Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Egdon Margo: Calligrapher, Printer, Wit

When I was in high school my family and I had the good fortune to meet a printer whose work we’d enjoyed for a number of years: APA printer Egdon Margo of Sherman Oaks, California. Known as Don to his friends, Margo was a professional calligrapher and private press printer with a quick wit, a love of letters, and a soft spot for helping budding printers and calligraphers get started.

Don Margo told us he first got interested in calligraphy as a serviceman during the blitz in World War II. During the bombing he took refuge in a London bookstore with a calligraphy display in the window. Afterwards he returned to study the beautiful hand lettering closer and decided to try it himself.

When I met Don Margo, he was well known in the calligraphic world, had won several awards, and made his living writing calligraphic titles and credits for the movies. He never mentioned much about that though. He was one of those people who was on fire with being creative: enthusiastic, animated, and full of fun. He loved calligraphy, he loved printing, and he loved talking with people. My father Gary Hantke called him, “Herr Schoenscriber”, or “Mr. Beautiful Writer” in German.

A Hollywood studio offered its stars calligraphic stationary. Don Margo did this sketch for the studio, and several were produced.

When I studied italic handwriting a few years later in school, Don Margo mailed me a large envelope full of samples of his work. Included was an article about him written in the 1950s, through which I learned more about how he got started with hand lettering. I loved how, tongue-in-cheek, he apologized for the picture of himself, “A thousand pardons for inflicting this ancient screen upon thee.”

Envelope full of calligraphic goodies sent to me by Don Margo.
Biographical article on Margo published in 1958.

Don Margo was a talented writer with a great sense of humor. His humorous bookmarks, and parodies on poems such as Jabberwocky and The Raven were the talk of the APA bundles. Among his favorite typefaces was Paul Hayden Duensing’s Sixteenth Century Roman. Below are several examples (click on any image to enlarge) of his printing and wit, courtesy of John Horn. Thank you, Don Margo, for being such an inspiration to me, as well as an absolute delight to know!

The humorous credo of Margo's press. On top of a great sense of humor, Don Margo had an amazing vocabulary.

Don Margo's original version of Typowocky, a parody of Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky.

John Horn's 2010 reprint of Margo's Typowocky, with all typeface names printed in the type mentioned.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

George Sas of the Marble Hill Press

One of the people who influenced and inspired me as a printer is someone I never had the pleasure of meeting. In the mid 1960s my father Gary Hantke began a correspondence with George Sas of the Marble Hill Press. They exchanged several printed pieces, but never met each other. Marble Hill Press was unusual as a private press in that George Sas didn’t own printing equipment. He worked for a New York City printing and engraving firm as a hand compositor, and one of the perks of his job was the use of plant facilities evenings and weekends. This gave him access to a wealth of beautiful types and ornaments.

The output of the Marble Hill Press was primarily booklets and longer pieces for Christmas cards, printed on heavy cover stock and hand-sewn. Favorite subjects included literature and poetry. Everything was beautifully designed and often printed in several colors.

My father carefully preserved the George Sas booklets and passed them on to my husband and me. To this day their classic elegance and innovative use of color continue to inspire me. It was difficult to choose which of these gorgeous pieces of printing to scan for this blog. I’ll let the printing speak for itself. And thank you, George Sas, wherever you are, for helping me to see the wonderful possibilities of letterpress.

"The Lady of Shalott", published in 1967.

The text of "The Lady of Shalott", printed in purple.

"Moby Dick", published in 1963.

Title page of "Moby Dick".

"Four Poems from The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table" by Oliver Wendell Holmes, published in 1963.

> Title page from "Autocrat of the Breakfast Table"

Spuyten Duyvil, the name for George Sas'
private press after 1969.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Thank You, Benjamin Franklin!

As a letterpress printer, I’m one of the many admirers of Benjamin Franklin, born 305 years ago (1706) this coming Monday the 17th. This talented gentleman became renowned not only as a printer and writer, but as a statesman, scientist, philosopher, and American patriot. Certainly life today would have been different if Franklin had never lived: he invented the odometer, lightning rod, Franklin stove, glass harmonica, swim fins, and bifocal lenses, and came up with the ideas for daylight savings time, fire departments, public hospitals, street cleaning, political cartoons, and public libraries. He secured the crucial allegiance of France during the American Revolutionary War, without which the United States might well not have won its independence.

