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Los Angeles Bibliophilia Remembered : FINE PRINTING The Los Angeles Tradition by Ward Ritchie (Center for the Book, Library of Congress, Information Office, Box A, Washington 20540: $22; 65 pp., postage included)

June 26, 1988|Digby Diehl | Diehl is president of the Los Angeles chapter of PEN.

What a joyous rarity to find a book that truly embodies its subject! This beautiful, simply designed letterpress volume, printed by Patrick Reagh of Glendale for the Library of Congress, has the old-fashioned feel of quality. Using a graceful 1929 serif typeface on acid-free paper, it is irrefutable evidence for the healthy continuum of fine printing in Los Angeles.

In it, Ward Ritchie takes us on a rambling historical tour of our printing heritage, beginning the year after California was admitted to statehood, 1851, when the first small press was imported to print a weekly newspaper, The Los Angeles Star. As he readily admits, however, there was no printing of aesthetic distinction in Los Angeles until the "Small Renaissance" (an almost comical misnomer, as there had been no nascence to be revived) of the late 1920s.

In that era, book collectors such as Henry Huntington, William Andrews Clark Jr. and Estelle Doheny encouraged booksellers such as Ernest (Father) Dawson, Alice Millard and Jake Zeitlin. In turn, they commissioned fine printing from printers and designers such as Bruce McCallister, Grant Dahlstrom, Saul and Lilian Marks, Gregg Anderson, Merle Armitage, Thomas Perry Strickler, Will Cheney, Richard Hoffman and the young Ward Ritchie, among others. Reproduced in this book are pages from their early creations--books by Carl Sandburg, Robinson Jeffers, Hildegarde Flanner, Archibald MacLeish, Louise Bogan and other distinguished writers.

At the heart of this tradition is the Zamorano Club, which was founded in 1928. Named after Agustin V. Zamorano (1798-1842), the first printer in California, it has been since its inception a distinguished assemblage of people concerned with quality printing and bookmaking. At first, it included printers, designers and booksellers, but its exclusive ranks have expanded to encompass librarians, scholars and collectors.

Ritchie's anecdotal style makes this book a pleasant trip through an important part of our aesthetic heritage. And it is a fitting tribute to the dedicated men and women who have given us books to cherish and admire for artistic excellence, as well as substance.

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