Kay Kramer and the Printery: A Review

Editor’s note: This review is reprinted from the Jan/Feb 2024 issue of The Caxtonian with the kind permission of John Hoover and The Caxton Club.

by John Hoover

Virginia Kramer and Timothy Hawley. A Bibliography of The Printery: The Private Press of Kay Michael Kramer. St. Louis: Mercantile Library Association, 2023. Limited edition: 38 casebound copies (no longer available for purchase), 232 copies paper bound ($40.00).

To commemorate the life and work of a legendary Midwestern bookman and The Printery – the private press he established –The Bixby Club at the St. Louis Mercantile Library and the Caxton Club have pooled their resources in editing, design, printing, and distribution to create the publication under review. The book, however, is much more than that. It includes a sensitive biography written by Kay’s wife, Virginia Kramer, always his fondest critical adviser, and an extended typographical introduction to the printer’s work written by collector and bookseller, Timothy Hawley. The complete bibliography of Kay Kramer’s work follows these important introductions (whimsically credited to Hawley’s alter ego/pen name, Theophile Homard). It adds many new additions and corrections to a handlist originally put together by Kramer and Hawley a quarter-century ago for the Mercantile Library at a national meeting of the American Printing Historical Association held in St. Louis in 2001.

I make no secret of the fact that, as the Director of the Mercantile Library, which published this new book, and as a fellow Caxtonian and the founder of the Bixby Club, I had a deep personal interest in seeing this tribute to Kay Kramer appear in a format that would bring lasting tribute to the legacy of a fine book artist who was a friend for many years, one who used the collections of the Mercantile in ways that have always made me tremendously proud. A Bibliography of The Printery is that volume, in that it meticulously documents every one of the jewel-like Christmas cards, every one of the precious number of books Kay produced, and each broadside, keepsake, notice, or piece of ephemera that this fine bookman designed painstakingly over his long career. This has been achieved by endeavoring to simulate or recall stylistically an actual Printery production in the design of the book itself. Also, a special effort was made to illustrate as many of Kay’s works as possible, almost down to facsimile reproduction levels. The photographs of Kay and his workshop, of informal moments with friends, and the personal appreciations by others interspersed with Kay’s own design and printing philosophy revealed on every page, make this book a very personal glimpse into a life well lived in the printing arts.

Kay Kramer at work. Photo courtesy of The Caxton Club.

One example of this multi-layered commemoration of The Printery is the addition of a proof page from Kay’s last book, The Artist & the Capitalist: William Morris & Richard Marsden (St. Louis: The Printery, 2009). The first fifty copies additionally contain original title page leaves for the same volume, to this day Virginia Kramer’s favorite title page designed by her husband. Also, Kay loved decorated paper-covered boards for his fine productions. Sheets of marbled paper surviving from earlier Printery productions were used to produce a limited number of casebound copies of the current book, in two variants, thanks to Virginia Kramer’s generosity. Detailed and sensitive readings by Hawley of Kay’s major works show the fertile mind and never-flagging stylistic energy of a great artist at work.

Kay Kramer was generous with his time and the use of The Printery for many noble projects, and it is noteworthy to all Caxtonians to see the numerous times he provided designs for Caxton Club programs. The bibliography will encourage the collection of Krameriana. Many of the famous Christmas cards Kay sent out to friends in true private press fashion are here fully reproduced in color in the grand tradition of great printing journals like Matrix. It was the intention of all of those engaged in this book’s production to be able, in fact, to bring into full focus to a broader audience the life and entire work of a legendary and revered twentieth-century private press and its creator – one that, with regard to elegance, taste, and quality, was seldom if ever duplicated among Kay Kramer’s peers. Readers will be delighted by the personal story offered by Ginny Kramer on the private life of a great printer as well. Kay’s life story has thus become interwoven with the text, illustrations, and bibliography – the fabric of The Printery – now finally offered to all who have urged this bibliography into print.

John Neal Hoover is the Director of the St. Louis Mercantile Library Association at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

ABOUT THE BOOK: The book includes: a section of biographical information on book designer, private press printer, and Caxtonian Kay Kramer; another section on his approach to typographical design; and a bibliography of work produced by his private press, The Printery, over a span of nearly sixty years. Text has been digitally set in Bulmer types with 270 copies printed on Royal Sundance Natural Felt 80# Text by the Murray Print Shop, Inc. Covers were perfect bound in Gmund Wheat 111# by Wrap-Ups, Inc. All copies contain a printed and folded overrun sheet from The Printery’s final casebound book, The Artist & The Capitalist: William Morris & Richard Marsden, published in 2010.

To order a copy from the Caxton Club, CLICK HERE.

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