Letter from Hermann Zapf
Caxtonian, September 1995

Editor's Note: The following letter was sent to Caxtonian Bruce Beck, but seems unconsciously conceived for the wider audience of Caxton members.

06 May 1995
Dear Bruce,

do not know how to thank you for the beautiful book on the activities of The Caxton Club [The Caxton Club 1895–1995, Celebrating a Century of the Book in Chicago]. An extremely interesting report on the ups and downs of this association and—excluding myself and Bob Middleton—in the text lots of other people connected with me were mentioned. The information on Harry Owens and Walter Howe was very valuable, particularly if you consider that Harry Owens passed away already. Unfortunately the biographical note on Walter Howe was a little brief. I owe a lot to him who was the first to show me Donnelley’s in Chicago when I was there for the first time in the 50s. He must be older than we both are. Should you meet him, please convey my best wishes to him.

I believe that Bob Middleton would also be happy with the digital version of Eusebius as it is very well designed in all details [this typeface had its debut in the above-mentioned book]. Maybe this may also be seen as an indication by The Caxton Club showing that it is open to new technologies in the second century of its existence.

I am convinced that the book will continue to hold its dominating position since even the best presentation on a screen will never show the details of an illustration or a typeface—especially with regard to the non-lasting nature of the digital generation [whereas] on a desk I can compare an illustration in various books when working on a project. I hope that we will succeed in convincing young people that it is a unique feeling to have a book in one's hand, to touch the grain of the paper, and to enjoy the quality of printing.

But the visual sense is already terribly affected by TV and many believe that CD-ROM will be the future. I think there is a major task waiting for institutions such as The Caxton Club, [which] may look back to such a long tradition in emphasizing again and again the meaning of book printing.

I still regret that I did not purchase the [Caxton Club] publication Dr. Faust in 1953, above all because so many of my closest friends made contributions to this publication. I only want to mention Fritz Kredel, Elizabeth Kner, and Victor Hammer.

It is such a pity that Chicago is so far away from here. I have always wished to visit the Turtle Press [Beck’s letterpress shop] one day. But I hope that some day there will be an opportunity. It is a pity that it will not be possible in October when a meeting with Paul Duensing and Herb Johnson might have been arranged.

Under separate cover I will send you my catalogue of the permanent exhibition at the Herzog-August-Bibliothek at Wolffenbuttel and, since I am no member, I am sending it to your private address.

Attached is also a description of my hz-Programs which will certainly be of interest to you as a typographer. Unfortunately in our day such quality is no longer in demand and the company [that] developed the program went bankrupt in January. I do not know how things will be handled now. I hold a European patent for the program, but it is still uncertain what the people now responsible will do. The program was very positively commented on in the Seybold report, but people were reluctant when they learned that due to the composing program, process time was reduced by 5–7%. People should think about the costs usually associated with a later typographic modification or a correction, which [are] incorporated in this program and [are] automatically processed.

Unfortunately the situation does not look good, and today alphabets are used by everybody without asking whether they are copies, but I hope that The Caxton Club will attach great important to the old standards of book art in the next century.

All the best to you and your friends at the Club.

Yours sincerely,
Hermann

Zapf Boasts Early Chicago Connections
Hermann Zapf is the acknowledged dean of world type designers and a master calligrapher. His many faces, including Palatino, Melior, Optima, and Aldus, are used throughout the world and in many languages. They are often standard equipment on computers everywhere. Many of them were first created at a time when lead type was the standard.

Yet today he is a leader in digital technology. In addition, he has been a friend and supporter of type enthusiasts everywhere, especially in the United States—particularly Chicago. He has taught in many U.S. universities and is an enviable and indefatigable correspondent from his 13th century home in Darmstadt, Germany.

The English language version of Hermann Zapf and His Design Philosophy, published in Chicago by the Society of Typographic Arts, 1987, is dedicated by Zapf to Robert Hunter Middleton.

— Bruce Beck