The Printed Book

by Harry G. Aldis, M.A. Cambridge at the University Press 1916

Modern Books Part 5

Coloured woodcut illustrations and ornaments are a distinguishing feature in the series of charmingly designed little volumes that have come from Mr Lucien Pissarro's Eragny Press. More important than any of these special types, in that they have advanced beyond the private press stage and have entered the arena of practical publishing, are the successful founts designed by Mr Herbert P. Horne for the Florence and the Riccardi presses. The fact should not be overlooked that excellent work, which will probably bear fruit in direct influence upon the trade craftsman, is being done in some of the municipal schools of art and technology.

Other countries have not been slow in taking up this challenge, and the movement for the improvement of printing has spread throughout Europe and across the Atlantic. American essays in fine printing have not widely departed from the general character of American typography. The influence of the Grolier Club and the De Vinne and Merrymount );, presses have been prominent contributors to the best work. Among less ambitious efforts the Mosher books, even though more complimentary to the author's fame than contributory to his purse, make a strong appeal to the lover of dainty volumes. Many American types have a tendency to leanness which gives the impression of weakness in design, due to absence of that slight emphasis, which, without obtruding itself upon the vision, gives character and firmness to the letter. This apparent weakness is increased by the grayness of ink and the dead whiteness of paper common in American books. France is, on the whole, conservative, and new types adhere closely to traditional roman models. Among recent designs some of the italic founts are, perhaps, the most successful, while those books in which decoration plays a part generally display that freedom and grace which characterizes French art.

In Germany the modern revival in printing dates from the beginning of the present century, and the effort here is more apparent and self-conscious. Some of the modern types make a bold attempt to break away from the tradition of Fraktur, or German text, which has so long held German book type in thrall; but they also exhibit a determined aversion from a frank acceptance of roman type as an ideal model. A general fault in the new founts is that the letters do not combine into words but stand apart, each asserting its individual claim to be read. The modifications of Fraktur are mostly too heavy and black, and are not kind to the eye. The development in Scandinavian printing is proceeding on vigorous and distinctive lines in harmony with its northern habitat.

The permanent value of the work of the private presses referred to above will probably be found not so much in the books they have issued, as in the stimulating influence they have had upon the higher class of book-printing. The aim in most cases has been to create the book beautiful. The conditions, under which machine-printed books, published in the ordinary course of business, are produced, do not admit of the lavish care that is bestowed upon the offspring of the private press. But if the latter may claim pre-eminence in the creation of the book beautiful, the leading book- printing houses can certainly lay claim to superiority in the production of the book readable.