p8082006Cambridge University Press’ Printing Division, referred to by us publishing staff as UPH (University Printing House) used to be located in the middle of town behind the Pitt Building on Trumpington Street.

The Pitt Building

The Pitt Building

The best perhaps that can be said for the building they moved to in the sixties on the southern edge of town, (shown at the top) is that it was functional. No longer did lorries have to be squeezed into Mill Lane or skids of sheets moved up and down from floors at different levels in old buildings that had been smashed together: the work could flow. The University repossessed the buildings behind, and the Pitt Building remained the publishing office, and it was from there that I set out for the new world.

32 E 57th. The gigantic structure behind only arrived recently.

32 E 57th. The vacant lot next door (in front) was occupied by a building in those days.

When I first came over to New York to work for Cambridge University Press’s American Branch at 32 East 57th Street, a small part of my salary was paid by the Printing Division. My UPH duties consisted almost entirely of just being there to answer the phone. They were not looking to increase their business in USA; just to service such accounts as they already had. The key factor in the success of any UK book manufacturer’s ability to get American work has always been the state of the $/£ exchange rate. At that time it was not favorable, and work (like me) was flowing the other way. The UPH phone rarely rang. When it did, all involved were happy to find a British accent on the line able to talk about demy octavo, picas and ems. One of my predecessors in this role had been Brian Allen, a full-time rep., and a man of considerable typographic ability. He became after his return to England a full-time letter-cutter in stone.

It was in my capacity as a UPH representative that I inherited a membership of the Typophiles, at that time a rather traditional-minded organization of aging letterpress fans, typographers and bibliophiles. As the representative of Cambridge printing I received respect way beyond my personal deserts. The organization still exists, as manifested in this their Facebook page. The really good thing about this organization was the keepsakes you could pick up at their monthly lunch-time meetings held at the National Arts Club in Grammercy Park. For instance we had a series of meetings addressed by wood engravers each of whom brought something for us. I still have framed and on display original pieces by John DePol, Clare Leighton, Barry Moser, John Lawrence, even Reynolds Stone (though he didn’t appear in person). Fritz Eichenberg I don’t have, but as he was a member of the Typophiles, probably his role was exclusively as organizer of the series. At our Christmas meeting we’d get a goody-bag containing three or four books: several published and printed by the Typophiles themselves, but others donated by publishers. Ah, those were the days!

Sometime in the late eighties or early nineties the UPH stopped doing Monotype hot metal composition. This was a serious break in what had always been their pride and joy: fine hot metal composition and letterpress printing, arguably the finest in the world. Most of their business in the USA by that point consisted of finishing up the few multi-volume sets of The Papers of X or Y which a few American university presses had been typesetting and printing in Cambridge. The presses which had committed this work were naturally discombobulated by the failure of their supplier to be able to continue typesetting their series in Monotype before they had even gotten half way through the project. In large projects like this volumes come in at widely separated intervals as one volume editor or another finds more or less time for the work. Obviously if you go to Cambridge to get hot metal Monotype Garamond, having it switched to a filmset version, even if the two versions are pretty indistinguishable to the man in the street, is rather like being stabbed in the back typographically speaking. I got an enquiry from one of the few surviving letterpress houses in America, The Heritage Press, in Charlotte, NC, as to whether they could buy the Dante matrices from Cambridge. As this came right at the end of my tenure at CUP, I don’t know whether the sale was ever consummated, allowing the Collected Papers of this or that founding father to continue in the same font, or not. Dante was unfortunately a rare typeface, and wasn’t one that would be available filmset. I suspect it didn’t happen — I have the hint of a memory that the mats had already been disposed of — but in any case Heritage Printers in their turn have departed the scene, so it would anyway have only been a stop-gap solution. We seem no longer to be able to plan for the ages.

And now, just to drive home that point, the University Printing House’s operations, which had been transferred by sale to a competitor who’d moved them to Bar Hill, have disappeared in the closure of that company. The hangar-like University Printing House building is now occupied by Cambridge’s publishing staff, the custom-made Edinburgh Building across the street, to which publishing operations had moved from the Pitt, having been pulled down.