The Book [Broadside, Bookplate, Business Card and Birth Announcement] Beautiful

By Kristensen, John | Printing History, January 2010 | Go to article overview

The Book [Broadside, Bookplate, Business Card and Birth Announcement] Beautiful


Kristensen, John, Printing History


IT was a great honor for me to present the 2009 J. Ben Lieberman Lecture of the American printing History Association, the most gratifying affirmation of my work I have received since the time Rocky Stinehour, glancing at something I had printed, said, "Nice job." And it is a pleasure as well as an honor to have been asked to revise my talk for publication in Printing History. I like to think that Ben Lieberman also would be pleased. Not especially because it was I who delivered the address, but pleased that the subject that was his passionate love--printing history and the book arts--is at last coalescing into a recognized academic discipline; pleased that his child--the American Printing History Association--plays such a vital role in that formation; pleased that the annual lecture in his honor is a Big Deal. However flattered I was, though, when my friend Alice Beckwith broached the matter of the Lieberman lecture, I will confess that I had at first some misgivings, for I wasn't sure that Alice appreciated what she was letting APHA in for when she issued her invitation. So before I accepted I felt it necessary to make plain to her what the consequences might be. Most of my friends in APHA, lovers of printing every one, are scholars, teachers, students, curators, dealers, collectors, or amateurs. But I am not primarily any of those things. I am first and foremost a printer. I may in a modest way study the history of printing, but I do it in order to help me think about my own work. I may collect in a modest way, but it is for the same reason. Most lovers of printing, I think it safe to say, study and care for and lust after and generally immerse themselves in printed material, the products of the printing press. I, as a printer, am consumed most of all by the activity, the making of printing. We might say that while most love printing as a detached verbal noun, I love printing as a gerund.

My feelings on the subject are summed up pretty well by a couple of quotations. They are both from the same source, and the identity of that source will tell you pretty unambiguously of whose camp I am a follower. Daniel Berkeley Updike of Boston's Merrymount Press was the towering figure in that turn-of-the-twentieth-century Golden Age of Boston Printing. He is, I am convinced, the wisest man who was ever a printer, and it is to him that I turn with greatest assurance when perplexed. I may be the world's last D. B. Updike wannabe.

Updike wrote, "Printing is not simply good; it must be good for something, and that something is its use." (1) And even more sharply, from a man who could be very sharp indeed, "The attitudes of mind of a professional and of an amateur about printing--as in most forms of creative endeavour--are quite different. The onlooker supposes the printer to enjoy doing what he enjoys seeing and to be bored by what bores him; and he also believes that the feeling of a man who does a piece of work successfully is 'joy,' when it is mostly relief. The problem is what interests all but the beginners in typography. Its solution may be, and often is, moderately exciting; although if the problem is solved no one perceives it has existed. Because all persons who work realize this, it is easier for one worker to talk to another, however dissimilar their occupations may be, than it is to talk with (or to be talked to by) an admirer of one's own class of work--whose likes or dislikes are often based on quite the wrong reasons." (2)

Are we then on opposing sides? May we even be enemies? By no means, Updike's acerbic comment notwithstanding. In the good fight, the fight that APHA was formed to engage in, we are all on the same side. It is well for even friends to recognize, however--well for me to recognize about myself, at least--that mine is a particular point of view and not the lordly, dispassionate, universal one that I might once have supposed it to be. You should know this about me, and perhaps about yourselves, as well. …

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