Richard W. Ellis Designs Books With “Rightness”

Richard W. EllisIn 1925 a young typographer named Richard Ellis struck off the first impression of a broadside which he printed as the initial project of the Georgian Press. The first sentence of this sheet expressed the philosophy of the designer. It read: “Good taste, skill and severe training are as requisite and necessary in the proper production of books as in any other of the fine arts.”

Thirty-six years and over 150 books later, Richard Ellis stated in a letter addressed to the writer that he still believed in the credo expressed in the broadside. The interim period has seen the original dedication of the young designer blossom into acceptance as one of the best book designers of our time.

Unquestionably, the finest single book designed by Ellis was the recent The Four Gospels and The Acts of the Apostles produced in 1959 by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation in an edition of 3,500 copies. His close association with this work is evident in its general reference as the Kress-Ellis Bible.

First planned in 1956, the book took three years to finish. For the page size, about 8½ x 12½ inches, Ellis selected the crisp Deepdene type of Frederic W. Goudy. This type—in the 16-point size—is the private property of Ellis, as he made a number of design changes in the face, which were approved by the type designer prior to his death in 1947. The Deepdene is complemented by Goudy’s last type—Thirty—in the chapter headings throughout the volume. The book is illustrated with 44 paintings from the famous Kress Collection, printed by gravure. The final result fulfilled the designer’s long standing desire to produce a first-rate Bible in the tradition of all the great printers of the past.

The typographic career of Richard Ellis was almost stillborn, as he was trained as a physical chemist. However, a devotion to books and art brought him to printing. As a young man he was attracted by the book design work of the late Bruce Rogers.

Following two years as research chemist for the Chemical Warfare Service in World War I, he became active in typography. His early associations were with the Baltimore printer, Norman T.A. Munder, and with the De Vinne Press of New York.

He established the Georgian Press in New York and after two years moved it to Westport, Conn. Here, in a remodelled 18th century barn he produced over 50 fine editions for publishers and his private clients. The barn housed his library-studio and the printing office, enabling Ellis to follow every stage of production.

After seven years, the Georgian Press had became world-renowned, but the decline in special edition printing during the depression forced the closing of this unique establishment. Ellis then became director of typography for Haddon Craftsmen, a book manufacturing concern in Camden, N.J. In 1942 he set up an office as typographic advisor to publishers and book printers. Following this period, Ellis was typographic director of Curtis Publishing Co. from 1948 to 1956.

Since that time, Ellis has returned to his original career in book publishing, in which he is continuing in the traditions expressed by Paul Bennett, writing in Linotype News as long ago as 1937: “In the world of bookmaking, the imprint, ‘Richard W. Ellis: The Georgian Press’ means something. It stands for decently designed and well-printed books. And the books it appears in convey that not too common quality of rightness—the desirable fitness of format to manuscript which somehow is attained completely only by men who thoroughly know their business.”

This article first appeared in the July 1961 issue of PRINTER and LITHOGRAPHER.

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