Printing virtuoso Robert Reid created masterpieces in paper


Canadian book designer Robert Reid produced hand-printed books of poetry and large-circulation trade books, including some of the most valuable and beautiful books ever produced in Canada.Yukiko Onley

Printing was a lifelong addiction for Robert Reid that began when he was nine years old and received a Swiftset toy printing press with a type of moving rubber for Christmas. He made it a family diary with dramatic titles, each page no bigger than a postcard. This sparked a love of print that lasted until his death in Vancouver on January 21 at the age of 94.

He could recognize any typeface—Garamond Roman, Ultra Bodoni, Caslon, Baskerville—as if it were the face of an old friend. He viewed books as works of art that gave pleasure to hold and look at. He named his four sons Michael, Anthony, Nicholas and Quincy because, according to Quincy Reid, he said those names would yield elegant italicized initials.

He expressed his love of the printed word and image through the full gamut of what is possible in publishing. Some of the most valuable and beautiful books ever produced in Canada come from its presses in Vancouver and Montreal, and are now in the rare book libraries of the University of British Columbia, McGill University, from the University of Toronto and other Canadian institutions of higher education. During his lifetime, printing technology changed; letterpress and gravure gave way to offset lithography and computers transformed everything. But Mr. Reid never lost his commitment to craftsmanship and the belief that a book should have a personality.

His students at the Vancouver School of Art (now Emily Carr University of Art and Design) where he taught typography and graphic design in the 1950s, later modernized the look of advertising, newspapers and Canadian magazines.

The late Keith Branscombe may have been his star pupil. Mr. Branscombe went on to study at the Royal College of Art in London, was art director of Chatelaine and City and Country Home magazine, design consultant for Thomson Newspapers and associate graphics editor at the Toronto Star, where he redesigned the newspaper in 1993.

“Bob introduced us to the best typography in the world,” recalls another former student, Charles Mayrs, who became art director of Dome Advertising in Vancouver. “If he had a nice piece of rag paper, he would kind of stroke it and run his fingers along the edge of the bridge. He was a delicate and sensitive guy. He taught us linocut, woodcut, rubber cement drawing. He was excited about everything. “

An example of the work done by Robert Reid is this title page for the Lawrence Lande Collection of Canadiana at McGill University’s Redpath Library: A Bibliography.Courtesy of Chester Gryski

Robert Russel Reid was the youngest of five children, born October 26, 1927 in Medicine Hat to Daniel and Orah Genalda (née Haag) Reid. His father was a tobacco and candy wholesaler, but sold his share of the business and relocated the family to Abbotsford, British Columbia. Bob was 13 in 1940 when his father died suddenly and his mother moved the family to Vancouver. His older sister Marian bought him an adult hand-crank letterpress that became the centerpiece of his basement printing studio in the family’s new home.

At the UBC library, where he enrolled in commerce a few years later, he noticed an open book in a display case, the beginning of a chapter animated with a red capital letter. Much later, he recalled in his self-published memoir that it gave him a strong desire to print his own book.

What he chose to reprint on the advice of Dr. Kaye Lamb, the university librarian, was one of the first books published in British Columbia: Fraser mines vindicatedby the opportunist Alfred Waddington, first published in 1858. Waddington was trying to lure the greedy and the gullible into the British Columbia Gold Rush.

It took Mr. Reid two years to copy and typeset the 100-page book on a platen press, creating 110 numbered copies for $10 each. When he took the books to a print show in Los Angeles, American collectors bought them. Today, they might sell for $500.

In 1951, after graduating from UBC, he moved his hand press from his mother’s basement to a store on Pender Street and founded Graphos Press, designing and printing invitations, greeting cards and various advertisements for architects, artists and art galleries. He also printed a student literary magazine called PM and later designed Canadian Literature, the periodical founded by George Woodcock. He married Felicity Pope, who had been editor of PM magazine and shared his interest in typography and bookbinding.

They became members of a circle of gifted young artists in Vancouver that included Takao Tanabe, Bill Reid, Harry and Jessie Webb, and Czech émigré George Kuthan.

He sold Graphos Press in 1955 and began teaching at the Vancouver School of Art. In 1962, he obtained a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts to spend a year abroad in order to visit printing works, paper mills and type foundries. The whole family, including four sons, embarked for Europe. There the marriage broke down when Felicity refused to return to Canada. She moved to Ibiza, Spain, with the children.

Mr. Reid moved to Montreal in 1963 to work for McGill University Press (now McGill-Queen’s), launched the previous year by Robin Farr. His job was to define a style for the new press. He loved the vibrancy of the city and over the next twelve years produced some of his best work in book design. In the basement of the Redpath Library, he also ran the Redpath Press, for special projects and limited editions.

Its masterpiece is Canadiana’s Lande Collection Bibliography, 2,328 historical documents compiled by Lawrence Lande, notary, poet, composer and author. The book is embellished with fold-out maps, reduced-size facsimiles of legal documents, royal proclamations and draft bills, all printed on paper imported from Spain, England and Italy.

“It is the greatest work of fine printing in Canadian history in scope and execution,” said printer Rollin Milroy, a friend of Mr. Reid. “It shows Bob’s ambition and vision.” Cost overruns nearly got him fired.

In 1974, Mr. Reid moved to New York where he met his great love, Terry Berger, who was then working on children’s books at Harcourt Brace.

A page from Kuthan’s Menagerie was designed by Reid, with illustrations by George Kuthan.Courtesy of Chester Gryski

They were soon living together in Manhattan (later New Haven, Connecticut), supporting themselves as book-packers. “We made a book, Great American Scenic Railroads, because Bob liked trains and sold it to a publisher,” she recalled. “He did the research and I did the writing.”

A popular series of guides to country inns across the United States, for Holt, Rinehart & Winston, as well as a series on bed and breakfasts for Prentice Hall, have kept them going for years. They traveled a lot and spent the weekends watching print shows, collecting ephemera. They enjoyed all the same things.

“I am Jewish and he was Scottish. I have no idea how we came together from such different worlds,” Ms Berger said in a phone interview.

Unable to afford American health care, Mr Reid returned to Vancouver at the age of 70, leaving his beloved Terry, who did not wish to be so far away from his children and grandchildren. But the relationship continued.

Mr. Reid’s son, Anthony, gave him a Mac computer and Mr. Branscombe, his former student, flew in from Toronto to show him how to download a huge range of old and new fonts. He could thus continue for another two decades designing posters, boards, birthday cards and limited edition illustrated books on his favorite subjects such as movie stars, jazz musicians and film directors. yesteryear. He made many friends in Vancouver among a new generation of typography enthusiasts and was always ready to help them with their projects.

Mr. Reid lived in a small apartment in Vancouver, with little trains running on tracks all around. Lacking savings, he found a generous patron in the person of book collector and philanthropist Yosef Wosk. In 2007, Mr. Wosk endowed the Robert R. Reid Medal for Lifetime Achievement in the Book Arts in Canada, awarded annually by the Alcuin Society, an organization of book professionals and collectors. Robert Reid was the first recipient of the award.

Exhibitions of his work were held at McGill in 2017 and at Massey College, University of Toronto in the spring of 2018 in honor of Mr. Reid’s 90th birthday.

Late last year, he was admitted to St. Paul’s Hospital with COVID-19; he had not been vaccinated. His recovery was slow and incomplete and he returned home to have a medically assisted death.

He is survived by his companion, Mrs. Berger; his only surviving son, Quincy, who lives in Costa Rica; and several grandchildren.


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