No Observer, He
by Harold Segal
FOR A FLEETING moment, Milton Grady considered giving up his seniority, pension and accumulated benefits at the Des Moines Register-Tribune for a move to Bucks County. It would have been great to have him for a neighbor. During the fifties when the Amateur Printers Club was a bustling hub of activity, he felt the east coast was the only place for a self-respecting type-slinger and press-pumper. We reflect on that occasion when Milt spent a few days with us, winding up a New York visit.
His passing on November 1, 1972, leaves the National and American Press Associations poorer, especially in light of the recent deaths of other prominent members.
Grady grew up in a newspaper composing room, but his love of the craft did not take hold until his affiliation with the hobby about 1949. This was evident in ‘64 when hosting the NAPA. Conventioneers noted his basement retreat walled with type catalogs and books on typography and type design, printing lore and history.
Excerpts from his journals will tell in his words more of himself. Compositely they tell much more; they tell why we will miss him.
More Than a Spectator
by Milton R. Grady
It’s a Small World, 1955:
Recently, in preparing some labels for my type cases, I was astounded to note that the inventory listed some 35 different type families! This heterogeneous assemblage has been procured from time to time without any due regard for homogeneity. Monetary misers like to be surrounded by gold and silver coins. I’m type-happy.
Albeit I have this love, somewhat incongruously, not one of the fonts represent quality manufacture. They are all from inexpensive sources. Lately I have taken steps to correct this trend and future purchases will reflect quality rather than quantity.
Perhaps the greatest factor in my pursuit of type without considering the quality of production or design is my complete lack of artistic perception. Once I told Helm Spink that I was buying some Caslon. “Whose Caslon?” he queried. When I evasively answered without definite knowledge, he perceptively shook his head. To me, then, Caslon was Caslon – and weren’t all Caslon faces alike? I have since discovered there are many Caslons – some good; some bad. I had a similar experience with an advertising man whose appreciation of type approaches reverence. I was considering purchasing some Baskerville. He was interested, because Baskerville was a particular favorite. But he was most interested in whose Baskerville I was considering. Both men have that artistic perception. They are conditioned to design.
I am happy to record that my artistic appreciation of type design is slowly improving. Some months ago I was thumbing through a type catalog from one of the inexpensive houses. I noticed several faces I had checked several years ago with a view toward possible acquisition. To my pleasure I saw that no longer would I desire to have these particular faces in my shop. In them I now instantly detected several little deficiencies of design – commonplace, commercial treatments that placed them in alphabets without color classification.
Examining specimen sheets from the Stephenson-Blake foundry in England provided me with manifold evidence of superiority available in type design. More recently I have had the pleasurable pastime of commenting on refinements inherent in Klingspor or Stempel type as provided by Walter Crittenden. Continental and Bauer types also represent a happy coordination between design and manufacture. There are many excellent faces available from San Francisco’s Mackenzie & Harris. Proof sheets gathered from these sources has elevated my heretofore rather grubby taste in type.
My personal inclination in type design is reflected by those loosely referred to as “old style”; faces based on 16th and 17th century letters of the English, Dutch and French designers. These faces have definite strokes and bracketed serifs. My particular favorite of this old style group is Granjon. Its light face reflects a classic atmosphere. It is perhaps the most popular book face of all the Garamond types. It was designed by an English printer, George W. Jones, in 1924….
Some printers possess inherent good taste; others must acquire it through study and experimentation.
It’s a Small World, 1962:
At home, at the finish of a particularly nerve-wracking work day, he unwinds his fractured angst by hand setting type. If there happens to be a lengthy weekend interval available he’ll take a non-prescription tranquilizer by reading proof on a little booklet he has written by himself and set into type by himself. Then he may slip on a soil-saving apron and ink up his small press. Ah, examining that first proof!
On a Christmas day he may delightedly open up a small weighted package to find as a gift from his wife, a shiny new font of type. On an anniversary or natal day, she can place him in ecstatic mood by giving him a new book on typography or a volume study of old printing methods, traditions or famous typographic personalities.
What manner of man is this? A non-conformist? Anti-social? Some kind of a nut?
He is a hobby printer. He is indulging himself in one of the most fascinating and soul-satisfying hobbies ever available to the man who thinks for himself: printing for fun. Printing with unlimited aesthetic appeal!
These enthusiasts are obtaining satisfying relaxation by doing for personal pleasure, without any thought of financial reward, patient work which has great rewards in opportunities for artistic self-expression.
