For the Love of Letterpress,
a Tradition Continues in Chicago

By Muriel Underwood
Caxtonian, May 1997

n 1952 a letterpress workshop was started by the Society of Typographic Arts (STA), which had been founded in 1927 by what is now known as the American Center for Design (ACD). The first location of STA was in a loosely partitioned room in the basement of Chicago's Newberry Library. After having been in two locations when belonging to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, it is currently an integral part of the Chicago Center for Book & Paper Arts of Columbia College.

The workshop was assembled through contributions of material and equipment from individuals and firms in the graphic arts trades, and this assistance has continued throughout its existence as an STA activity. The STA board of directors conceived of a graphics workshop where members might set type and print without the burden of rigid courses of instruction. A search was made for a rent-free, heated, and well-lighted room in a convenient part of the city. Stanley Pargellis, director of the Newberry Library, was approached and, with Harold Tribolet, STA president, decided on a corner in the basement of the Newberry that was acceptable to both. The workshop survived its first thirty years through the generosity of the Newberry in providing this rent-free space.

Donations of equipment were then sought for the shop. The entire board solicited local printers and suppliers. The workshop began with a good supply of Monotype and a few cases of foundry type. A 1952 listing of equipment shows that 30 cases of Futura were to have come from A-1 Typesetters, four cases of Bodoni from Runkle, Thompson, Kovats, and nine galleys of Garamond from Poole Brothers. Ludlow Typographic Company donated leads and slugs. R R Donnelley & Sons Company gave empty California job cases and cabinets, an imposing stone, a Vandercook proofing press, and other miscellaneous equipment necessary for typesetting and printing. Sarah Taylor Leavitt, chair of the Education Committee at STA, coordinated the collecting of equipment and setting up the shop.

Another need for the beginning shop was to find an instructor a printer with not only considerable experience, high standards of performance, and knowledge of printing history, but also the willingness to share these assets with others. That person was close at hand STA member Gordon Marein. His wife Jessie, an equally fine printer, also helped.

There has been no formal course of instruction at STA. Members bring in their own projects and are shown how to set type, lock up, and print. While at the Newberry location, a very small annual registration fee was paid for running expenses wash-up fluid, inks, and other miscellaneous supplies. For the first few years, instruction was available two evenings a week, and at the first year's registration 25 members signed up.

At the start, the workshop had five hand-operated presses: three 6 x 9 Sigwalts, one 7x10 Chandler & Price Pilot, and one antique (even for 1952) press, the huge, lumbering Vandercook proofing press. All were considered to be good "school presses," easy to operate and capable of producing good printing within their size range. In 1956, under the leadership of Norman Cram, STA acquired an 8 x 10 Chandler & Price treadle-operated press. It was just the addition needed a larger press with three rollers for better ink distriibution. It was acquired, along with 20 English cases of type in a cabinet and a new STA member, Edward Kahn, who has been a very valuable member ever since.

A 1956 listing of typefaces shows a modest increase of type on hand, especially in foundry type 27 fonts, over half coming from Kahn. The list also shows the addition of 12 cases of Grotesque and four fonts of wood type of various sizes and styles. One special addition was Perpetua Titling, a gift from Beatrice Warde after she had lectured at the Newberry and was shown the workshop. In 1964 STA member Emil Klumpp became type director of American Type Founders and remembered the workshop with an assortment of about 20 fonts of foundry type, including Murray Hill (his design), DeRoose, and Cheltlenham Open.

During Rhodes Patterson's year as president of STA (1962 63), a press became available from Crerar Library, then in the process of relocating from Michigan Avenue to the campus of Illinois Institute of Technology. Kahn took the responsibility for moving what is now the largest press in the workshop-a 10 x 15 Chandler & Price treadle press-one much easier to operate than the ancient Vandercook, which was then discarded.

As the typesetting industry changed from metal to film composition, metal type was relatively inexpensive, and a number of purchases of new and used type was made when enough money was in the workshop account.Through a chance meeting in 1973, one small shop, Dealers Press, changing from metal to film, donated approximately 40 cases of foundry type all the workshop could store in the corner room.

In the late 1970s Pearson Typographers Corporation, through Dave Pearson, offered to cast in Monotype the Univers series in text sizes, with the STA workshop furnishing the metal. The opportunity to have four different weights with matching italics was too good to pass up, and it was decided to sacrifice most of the Grotesque and Futura for the metal and cabinet space needed. Also a large range of sizes in roman and italic Monotype #248 Garamond had been replenished from time to time by the University of Chicago Printing Department, arranged through STA members Greer Allen and Cameron Poulter.

When the Newberry started its remodeling project in 1981, the workshop was put in storage in another corner of the basement while renovation plans were being completed. After a couple of years, it was apparent that no space was going to be allotted for the workshop. After two more years and much searching, the equipment was given to the School of the Art Institute, which was then expanding its Visual Communications Department, with the provision that STA members could continue to have their workshop. Cathie Ruggie Saunders, a former student of Walter Hamady of the University of Wisconsin/Madison, was named instructor for the school. The school's equipment consisted of a Vandercook, a proof press, and several cabinets of type, including Helvetica, which was missing from the STA's collection of type.

After two moves and the addition of a small Vandercook #I Proof Press, a 25-inch Chandler & Price guillotine, two Chandler & Price Pilot presses, and several cabinets of type, negotiations were completed to move the workshop to the newly formed Chicago Center for Book & Paper Arts at Columbia College in 1995.

The CCB&PA had been formed a year earlier when the Paper Press and Artists Book Works were combined. The Paper Press, begun in 1980 by Caxtonian Marilyn Sward, Linda Sorkin-Eisenberg, and Sherry Healy, was primarily a papermaking studio and gallery and offered classes in printmaking and photography. Artist Book Works, formed in 1982 by Robert Stennhauser and Caxtonian Barbara Lazarus Metz, offered courses in typesetting, printing, bookbinding, and the making and exhibiting of artists' books.

The CCB&PA is contained in large, well-lighted space for exhibits, complete papermaking facilities, a large area for lectures and community classes, bookbinding and letterpress workshop, and a photographic darkroom. Sward serves as the director, Audry Niffenegger as assistant director, and Metz as summer program director.

And so the Type Workshop for STA/ACD members continues with the same structure it was founded upon: a workshop where members can conceive and produce their own projects through the medium of letterpress. It allows those used to computer designing the chance actually to hold the real stuff. The importance of the workshop today is that it produces works of art artists' books of limited editions combining original prints with type, handmade paper, and hand binding.

Muriel Undcrwood

Editors Note:
Type workshop Chairs: Gordon and Jessie Martin, 195257; Edward Kahn, 195759; Nettie Hart, 195960; Muriel Underwood, 196064; Allen Port, 196466; Jerry Killie, 196667; Ralph Creasman and Lloyd Altera, 196780, and Muriel Underwood, forever after.