STA and The Caxton Club
Experience Heady Time
in Final Years of Letterpress

By Bruce Beck
Caxtonian, May 1997

n 1952 when the Type Workshop began, the Society of Typographic Arts (STA) was 25 years old. It had been started as an offshoot of the American Institute of Graphic Arts and was originally focused on design as an activity almost exclusively typographic, although establishment of the Institute of Design, which brought Bauhaus to Chicago in the 1940s, resulted in new directions and approaches.

It was a heady time for bibliophiles and for two organizations, The Caxton Club and the STA, who shared many important people and garnered support from two great organizations, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Newberry Library. Offset printing became the new technology, but the type was metal.

Many of the activities of the two organizations were intertwined. A particular example was the publication by The Caxton Club of Faust in 1953. The book was written by Harry J. Owens, longtime secretary of the club. It was organized by R Hunter Middleton, a member of both organizations, and bound by Elizabeth Kner. It was designed and typeset by Victor Hammer, one of the period's greatest private printers and a particular friend of RHM, and was printed by Hammer's son. Greer Allen and Harold Tribolet also shared their talents and contributed to the project.

Many of The Caxton Club's members and, in particular, those concerned with the production of Faust also members of STA. So the decision to form a study group for embryo typographers was of interest to both groups and the project moved ahead. Chicago at the time was blessed with two wonderful letterpress operations, the Acorn press of John and Jean Michael and the Printing Office of Gordon and Jesse Martin, both of whom were Caxton members. Jesse quickly became everyone's type-mother. But even the kind of talent was not quite enough to stay the movement from a hands-on craft to the freer world of offset and, later, digital.

Bruce Beck
Honorary Caxtonian