May 28

William A. Kittredge was born into the family of a Lowell, Massachusetts printer on this day in 1891. Just fourteen years later he was beginning his apprenticeship as a compositor at the Parkhurst Press, Chelmsford, Massachusetts. Afterwards he undertook the traditional journey, working as far away from New England as Elk River, Idaho. By 1914 he was back, however, doing a stint at the case in the famous Riverside Press, during the last year in which Bruce Rogers was connected with the great Boston printing office. No doubt this exposure set the direction which Kittredge’s life as a printer was to take. The following year he became, at twenty-four years of age, Art Director of the Oswald Press in New York City. In 1918 he assumed similar responsibilities for the Franklin Printing Company of Philadelphia, and finally in 1922 he became Director of Design for R.R. Donnelley & Sons Company of Chicago, a position he held with distinction until his death in 1945 at the age of fifty-four.

While at Donnelley’s, Kittredge of course was responsible for a wide range of printed materials, most of which was promotional, but he is best remembered as a book designer. No fewer than forty-three of the many books which were produced under his direction were selected for the Fifty Books of the Year Exhibitions sponsored by the American Institute of Graphic Arts. Four of these may be singled out as examples of American bookmaking at its finest. All printed in 1930 to represent the craftsmanship of the firm, they were, Moby Dick, illustrated by Rockwell Kent, and still considered one of the great American illustrated books; Two Years Before the Mast, illustrated by Edward A. Wilson; Poe’s Tales, illustrated by W.A. Dwiggins, and Walden, with illustrations by Rudolph Ruzicka.

It was Ruzicka who addressed the American Institute of Graphic Arts in 1940 on the occasion of the presentation to Kittredge of the Institute’s Gold Medal: “Kittredge accepts the materials as well as the life of his time and in this sense his work is modern; the conscientious regard he has for the purpose of the work in hand and a certain natural reserve save him from the modish. For its sparsely ornamented simplicity, dignified use of materials, fitness to purpose, his work can be placed not so much in time as in quality: it is good printing.”

Kittredge became involved in the 1923 controversy between the friends of Frederic W. Goudy, and the typographic historian, Henry L. Bullen. Following a long article by Bullen in which Goudy was characterized as having an “unfortunate tendency toward megalomania”, Kittredge wrote a scathing reply, which appeared in the Ben Franklin Monthly, a periodical for which he had earlier written several fine monographs on the history of printing types.

“Because Frederic W. Goudy,” he stated, “has obtained just recognition and honor in his own time is conceivably a thorn in the side of Bullen. The most that Goudy has ever claimed for himself is that of the simple effort of an honest craftsman to do good work. . . . A man of accomplishments in literature, music, on the stage, or in politics, equal to Mr. Goudy’s accomplishments in type designing would receive vastly more wealth, honor and publicity because of it. Can Mr. Goudy subdue, smother, or hold back those eager friends of his who would do him honor while he is yet with us? Who but our verbose ‘publicist’ and contemporary, Bullen, could begrudge the doing of honor where honor is due? The name, fame and reputation of Goudy will endure long after his enemies and detractors are forgotten and have become less than dust.”

One Comment

  1. Berend H Wamelink says:

    I just saw a post by the Cleveland Museum of Art with the cover of the 1930 edition of Moby Dick, which I recognized as a book my Mother gave years ago. Opening up the cover, I saw inscribed

    “To Henry Crosby Barton from
    his friend, the printer of
    this book, Wm. A. Kittredge
    Chicago: Xmas 1930.”

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