On Friday, June 12, following a day of presentations at the Typographics conference, a party is scheduled at the Astor Center in the historic De Vinne Press Building at 399 Lafayette Street. Literally around the corner from the conference hall at Cooper Union, the De Vinne Press location is historically relevant to the theme of Typographics. The building was constructed in 1885–86 to house the printing and typographic facilities of Theodore Low De Vinne & Co. which at one time employed more than three hundred people.
Born in 1828, Theodore De Vinne is perhaps the greatest American scholar-printer who ever lived. Other than being a prominent typographer and printer, De Vinne was also a type historian, researcher, and printing advocate. He wrote and published books on a wide variety of topics related not only to the economic and practical aspects of printing and typography, but also on its history and style.
Around 1860 De Vinne organized owners of New York printing houses to form Typothetae, a labor union which would eventually become one of the largest graphic arts trade associations in the world. As the organization’s first president he helped establish better conditions for printers, promoted better employer-employee relationships and worked to keep printing a profitable profession.
In 1884, he cofounded the Grolier Club in New York, now the oldest existing bibliophile club in North America. Most of the early publications from the Grolier Club were authored by De Vinne and/or printed at the De Vinne Press.
Among De Vinne’s most notable contributions to the history of typography is the Century series of typefaces. In 1894, as the printer of Century Magazine, he commissioned Linn Boyd Benton at American Type Founders Company to produce a new type series that would be more readable than the spindly “modern” typefaces in popular use at the time. The new typeface shared some formal qualities with the modern typefaces, but had beefed up serifs and was more sturdy overall. After the first uses of Century in 1895, the series would be updated and expanded into dozens of other variations over the years by Morris Fuller Benton and others.
As one of the most prominent typefaces commissioned by a typographer for a specific publication, Century has established precedents for custom typeface design that are still relevant today. It has also become a reference point for the design of publication type well into the digital era, inspiring typefaces like Tobias Frere-Jones’ Benton Modern series and Jackson Cavanaugh’s Harriet series. In 2014 the Grolier Club hosted an exhibition dedicated to De Vinne and published an accompanying catalogue with the first use of the Boydlow typeface, Matthew Carter’s interpretation of the Century types. For more info on De Vinne, see No Art without Craft: A Biography of Theodore Low De Vinne by Irene Tichenor.
It will be an honor to be able to host a party in the De Vinne Press Building during the Typographics conference and we hope you’ll join us.