Of Interest: Richard Ellis’ Career

January 1, 2017 Comments Off on Of Interest: Richard Ellis’ Career

Over at the Devotees forum, user featherwate compiled a nice little history and bibliography of renowned book designer Richard Ellis, who worked on several LEC and Heritage Press titles for George Macy. This reappears here with his permission and slight editing. Thanks Jack!

Richard ‘Dick’ Ellis (1894/5/6-1982 [1], book architect [2]
Over a career spanning 60 years, Richard Ellis (familiarly known as RWE), built up a reputation as one of America’s finest printers and book designers, whether working for himself or for such leading names as Random House, OUP and the George Macy companies. One of his earliest commissions came from the distinguished publisher, art entrepreneur and bibliophile Mitchell Kennerley, who asserted that “…he has the surest touch of any book designer and printer in America today [3].” This magic touch rarely failed RWE and nearly 140 fine items ranging from a massive Dante/Blake Inferno to Richard Aldington’s small but perfectly-formed Balls passed through his hands.
In 1950 George Macy remarked that Ellis “had not had his just share of praise and gratitude”, and he and his successors demonstrated their confidence in him with frequent commissions. The following list is as comprehensive as I can make it; any additions or corrections will be very welcome!

Asterisked titles indicate LEC volumes that were also issued under the Heritage imprint.
The LEC
As printer:

1930 Tartarin of Tarascon
As designer [4]:
1945 The Sir Roger De Coverley Papers*
1945 Wonderful Adventures Of Paul Bunyan*
1947 The Red and the Black*
1947 Two Years before the Mast*
1955 The Warden*
1957 The Picture of Dorian Gray*
1958 Barchester Towers* (“Printed by Peter Beilenson in Mount Vernon, New York from the typographic plans of Richard W. Ellis. Illustrations hand-colored in the studio of Richard W. Ellis, NY.”)
1961 The Rise of Silas Lapham
1963 The Ambassadors*
1964 Poor Richard’s Almanacs*
1966 Journey to the Center of the Earth*
1968 Journal of the Plague Year 1665*
1968 Heart of Darkness*
1971 Northanger Abbey*
1973 Candide (as well as designing the book, RWE also oversaw its printing)
1974 The Life of Washington
The Heritage originals
As printer:
1937 Green Mansions (The Sandglass [1A of June 1937] makes no mention of RWE and ascribes the printing to The Haddon Craftsmen. At the time, however, he was in the Craftsmen’s employ and directed both the printing and binding of the book, which had been designed by Frederic Warde)
As designer:
1940 The Travels of Lemuel Gulliver
1945 Robinson Crusoe
1948 The Book of Edward A. Wilson
1950 The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Notes:
[1] His birthday, December 7, isn’t in doubt but there is confusion over the year.
[2] In the 1925 New York Census RWE gave his occupation as ‘typographer’. Shortly afterwards he began to use ‘designer of books’ on his headed notepaper (Source: The Harbor Press Ephemera Collection). By 1940, however, he had acquired the confidence to enter his preferred description — ‘book architect’ — into the US Federal Census; surprisingly, perhaps, this neologism was accepted without comment (it wouldn’t have been in the UK!). But it seems not to have been taken up by others and appeareth not in the OED, the Urban Dictionary or, so far as I can tell, Webster’s. However, its derivative, ‘book architecture’ is a favorite buzzword of agencies offering to teach aspiring writers how to break into print.
[3] Mitchell Kennerley’s assertion was quoted on page 4 of the Monthly Letter for the 1973 LEC Candide
[4] It was said of him that in general: “Over the format, the typographic plan, and its execution Richard Ellis demanded complete jurisdiction; now and then he agreed to submit proofs, even more rarely to send trial pages…”. But I suspect that was earlier in his career, and not something he would have tried on too often with the Macys, who were effectively the saviors of his latter years.
Passim:
Earl Schenck Miers: “Richard Ellis, Printer.” The Journal of the Rutgers University Library, Volume 5 (December 1941)
Frank G. Harrington: “Praise Past Due, A Memoir of Richard Ellis”, Typographeum, 1991
Megan Benton: “Beauty and the Book: Fine Editions and Cultural Distinction in America”, Yale University Press, 2000

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