May 24

“The wildly enthusiastic youngster from Snohomish, Washington,” who helped Fred Goudy start the Village Press and then went on to a long and distinguished career in typography, died this day in 1955.

Will Ransom’s interest in printing came about when as a boy he wrote out by hand his favorite stories, decorating them in the art nouveau style of the period and binding them in ooze-leather. He used the hectograph to obtain multiple copies for presentation to his friends and relatives. Thus motivated, it was natural that his first job should be in printing. He went to work for the Vancouver (Washington) Weekly Tribune for the wage of one dollar per week. At the same time he continued his interest in bookmaking projects.

In September, 1901, he started the Handcraft Shop with the production of Tennyson’s Lady of Shalott, containing line photo-engravings hand colored by Ransom’s aunt. The edition of ninety-five copies was quickly sold, encouraging the young designer to do another book, which was also successful and received several favorable reviews.

In 1903 having saved enough money to attend art school, Ransom went to Chicago and enrolled in the school of the Art Institute. In Chicago he met Goudy and soon became quite friendly with him. Goudy was then a free-lance designer and teacher of lettering and had not yet acquired his later reputation as a type designer. At Goudy’s request, Ransom became a partner in the foundation of the Village Press, but when Goudy decided to move east, Ransom elected to remain in Chicago. During the next nine years he took up the vocation of bookkeeping, which offered a more substantial income than printing design.

After his marriage in 191 1 he was encouraged to return to his first love, setting up as a letterer and free-lance artist. Soon he began to acquire some important customers. A style of lettering which he used for Carson Pirie Scott & Company, the Chicago department store, was noticed by the typefoundry, Barnhart Brothers & Spindler, and resulted in the design of a type named Parsons in 1918. It became an immediate bestseller and remained popular for commercial printing for a number of years.

In 1921 Will Ransom’s love of books prompted a venture in the printing of limited editions, but by 1925 he found it necessary to return to commercial work. During this period he had continued to correspond with the operators of private presses. He accumulated a great deal of information which was published by R.R. Bowker in 1929 in a volume called Private Presses and Their Books, probably the most authoritative text yet written on the subject. For the remainder of his life Ransom continued his interest in the private press movement, adding to his original work with the publication of Selective Check Lists of Pressbooks, completed in 1950. He also edited the Typophile Chap Book Kelmscott, Doves, Ashendene.

From 1930 to 1935 Ransom worked at the Printing House of Leo Hart in Rochester, New York, as supervisor of the book department. During this time his notable books were Venus and Adonis, hand set in Lutetia type and illustrated by Rockwell Kent, and Dissertation on Roast Pig. The next four years were spent with a commercial printer in Buffalo. Finally Ransom went to New York to head up the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the invention of printing, sponsored by the American Institute of Graphic Arts.

In 1941 he went west to the University of Oklahoma Press as Art Director, and stayed at that post for the remainder of his life, being responsible for the high quality of the hundreds of books produced during that period by the Press. Will Ransom’s contribution has placed Oklahoma high up on the list of fine university presses. Without question, the fourteen years spent there were the happiest of his life. He felt himself to be a part of the academic atmosphere of the university, and he had the opportunity to continue his world-wide correspondence with private press operators and the many friends he had acquired within the craft of printing.

The records of his inquiries and much of his correspondence are now at the Newberry Library in Chicago, where they will continue to be of use to those bibliographers who wish to further their knowledge of private press operations.

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