Thursday 17 May 2018

New York. A Series of Wood Engravings in Colour (1915).

New York. A Series of Wood Engravings in Colour (1915). Rudolph Ruzicka & Walter Eaton. (HERE)

One of the most celebrated book collectors of all time was Jean Grolier de Servieres (1490-1565), a one time Treasurer General of France and a Renaissance scholar of broad humanist interests. Grolier sought out the best quality printed books on fine paper and then had  the volumes finished in exquisitely tooled leather bindings. Famously, he was an important patron of the Italian printer Aldus Manutius, who had founded the Aldine press in Venice in 1494.  

In April 1518, after some prompting from the bookseller Fancesco Giuilo Calvo, the Dutch humanist Erasmus of Rotterdam wrote a flattering letter to Grolier, in which he said;
You owe nothing to our books; it is our books that are in debt to you, for you will secure them an undying name among posterity ,, with all your encouragement of literary men, you are at the same time yourself the most literate of them all. 

The Grolier club of New York was founded in 1884. It's aim is to celebrate all of the graphic arts involved in making high quality books: page design, typography, illustration and book binding. The current home of the club is in an affluent district of Manhattan, it has a museum and large research library and is an important venue for talks and seminars. The club has also throughout it's history published limited editions of exquisitely designed, illustrated and printed books. 

This book was published by the Grolier club in 1915. It captures New York in a period of rapid transition. Skyscrapers were transforming the city's skyline as it became one of the most populous and economically powerful cities in history. The prose was written by Walter Eaton and the book was designed and illustrated by the type designer and wood engraver Rudolph Ruzicka (1883-1978).  The ten colour woodblock engravings that had been made by Ruzicka were printed from his blocks by Emile Fequet in Paris.  

One of the chapters celebrates the efficiency and beauty of the bridges of New York.
So the bridges which handle with the greatest ease the greatest traffic, which fling the longest spans from the flanks of the tallest city, will ultimately be judged by their efficiency. They have risen to meet a new condition, on a new continent, born of the dreams of a new nation. Why should they not possess a new beauty? To the eye which sees New York steadily and sees it whole, they do.
This image shows the Queensboro Bridge, which spans the East River in New York city. It has a double cantilever steel design with five spans and a total of more than 1,000 metres of suspended roadway.  The bridge was opened to traffic in 1909 to connect midtown Manhattan with Queens via Roosevelt Island.  In The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald uses this bridge to note an arrival to New York City from Long Island: 
The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world.
Rudolph Ruzicka was born in Kourim, Bohemia in 1883. He moved with his parents to Chicago in 1894 and by 1897 he was an unpaid apprentice in a wood engraving workshop. He studied at the Chicago Art Institute and New York School of Art and also worked for the American Banknote Company.  Ruzicka was well known as a type designer and worked for the Mergenthaler Linotype company. He designed the typeface Fairfield in 1940 and used the face in his redesign of the Harvard Business Review in the early 1950's. 

In 2002, the Grolier club published New York Revisited - in many ways a follow-on volume to this book (in the world of fine art printing, things can often take some time). The text in the book was written by Grolier club member Kenneth Auchincloss, and the book was designed, typeset, illustrated with colour wood engravings and hand printed by the fine-art printer Gaylord Schanilec. 

The publication of New York Revisited shows that even in an age of digital publishing, the book as a beautiful artefact is alive and well. In the Foreword, the author refers back to the New York volume that had been published by Grolier in 1915;
The highlight of the book is the wood engravings by Rudoph Ruzicka. Their muted colors and delicate line partially disguise the artist's reaction to the city, which one suspects was primarily alarm ... His images are deceptively light, but what they convey is the enormous vertical weight of the city.   
A total of 250 copies of New York Revisited were printed. The first 50 of these were specially bound and each of them contained a portfolio of Ruzicka engravings that had been newly printed by Schanilec from the blocks that Ruzicka had cut in 1915. These original blocks still existed and had been found in good condition in an old box in the Grolier club premises by their librarian.  


Elton, C.I. & Elton, M.A. (1893). The Great Book Collectors.
Scribners, New York.

Andrews, W.L. (1892). Jean Grolier de Servier, viscount d'Aguisy. Some account of his life and of his famous library. DeVinne Press, New York. 

Auchincloss, K. & Schanilec, G.  (2002). New York Revisited. Grolier Club, New York.

Bietenholz, P.G. & Deutscher, T.B. (1985). Contemporaries of Erasmus. Toronto University Press.

Hofer, P. (1978). Rudolph Ruzicka. Proc. Mass. Historical Society. Vol. 90, pp. 143-145.

Mynors, R.A.B., Thomson, D.F.S. & Bietenholz P.G. (1979). The Correspondence of Erasmus. Letters 594 to 841.  p. 403. Toronto University Press.