161 1; when The Freeman’s Oath and the Bay Psalm Book came off the press at Cambridge in 1639 and ’40; when Franklin issued his handsomest book, Cato Major, in 1744—these are a few of printing’s great days. And now, by your formal recognition of the art and its admission to the company of the other arts which this Academy so eminently sponsors, another great day has been added to the printer’s calendar.”

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