Remembering Victor Hammer and RHM

By William Hesterberg
Caxtonian, September 1995

n a January 1944 letter to Victor Hammer, informing him of the STA’s [Society of Typographic Arts] decision to sponsor the casting of his American Uncial typeface, R. Hunter Middleton added almost as an aside: “My latest and most current ambition is to find a way to study punchcutting with you. Would you consider such an annoyance, should I be able to come to Aurora?” In June of that same year Middleton traveled to Aurora, New York, and began his five day apprenticeship with Victor Hammer.

The experience would have a profound effect, not only on Middleton but Hammer as well. It brought the two men closer together through a mutual reverence for the punchcutting craft and created a sympathetic and knowledgeable patron for Hammer. In the ensuing years Middleton’s generous assistance would extend from equipment, tools and materials to introductions, which eventually brought Hammer and his family to Lexington [KY] and Transylvania University.

Hammer’s Andromaque, above, was digitized in 1995 by Paul Baker who worked from drawings done by Middleton.

During this period of time Middleton’s punchcutting skills, encouraged by Hammer, became quite accomplished, broadening his already considerable expertise and knowledge of type design and production. So it was not surprising on that day in May, 1982, when this writer, camera in hand, arrived at the press to find Bob finishing the punches for the numbers 1, 2 and 3 in a 14 pt size. Fittingly, the numbers were for the American Uncial, the typeface that he had been instrumental in having cast in Chicago many years before. The punches were being cut at the request of Carolyn R. Hammer who needed extra numbers for her 1984 book LI PO, and being unable to acquire more sorts from Stempel, had gone to Bob for assistance.

The punchcutting connection that began in Aurora, New York, continued to produce significant results for the Hammers. For the rest of us it has provided an opportunity to experience an extraordinary level of letterpress craftsmanship, never more vivid than on a Hammer page.

Editor’s note: This is the text of a keepsake, “The Craftsman and the Punchcutter,” created at the Hesterberg Press, Evanston, for the Hammer Symposium at Wells College, Aurora, NY, 1993. Hesterberg wrote a thesis on Hammer’s American Uncial. (Used with permission of the author.)