Lawrence Wallis: brit type
George W Jones: printer laureate
Matthew Carter once remarked that the history of typography in the twentieth century has been largely written by the Monotype Corporation through the works of Stanley Morison, Beatrice Warde, John Dreyfus and others. That view is certainly sustainable from a British perspective. It helps to explain the relative neglect endured by some notable contributors to the industry outside that circle, such as George W Jones, a London printer of some distinction and with many industrial credits attaching to his name. In his lifetime Jones was greatly admired and received widespread recognition for his work. Henry Lewis Bullen, the curator of the Typographic Library and Museum of the American Type Founders’ Company, described him as the ‘best all-round printer that Great Britain has ever produced’. Bruce Rogers, foremost among American Typographers, lauded him as that ‘Master of Master Printers’. J R Riddell, Principal of the St Bride Foundation Printing School, forerunner of the London College of Printing, referred to him in 1920 as ‘probably the greatest living exponent of fine letterpress printing’. Today his work has lapsed into near oblivion being little known among the younger generations of printers and typographic designers.
George Jones was born on 18 May 1860 at Upton-upon-Severn in Worcestershire, the eldest son of a blacksmith. He attended the national school in the town until reaching the age of eleven years when orphaned.
At the age of twelve years, Jones was recruited in 1872 to the printery of Ebenezer Baylis & Son Ltd of Worcester as an odd job boy. On 24 March 1873 Jones signed an indenture as a printing apprentice with the firm for seven years. Owing to ill health, the apprenticeship was terminated prematurely after six years in 1879 allowing the young journeyman to leave the trade for an open-air life in Derbyshire for recuperation.
In the autumn of the following year, Jones resumed in the printing industry at Sheffield and became a member of the Typographic Association (a trade union) on 23 October 1880. He gained a variety of industrial experience in the north of England, starting in the jobbing department of the Sheffield Daily Telegraph and later moving on as an overseer at Pawson & Brailsford Ltd, a substantial business equipped with letterpress hand and power presses and five lithographic machines driven by steam. Jones left the company after a disagreement; a scenario that was to be repeated elsewhere. His last appointment in Sheffield was with Hartley & Son Ltd.
Establishing a reputation
In 1883 Jones took up an appointment with Raithby & Lawrence of Leicester, at that time an unremarkable firm of general commercial printers, but later to gain some distinction. The association was to bring Jones into national and eventually international prominence.
Not unnaturally, Jones designed and worked in one of the favoured typographic styles of the time, known somewhat affectedly as artistic printing. It was characterised by fancy and ugly alphabets in ill-assorted combinations, accompanied by unrelated decorative borders and ornamentation, rules bent into all kinds of contortions, tint blocks, and gaudy colour schemes. The style originated in America through the work of Oscar Harpel and later William J Kelly and others and was imported into Britain through the Printers’ International Specimen Exchange from 1880.
Jones was an eager supporter and participant in the Printers’ International Specimen Exchange. His contributions elicited frequent commendations for, as Vivian Ridler observed, the work of Jones in the style of artistic printing had an ‘individuality lacking in most British jobbing printing’. It is easy for contemporary critics to be contemptuous of perceived absurdities in artistic printing, but the technical competence reached in hand composition was of a very high standard, as was the close register work on the platen press. In a Linotype Record of 1922, I suspect Jones published an anonymous apologia for artistic printing and pleaded lack of typographic resources as a reason, such as an absence of typefaces in extended series and families precluding a ‘purity of style’.
Quite definitely, the typographic style eventually distilled by Jones towards the end of the nineteenth century (and by which he deserves to be remembered) owes little or nothing to artistic printing. Nonetheless, when at Raithby & Lawrence, Jones issued several booklets exhibiting various forms of job printing in the artistic style. Long after Jones departed for other work, Raithby & Lawrence became the focal point for avant garde typography, so much so that mature artistic printing became known as the Leicester Free Style.
