Alexander S. Lawson, (1913–2002)
Goudy Award Winner 11, 1979
Alexander S. Lawson, lover of fine books and fine printing, devotes his knowledge, his time and his energy to educating young people in the absorbing history of printing. He teaches not only in the classroom, but by example in the laboratories of this great institution and by publication of scholarly books and articles. A scholar-printer in the tradition of Isaiah Thomas, Theodore Low DeVinne, and Daniel Berkeley Updike, Professor Lawson is acknowledged throughout the country as an authority on the history, design and development of printing types.
His interest in printing types began in 1928, when Professor Lawson went to work as a copy boy on the New York American newspaper. Soon afterward, however, he decided that printing was much more attractive than news reporting so he took an apprenticeship in the composing room of Guide Printing Company in Brooklyn, New York, where he subsequently earned his journeyman's card.
While in the U. S. Navy from 1941 to 1945, Lawson served in both the Atlantic and Pacific theatres. He was serving as Captain of the seagoing tug USS Ganadoga, when honorably discharged. He came to Rochester Institute of Technology in 1946 as a student enrolled in the Department of Publishing and Printing. His outstanding talent was soon evident and in 1947 he was appointed instructor in the evening division and, just one year later, he was named to the full-time faculty. It was clear to the Department's Director, the late Byron G. Culver, that here was a dedicated man of superior intellect with an uncommon ability to motivate students toward a deep interest in typography and the art of the book.
Professor Lawson's erudition made his lectures amongst the best attended ones on the campus and his labs the busiest. He instilled in his students an appreciation of the people responsible for the making of great books from Johann Gutenberg to the present, and he demonstrated his own awareness of design and superb craftsmanship in every detail of production by founding the student journal Typographer and by establishing The Press of the Good Mountain. The Press, dedicated to Gutenberg (and hence the name), was the publication arm of Lawson's Widely acclaimed typographic workshop. Some notable books have been produced under its imprint including American Type Designers by P. K. Thomajan, Type Design by Frederic W. Goudy, Bodoni by T. M. Cleland, and Two Essays on the Grabhorn Press by Gregg Anderson.
Teaching what is best in typography and printing-and how to attain it-has been Professor Lawson's raison d’être, and that he has been overwhelmingly successful is evident in the number of RIT graduates now practicing what he first taught them. As an advisor to the Wallace Library, he helped build their outstanding collection of books on printing. He counsels students on the great printing texts and the outstanding personalities of printing. Most students first learned of Elmer Adler, Updike, Bruce Rogers, the Grabhorn Brothers, Cleland, W. A. Dwiggins, and Goudy from him. His admiration of Fred Goudy, incidentally, is derived from his knowledge of Goudy's types and a fortuitous meeting with the great designer.
In 1960, Professor Lawson brought to RIT the Howard W. Coggeshall Collection of books and other materials produced by Frederic W. Goudy. This marvelous collection includes many of the "lost" Goudy types, alphabet designs and correspondence.
In 1969, as a living memorial to Mr. Cary, the trustees of the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust donated the Melbert B. Cary, Jr. Graphic Arts Collection to the School of Printing and funded the Cary Collection and professorship. Professor Lawson was instrumental in this effort and in the same year was appointed the first Melbert B. Cary, Jr. Professor in Graphic Arts, a post he held until retirement in 1977.
Over the years, Professor Lawson has authored four books including the widely acclaimed Printing Types: An Introduction and A Printer's Almanac. He also writes the "Composing Room" for Inland Printer and "Typographically Speaking" for Printing Impressions. He has received many awards including the Golden Key Award from the International Club of Printing House Craftsmen, the Outstanding Teacher Award from RIT, the first Award for Distinguished Service to Typography presented by the National Composition Association of Printing Industries of America, and the Friedman Medal for Service to Printing Education presented by the New York School of Printing.
The greatest tribute to Professor Lawson is, no doubt, the number of fine young people who have received from him the impetus to pursue careers in fine printing, typography, book designing and writing on the history of printing. The Cary Collection has made his task easier, for the great books in this library are a significant resource and a tremendous inspiration to students who look at and handle these outstanding examples of the printer's art.
In the photograph from L to R: RIT student and Alexander S. Lawson