John Fass' Hammer Creek Press
In his One-Room Apartment at the Bronx YMCA
Above: Thomas Carlyle on Books. Four-page booklet by John Fass. 1951. 4.25 x 5.25 inches
John Fass is most remembered today for the remarkable little books he produced in the 1950s and early 1960s. He printed these books on a tabletop printing press in his one-room apartment at the Bronx YMCA. John created immaculate masterworks of letterpress printing in that room.
He named his press The Hammer Creek Press, named for the Hammer Creek which flows near his boyhood home in Lititz, Pennsylvania.
Fass printed books, leaflets, broadsides, bookplates and other small works of letterpress art. He created these works for his own pleasure, and as gifts for his friends. He printed these projects with a tabletop Albion press, made in 1905. Fass received the press from his close friend the illustrator Valenti Angelo, who had received the press from Fass' former coworker Bruce Rogers.
1952: A Primer of Life Along the Hammer Creek:
"In my mind I can picture it as the outstanding work of the Hammer Creek Press" (quote: John Fass)
John felt that this 1956 A Primer of Life Along the Hammer Creek was his best work with this press. In a 1956 letter to John DePol he wrote, "In my mind I can picture it as the outstanding work of the Hammer Creek Press."
The book includes 26 wood engravings by John DePol, who was one of John Fass' most enthusiastic advocates. DePol was art director for the Security-Columbian Banknote Company, of New York City.
John Fass and John DePol corresponded frequently through this era. Many of John Fass' letters are archived with the John DePol papers at the University of Delaware's Morris Library.
1954: The Hammer Creek Type Specimen Book:
John's 1954 type specimen book is an extraordinary piece of letterpress artistry. The book allowed John to showcase his finese with handset typography, and his skill with type-metal ornament.
The project was unrestricted by commercial considerations or publisher's requests, so John could play with the pages as he pleased. He printed 100 copies on handmade paper, and also printed 22 copies on Japan tissue, for good measure.
1955: A Collection of Hammer Creek Turtles:
The turtle was John's favorite pressmark for his Hammer Creek Press. A slow-paced turtle represents slow-paced craftsmanship. He often accompanied his turtles with the Latin phrase Festina Lente (Make Haste Slowly.) John was familiar with the use of this same Latin phrase by Aldus Manutius, a godfather of Italian Renaissance publishing.
The turtle also represented John's lifelong love for the rural pleasures of his native Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Even today, Lancaster County is a symbol of life in a slower lane, where Plain Sect horse and buggies continue to set the pace.
John's closest friends provided turtle illustrations for the book: John DePol, Valenti Angelo, and A. Burton Carnes. John printed this turtle book on French-fold paper, and bound the books in an Asian-styled stitching.
Above: The Prayer of Dwight D. Eisenhower. Pamphlet by John Fass. 1953. 4 pages. 6-1/4 x 4-1/8 inches
"He pursued his gifts for exquisite craftsmanship at his small and private Hammer Creek Press."
(quote: Joseph Blumenthal in The Printed Book in America)
1951: A Note on the Hammer Creek:
"There is much integrity and honesty about his work. Bruce Rogers seems a bit of a showman by comparison."
(quote: John Randle of the Whittington Press)
1952: Along the Hammer Creek
All the items on this page are in the collection of the Lititz Museum, except: A Note on the Hammer Creek, and Along the Hammer Creek.