Herman Zapf honored by The Caxton Club

Matthew J. Doherty

Author's note: Hermann Zapf of Darmstadt, Germany—friend to many Caxtonians since the 1950's, and a member of The Caxton Club since 1996—was recently voted an Honorary Member by the Council after recommendation letters were provided by Bruce Beck and Hayward Blake. For those familiar with Zapf's accomplishments in calligraphy, type design, book design, teaching, and advancing the highest standards of craft, professional skill and civility, this is a well-deserved and long-overdue honor.

Hermann Zapf is a gifted, self-taught calligrapher and type designer; he has designed more than 200 typefaces, with his first commercial typeface, Gilgengart, designed when he was 20 years old. Palatino, Optima, Zapf Chancery, and Zapf Dingbats are familiar type designs found on all personal computers today. Optima was selected for the engraved names on the Vietnam War Memorial.

Zapf has written books on typography, calligraphy and book design, many published in German and English, including an early classic Feder und Stichel (Pen and Graver), and later works such as Manuale Typographicum and Typographic Variations, the latter designed by Zapf on themes of contemporary book design and typography. His career, which began in the late 1930s, continues today with the recent release of his Zapfino Script type design. Zapfino and Zapf Renaissance Roman were used in the Grolier publication reviewed in this issue of the Caxtonian.

His young career was interrupted by WWII, when he served in the German military as a cartographer in France. In the years after the war, "hungry for professional news outside Germany," Zapf learned of Caxtonian Robert Hunter Middleton, Director of Type Design at the Ludlow Typograph Company. Middleton was president of the Society of Typographic Arts (STA) at the time it published Paul Standard's Calligraphy's Flowering, Decay and Restoration in 1947, designed by Raymond DaBoll, another Chicagoan and an accomplished calligrapher. Zapf requested a copy from Standard, and "promptly received the book with a long letter of welcome." Zapf wrote, "This STA book was my first connection with the graphic arts community in the United States after the War,…the first opportunity for me and my colleagues in Germany to study the work of other calligraphers and typographers outside of our country."

Zapf's friendship with Middleton began in the 1950s and spanned more than 30 years, until Middleton's death in 1985. During that time Zapf developed great respect for Middleton's skill as type designer, calligrapher, and letterpress printer. Throughout these years, many more colleagues and new friends in Chicago became acquainted with Hermann Zapf and his work. Jim Wells, Custodian of the Wing Collection at the Newberry Library at the time, welcomed the contributions Zapf made to the library and aided Zapf's research efforts by supplying facsimiles of materials in the Newberry collections. The Newberry collection of Zapf correspondence and ephemera includes two calligraphy samples: one text of Goethe and another of a Shakespearian sonnet. The Goethe sample was included in the recent Grolier exhibit.

Once the Chicago connection was made, it continued to expand because Zapf's skill and integrity with the "triple discipline of calligraphy, type design and book design" appealed to many professionals with related interests, including Raymond DaBoll and James Hayes, a calligrapher from Evanston, and Harry J. Owens and Walter Howe at Lakeside Press. Of Howe, Zapf wrote to Bruce Beck in 1995. "I owe a lot to him who was first to show me Donnelley's in Chicago when I was there for the first time in the 50s." During that time, also at the Lakeside Press, Zapf would certainly have met Norman Cram, Harold Tribolet, Doug Lang, and Jim Bohaty. Others in Chicago whom Zapf came to know include Bruce Beck, Franklin MacMahon, and Hayward Blake.

Zapf's knowledge of The Caxton Club included its publications. Regarding one of the best Caxton publications produced, Zapf states: "I still regret that I did not purchase the publication Doctor Faust in 1953, above all because so many of my closest friends made their contribution to this publication. I only want to mention Fritz Kredel, Elizabeth Kner and Victor Hammer.”

Although already an accomplished and rising international influence in calligraphy and type design in the early 1950s, Zapf had really just begun. In addition to his calligraphy and type design, he has taught and lectured in Europe and the US.

Robert Hunter Middleton played an indirect role in Zapf's introduction to the graphics community in America. Then, after decades of friendship, he inspired Zapf to write Hermann Zapf and His Design Philosophy: Selected Articles and Lectures on Calligraphy and Contemporary Developments in Type Design, with Illustrations and Bibliographical Notes, and a Complete List of His Typefaces, and allow the STA to publish his work. In 1987, two years after Middleton's death, Hermann Zapf did publish with the STA—with the book dedicated to Middleton—and came to Chicago to accept the first STA Robert Hunter Middleton Award. During this visit, he again found the Chicago book and design community welcoming and very appreciative of his contributions to the art of typography, calligraphy, and design.

In a May 1995 letter to Bruce Beck—thanking him for a copy of The Caxton Club 1895-1995—Herman Zapf offered The Caxton Club this challenge: "I am convinced that the book will continue to hold its dominating position since even the best presentation on a screen will never show the details of an illustration or a typeface ... I hope that we will succeed in convincing young people that it is a unique feeling to have a book in one's hand, to touch the grain of the paper, and to enjoy the quality of printing ... I think there is a major task waiting for institutions such as The Caxton Club, which may look back to such a long tradition in emphasizing again and again the meaning of book printing."

Hermann Zapf has been graced with gifts of talent, insight, creativity, and a generous spirit. Many have honored him and praised his achievements during the last 60 years, and The Caxton Club is proud to recognize his contributions and influences in the realm of all things calligraphic, typographic, as well as design, and reading related. What whelmed and inspired me, however, as I once again poured over his publications and correspondence, is the beauty and integrity that permeates—that defines—his life's work. The possibilities Hermann Zapf champions in his seamless "triple discipline," promote enviable standards for those of us who toil in any one of the three, and demonstrate again and again the influence of written languages rendered with profound gestalt in endless variation. v

Author's note: Resources and editing for this article were generously provided by Bruce Beck, Hayward Blake, Kim Coventry, Paul Gehl, Wendy Cowles Husser, and Russell Maylone.

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Doctor Faust

A page from 1953 Caxton publication, Doctor Faust. From the collection of Frank Piehl.

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