Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Type Tuesday - Nelson C. Hawks

At the end of the nineteenth century, there were dozens of typefoundries in America, selling metal type to printers who took care of all the printed matter that people read, from newspapers and magazines to books and timetables.
   The Pacific States Typefoundry was incorporated in January 1896 "with a full corps of dummy officers and directors," according to William Loy (writing as "Stylus" in The Paper World). The business had been sold to Palmer & Rey of San Francisco by Marder, Luse of Chicago but was carried on separately to give the impression of a rival concern. Behind it was the well-known wrangler Nelson Crocker Hawks (1840–1929). Hawks, a native of Milwaukee, had come to San Francisco as agent for Marder, Luse in 1874 and set up in competition to the Scotch foundry of Miller & Richard, who had a branch in town. In their house organs they regularly threw dirt, claiming the other had been recalled or was going out of business.
   Hawks was soon denounced in The Inland Printer for selling complete "printing kits" to amateurs who set up small press businesses to sell stationery, letterheads, business cards, wedding invites, and such ephemera, and undercut the larger union shops.
   While the foundry was essentially a branch, it did produce original designs, and these were cut by Gustave Schroeder (born in Berlin in 1861) who came to America and cut type for many foundries before settling in Mill Valley in 1891, where he enjoyed rambling on Mt Tam in his free time.
   The original type faces that Schroeder cut for Pacific States include Aldus Italic (4 sizes), Sierra (8 sizes), 18 point French Old Style No 2, and Victoria Italic. These are shown in the specimen book -- a unique form of literature. Typical late nineteenth-century American type specimen books were composed in a wild stream-of-consciousness by the compositor, consequently they read like strange Dadaist manifestos. As Joey de Vivre said of graffiti artists, "They have nothing to say but an overwhelming need to say it"! The same goes for typefounders showing off their new types.

   George L. Harding, the first librarian of the Kemble Collection at CHS met Hawks in the 1920s, and asked him to identify the pages in the Pacific States specimen book that he had personally composed, literally written and typeset at the same time. The CHS copy has the pencil notation "NCH" on the corner of these pages, and they are the only certain attributions to these texts we have, though it is pretty certain that the wild books from the Philadelphia Foundry of MacKellar, Smiths & Jordan were concocted by Thomas W. MacKellar.

   Hawks is famous in the history of printing and typography for suggesting the uniform sizes of type bodies to his employer Marder, Luse. After the Great Fire of Chicago in 1871, Hawks suggested to John Marder he adopt a standard Pica of one sixth of an inch. He prudently took MacKellar's pica as his basis, as MacKellar ran the most successful foundry in America. It took a few years but eventually all thirty or so of the American typefounders agreed, and by 1887 the modern American point system was widespread. In 1918 Hawks published a pamphlet explaining the system from his Island City Press in Alameda. One advantage of the standardized point system was that printers could build complex layouts with differing sizes of type and spacing material and it would hold together through uniform bodies. While we still use the same system today, computers can only deal in mathematical exactness so the point is 1/72nd of an inch, exactly, not approximately, as it was in Hawks' day.

Further Reading:
"Explanation of the Point System of Printing Type with Specimens" by Nelson C. Hawks, Island City Press, Alameda, California, 1918
Alastair Johnston, Alphabets to Order: The Literature of Nineteenth-century Typefounders' Specimens, British Library, 2000
William E. Loy, Nineteenth-century American Designers & Engravers of Type, Oak Knoll Press, 2009

Alastair Johnston 
Post a Comment