Eugene Schwartz, the writer of the wonderful letter posted below, found the WhatTheyThink.com article on the history of printing districts in New York City by way of Bob Sacks’s BoSacks Reporter, which graciously picked the story up. It all got started with a PrintCEO blog post about an article on the topic in a recent issue of The New York Times. Others with tales to tell of times gone by in their printing communities are invited to add their recollections to Gene’s. Today he’s a columnist for Book Business magazine and an editor-at-large for ForeWord magazine (a journal for reviews of and news about independently published books). Here's his letter:
Reading your article in BoSacks “Heard on the Web” brought me back to yet an earlier era in the 1950s in New York City, and a neighborhood a bit northeast of the rumbling (and sometimes roaring when you got close) presses of the Hudson and Varick Street sector of the printing business about which you wrote.
I'm thinking of the network of commercial printing job shops south of Union Square and north of Canal that handled much of the short run brochure, announcement, newsletter, booklet, broadside and direct mail needs of the city's businesses, agencies and studios, and non-profits.
I started out as a young salesman in 1954 for Carnegie Press, Inc., a small letterpress shop (two #2 Kelleys, a Miller Simplex and Miehle Vertical), on the 10th floor of 104-110 Green Street, corner of Prince— now converted to an upscale condo in Soho. My bosses, Lou Auerbach and Ozzie Schroeder (the outside man and the inside man), took me in and taught me the ropes. My beat was South Ferry to 57th Street.
We shared the floor with Winslow Ink Co., and all the 12 or so floors of small businesses relied on that one freight elevator you were writing about. If Winslow couldn't come up with a special ink we needed (I would sometimes watch the chemist mix matching swatches with his palette), I would hike over to get it at Superior Ink in the Puck Building on Lafayette Street. We did all our binding (except for small Baumfolder jobs) with Tomash Bindery on Astor Place, who picked up sometimes twice daily.
We got our paper from houses such as Lindenmeyr, Milton, Case and Marquardt—ordered by phone and by the job (early forms of just-in-time inventory), and delivered the next day. Marquardt was just a few blocks away and so we could pick up a rush order of pastel colored Strathmore or Curtis texts in emergencies. Lindenmeyr provided us with rice paper and other specialties. We used a steady supply of Warren antique book, lustro gloss and machine coated Printone—firsts or job lots—from a variety of merchants.
Occasionally an account gave us a large job to farm out, and we'd get 77" offset sheet work done at Landes Offset on Broadway, or get a book plated and printed and bound at H.Wolf.
Although we had our own two Model 8 linotypes, foundry and Ludlow selections, we jobbed out a lot of special typesetting jobs. I remember one of those times when that elevator broke down, and I lugged a load of monotype that we got from H.O. Bullard up 10 flights of steps for a NY Bar Association publication that was on deadline.
We had a folding box shop on the ground floor, and various die-cutting, engraving and finishing shops dotted all over that neighborhood. Those were the days of zinc and copper engravings, Dupont's introduction of Dycril as a plastic substitute (which we tried with some success), and decorative wood type from American Wood Type.
There was a great old mahogany bar-anchored tavern at the corner of Prince and Green, with cut glass windows in the doors, and a special ladies entrance (for the evenings I suppose), where we'd get a quick savory corned beef and cabbage, or potatoes hotplate, rye on the side, and beer for lunch.
From dawn to dusk the neighborhood was teeming with people coming and going on the sidewalks, and with trucks vying for curb space for pickups and deliveries. NYU, Carl Fishers, Wanamakers, Cooper Union, Little Italy, Klein’s on the Square, used book store row on 4th Avenue, Greenwich Village—all those great features of lower Manhattan so easily accessible ringed the area and were part of our reward: we who powered the clatter and the hum of the printing shops and all the other light manufacturing, converting, supply and distribution services that pumped life and opportunity into our great city.
Which, at the time, seemed perfectly normal—seeing as the whole island was alive with enterprise.