At a testimonial in London to Robert Hilton (a trade press editor) in 1887, Jones proposed the idea of forming the British Typographia, an association of employing and working printers united in the aim of advancing vocational training throughout the industry. The objectives were to form local branches, to establish libraries of reference and job specimens, to organise courses of technical instruction, to run seminars and group discussions, and to help settle trade disputes on appeal. Henry Bemrose was elected president with Jones on a council of fifteen members and his employer J C Lawrence as treasurer. Undoubtedly the concept was forward looking and turned out to be a success, with Jones leading the way in Edinburgh and London. Branches of the British Typographia later developed into early schools of printing, while the proposed industrial conciliation anticipated the Joint Industrial Council of 1919.
The British Printer
When Jones was at Leicester, Raithby & Lawrence launched The British Printer bi-monthly magazine that first appeared in January/February 1888. It was a publication that aspired to quality production, though its pages appear dull to modern eyes. Jones tended not to dissuade people from believing that he started The British Printer, but Robert Hilton (an experienced journalist) had the original idea, fully supported philosophically and technically by Jones. Raithby & Lawrence provided the capital investment. From the outset The British Printer became a keen promoter of artistic printing, of the British Typographia, and of the Printers’ International Specimen Exchange.
Jones was responsible for producing the inaugural issue only of The British Printer . It proved to be a source of contention between him and his employers because of the late delivery of the magazine, a problem that dogged Jones throughout his business life. Probably fastidiousness and a determination to produce perfect work caused the delays, though Jones asserted that the printed sheets lay around awaiting binding. In any event a quarrel broke out between Jones, Lawrence, and Hilton and ended in Jones leaving Leicester.
More experience as a journeyman
On departing Leicester in February 1888, Jones went to the Co-operative Printing Co, later known as the Darien Press, in Edinburgh. It employed eighty people and operated seven cylinder and two platen presses. In addition to routine commercial duties, Jones formed a branch of the British Typographia and initiated evening classes for typography in conjunction with the University Preparatory Institute and nearly 100 students attended.
By the middle of 1889, Jones had removed from Edinburgh to London for reasons unknown. He next turned up as works manager for the Grapho Press at Leadenhall Street in the City of London.
After a few months, Jones resigned from the Grapho Press to establish a business of his own at 20-22 St Bride Street trading under the title of Geo W Jones, Fine Printer to the Trade. The British Printer observed that ‘the latest artistic types and borders, and labour-saving appliances’ had been installed. Unsurprisingly the enterprise had modest beginnings occupying ‘part of a room’ with ‘one man and one machine and a boy’.
Jones’s interest in technical education remained unabated on reaching London, where a metropolitan branch of the British Typographia was formed. He taught typography classes twice a week at separate City locations attended by more than 100 students.
The Printing World
The year 1891 was important for Jones. His business was shifted to more spacious premises along St Bride Street from numbers 20-22 to number 35. Furthermore an association was struck up with The Printing World, a monthly trade magazine. It was originally produced by Unwin Brothers, though Jones frequently printed colour inserts from an early date. Over time the relationship became closer, as evidenced by an editorial in the January 1892 number stating that George W Jones would in future print the whole periodical. It was added that the next issue may ‘be a little late’. Not only was the February appearance delayed, but the March deadline was also missed.
In December 1892 John Bassett, the publisher and editor of The Printing World, died and Jones contracted to buy the title which took effect with the first issue of 1893. With proprietorial publishing and printing interests at the age of thirty-three, the career of Jones flowered and the magazine provided a wonderful shop window for his activities. His printing company undertook a wide range of jobbing work, as well as periodical and book printing. Success attended the enterprise with a move in 1897 to larger premises at St Bride House, Dean Street, Fetter Lane.
One senses in the pages of The Printing World that Jones was experimenting typographically and searching to settle on a ‘personal’ style. It is possible to detect diverse influences in his work of this period, such as Artistic Printing, Art Nouveau, and the Arts and Crafts Movement. With the early issues of The Printing World of 1901, I surmise that the typographic style nowadays associated with George Jones began to crystallise, exemplified by: a predilection for ornate initial letters; the use of decorative page borders, headpieces, and tailpieces; a preference for Venetian typefaces; and an overall ambience of allusive and derivative typography.
