Book Excerpt

PRESS, POLITICS & PERSEVERANCE, EVERETT C. JOHNSON AND THE PRESS OF KELLS. Robert C. Barnes, Judith M. Pfeiffer.

PRESS, POLITICS & PERSEVERANCE, EVERETT C. JOHNSON AND THE PRESS OF KELLS.

New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 1999. 8vo. cloth, dust jacket. 320 pages. This long-awaited biography brings to life the remarkable printer, politician and sage, Everett Johnson. Inspired by the work of Elbert Hubbard's Roycrofters, Johnson established the indomitable Press of Kells in Newark, Delaware. The fortress-like stone building that became home to the "Newark Post" still stands, and as of 1999, this lively paper celebrates its 90th year. For the next generation, through his... READ MORE

Price: $35.00  other currencies  Order nr. 54276

Ruskin, Morris, Hubbard, And Johnson

the Arts and Crafts Movement

That there actually was a press in the conservative town of Newark, Delaware endeavoring to carry on the philosophy espoused by the Arts and Crafts Movement, having its origins in Europe, is unusual. That it was the result of one man’s dream is not so surprising. The Arts and Crafts Movement was led by a handful of men pursuing the belief that art and industry could be unified. (1819–1900).

The English writer and artist John Ruskin is credited with the philosophy of the movement. He blamed the Industrial Revolution for isolating artists from the rest of society which led to mass-produced manufactured goods devoid of any redeeming aesthetic qualities. He believed beautiful things did not have to justify their existence; they were valuable and useful simply because they were made with “head, heart and hand”.

Book design was one of the casualties of the Industrial Revolution and it wasn’t until late in the nineteenth century when another Englishman, William Morris (1834–1896) led the way by treating the book as an art form, that things began to improve. Calling for a return to skilled craftsmanship, he believed art and craft should be apparent in the manufacture of everyday goods. He preached against the squalid conditions prevalent in cities and advocated the creation of a workplace atmosphere conducive to the health and well-being of the workers. Originally a designer of textiles, Morris later turned his attentions to graphic design and printmaking. His Kelmscott Press established in London, became famous for meticulous hand-printing, handmade paper, handcut woodblocks and intricate initials and borders.

Morris designed three typefaces. Troy was a black letter typeface easily read with wider rounder characters than previous gothic types. Chaucer was a smaller version of Troy and Golden was based on Venetian Roman faces designed by the printer Nicolas Jenson between 1470 and 1476. Morris F. Benton, (1872–1948) head of typeface development for the American Typeface Founders Company, later re-designed Jenson’s type and renamed it the Cloister family.38 The Jenson initials would be the choice of Everett Johnson for use in his finest books from the Press of Kells. The philosophy of William Morris may have been to improve the quality of life for the common worker but, in fact, only the very wealthy could afford the household furnishings of Morris and Company or the exquisite books from the Kelmscott Press.

The person who brought the Arts and Crafts movement to America offered his products to the common people. Elbert Hubbard began his career as a salesman for the Larkin Soap Company, which he established with his brother-in-law in Buffalo, New York. His flair for salesmanship quickly resulted in great profits for the company and in 1893 at the age of thirty-seven he sold his share in the mail-order soap business, receiving enough money to enable him to pursue his new avocation of writing. During a trip to England in 1894 he met William Morris and visited the famous Kelmscott Press.

Inspired, he returned to East Aurora and established the controversial Roycroft Press the following year. The Roycroft books were in many ways imitations of the Kelmscott books but they were not aimed at the socially elite. Within a few years more buildings were added and more than 500 people, most of them locals who were trained by Hubbard, were producing furniture, copperwork, metalwork, leather goods and stained glass as well as books. He was criticized by many as being a huckster who lowered the lofty philosophical standards of the Arts and Crafts Movement. In reality he brought finely crafted products into the lives of ordinary citizens and instilled a love of reading in the many people he reached through his mail order books.

The Creed, a copy of which was mailed to new members of the Roycroft Fraternity was borrowed from Ruskin: “A belief in working with the Head, Hand and Heart and mixing enough Play with the Work so that every task is pleasurable and makes for Health and Happiness.”39

One of the buildings in the Roycroft community was the Roycroft Inn. A 1905 advertisement in one of Hubbard’s popular series of Little Journeys in booklet form, (single copies 25 cents, by the year, $3.00), lists the amenities with typical Hubbard wit:

Out-of-Door Sleeping-Rooms with In Door Dressing-Rooms attached, Electric lights, Steam heat, Turkish baths, Running water, Art Gallery, Chapel, Camp-in woods, Library, Music Room, Ballroom, Garden and Wood Pile. By understanding of the local W.C.T.U. (Women’s Christian Temperance Union) we supply chaser only. Parties without baggage will receive special attention from Ali Baba (the handyman).

Hammers for Knockers without extra charge.

