Early History of the APA

By Rich Hopkins #226

[The following manuscript was written in 1965 by Rich Hopkins APA No. 226. When this was written, Rich was president–he is still active in the association. Keep in mind that the following piece was written only seven years after APA was formed. Some of the activities of APA listed towards the end of the history are no longer included among our activities–but new ones have been added.]

It’s hard to say just who hobby printers are, for the diversified membership of the few organizations catering to them clearly indicates there is no stereotype. This is true, possibly, because there are so many different areas of interest within the hobby.

Some persons enjoy the mechanical aspects such as the operation of presses or the composition of type forms. Others are collectors—collectors of antique type fonts, of antique presses and equipment, and collectors of old specimen books and ephemera on printing history. Still others enjoy the hobby because of its artistic aspects, for the hobby allows them to work in designing and composing their own specimens with tools provided by great letter artists, both past and present.

The hobby does have its rewards, however, many of which are brought by working with others interested in the hobby and members of groups set up to foster the hobby like the Amalgamated Printers’ Association. What starts out to be a hobby with youngsters often ends up as their profession. For example, co-founder of APA, Michael O’Connor of Hastings, Minn., notes when he began, he didn’t even have a press. “During the trial years of starting the (his Millview) Press up, I received much assistance from APA members.

“This interest in the hobby was certainly ‘the main factor’ which prompted me to go into the printing trade.” He continues by saying, “Certainly seeing many of the finer examples in APA bundles made me more aware of the ‘finer’ points of printing. . . and I can assure you that this was a tremendous help to me in school and even now in the trade.”

Mike was very young when he became interested in printing. Others have had professions in fields other than printing for years before becoming interested in it as a hobby.

Such is the case with Bruce Towne of Jamaica, Iowa, who runs the towns grocery store. “I had always wanted to paint or draw,” he says, “But I had no particular talent along these lines except perhaps that I could ‘see’ the picture in my mind’s eye. I found the perfect outlet for myself in the pursuit of printing.”

Another view on the hobby comes from Philip Metzger of Prairie Village, Kan., whose profession is in personnel management. “I find that printing has become a way of life for me to which I devote practically all my waking hours beyond those not needed for making a living. Consequently, I have become a much more relaxed individual than I used to be. For me, it has been a thoroughly satisfactory experience.”

Professional printers pursue the hobby because it often offers more freedom of design, no deadlines, and simply because they often don’t get to pursue their real printing interests as professionals.

Others pursue the hobby because of the individualistic nature of the hobby. . . because of the satisfaction gained by producing something rather than merely collecting or trading. . . because of the relaxing solitude their personal shops offer. . . because of the opportunity for creative expression . . . and for numerous other reasons.

Despite the fact that persons often pursue the hobby because of its individualistic and “loner” nature, and despite the fact that there are so many areas of interest within the hobby, many printers find pleasure in joining together in a common all-inclusive organization. 

Similar Interests

Everybody, even if he professes to be a hermit, likes company. And because the Amalgamated Printers’ Assoc. often gives him that company, it’s thriving as an organization of individuals who, for the most part, like to “hide out” in their basement printeries.

The organization thrives because it gives these persons excellent opportunity to meet others of similar interests through monthly bundle exchanges and personal correspondence.

This does not mean all APA members want the company of all other members; they often do not have the same interests. The hobbyist who gets a big kick out of printing calling cards and stationery for himself and friends, using limited equipment, might not have much in common with the fellow who works meticulously with special-cast fonts to achieve what he hopes will be “perfection” in a limited edition he’s working on. But each of these persons finds persons of similar interests within the organization. With them, he develops warm acquaintances which bring help on printing problems and assistance in choosing materials and equipment when purchases are made.

Such acquaintances bring a steady flow of correspondence between APA members. One advises another on how to lay out a book in the planning. Another advises on pinmarks of antique types. Still another tells where to find small cuts for printing business cards.

The common ground is printing itself. Regardless of what is being printed, essentially the same steps are taken. And because of this, interplay develops among all members. The card printer may know the only supplier of chases for his press, which is just like that of the limited edition printer. They work together in finding accessories for their presses. All find friendly, plain-talk assistance which just isn’t available in the professional world.

One hobbyist was interested in identifying a type face he has purchased in a “deal.” He ran a specimen in the APA bundle and learned not only the name, but the manufacturer, the dates of manufacture, and who else in the country had fonts.

Another was interested in building a series of sizes in a face no longer manufactured. What appeared hopeless was found not to be. He not only found fonts in three other sizes, roman and italic, but was able to purchase them at reasonable prices.

That’s the Amalgamated in a nutshell. It offers an outlet for exchange between hobbyists about their hobby. And its monthly bundles provide a means of exchanging specimens to show how work is progressing at the basement press.

Through seeing specimens in the bundles, persons get ideas, they get inspiration, and they become further engrossed in their hobby. Thus, they find they are getting even greater joy from their spare time hobby printing ventures.

The APA Has Changed Since 1958

The Amalgamated Printers’ Assoc. today is nothing like what it was intended to be when founded in 1958. In fact, its founding was an experiment more than anything else.

