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The art of the Book in Germany
by L. Deubner | Text set in Buena Roman 14px
Letterpress printing, even in the edition de luxe, is not an art, and neither the compositor nor the printer is an artist.” This is what was written in the year 1887 by Ludwig Nieper, at that time Director of what is now the Royal Academy of the Graphic Arts and Book Industry at Leipzig, a city which in the present year has in its International Exhibition, embracing every conceivable aspect of the industry as well as the arts most closely bound up with it, furnished such a convincing and impressive demonstration of the culture uniting the nations as perhaps has never been offered before. The conviction expressed in the passage just quoted, repudiating the existence of any influence of art on industrial labour, belongs to a period bereft of any real feeling for art and content with the imitation and repetition of historic styles while eschewing any contact with the practical requirements of the industry. Nowadays we know how beneficial and fruitful for both has been the reciprocal influence of art and industry in every sphere of activity, and that only by this means have we been able to proceed from mere external embellishment to artistic form, from book adornment to a true art of the book.
Thus in the space of barely twenty-five years our views of what art really is and what are its functions have radically changed, and it must be left to those who come after us to estimate more correctly than we are able to at the present day, the immense labour which has been accomplished in the space of a generation. The incipient stages in the growth of the new movement in Germany date back some twenty years. At that time we looked with envy at the publications which issued from the private presses of England, and could boast of nothing that could compare with the far-famed “Faust” of the Doves Press; and if to-day we are at length able to stand on our own feet, it would yet be false to assert that the modern art of book production in Germany has developed from within, and to disavow the valuable stimulus and knowledge we owe especially to the English books of that period.
And clearly as we perceived that the book in its entirety, with its harmonious coordination of type, decoration, composition, paper and binding, should form a work of art, yet only after many mistakes and deviations have we arrived at the goal. Thus nowadays no one would seriously seek to defend such a production as the official catalogue of the German section at the Paris Exhibition of 1900; and so, too, the so-called “Eckmann” type, which at one time was taken up with unexampled enthusiasm — a type in which the designer had contrived to adapt the ancient forms of the “Antiqua” type to the sinuous lines of modern ornament — is now almost completely forgotten. These and many other things which at that time were acclaimed as creative achievements, belong to that class of errors which are really nothing but exaggerated truths. But in the absence of such excesses and that exuberance of feeling which was so violently manifested, it would have been quite impossible to accomplish in so short a time what as a matter of fact was accomplished, and in spite of shortcomings has even now lost none of its importance in the history of the development of a new art of the book.
Text from: www.gutenberg.org / Charles Holme / The art of the book; a review of some recent European and American work in typography, page decoration & binding | Publication date 1914