Everett Johnson, the man who would bring the Arts and Crafts Movement to Newark, Delaware, visited Elbert Hubbard’s community in July of 1911. As Hubbard caught the printing fever from Morris, Everett caught it from the Roycrofters. The desire to publish limited edition books, using the finest type available on the best paper he could afford, was a goal he set for himself as a result of that visit. Unlike Morris and Hubbard, he did not have a personal fortune to invest in his dream and the Press of Kells was frequently in debt.

Johnson also imitated Hubbard’s use of Mottoes and Creeds and was not adverse to using some caustic humor in his newspaper.

Whereas the Roycroft Creed advocated mixing play with the work, The Press of Kells was advertised as “The Shop down on Welsh Lane where we mix a little brains with our ink.” The ads for his press usually ended with, “Kells—where Master Craftsmen study and work at the Art of Printing.”

Johnson constantly struggled to educate his prospective customers concerning the difference between printing well done and cheap, shoddy jobs run off quickly just for profit. At times it must have seemed like a lost cause as he seldom earned enough to justify the care put into his work. The fine, limited-edition books he hoped would make the Press famous never caught on, and he was forced to job printing to pay the bills. Even so, he made sure his customers knew they were getting a lot for their money.

The May 31st, 1916 issue of the Post explained his idea of the way printing should be done.

 

A good piece of Printing requires a study of the proper kind of stock, the style and arrangement of type, the selection of ink with eye to color. All this must be thought out before the work is begun. Then the mechanical skill, in composition, and in press work. A love of the work must be there too.

Added to this must be an equipment in type, labor saving devices, presses, folding machines.

Added again to this, must be light, air, sunshine, pleasing surroundings.

With these must be an attention to management, giving business efficiency toward purchases of materials, wastes, overhead charges and efficient deliveries. Then, if there be a co-operation between the several departments, you may expect a good piece of Printing. And this is the policy of Kells.

Every job coming to this Shop is planned with a certain amount of study before the mechanical work is commenced. Study enters into our Printing. Mechanical skill enters into it. The best equipment, labor saving devices, love of work, surroundings approaching Ideal. A Printer’s Heaven said a guest last week.

This Imprint of the Head, Heart and Hand Triangle is our Ideal toward which our work is tending always. Nor think all these ambitions tend to raise the price. Rather, just the opposite. These things just mentioned make this plant give value received. “Everything in its place and a place for Everything” is far cheaper than, where is this, that and the other thing entering into the job. If these words are not convincing—try our work—It never fails. Have your work done at Kells where Master Craftsmen study and work at the Art of Printing.

Everett Johnson and Elbert Hubbard both believed in their work but used completely different methods of conducting business. In addition, experiences with higher education left each man with a totally different outlook on life.

According to his wife, Everett was always scholarly. “And he was, well I’ve heard people say this to please me, he was the smartest man in Newark. But he didn’t give that impression that he was trying to be smart…he was interested in the right things.”40

Like Morris, Johnson did not wish to reinvent the Arts and Crafts Movement, he only desired to perpetuate excellent craftsmanship. College transcripts show he excelled at Delaware College, graduating with honors and achieving the highest rank possible in the Cadet Corps, that of Cadet Major. Only illness prevented him from achieving a graduate degree from Johns Hopkins. Unable to continue teaching, his press substituted as a vehicle to help his readers understand current affairs. Whatever he thought would be beneficial for Newark would be “boosted” in the Post. In 1917, in an attempt to encourage reading, Johnson departed from his policy of “all home print”. The Man Without A Country, by Edward Everett Hale, had been chosen by the Newark High School Alumni Association as a second book for the year’s reading. After becoming concerned over a shortage of available copies, Everett, as a service to the community, published the entire text in the May ninth and May sixteenth issues of the Post.

Hubbard, on the other hand, aspired to be a college man and failed - twice. He went to Harvard with a chip on his shoulder, determined to obtain a degree seemingly not for the sake of learning as much as to make his writing more acceptable to the intelligentsia. Unable to fit in, he summed up the entire experience as a waste of time starting “College is a make-believe, and every college student knows it.”41 Hubbard did, however, have a real talent for business and a way of writing that appealed to the populace. In spite of their differences, Johnson admired Elbert Hubbard, and the early issues of the Post contained many articles written in the Roycroft style. As Johnson became more experienced in dealing with the public and more knowledgeable in the world of politics, he abandoned Hubbard’s theatrical style of writing in favor of a more erudite approach.

Instead of adopting the Roycroft style Everett should have studied Hubbard’s talent for making money. The Roycroft Press was not known for printing without turning a profit. The Press of Kells, however, constantly ran in the red due to its owner’s generosity. The profit margin was low to begin with compared to other print shops and jobs for his Alma Mater, Delaware College, were often done for little or no profit. In some cases, such as Professor Vallandigham’s 153 page book, Fifty Years of Delaware College, published for the college’s golden anniversary, he did the work gratis.42