Here in Archives & Special Collections we have a large and interesting collection of fine press books — that is, the work of small presses that produced, in limited numbers, books featuring design, typography, paper, ink and illustrations of the finest quality. It has been my lucky task this week to organize and catalog our wonderful collection of one of those fine printers, the Harbor Press, which operated in New York City from 1925 to 1942. Specifically, I am working on our collection of Harbor Press ephemera — not its books, but all the flyers, greeting cards, advertisements, labels, letterheads, trade cards, bookplates, etc., which the Press produced for hundreds of commercial businesses, individuals, and, as we shall see, for itself, too.
The Harbor Press was the creation of two young men, John Fass and Roland Wood (AC 1920), together with his wife Elizabeth Wood. The two men had formerly worked together at the printing and publishing house of William Edwin Rudge at Mount Vernon, New York. While at Rudge, they had worked alongside renowned book designer Bruce Rogers, and it is clear that Rogers’ modernist yet classical design sensibility had a significant influence on the consistently precise, elegant, and finely crafted ornamental style for which the Harbor Press became famous. Fass was mainly responsible for the design, and Roland Wood for the printing.
The Harbor Press was famous for its logo featuring a seahorse. The seahorse appeared in dozens of different versions on many Harbor Press productions. Often it appeared astride an anchor — a visual homage, perhaps, to the dolphin-and-anchor device of the Aldine Press, founded by the master printer of the Italian Renaissance, Aldus Manutius.
The Harbor Press designed and printed special editions of works by famous authors for large commercial publishers like Random House and Harper and Brothers, as well as for New York’s most influential bibliophiles: the members of the Grolier Club and the Typophiles.
The Harbor Press Ephemera Collection offers a wealth of typographic loveliness and lots of mid-20th-century whimsy:
The collection also includes dozens of original printing plates and samples of letterpress type.
Fass and Wood ceased their partnership and closed the Press at the beginning of World War II. Wood pursued a career in acting, while Fass continued working as a leading book designer for leading American publishers as well as a graphic designer specializing in typography for advertising.
The finding aid to the collection will be available soon. In the meantime, enjoy this visual sampling!