This printing-for-fun has many varying motivations. Most of the recompense comes from fulfilling an inner creative urge. Beyond that, if you have associated yourself with a group of people who have similar avocational urges, part of the bounty derives from the appreciations of these people and knowledge that your printed pieces will be avidly read by a wide circle of friends who are interested in you and what you have accomplished. The friendship of amateur writers and fellow private press operators keeps one faithfully wed to the all-enveloping diversion. And this sometimes in spite of the derision and cat-calls flaunted by neighbors or persons much less informed. This type usually prefers bowling or staring at television as a spare time “activity.”
Letter by letter, line by line, page by page, hand set printing is a slow activity. But it pays off handsomely in serenity. It is absorbing as well as creative and it occupies the hand and mind, perhaps not constructively in the true economic sense, but in the pursuit of pleasure.
Simply defined, you could state that the pursuit of pleasure consists in doing things you like to do best. The purest pleasures lie within the circle of useful occupation.
The private press has another value and this has been succinctly expressed by Robert M. Jones: “It has the further virtue of keeping its practitioners out of pool halls and off street corners.”
Spectator, November 1956:
I sorrowfully lament my ineptitude as an editor. A good editor is supposed to be a smotherer of mistakes, a smoother of style, a rearranger of context, a corrector of syntax – an entire defensive team wrapped in one. But where does editing begin to become a smotherer of style? And where is the point of no return? The editor may think he is smoothing out an author’s yarn when he may, in fact, be actually extinguishing originality.
Many famous writers made their way to the top because of their editors. Without their editors the writer may have been an utter failure. Ring Lardner’s pieces thrived on purposeful bad writing; Jack Woodford is prone to corny cliches; Robert Ruark does much back-tracking; Norman Mailer needs prose pruned.
When I “edit” a manuscript for Spectator I do so most reluctantly as I am a man without a formal education. What editing I do comes from “rule of thumb” or a sort of feeling of how it should appear. Naturally, my feeling and the author’s do not always coincide. Well do I recall the anguished screams of the unlamented Earle Cornwall when once I touched one of his epic essays with my dripping red pencil.
In my role as a newspaper compositor I handle quantities of news stories that have been so intensely edited that at first glance at the copy you’d suspect they were actually road maps.
Once a favorite editor of mine paid a visit to Pillbox Press. As a happy thought (so I thought) I gleefully gave him a manuscript of a short anecdote I had accepted for Spectator and asked him to edit it. He enthusiastically agreed and soon his pencil was racing and scratching, making excisions, rearrangements, but all while mouthing exclamations like “Honestly!… Br-r-ruther!” Finally he gave up. He added a footnote at the bottom of the page, “Editor’s note; I need a double scotch!”
Hardly a manuscript cannot be salvaged, granted the time and talent of an editor who knows what he’s supposed to do and does it. Quality in writing still counts, and it doesn’t mean a thing to the reader whether it’s the author or the editor who’s responsible. (Nor should it mean anything to the author either.)
Now, can anyone recommend a good text on editing? I’ll make an honest attempt, at this late date, to learn what is fit and proper.
Spectator, Spring 1960:
Normally when I am composing at the case, my hi-fi is usually rolling out favorite melodies in the background. Not that I find composition tedious. On the contrary, I like to set type. It is certainly one of the world’s sure-fire tranquilizers. Where in the universe can you practice patience more expertly than at the case?
A background of pleasant sound makes an admirable companion in the lone-wolf avocation of printing. You select some of your special favorites, stack them on the spindle, adjust the controls and let the joyous sound loose.
Radio formerly served well in providing a suitable background for doing something else. But, alas, those days have passed with an atmosphere of finality. Today we are afflicted with “formula radio”; gimmicky music for morons, the “top of the news,” and a report of the temperature every five minutes! Is it possible for weather to be that important?
A voice in the background pattern can be distracting. Instead of following your copy, you become engrossed in what the voice is saying. You may even find yourself setting the words you are hearing rather than the words you are seeing.
Which reminds me of an incident at the Newark convention. We had at our disposal several meeting rooms. These had large fold-back doors and the rooms were open to each other. A refreshment bar and its complements occupied one room; another serving as “composing” room, with type cases laid out on tables around the hand press. Another room served as the editorial department, with typewriters, reporters, copy conferences. And for the joie de viere segment, we even had a piano complete with accompanying choristers.
Add to this joyous jumble some 48 avid journalists, all madly competing for attention, then try to imagine yourself in the midst, attempting to set type. Well, I was. And at the same time trying to see, hear and participate in what was going on.
In all this confusion, I had set a part of one sentence twice. Al Fick glanced over my shoulder, read the line and observed, “I see you have an impediment in your stick.”
