Printing Types, Their History, Forms, and Use: A Study in Survivals

by Daniel Berkeley Updike. With illustrations. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 1922. Two volumes. 8vo. xxxii + 27G; xx+308 pp. $15.00.
NEARLY thirty years ago Mr. Updike opened a printing office on Beacon Hill, Boston. His programme was ‘to do common work well — better, in fact, than had been generally thought worth while.’ Yet the name adopted for the enterprise, ‘The Merrymount Press,’ indicated that this strait path was entered upon with some lightness of spirit.
The Press gathered types and friends and the beginnings of its famous library, and then moved to an old house on Chestnut Street. The programme gathered headway, and ‘disciplined sobriety’ in typography found demand in the beautiful production of books, memorials, announcements, and the like. When presses required more room, ‘Merrymount’ went to Summer Street, and there was housed the rapidly expanding library for which Europe had been searched to furnish the best working examples; at the same time rare engravings and broadsides spread out upon every wall.
Last summer, the American Institute of Graphic Arts awarded to the founder of this Press its Graphic Arts Medal; the book-collectors of all countries have long since granted their approval; but a printer may erect at once his own monument and a monument to his art, and this Mr. Updike has done in an outstanding and significant example of American publishing, Printing Types, Their History, Forms, and Use.
These are volumes which it would be difficult to overpraise. They could not have been written by a scholar who was not a printer, nor planned by a printer who was not a scholar. In them lie, not bare facts of printing history, nor details of technical progress in the craft, but a master printer’s story of types, their characteristics and their survival, and of the taste which can raise typography from a craft to an art.
While the printer will get from the books a new insight into type possibilities, the scholar and the collector will get new understanding of their treasures, and the general reader will come to appreciate clearly the beauty of the books of that first century when manuscripts still influenced print; the flowering of French artistic genius in Estienne, Tory, and Garamond; the Dutch industry of Plantin and the Elzivirs; the admirable sturdiness of the Fell types and the Caslons; the painstaking Baskerville; the influential Bodini; the taste of the Fourniers and the elegance of the Didots; the sure-footed Whittinghams; the versatile Morris and the beginnings of our new and promising typographical revival.
‘Typography,’ says Mr. Updike, ‘is closely allied to the fine arts, and types have always reflected the taste and feeling of their time.’ By the education of craftsmen and of readers, these two volumes will help to raise and maintain present taste. To turn through the nearly four hundred illustrated plates selected from the riches of the Merrymount library, of Harvard College, the Boston Public Library, and other collections, is in itself a training in the appreciation of typographical beauty. These books will point no short road to sound taste and no quick route to printing skill, but they draw deeply from a lifetime of study, and the pages have the impress of a taste that has judged and perfected ten thousand beautiful pages in hundreds of beautiful volumes.