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Typo: A Monthly Newspaper and Literary Review, Volume 1

Worthies of the Craft. Theodore L. De Vinne. (Paper World.)

page 9

Worthies of the Craft. Theodore L. De Vinne. (Paper World.)

In these days of cut and slash, and of reckless competition in the printing trade, it is refreshing and comforting to find a printer able to maintain an establishment on a large scale, and do his printing in beauty and a high degree of art. Such an establishment is known to the United States, and indeed to the whole reading world—it is that of Theodore L. De Vinne & Co., of New York. It is hardly necessary to say—it is certainly not necessary to tell printers—that in this establishment the art of printing has reached its highest development for beauty, good taste, and high quality. There is always a personality back of all such achievements as this, and this printing house is no exception. It is a personality of honor, of method and system, of capability, of artistic appreciation, of rectitude and responsibility.

Mr Theodore L. De Vinne, the head of this famous house, was born in Stamford, Conn., December 25, 1828, the second son of the Rev. Daniel De Vinne of the New York East Conference of the Methodist Episcopal church. He was attracted to printing by the kindly manner of James Harper, who gave him, on the occasion of a visit to the office of Harper & Brothers, when a boy of six years, a copy of « The Life of Captain John Smith. » The book and the kindly manner of the giver, as well as the mystery of the art by which the book was made, were fascinations that grew stronger as he grew older. He went to work in 1844, in the office of the Newburgh (N. Y.) Gazette, a small office frugally furnished with a hand-press and a few founts of type; but the owner and his foreman were men of ability, and gave sound teachings to the three boys that constituted the working force. All had to take turns in work, to roll behind and pull before the press, to wet the paper, to help at mailing and roller making, to set type and make up the paper, to do odd jobs and even read proof. All this was a good general training that could not be had in a large office.

After nearly four years of service in the Newburgh office, Mr De Vinne went to New York to get a more thorough knowledge of his trade. He worked in many offices, at press and ease, and even on a morning newspaper. He applied for work at Mr Francis Hart's office in 1849, and the boyish young man was engaged by the foreman with some hesitation as to his ability as a compositor on a difficult piece of work. Mr De Vinne became foreman the next year, and, finding him apt and trustworthy and ready to accept responsibilities, Mr Hart gradually gave him full control in management.

In 1859, when Mr De Vinne was offered an important situation in another office, Mr Hart took him into partnership. The men were unlike, but fairly complementary. Mr Hart was enthusiastic, impatient, averse to drudgery, seeking great results too often by impossibly quick methods. Mr De Vinne was sedate, studious, patient, thoroughly convinced that success could be had only by close attention to details. During business relations that lasted more than twenty-five years, there was never, on either side, any abatement of mutual esteem and confidence.

After passing through the stress of war wages and fluctuation of values and slow sale of books, the firm grew into prosperity, through foresight and enterprise. When it began to print the St. Nicholas about 1873, it was declared to be the best printed magazine known.

In 1874 the firm began to print the Scribner's Monthly, that is now the Century, but it soon found that there were no short roads to fine wood-cut presswork, and that the magazine could not be well printed without the best presses, the best men, the best materials and plenty of them. These were not to be had on call, but the publishers never relaxed the high standard they set up. For some years the printing of the magazine was an almost unbroken series of disheartening vexations. But persistence triumphed; the firm eventually got the needed men and presses, and did the work on rapidly increasing editions to the satisfaction of the publishers, and won the praises of readers and critics. From no quarter has this praise been more hearty than from printers in the Old World.

Mr Hart died in April 1877, and the firm name was continued with the estate until 1881. In 1883 the firm of Theodore L. De Vinne & Co. was formed—Theodore B. De Vinne, the only son of the now senior partner, becoming the new member, who from the combined advantages of much natural ability—hereditary, mayhap—and the best of training, is becoming qualified to put on and wear the business shoes of his predecessor.

As the secretary of the Typothetæ (the society of master printers of New York City), Mr De Vinne had correspondence with printers in every state. He soon learned that there was: a general demand for exact information concerning the prices, rates, and rules of New York City printers. This led him to compile an office manual for the use of book and job printers, the first edition of which appeared in 1868. Two editions of enlarged form were subsequently produced and sold. The « Printers' Price List » is now out of print, for Mr De Vinne cannot be persuaded to rewrite the work to suit the needs of the present time.

The elder De Vinne's tastes were always bookish. Unable to get from printers all the information he wanted about printing, he began, when a boy, to buy books on the subject. He acquired a taste for the history and bibliography of his art, and finally put the knowledge he gamed into coherent form. His « Invention of Printing » makes a stout octavo of 540 pages, and has received a great deal of favorable comment, both at home and abroad. Mr De Vinne has written considerably for magazines and other publications, generally on books or printing.

Although this house has a reputation for its wood-cut presswork, Mr De Vinne's tastes incline to a severer style of typography—to what he calls « masculine printing »—to strong solid impressions of choice works on hand-made papers. In this style the firm have printed some elegant editions. The Reprints of the Grolier club (of which father and son are members), bear the stamp of the De Vinne Press, and they have been praised by many critical journals, both here and abroad, for their admirable printing. Their magazine work is familiar to both Europe and America, through the Century.

When a person enters the employment of the house he is handed a little pamphlet of 42 rather finely printed pages, containing mumerous directions regarding the ways that work shall be done, the object being to secure uniformity in style, system in work, and economy of time and material. This little book really contains the principles of the highest art in printing. The more one looks over this « Office Manual » the more he is impressed with the remarkable system on which the affairs of the house are conducted. It reveals a most interesting personality that stands above and behind all the work, even down to the closest details. Every time that a workman justifies a line, or pours benzine out of a can, or lays down a tool, or employs an initial letter, takes or reads a proof, imposes, or sets a title page, his every movement is directed by the experience of one who thoroughly understands all the details of his business.

In the work for the Century two remarkable men meet—Mr De Vinne, the artistic printer and the systematizer, and Mr Roswell Smith, the enterprising proprietor of that magazine. Mr Smith had known much perplexity and disappointment in getting his magazine printed honestly and well. He searched long and earnestly for a printer in whom he could place implicit confidence, who would relieve him from much annoyance and vexation, and he found just what he was looking after in Mr De Vinne. Mr De Vinne, on the other hand, had his eye—both of his eyes, in fact—on the watch for customers who wanted work done honorably and well, and who were willing to give a fair return for the time, skill, and taste that should be given to the work. The confidence which each has reposed in the other has been well maintained from the days of their first acquaintance until the present time, with the prospect ahead of being of life-long existence. Both are materially benefited by the existing relations between the two. The Century and St. Nicholas are models of typographical excellence; the publishers are relieved of much harassing detail in connection with the printing of their immense editions; and Mr De Vinne has an appreciative customer, who brings much grist to his mill, and who pays fairly and appreciatively for having his work well done.