Influence of William Morris
My belief is that Jones was profoundly influenced by the printed work of William Morris at the Kelmscott Press in Hammersmith: the two men did meet as Jones mentioned in numerous public lectures. He was first shown a Kelmscott Press book by John Bassett and as a result realised that ‘he knew nothing whatever about printing’ and dated his regeneration as a printer from the meeting in Hammersmith. He alleges to have learned the lesson of simplicity from Morris, but translated it into a form applicable to commercial needs. Simplicity is not the first word that comes to mind when thinking of Kelmscott productions, but compared to artistic printing the force of Jones’s argument becomes clearer.
Without question, The Printing World was the best of the British trade journals of the time in terms of quality of design and of production and editorially was livelier and more venturesome than its competitors. It used the best available typefaces of the period that had some character and verve. Bear in mind that the great typographical revival programmes had still to be enacted. Its style was restrained and unfussy, but interesting. The subject matter covered was relevant and challenging, notably the articles dealing with design and layout. Jones gave up the magazine some time in 1908.
The Linotype machine
Jones drew abiding sustenance from the visual style of Morris, but the two men had vastly differing attitudes to technology. As a businessman, Jones seized the opportunities provided by new methods of production. He was in the vanguard of change. His reputation is founded, among other things, on the virtuoso use of the Linotype and Miehle machines. The earliest reference I have found to Jones employing a Linotype machine is contained in the imprint of the book Progress in Printing and the Graphic Arts during the Victorian Era by John Southward dated 1897. That is only seven years after the first Linotype installation in a British newspaper. He blazed a trail in commercial printing.
The Linotype machine was an ingenious and productive invention that revolutionised typesetting, but the mechanisms in certain respects were crude. In essence, the machine assembled (under operator control of a keyboard) a line of matrices and therefrom cast solid lines of type from molten metal. Afterwards the solidified slugs were rotated passed a stationary knife for back planing to paper height and pushed between two parallel knives for trimming to body size. It will be appreciated, therefore, that the various knives could easily be forced out of true, delivering slugs imprecise in type height and body size and requiring tedious compensations in press make-ready for printing and in manual page make-up. One needed to exercise vigilance in checking the dimensional accuracy of slugs on a routine basis and to instigate corrective mechanical adjustments when necessary. Jones seems to have understood these constraints very well. It was received wisdom (in Britain at least) that the finest work could only be accomplished on a Monotype system, but Jones proved the exception and argued the case vigorously on occasions.
The Miehle machine
Jones favoured the Miehle machine for printing large sheets of material: a device invented and first built in America between 1885 and 1887. It was initially imported into the United Kingdom some years later in 1896. Earliest reference that I have found to Jones using a Miehle occurred in 1900 when printing a double demy sheet of three-colour process illustrations from plates made by Carl Hentschel Ltd.
Printers, prior to the Miehle, were obliged to employ stop-cylinder machines (Wharfedales invented 1858) that mechanically involved a lot of starting and stopping, thereby causing vibration and juddering not conducive to finely-registered colour work. In contrast, the Miehle was a two-revolution machine with a smoother and continuous action sympathetic to the production of accurate colour work.
Process colour printing
Jones approached process colour reproduction in the same spirit of innovation. It was not until 1892 that the first British three-colour halftone print was issued by Waterlow & Sons Ltd, while the process was not established on a sound commercial footing until 1893. In 1901 the first book in Britain to contain three-colour halftones was published by A & C Black Ltd, namely War Impressions with colour drawings by Mortimer Menpes printed by Jones. The volume was an immediate success.
