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Giovanni Mardersteig, (1892–1977)

Goudy Award Winner 4, 1972

Giovanni Mardersteig is one of the great printers of the Twentieth Century. Now in his eighty-first year, he has been the recipient of numerous international honors. From Germany he received the Gutenberg Prize and from the Italian Government the Order of Grand' Ufficiale. In the United States he has received the Medal of the American Institute of Graphic Arts.

Brought up in Weimar, Germany, Dr. Mardersteig was subjected to both intellectual studies and the manual arts by his lawyer father. He entered the University of Bonn and later transferred to Vienna, where he specialized in the history of art.

Partly through the influence of the fine private printer, Count Harry Kessler, he became interested in setting up a press of his own. At about the same time he became most enthusiastic about the printing of Giambattista Bodoni (1740/1813). He obtained permission from the Italian government to cast type from the original Bodoni matrices, and with a close friend opened a private press in Montagnola, Switzerland, in 1922.

The Officina Bodoni, as this enterprise was named, has since developed into one of the outstanding private presses of our time. While his early books were composed in the resurrected Bodoni types Mardersteig decided that his typography required a more personal touch. Thus, the press acquired over a period of years such splendid types as Griffo, Zeno, and Dante, all based on Italian Renaissance letterforms and drawn by Mardersteig. The punches were cut in France by Charles Malin.

In 1926, Mardersteig won a contest to determine the printer of a monumental edition of the works of the flamboyant Italian poet, Gabrielle D'Annunzio, and at that time he made the decision to move the Officina Bodoni to Verona, Italy, becoming established in that lovely city in 1927. It is from this location that has come the magnificent series of splendidly printed volumes upon which is based his reputation as one of the great scholar/ printers.

Dr. Mardersteig, fluent in several languages, including Greek and Latin, is not satisfied merely to print books. He has always sought to make his texts the most authoritative available and in addition he has commissioned for their illustration many distinguished artists.

The books issued by the Officina Bodoni are all hand/set, and are printed on the hand press in the traditional manner, but Mardersteig also became interested in the production of superior printing on a more commercial basis. In 1949 he opened a printing office, also located in Verona. This plant, named the Stamperia Valdonega, has since acquired a world/wide reputation for high quality printing.

In a felicitous closing to this short biographic sketch, it may be noted that Dr. Mardersteig knew personally both Frederic W. Goudy, in whose honor this Award is granted annually, and Melbert B. Cary, Jr., whose library is now assembled here at the Rochester Institute of Technology as the Melbert B. Cary, Jr. Graphic Arts Collection. Mr. Cary received from their printer many of the early books issued by the Officina Bodoni, and these now form the nucleus of what has become one of the finest collections in the United States of titles from this press.

The text for this online exhibition is derived from Twenty Years of the Goudy Award, a publication produced at the RIT School of Printing in 1988.