For the Love of Letterpress,
By Muriel Underwood
a Tradition Continues in Chicago
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,
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
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'
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
Type workshop Chairs: Gordon and Jessie Martin, 1952–57; Edward
Kahn, 1957–59; Nettie Hart, 1959–60; Muriel Underwood, 1960–64;
Allen Port, 1964–66; Jerry Killie, 1966–67; Ralph Creasman and
Lloyd Altera, 1967–80, and Muriel Underwood, forever after.