But it’s for his printing and writing that I appreciate Ben Franklin the most. First, he was involved with printing for much of his life. He began as an apprentice, continued as a journeyman, and carried on an active printing business in Philadelphia. Through shrewd management, one shop grew into a network of print shops by his retirement. Despite his many accomplishments, Franklin considered himself a printer first, composing his famous epitaph starting, “The body of B. Franklin, Printer; (Like the cover of an old book, Its contents worn out, and stripped of its lettering and gilding) Lies here...”

Ben Franklin was a wonderful writer, especially with short, pithy sayings that are perfect for printing. These gems from Poor Richard’s Almanac are pretty much timeless: “Love your enemies, for they will tell you your faults.” “He’s a fool that cannot conceal his wisdom.” “Necessity never made a good bargain.” “Where there’s marriage without love, there will be love without marriage.” “When the well’s dry we know the worth of water.” and “God helps them that help themselves.” One of my favorites, which I believe and live by, is “Fish and company stink in three days.” It’s really true. My husband and I try never to stay at anyone’s house for more than three days at a time.

Finally, I admire the fact that Franklin was an independent, self-made man. He wasn’t born to wealth or privilege, but rose through ingenuity and hard work. His path to success wasn’t easy, but he had the grit and determination to make his own luck.

In 2006 my husband Bob and I had the rare opportunity to see Benjamin Franklin’s press firsthand, as part of an exhibit on “Benjamin Franklin, In Search of a Better World, 300 Years” hosted by the Missouri Historical Society where Bob works. And my husband got to demonstrate printing at the museum to groups of schoolchildren. The kids printed commemorative Franklin bookmarks on our Baltimorean tabletop press, which was a thrilling experience for them.

We’ve enjoyed printing pieces about Benjamin Franklin over the years, and we look forward to doing many more. And as a printer I’ve taken one of Ben’s sayings to heart: “Doest thou love life? Then do not squander time; for that is the stuff of which life is made.”

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Salute to the Mailer!

As members of the Amalgamated Printers Association, one of the things my husband and I look forward to most is the bundle. This collection of letterpress pieces by members is mailed out to everyone in the organization monthly. To me, getting the bundle is better than opening a box of chocolates! You get to see what everybody’s been printing. You could say the bundle is the lifeblood of APA — it’s what keeps everything circulating from one printer to another.

Instrumental in getting the bundle out is the mailer. Whoever has the job receives all the printed pieces from members, then sorts and distributes them through the monthly mailings. It’s a big job! I know because I’ve worked with it twice. My father Gary Hantke was mailer a couple of times (for part of 1960, and again in 1973 and 1974). And my husband Bob and I were mailers in 2001 and 2002.

My sister and I learned the meaning of the word “collate” early, when Dad was mailer. Printed pieces were lined up on the kitchen table. Round and round we’d go, picking up one of each and adding it to the bundle envelope. Sometimes my sister and I would race, but Dad discouraged that because of the dreaded “double pick”— if you got careless and picked up more than one, that item could run out before you finished all the bundles. Then you had to search to see where you’d made the mistake. Helping Dad with the bundle was fun for me, though. I liked looking at all the printed pieces. Sometimes there were extra copies, and I got to have my own little bundle made up of the leftovers.

With positive childhood experiences compiling the bundle, no wonder I was agreeable when my husband and I were asked about taking on the mailer’s job. We tried to plan ahead as much as possible. We bought a big covered plastic bin to shelter incoming packages from the weather. We set up a hanging file folder system to gather pieces two or three times during the month before stuffing bundle envelopes. We thought we were set to go. But our tenure as APA mailers started out with a challenge and a half.

The January 2001 bundle, our first as mailers, was HUGE! The combination of holiday pieces intended for the December bundle and a Benjamin Franklin theme (in honor of Ben’s January 17th birthday) swelled the bundle to immense proportions. We gathered pieces, and gathered and gathered some more. The question was how to fit it all into the specially printed envelope with Ben on the front. Finally with careful layering, we got it all in. There wasn’t room for a scrap more! I’m sure very few people put their bundle pieces back into that January 2001 envelope after looking at them — once removed they sprang out and refused to go back in. It was quite the introduction to being mailers. Thankfully, no other bundle while we were mailers was as big as that first one!

According to APA’s website, over the club’s history 860+ people have been members, but only 23 people have been mailers. And without the mailer, APA wouldn’t be where it is today. So here’s a big salute to our 2009-2010 mailer Don Tucker, all of our former mailers, and to incoming mailers Ky and Sara Wrzesinski for taking on the job. You’ve truly made a difference — thank you!