Founding came at the hands of two teenagers. They were cousins: Michael J. O’Connor, 15, and Roger V. Ralphe, 16, both of Hastings, Minn.

During a get-together in May 1958, they jointly decided to start their own organization—an organization for amateur journalists similar to the United Amateur Press Association of America, to which they both belonged.

They were interested in writing, and printing. Neither had type or a printing press. Mutual agreement between the two set up the official founding date as July 1, 1958. Similarly, Mike was declared president and Roger, secretary-treasurer. They scanned the thesaurus for a name—a synonym for “United.” Quickly coming across “Amalgamated,” they chose it and began writing fellow amateur journalists to enlist their membership.

Youth predominated as others were enlisted and made officers. When the five-man board had been filled and a vice president selected, all but one were under 25 years of age.

In August 1958, the group had six members and $8.80 in the treasury. By the end of the month, membership had grown to 14, although the group had little to “sell” other than its young founders’ enthusiasm.

A new member that month was Frederick B. MacMahon, of Rockville, Conn., a weekly newspaper editor who also was deeply interested in printing as a hobby. He immediately wrote President O’Connor noting the need for an organization solely for hobby printers, and suggested that APA would have a real reason for existing if it directed itself toward such individuals.

MacMahon was willing to back this suggestion with hard work and was soon appointed recruiting chairman. He immediately began active campaigning to enlist fellow printer-acquaintances across the country.

His desires were known by those he recruited, and thus, he gained support for his drive to make APA a printers group.

The two founders soon came into agreement with Mac’s idea of a printing group, but were not readily equipped for the idea. Having no letterpress equipment, they expressed their ideas in mimeographed journals.

Reflecting on one of the early bundles, one member noted, “I was quite disgusted with the Amalgamated. It didn’t seem to have any rhyme or reason. The bundle contained nothing but trash (and mimeoed at that), yet they were writing about a printing group.”

The organization maintained its appearance as an amateur journalism group, showing much activity “for the sake of the organization.” Such offices as historian, activity manager, and recruiting chairman were active.

But in October, an amendment to the Rules was proposed. It eventually made APA exclusively for hobby printers. The amendment was voted in, leaving a bad taste in the mouths of many who had joined as amateur journalists, including some officers. Harsh words were spoken, but this segment soon departed, leaving the organization to the printers. Some, however, like founder Mike O’Connor, became more interested in the printing hobby and started their own shops both to support the young organization and to embark on a new and fascinating hobby.

The stage was set at election time in 1959. MacMahon was elected chairman of the board of directors, with Dwight Agner, Frank M. Cushing, Willard Northrop and Philip L. Metzger as fellow board members along with President O’Connor.

Lengthy discussions via letters ensued wherein the board searched unendingly for answers to questions regarding the future direction of the organization. Personal opinions traversed the country in two, three, and four-paged letters among board members.

Concern was shown for the influx of printers of widely varied tastes. Some, it was feared, were no more than calling card printers interested in making money. The directors had not envisioned this type of member, but they were willing to accept their membership to build the organization.

Chairman MacMahon searched for ideas, opinions and answers on problems such as this from both Board members and other members at large. He believed strongly in the organization and went to exhaustive lengths to help the “cause,” as shown by this excerpt from a letter on May 1959:

“A few moments to spare, so I thought I’d write a few letters. Have been setting and printing literature for APA all day and am now a bit tired. So here I sit pounding away with my one finger system and getting out a bit of mail.”

John E. Arnold, a very active member until his death in 1963, fairly well summed up the Board’s hoped-for goal. In June 1960, he said, “The hobby printers we want are those who are anxious to improve their skills in appreciating and producing examples of ‘fine’ printing craftsmanship.” In the same “round robin” letter with various members’ as Mac’s correspondence was known, Ward Ritchie concurred by saying “Printing is as much of an art form as painting or sculpture, and those who print for pleasure should be the ones who give us the masterpieces.”

But the Board was wise in realizing, as Arnold noted, that “these skills are not developed overnight.” They wanted to keep the door opened for the developing printer—the person who had picked printing up as a hobby, didn’t know much about it, but was eager to learn and improve.

“The fact that some of the newer hobbyists do some commercial printing to augment their equipment is something that we all have done at one time or another. If this is done solely for plant expansion and not from a purely commercial stand point, I don’t feel that it lowers their status as a hobby or amateur printer. On the other hand, if the work is for strictly commercial purposes and for pecuniary gain, they are no longer hobbyists or amateur,” noted Frank Cushing.

“However, there are people who work by day as commercial printers and by night have their hobby presses at home where they can print to suit their own fancy and experiment. These are hobby printers and should be encouraged,” he continued.

Encouragement to excel became the Board’s big effort. Arnold began a campaign to get members to exercise their abilities by sponsoring several contests in designing specimens. A Merit Awards Panel was set up whereby members could obtain criticism and assistance in their hobby work. A cut loan department was set up. Efforts were made to get all members to print up specimen books to show all their shops’ capabilities. Even a library was established to make literature available to members.

