John Fass Wins 10 AIGA Book Awards
1928: John's First AIGA Award-Winning Book:
The Pageant of Newark-on-Trent
Above: Page proof for John's first AIGA award-winning book, The Pageant of Newark on Trent
John Fass knew how to create award-winning books. From 1928 to 1938 he received 10 book-design awards from the American Institute of Graphic Arts (the AIGA), located in the National Arts Club on Gramercy Park.
He produced these books at his Harbor Press, in midtown Manhattan. His papers, at the Lititz Museum, include page proofs of these books. This award was the 50-Books award, an annual competition for the 50 best-designed books of the previous year.
John won his first AIGA 50-books award in 1928, for The Pageant of Newark-on-Trent. He designed this book, and printed it in an edition of 200, using Monotype's Caslon type.
1929: John's Second AIGA Award-Winning Book:
Narcissus and Two Other Poems
Above: A 1928 promotional flyer by John Fass for Narcissus and the Harbor Press
John Fass was a huge fan of the writings of Louis How, the wealthy bohemian poet and literateur from St. Louis. John designed, printed, and published four hardcover works by Louis How in the 1920s and 30s, at the Harbor Press.
Three of the books John published for Louis How won an AIGA book award. Narcissus was the first. John printed the book on Arches handmade paper and used Bassani engravings for the illustrations, creating a deluxe edition of 385 numbered copies.
John's Third AIGA Award-Winning Book:
A Way Out by Robert Frost
John Fass scored a major triumph in 1928, when he designed, printed, and published Robert Frost in A Way Out. Actually, most of the credit for this accomplishment goes to John's business partner at the Harbor Press, Roland Wood, who had been a student of Robert Frost's in 1919.
John and Roland created an edition of 485 copies for sale, using Monotype Caslon type.
1931: John's Fourth AIGA Award-Winning Book:
Joan Ramsay won John Fass' 1930 poetry contest with her book Horns in Velvet. Joan was writing with a pen name, and was in fact Mrs. Louise Bruguière Church Wilson. According to John's announcement, above, there were 600 manuscripts competing in the contest. That's a lot of competitive poetry. John's bohemian friend Louis How was one of the judges, as was William Neilson, president of Smith College.
The next year, 1931, Joan Ramsey (Mrs. Louise Wilson) offered a $500 prize for the Harbor Press' second poetry contest. The winner that year was poet and critic Margery Mansfield, of Monetery, Massachusetts. Judges included Louis How, Miss Laura Benet, Mrs. Dwight Morrow, and others. A few years later Margery Mansfield compiled the book American Women Poets (1937).
Above: John's invitation to the private opening of the 1931 AIGA exhibition, which included his Horns in Velvet.
The guest speaker at the 1931 opening of the AIGA 50-books exhibition was Will Bradley, who by the 1930s had become dean of American designers. Bradley was the highest paid commercial artist in America, during the early 20th century. Bradley also was as a judge in this book-design competition, in which John Fass won a 50-books award for Horns in Velvet.
1932: John's Fifth AIGA Award-Winning Book:
Nursery Rhymes of New York City
In the 1930s John Fass established an award-winning relationship with poet Louis How and artist Ilse Bischoff. Together they created two AIGA award-winning books of poetry about New York City.
Isle was a young German-American artist from a wealthy New York family of Lutheran background. She studied costume design at Parson School of Design, and art at the Art Students League. For this 1932 Nursery Rhymes book, John and Roland Wood printed Isle's wood engravings directly from her blocks, in four colors. The text is Linotype's Bodoni.
Six years later, in 1938, John won another AIGA award for another book of New York rhymes by Louis How and Ilse Bischoff: Regional Rhymes of New York City. This was a winning combination.
1934: John's Sixth AIGA Award-Winning Book:
An Introduction to the Study of Incunabula
New York's Grolier Club is a private club for the most influential American bibliophiles, publishers, and other bookish types. John Fass designed and printed numerous projects for the Grolier Club, at his Harbor Press.
He used Linotype's Granjon typeface for this award-winning book, printed on Worthy paper. The book is about the study of incunabula, which are printed European books that predate 1501.
John also designed and printed announcements and exhibition catalogs for the Grolier Club, including catalogs for the 1926 exhibit of type specimen books, and the catalog of the 1937 exhibition of American sporting books.
In 1962 the Grolier Club hosted an exhibit of books from John's Hammer Creek Press. The event was organized by Herman Cohen and NBC television celebrity Ben Grauer.
1935: John's Seventh AIGA Award-Winning Book:
The Comedy of Dante Alighieri
In the 1930s John Fass' friend Louis How did an amitious three-part translation of Dante's Divine Comedy, translated from Italian to English. John Fass and his Harbor Press designed, printed, and published all three parts: Hell in 1934, Purgatory in 1938, and Heaven in 1940.
Louis How was a brilliant linguist and translator, and had studied languages and literature at Harvard. The translation of Dante's Inferno was his greatest achievement. He also translated literature from French and Spanish. In 1915 Louis had translated Montaigne's Essay on Friendship from the French. In 1917 he translated The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes from Castilian Spanish. And in 1919 Louis Howe translated Pio Baroja's Caesar or Nothing from Spanish.
John printed this 1935 Dante with Linotype's Jenson type, on Arak wove paper.
1935: John's Eighth AIGA Award-Winning Book:
A Trip to the Prairies
This 1934 book is a translation of the travel notes of Count Francesco Arese of Italy, who travelled throughout the American Midwest in the 1830s.
John Fass set this book in Linotype's Bakerville type, and printed it on Archer wove paper.
1936: John's Ninth AIGA Award-Winning Book:
Typee by Herman Melville
John used Erasmus Initials for this title. He used 12-point Garamond for the book's text, and typeset it using an Intertype machine.
John Fass' Harbor Press printed numerous books for George Macy's Limited Editions Club. The list includes: Undine by Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué (1930), The Golden Ass by Apuleius (1932), The Ballad of Reading Gaol by Oscar Wilde (1937), Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1938). And in 1960, at age 70, John designed Ben-Hur for the Limited Editions Club.
Plus John Fass designed books for George Macy's other book club, the Heritage Press. These books include: The Life of Rembrandt van Rijn by Hendrik Willem Van Loon (1939), Beowulf (1939), South Wind by Norman Douglas (1939), Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackery (1940), and Paradise Lost by John Milton (1940).