Soon after 1901, Menpes joined Jones’s business as art director and colour printing became an increasingly important source of revenue. Expansion occurred with the installation of photoengraving facilities. In May 1906, a press advertisement promoting the trade services of George W Jones Ltd indicated premises in London and Watford. Late in 1906 or early 1907 the entire business was moved to Watford and the London factory closed. No fewer than fourteen Miehle machines were operating at the Watford plant in 1908. By 1909, the battery of Miehles had multiplied to twenty accompanied by twenty-five platens.
By the middle of 1908, Jones withdrew from the company, seemingly disenchanted by the removal from London and possibly alienated from partners with diverging priorities. On resigning Jones was contractually forbidden from engagement in the industry for three years. By a series of commercial transactions, the company established by Jones was acquired in 1918 by André, Sleigh & Anglo Ltd and ultimately became known as the Sun Engraving Co Ltd: an influential and huge firm of international repute.
At the Sign of the Dolphin
By the middle of 1911, Jones had returned as a master printer. He inaugurated a press At the Sign of the Dolphin located in Gough Square off Fleet Street adjacent to the house where Dr Samuel Johnson compiled his Dictionary of the English Language in 1755.
About two years after the start-up in Gough Square, Jones decided to develop a new typeface exclusive to his press. He retained Edward Prince to cut the punches and based his design on a Jenson precedent found in Caesar’s Commentaries printed around 1470. Venezia was the name chosen for Jones’s type. It was cast for handsetting by P M Shanks & Sons Ltd. Jones was clearly emulating William Morris in this project.
On entering the 1920s, the subject of typography was topical. After some twenty years in successful commercial operation and of continuous technical refinement, the mechanisms of the Linotype and Monotype systems had become reliable and efficient and the industry convinced of their usefulness. Accordingly the attention of manufacturers turned to endeavours for improving the appearance of the output composition. In 1920 Frederic W Goudy was appointed ‘art adviser’ to the Lanston Monotype Company of Philadelphia. Shortly afterwards, in September 1921, Jones was appointed ‘printing adviser’ to Linotype & Machinery Ltd in Britain. Apparently Jones worked four days a week for Linotype from 1921, an arrangement modified to four months a year from February 1937. Somewhat remarkably, Jones was sixty-one years of age on gaining this assignment. Stanley Morison joined the Lanston Monotype Corporation at Salfords as typographical adviser approximately eighteen months later in 1923.
Jones was something of a traditionalist in print design. His preferred style latterly was limited to the early sixteenth century, both in typefaces employed and in the use of decorative initials and borders. His style was rigid and did not evolve over time, or make concessions to fashion, with the consequence that his work has been dismissed as archaic and quaint. His efforts in type design not surprisingly evoked the same historical preoccupations, but as Walter Tracy has written: ‘I think his appreciation of classic letter forms was very sound, but not so infatuated that he was reluctant to modify a form where it seemed sensible’.
Jones oversaw the design and development of a number of typefaces for Linotype composition with the active encouragement of the American parent company, included among the founts were Granjon, Estienne, Baskerville, and Georgian.
Arguably the summit of Jones’s achievements was the creation of Granjon Old Face. It was first shown in the British trade press of December 1924 and appeared as a tour de force in The Linotype Record of April 1925. Provenance of the face was in types used for books produced by the Parisian printers Jacques Dupuys in 1554 and Jean Poupy in 1582. It proved to be a true Garamond derivative. One of the problems of designing alphabets for the Linotype machine was to produce a decent non-kerning lower-case f. That Jones did in Granjon. Additionally he produced twenty-nine ligatures for the Granjon founts to aid elegance in settings. Accolades for the Granjon design came from many quarters, not least the competition. Beatrice Warde, writing in The Fleuron of 1926 praised Granjon as a ‘book face worthy to rank with Caslon for usefulness, with Centaur for beauty: sharp enough for publicity, clear enough for a dictionary’. Jones printed a number of memorable books in Granjon, notably The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer for the Limited Editions Club in 1934.