Music to set type by should consist primarily of instrumentals. Mood or tempo is scant consideration. It is a matter of taste. I enjoy Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite” or Dave Brubeck’s quartet equally. My own taste in music is democratic with leanings on the jazz side.
Once I was a visitor at Ralph Babcock’s Great Neck print shop. We set type far into the night, accompanied by record-player music. A popular disc at that time was Leroy Anderson’s “Blue Tango.” We liked it fine. It must have played fifty consecutive times! The old maids rooming upstairs must have liked it, too, for they never put in a protest at our lack of selectiveness. Perhaps they simply suffered in silence.
Have you ever observed a relaxed female knit or do needlework? I think that scene is the feminine counterpart of the male amateur typesetter. Slow, careful workmanship. Time is not of the essence here. Do the best job you can; errors can cause aggravating difficulty later on.
Presswork, now that’s a different matter. While at the press I have known myself to mumble at the sight of the oh! so slowly decreasing stack of paper on the feedboard (particularly if Pearl is having a stubborn evening.)
But at the typecase all is serene, particularly if there is good music to set type by!
Spectator, Spring 1960:
Few amateur printers ever boast or make mention of their speed in setting type. Why should they? Speed is not in contention. The enjoyment of creating is rampant. You would never hear a gourmet brag, “I once ate a crème brulee in 46 seconds.”
Alfred Babcock is the fastest compositor I have ever watched (and he listens to radio baseball games while he composes!) I have never attempted to gauge my speed in typesetting. If you enjoy doing something, why hurry? Why not try for setting a clean proof? You’ll get a good feeling out of it, a sense of accomplishment.
My types are lined up in horizontal rows in their compartments, like cordwood. Sometimes, on completing a line in the stick, I become engrossed in restacking a row of letters that have become jumbled. Speed?…
Spectator, October 1950:
From the table of letters received by this editor, some explanation needs to be brought forth on my use of the Spectator name. Several hasten to point out that there are other Spectators. No other journal now makes use of that title.
My original premise in using the full title, The Midwest Spectator, was in the event some other Spectator was being published.
Some ask: Why didn’t you create an original title? Because Spectator represents a long cherished name to me, dating back to 1925 when George Jean Nathan and Henry L. Mencken founded and published a Spectator. It died, however, at the age of one year.
Gradylogue, October 1954:
My friend wrote me, “I gather MRG will be taking off for Newark over the Labor Day weekend. Except… Newark!… honestly, Mac!” He was in high pique. His question demonstrates a typical lack of understanding. Amateur journalists could meet in a car barn – and still enjoy the friendly spirit attendant at these printer-writer get-togethers.
Amateur meets are a curious blend of happiness and sadness. There is so much going on that you can’t possible watch all three rings of the big show at the same time. You are spread out pretty thinly as you try to participate in little snatches of this and samplings of that activity. You wonder about the superficial impression you may be creating. To a sentimentalist like myself I find this all highly frustrating. The happy moments have the annoying habit of slipping rapidly through your fingers like beads of mercury. An excess of excitement, and a deficiency of enthusiasm, may easily characterize the same person or period.
It’s a Small World, 1968:
The practice of amateur printing is loaded with 1001 booby traps. As each trap springs, you mutter a silent oath (audible, if you are committed to that sort of thing) and patiently pursue the production at hand come hell or high water. For instance…
* An awkward finger scatters a line (or lines) of type.
* Another time, you thought you had tightened the quoins and lifted the chase – whammo! Instant pi!
* You mournfully discover that at a certain willy-nilly interim you had distributed some paragraphs of 10-point Binney into the 10-point Century.
* You are desperately trying to achieve some very close register work. You take the chase from the press and discover that each time you relock the form the snugness is microscopically different than the previous lockup.
Perhaps the most egregious perversion you can ever perpetrate is to locate the emblem of your amateur press association upside down! And you are unaware of this, of course, until a former president of the organization oh so casually points it out to you – months later!
You haven’t earned your certificate as an “amateur” printer until you have suffered, at least once, each of the following disasters:
(a) You are taking a first proof on the press of a page of type you have just set. As you resolve the flywheel to establish position you embed a gripper finger down on side of the type. Preferably, the type should be fairly new.
(b) You have backed up 350 sheets of two pages with the wrong two.
(c) While assembling sheets for 350 copies of your new 20-page booklet you discover you are about 25 sheets short of one page – and the type is dissed.
CAMPANE is published in the interest of organized amateur journalism and the National Amateur Press Association by co-editors Hazel and Harold Segal, Margo Gardens, Bristol, Pa. 19007. Hand set in Baskerville types and 425 copies printed on 60-lb. offset stock on an 1890 7×11 Pearl treadle press.