At the 48th California International Antiquarian Book Fair, held last weekend in downtown Oakland, CHS exhibited a few volumes from the diaries of the great San Francisco printer Nelson C. Hawks. Born in Milwaukee in 1840, Hawks came to San Francisco in 1874 as an agent of the Chicago firm Marder, Luse & Co. and was put in charge of the newly established Pacific Type Foundry. Hawks is most famous for inventing the American point system for standardizing types. (The French type founder Simon-Pierre Fournier actually originated the point system in 1734, but this system had not been implemented in the United States.) He also wrote very funny texts for type specimen books, as described by Alastair Johnston in his Type Tuesday post of September 10, 2013: http://californiahistoricalsociety.blogspot.com/2013/09/type-tuesday-nelson-c-hawks.html
Hawks’ diaries form part of the Kemble Collections on Western Printing and Publishing. The opening salvo of his first extant journal, written in 1855 when Hawks was still a teenager, is extraordinary. Is it an early specimen of Midwestern deadpan or dead serious?
|Nelson C. Hawks diary, v. 1, 1855, Nelson C. Hawks diaries, Kemble MS 3, California Historical Society|
I, Nelson Crocker Hawks, was born in the city of Milwaukee, on the 21st day of August, A.D., 1840. My early life was full of suffering. When I was a year old I had “dropsy of the brain,” in consequence of which, my head grew out of shape. When I was four year old, I had the “inflammation in the eyes,” and was perfectly blind. I continued so two years and then was afflicted with the “rheumatism.” I could not walk around much until I was eight years old. I then went to school.
Archivist & Manuscripts Librarian