Bruce Rogers Among Greatest of American Printers
- BR at 86 continues to design beautiful books and other printed matter
- Planned and executed famous Oxford Lectern Bible, completed in 1935
- Designer BR produced two typefaces; Montagne (1904), Centaur (1914)
Last May, in Fairfield, Connecticut, a great American printer was honored upon the occasion of his 86th birthday.
Bruce Rogers, one of the best-known and most renowned typographers now living, has brought to American printing craft the esteem of the rest of the world and has gained for himself and enviable position among great printers of the past.
In the present century, the composing room has become truly mechanized, but the work of men like Rogers has deterred relaxation of standards in a craft which has become an industry. In the history of printing there have been outstanding craftsmen with creative spirit and the integrity to make their way.
Frequently, the art of producing the printed word has not been respected by those who use its products or by the printers themselves. These periods of decline have always been halted by leaders whose ideas have influenced their contemporaries. Garamond, Plantin, Caslon, Baskerville, Bodoni, Morris and others have made significant contributions. Bruce Rogers is of this company.
Produced Notable Books
The contributions of BR, as he is more familiarly known, have been primarily in the typography of books, although he has also produced some designs for commercial printing. Of course, it is in book art that the most notable printing has always been done. And awakened interest in good printing on the part of the collectors has influenced all phases of the industry.
Although the production of books is extremely specialized, most craftsmen dream of doing at least one book which can be classed as a notable work of art. Such dreams frequently formed the “objective” of a retirement plan, but of course this goal is reached only by the few.
Certainly no printer can examine the two outstanding Bibles which Rogers has completed without feeling pride in belonging to the craft which produce them. These values prove that modern printing is at least equal to the past and this respect, criticism notwithstanding.
In 1929, Mr. Rogers was in London, supervising the cutting of his Centaur type by the English Monotype Company. He was approached by the Oxford University Press to plan a folio Bible that should, “in its arrangement, combine practicality as a pulpit book with beauty as a specimen of printing.” As a result the now famous Oxford Lectern Bible was begun. It was completed in 1935. Considered by many authorities as one of the finest books ever printed in England, it took its place alongside other great Bibles produced by Baskerville and Cobden-Sanderson.
The most recent Bible from the hand of Mr. Rogers is the World Bible. An American work throughout, it was completed in 1949 at the Press of A. Colish, in New York. This beautiful book was set in a revision of Frederick W. Goudy’s Newstyle type, now named Goudy Bible and available from Lanston Monotype Machine Company. In contrast to the plain, clean typography of the Oxford Bible, Rogers was lavish in his use of ornament in the World edition, maintaining the traditions set by many of the early Bibles, which were essentially decorative.
No List of Work Available
No single list is available of all the designs which BR created in the course of his career, from its onset in 1895 at the Riverside Press of Houghton Mifflin Company of Boston. A catalog of an exhibition of his work, held at the Grolier Club in New York in November, 1938, lists 768 items. Since that time he has done much more.
Even Rogers himself does not own a complete set of his works—all of them collectors’ items. The library of Purdue University, from which he graduated in 1889, contains one of the finest collections available anywhere. The printer interested in examining samples of his style will probably find such books in the “locked cases” of many of the larger public libraries as well as in bookshops containing a shelf or two of press books.
Unfortunately for the printer-bibliophile, most bookstore proprietors are well aware of the value of a Rogers item, and a charge accordingly. But it is still possible to snoop one out occasionally on a dusty back-store shelf, which of course adds zest to the search.
As a type designer, BR produce two types, Montaigne in 1904, and Centaur in 1914. The latter face was designed to improve some of the features of Montaigne, which had been cut for the Riverside Press. Both types are modeled on the roman types of Nicholas Jenson, first used in 1470. Rogers has stated that he “traced” the Jenson type, but characteristically he made no claims for originality. Since the Jenson letter has been the model for countless other roman types, it is significant that Centaur stands above most of them. Many typographic authorities agree that it is one of the finest types ever designed.
This type was first used by the Museum Press of the Metropolitan Museum. The name Centaur was given to it after its use in a book titled The Centaur, designed by Rogers and produced by Carl Purington Rollins in 1915 at the Montague Press in Massachusetts. Since it became available from the English Monotype organization, Centaur has been very much in favor with well-known printing houses.
An examination of the work of BR makes it obvious that he is a master in the use of ornamentation. In the last 30 years, the correct use of printers’ “flowers” has become a neglected skill. However, most compositors do recognize and appreciate gifted handling of this decorative material.
Rogers has frequently adopted a tongue-in-cheek attitude in design, resulting in a “dingbat” circus, amusing to both designer and reader, and particularly appreciated by printers tired of unimaginative thinking in the use of stereotyped ornament.
Always Quiet, Dignified Person
In spite of world wide fame, Bruce Rogers has remained a quiet, dignified person, in no way dogmatic about his contributions. His simple approach to many of the problems encountered in his work has been treated in a book written in collaboration with James Hendrickson, under the title, Paragraphs in Printing. Here Hendrickson has coaxed from Rogers various comments on every phase of his work.
These comments, liberally illustrated with examples of his work, make the volume the best single source of information regarding Rogers and his work. The text is a “must” for any typographical library.
At a party given by friends on his 86th birthday, BR said with a smile that he had enough work planned to keep himself busy until his 100th year. We can be sure that he will continue to inspire a new generation of printers to better work and a finer understanding of their craft.
In May, 1948, Bruce Rogers was honored with the gold medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In his acceptance speech, he stated in his typically modest way, “This is a great day for printing, and a red letter day for me as an exponent of that art.”
We printers should be justly proud of our inclusion in these remarks.
This article first appeared in “The Composing Room” column of the July 1956 issue of The Inland Printer.