Paper Is Part of the Picture no. 2—A Tale of Two Mills 1892–1911 (Part II)

This is one in a series of blog posts accompanying Paper Is Part of the Picture: Strathmore Paper and the Evolution of American Graphic Design 1892–2017, an exhibition that I have curated at The Opalka Gallery of The Sage Colleges in Albany, New York. The exhibition runs from October 3 to December 15, 2017.

The Colonial Book of the Towle Mfg. Co. (Newburyport, Massachusetts: Towle Mfg. Co., 1898). Title page design by Will Bradley.

The Colonial Book of the Towle Mfg. Co. (Newburyport, Massachusetts: Towle Mfg. Co., 1898). Title page design by Will Bradley.

Bradley’s designs for Mittineague were very different from those for The Inland Printer and The Chap-Book that had rocketed him to fame only a few years before. [1] Gone was the audacious mix of Art Nouveau and Arts & Crafts elements cribbed from Aubrey Beardsley and William Morris respectively, replaced by more sober designs influenced by Colonial American printing. Bradley’s shift sparked a resurgence in American advertising and printing of Caslon types (including Caslon Black). A prime example of Bradley’s Colonial aesthetic is his rendition (typography, decoration and illustrations) of Rip van Winkle by Washington Irving (New York: R.H. Russell, 1897), a book originally written in 1819 but with a story set in the years before and after the American Revolutionary War. Another, more audacious example, is The Colonial Book of the Towle Mfg. Co. (Cambridge: The University Press, 1898), designed for a silverware company in Newburyport, Massachusetts that was founded in 1690. Both were contemporaneous with his work for Mittineague.

Illustration from Rip van Winkle by Washington Irving (Springfield: Wayside Press, 1897). Illustration by Will Bradley.

Illustration by Will Bradley from Rip van Winkle by Washington Irving (New York: R.H. Russell, 1897).

Bradley quit The Wayside Department of The University Press in 1900 to focus on work in New York, but the press continued to design and print sample books for Mittineague for roughly another dozen years. The work was split with the F.A. Bassette Co. of Springfield, run by former colleagues of Bradley at the original Wayside Press. Thus, Bradley’s spirit, though not his skill, continued to inform Mittineague’s sample books for several more years. [2]

In October 1906 the Mittineague Paper Co. published three comprehensive, hard cover “Strathmore Quality” sample books that covered groupings of papers instead of a single line. This was a radical—and expensive—step for a paper company. In a 1907 advertisement in The Printing Art, Mittineague boasted that, “This set of three bound volumes is not only the most elaborate and costly, but also the most comprehensive exhibit of fine writing, book and cover papers that has ever been made by any paper house.” The cumulative cost was put at a whopping $50,000.

Strathmore Quality Commercial Writing Papers (Mittineague, Massachusetts: Mittineague Paper Company, 1906). Design and printing by the F.A. Bassette Co.

Strathmore Quality Commercial Writing Papers (Mittineague, Massachusetts: Mittineague Paper Company, 1906). Design and printing by the F.A. Bassette Co. Photograph by Vincent Trinacria.

The books were The Strathmore Quality Deckle Edge Book Papers, Strathmore Quality Covers and Bristols, and Strathmore Quality Commercial Writing Papers. The latter two were designed and printed by F.A. Bassette Co. while the first was “planned and made” by The Munder-Thomsen Press of Baltimore. [3] All three books were fulsomely praised by the printing trade press, but none more so than The Strathmore Quality Deckle Edge Book Papers book. [4] The Munder-Thomsen Press, established the year before, became nationally renowned in subsequent decades under the name Norman T.A. Munder & Co. (Munder [1867–1953] was the first recipient of the AIGA Medal of Honor in 1920.) [5]

“We have endeavored to make this book an object of beauty, as well as of utility,”  explained Mittineague in the preface to The Strathmore Quality Deckle Edge Book Papers book. “We have sought to show Strathmore papers in the best manner, and to emphasize their value in the production of fine printing.” The company went on to say that,

This book is published with the belief that it would prove a good investment and yet the possibilities of the same from an educational standpoint have been borne in mind from its inception. Consequently in decorating the different samples the harmony of the paper and of the example selected has been considered, the appropriateness of the type or design and its color balance and in all ways the effort has been to make the book an honor to the printing art in the hope that the various illustrations shown will be suggestive and beneficial and instill a further desire to produce only such printed things that are really worth while.

The samples in the book not only comprised forty different papers, but they showed how those papers looked under a variety of printing processes: letterpress, photogravure, halftone, and engraving. [6] This book and its two companions set a new standard for paper sample books.

Hutzler Brothers Announcement (1906) from The Strathmore Quality Book of Deckle-Edge Papers (Baltimore: The Munder-Thomsen Press, 1906).

Hutzler Brothers Announcement (1906) from The Strathmore Quality Book of Deckle Edge Papers (Baltimore: The Munder-Thomsen Press, 1906).

"Peace," a Cornhill dodger from The Strathmore Quality Book of Deckle Edge Papers (Baltimore: The Munder-Thomsen Press, 1906). Calligraphy and design by W.A. Dwiggins.

“Peace,” a Cornhill dodger from The Strathmore Quality Book of Deckle Edge Papers (Baltimore: The Munder-Thomsen Press, 1906). Calligraphy and design by W.A. Dwiggins.

Notes
1. See my previous post on Printing Is Part of the Paper for Bradley’s work for The Inland Printer. For The Chap-Book Bradley designed several stunning posters in 1894 and 1895. The best known are  ”The Twins” (1894) and one for the 1895 Thanksgiving number.
2. The University Press in Cambridge, Massachusetts traced its history back to 1802 when William Hilliard used that name for work he did for Harvard College. By the time Bradley was associated with the press it had gone through several ownership changes and was officially called The University Press (John Wilson & Sons). For the full history of the company see either Stephen Daye and His Successors (1639–1921) (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The University Press, 1921) or the summary of it in The American Printer, vol. 74, no. 5 (March 5, 1922), p. 53. There is little information available about F.A. Bassette Co., a Springfield printer.
3. Of the three books, The Strathmore Archives at Mohawk only has Strathmore Quality Commercial Writing Papers. Copies of The Strathmore Quality Deckle Edge Book Papers can be found in several institutions including the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Columbia University and the Cary Graphic Arts Collection at Rochester Institute of Technology; while the only copies of Strathmore Quality Covers and Bristols that I know of are at the University of Illinois (an imperfect copy) and the Grolier Club. Unfortunately, I only discovered the latter after the exhibition was installed.
4. “The simple typographic effects were chosen to allow the paper to be shown in its true relation. The lesson of it is simplicity, artistic harmony and good paper,” wrote The Inland Printer, vol. 38, no. 3 (December 1906), p. 418.
5. It is curious that the three “quality” books were printed by F.A. Bassette Co. and The Munder-Thomsen Press since Mittineague had established its own print shop earlier that year, a step that Strathmore company histories stress was innovative for a paper company. The explanation probably lies in the shop’s capabilities, which the company histories do not detail. I assume that it was set up to print simple things such as packaging labels, stationery and business forms, test sheets and other internal items; but not lengthy, hard-cover books.

6. Many of the samples seem to have come from Munder-Thomsen clients since they are for Baltimore and Maryland businesses and institutions such as Hutzler Brothers, The Maryland Society of the Colonial Dames of America, and The Colonial Trust Company of Baltimore. Other samples are by many of the leading (or soon-to-be-leading) designers of the day: Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, T.B. Hapgood, T.M. Cleland, W.A. Dwiggins, and Herbert Ames.