Estienne is a little known and much underrated design by Jones; the earliest drawings date from 1928. It was employed in setting The Linotype and Printing Machinery Record for June 1929, a very subdued and chaste issue in the corpus of Jones’s work. Inspiration for the face is rooted in sixteenth-century French printing. For a time the type found favour in the USA amongst the best printers, but never enjoyed much currency in Britain. Jones printed some commendable editions in the face, exemplified by The Chimes by Charles Dickens for the Limited Editions Club in 1931.
Drawings for Linotype Baskerville are dated 1930 and the first public showing occurred in The London Mercury of November 1931 with a review by Bernard Newdigate. Clearly the intention of Jones was to copy as closely as possible the original type of John Baskerville as used in the middle of the eighteenth century. Linotype insisted in 1950 that: ‘It is important to remember that Linotype Baskerville is not an "adaptation" – it is a true revival’.
The last major type by Jones was Georgian, the letter drawings originating in 1931 and 1932. Genesis of the face can be traced to the eighteenth century, particularly to the work of Alexander Wilson who owned a typefoundry in Scotland.
Jones and Morison
Some curiosity has been expressed about the relationship (if any) between Jones and Morison. Unfortunately any examination is hampered by sparse documentary and anecdotal evidence. One imagines that the first or early meeting between them occurred in the autumn of 1921, a gathering that led to the formation of the Double Crown Club. Jones never became a member, even though a compulsive clubman.
One can readily concede that Jones and Morison were divided by genuine disagreements on print design and production. Quite definitely, a generation gap separated the protagonists. Morison was born on 6 May 1889, the year that Jones came to London for establishing his own business. Some twenty-nine years separated the ages of the two men and their working backgrounds were very different: Jones came through the ranks of the printing industry from apprentice upwards, while Morison entered the industry as a ‘trainee’ in the offices of The Imprint periodical and was never a tradesman in the normally accepted sense. Jones was a proud man, a touch pompous from time to time, and a printing establishment figure when Morison first met him. Jones’s constituency was amongst master printers and fellow tradesmen, whereas Morison was part of a new age of typographers and designers. It seems most likely that the two tolerated each other with politeness, but without too much sympathy.
By the 1930s the client list of the Sign of the Dolphin press was impressive. It encompassed various Masonic lodges, a number of City of London institutions and associations, the Limited Editions Club, the Cresset Press, the Aquila Press, Linotype & Machinery Ltd, Chatto & Windus, A & C Black, H W Caslon & Son Ltd, P M Shanks & Sons Ltd, and so on. Additionally Jones printed the only Nonesuch Press book commissioned by Francis Meynell to be set on a Linotype machine, namely Oscar Wilde: Recollections by Jean Paul Raymond and Charles Ricketts in 1932.
Jones retired in 1938, selling his business to Hunt, Barnard & Co Ltd, a reputable printing house in Aylesbury. The last book to be completed under his supervision was the weighty The Great Chronicle of London edited by A H Thomas and J D Thornley. It bore the imprint of ‘The Sign of the Dolphin, London and Aylesbury’ and probably printing started in one location and finished in the other.
His retirement began at Malvern Wells in Worcestershire, followed by a move to Rickmansworth, and finally to Droitwich Spa where he died on 14 May 1942. He was later interred at the family grave in Northwood where his wife, Eliza Sophia, had been buried in 1912.
Jones’s considerable and distinguished output as a printer will serve as a monument to his life, but in America a more formal tribute was mounted in the Typographic Library and Museum of the American Type Founders Company in the form of a stained glass window. It incorporates one of the many printer’s marks used by Jones and carries the legend ‘George W Jones . . . Leader of Printing Art in Britain’. The window now lies in the vaults of the library at Columbia University. It is time for the window to be retrieved and displayed in memory of a remarkable and almost forgotten printer.
Lawrence Wallis is a freelance writer, lecturer, consultant and columnist for Print Week. For 20 years he was Director of International Marketing for the Pre-press Division of AM International, and was Typesetting Systems Advisor to Crosfield Electronics and Monotype. He has written extensively in the trade press and has published eight books.