This Was Updike, Eminent Historian Of Printing Types—1


Daniel Berkeley Updike

Daniel Berkeley Updike

“These volumes form the most important addition to the literature of typography which has appeared for many generations.”

So began the review of a book written by an American printer and published in 1922 by Harvard University Press. The review appeared in the British typographical journal The Fleuron, Volume 1,1923, and was the work of a 34-year-old budding printing historian named Stanley Morison. It represented his first book review, although he himself had already produced two books on type.

In the same volume of Fleuron was Morison’s first long and important typographical essay, co-authored with Francis Meynell, “Printers’ Flowers and Arabesques.”

The book about which Morison found much to praise was Printing Types, Their History, Forms, and Use, a Study, in Survivals, by Daniel Berkeley Updike. This work, in two volumes, was destined to influence generations of typographers in addition to becoming a prime source of inspiration to its reviewer.

I bring the matter up at this time as, after several years in out-of-print status it has become available in a paperback edition, from that estimable reprint publisher, Dover Publications. At $8.95 per well-printed volume it is a genuine bargain, with its 50 pages of introduction, 618 pages of text and 367 illustrations.

To be sure, this initial review discovered a few faults, as did other subsequent critiques of Printing Types, but no one, then or later, ever had anything but overall praise to offer.

Indeed, in 1947 Morison wrote: “Its value to a country that had been starved of typographical literature since 1914 can hardly be imagined by Americans. To us at that time the book had a messianic quality. Despite the immense amount of work that had been done since, and which Updike’s work was designed to inspire, Printing Types remains absolutely essential to the understanding of the subject. . . .”

That statement remains true today. 59 years after the initial publication of the book. Harvard University Press kept it in print for over half a century, through six printings and three editions.

Undoubtedly its release to a reprint firm was due to the high cost of producing another printing in the same format as the original and the resultant high price in the present market for university press books.

It should be noted that the revised (1937) edition was used for this new printing. It was in this edition that the author took note of the surge of typographic scholarship which occurred in the wake of the book’s first appearance, and brought up to date his original data in 35 pages of notes. Corrections within the text were not possible, since the book had been hand-set (in Oxford type)and printed from electrotype plates.

Service to History

Fortunately for tyro printing historians and those interested in preserving the craft aspect of printing, the Dover firm has been most helpful in prolonging the life of several other important texts which had gone out of print.

Some recent examples are Joseph Moxon’s Mechanick Exercises on the Whole Art of Printing, Dard Hunter’s Papermaking, the History and Technique of an Ancient Craft, and Edith Diehl’s Bookbinding: Its Background and Technique. Happily, these titles should be found in numerous bookstores all over the country, assuring a continuing readership for such texts of proved historical value.

Every field of endeavor has its solid books. those of undeniable authority which are frequently referred to as “cornerstone. “”the bible of” and like terms, even the extent, as in Printing Types, of being alluded to by . the name of the author only. In typography Updike is such a work.

Just as naturally, the book is honored in the breech, so to speak, in remaining on the shelf, rather than in the mind, of far too many of its purchasers. There is no denying that its two sturdy volumes require a formidable effort on the part of the reader to assimilate a redoubtable amount of information unless he comes to the task with a dedication far beyond that represented by a casual approach in search of answers to such questions as “What type is that?”

To the new readers who acquire the paperback edition during the next decade or so, Updike will in no way provide quick answers to meet the demands of the current typographical marketplace. It will have to be remembered that Printing Types was published in 1922, which was a year before the appearance of that splendiferous specimen book of the American Type Founders Co., the like of which was never again to pass through a printing press.

Furthermore, Daniel Berkeley Updike did not give the proverbial tickers dam for 999 of every 1000 typefaces available to printers in his time: He did not, however, castigate in his book those types which he did not believe belonged in the cases of responsible printers. He simply left them out.

Typographers who have come to the craft since, say, 1950, and who as a result align themselves with such luminaries as Gutenberg, Jenson, Garamond, et al, have spent their entire professional careers using types which were unknown when Updike was published.

It is not hard to mention a few of them: Times Roman, Bembo, Caledonia, Deepdene, Granjon, Bulmer, Bell, Electra. And these are just a few of the book types which were in favor in post-Updike years.

The so-called “commercial” faces, referred to by Updike as “those types that Time and his Daughter have definitely devoted to publicity,” are in their infinite variety—something else again: Futura, Kabel, Stymie, Univers, Helvetica, etc., etc.

Today’s premier designer of printing types, Hermann Zapf, was only three years old when Printing Types emerged to the acclaim of the brotherhood, and even Frederic W. Goudy, whose first type appeared about the same time that Updike established his Merrymount Press had just about cleared design No. 44 off his drawing board, not quite half way through his vast output.

It must be admitted that the Boston master printer thought very little of contemporary type design. Of coarse he was a book printer and thus not subject to the problems of the commercial printer who necessarily had to stock the capriciously fashioned faces of the moment to satisfy his customers.

Of Goudy’s Kennerly Old Style (1911), Updike notes that it “is a freely designed letter which has been much praised in many quarters. Its capitals are excellent, but the lower-case roman, except perhaps in 10-point, seems to ‘roll’ a little. . . . The Kennerly appears to me a little consciously modeled on early types—more” precious than valuable. It is a question whether it is merely an ennobled form of publicity type or a book face the value of which is vet to be proved.”

Updike’s indifference to the marketplace types of his period is evident in those faces which he stocked in his own establishment. Up to 1910 he had acquired three blackletter types, six romans with their matching italics (Janson, Caslon, Mountjoye or Bell, Oxford, Scotch and French Old Style), two romans without italics privately designed for the Merrymount Press (Montallegro and Merrymount) and one script (French Script). In the Twenties he cautiously added Monotype Poliphilus and the Lutetia design of Van Krimpen to his stock.

The revival of classic typefaces had, begun just a few years prior to the publication of Printing Types. Bodoni (1910) and Cloister Oldstyle (1912) had been cut by Morris Benton for American Type Founders and had been very well received. Even more popular was the Garamond series (1917), also by Benton at ATF.

These romans were the product of the wave of esthetic appreciation for historic printing types following the emergence of the private press movement based upon the work of William Morris in the 1890s.

But curiously Updike paid little attention to such types. He writes: “While the Cloister or the Garamond . . . may not be absolutely necessary to an office, a type of this historic class should be selected because occasionally useful in dealing with artistic subjects where slightly archaic types are suitable; or for announcements and other ephemeral printing which permit a certain latitude of treatment. I doubt if such fonts make comfortable reading editions of standard works.”

Next month I will complete this re-examination of a landmark work in the literature of typography.

This article first appeared in the “Typographically Speaking” column of the August 1981 issue of Printing Impressions.

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