The pendulum had swung completely away from the amateur journalism organization originally envisioned. APA had come into its own as a hobby printing group with a membership of over 100 persons. But it had developed too quickly. The whole membership was not aware of the Board’s fond hopes for APA. Many members found themselves in the “developmental” stages, not able to produce quality specimens and were discouraged by overly enthusiastic decrees from officers such as one issued in 1961 by MacMahon himself against “little scraps of paper” in the bundles.

The forward momentum of the organization was hampered somewhat in 1960 when the monthly bundle failed to appear regularly for a short period and regular publication of the official organ stopped. MacMahon had been elected president and soon appointed John Boulette as new mailer. Then, in 1961, Mac, the “father” of APA, was slowed greatly by a serious heart attack. Arnold’s contests foundered and many other projects went astray. With Secretary treasurer Dwight Agner and Board Member Mike O’Connor both taxed with the strain of going to school full-time, the organization found itself strapped of the forceful leadership typical of earlier years.

Yet the bundles continued to build and remained interesting. The organization grew despite the lack of “pushing” officers. It continued because of a basic desire on the part of most members simply “to print.”

In 1962, still weakened but recovering from his attack, MacMahon resumed Board chairmanship, with Luke D. Cory as the new president. What had been witnessed during his illness was studied, and thus, a new chapter was opened for the organization with the presentation of a new set of Rules in 1963.

The feeling was that maybe the organization should be made flexible—that the president and the Board should have the freedom to observe the organization as a whole and provide for demands as they were realized instead of a rigid set of rules demanding “so many offices,” “so many activities,” and “so many requirements” on the membership.

Today, [written in 1965] the Amalgamated has returned to the level of activity and enthusiasm which was typical in 1961, and promises to become an even more active organization with membership now closed at the 150 limit. But now, it is not a top-heavy situation. Rather, it is a two-way proposition wherein officers are attempting to feel out the membership and offer them what they want. Thus, organization activity is increasing with member activity. Still less than 10 years old, APA is a child among organizations. It has developed, by hook and crook, into a strong organization based on an active membership, and is slowly finding itself as an organization for all hobby printers. Founders did not foresee APA as it is today. Nor did those who worked so hard to bring about its development. APA has become an all-encompassing organization simply because that is what its members have made it into. And that is why they cherish their membership in the organization.

It’s a healthy union, for more-experienced printers have the opportunity to pass on their experience and skill to less-skilled printers. All get the joy of viewing and studying each others work. And most frequently, bundle specimens show that hobbyists are doing the best they can with the resourses they have at their disposal.

APA is still in its formative years, but already has come a long way toward providing both a useful outlet and helpful assistance to its many members across the globe.

Rewards Of Membership

By joining the Association, your most highly valued reward will be the monthly bundle. Therein will be included specimens of hobby work from you and your fellow members, inserted as it is received by the mailer

As a member, you receive all official publications of the organization, such as this booklet, the membership roster, and all official reports. You also are entitled to run for any elected office and to vote during bi-annual elections.

Above all, as the Rules plainly point out, your membership challenges you to practice your hobby and let your work be seen in the bundles. The organization encourages participation at least on a quarterly basis.

Your Membership Number

When your membership application is accepted by the secretary treasurer, you are assigned a membership number. This number helps you identify your work (you don’t have to ruin a design by squeezing your name and address in. An easy reference of all members by their numbers is available for all in the APA Manual. Such numbers also are welcomed by newcomers for they help identify members as to their relative length of membership in the organization.

The Association Logotype

As a member, you are entitled to use the APA logotype. Designed by a professional art studio, it was prepared in matrix form and cast in the 36-point size for APA by American Type Founders. You may purchase the typecuts at 50¢ each from the secretary-treasurer.

APA Tie Tack/Lapel Pin

Also as a means of identifying yourself at Association gatherings and elsewhere, an attractive gold and green APA lapel pin is available. The pin, designed after the APA logo type, is available at $2.50 from the secretary-treasurer.

Wayzgoose, The Summer Gathering

Generally, APA members know each other only through the bundles or by personal correspondence. But they do get an opportunity to meet each other and develop closer acquaintances. The occasion is the APA Waysgoose, where members gather from all over the country for a good old-fashioned picnic and reunion. Wayzgoose is a term derived from the old-time days in printing when all gathered late in summer for one “final fling” before returning to working by candlelight as winter darkness settled in.

Held during mid-summer these gatherings are un-official and relaxed. Frequently, gatherings carry late into the night, the topic always being printing. Such opportunity to meet and talk with others of similar hobby interests is a rewarding experience. Those who have attended look forward to the meetings with great anticipation.

Theory of Government

APA is considered a loose confederation of hobbyists. Its chief interest is the bundle as a rallying point for all members. Thus, few officers are considered necessary, and a simple set of Rules is maintained so to give officers latitude in running the organization and to limit the need for extensive bickering over minute points in the Rules.

The president is left open to select any special officers felt necessary. The Rules call for only a six-member Board of Directors including the president, vice-president, secretary treasurer and three at-large members. A mailer is also required as an elected officer.

All but two elected officers are chosen in bi-annual elections. The three board members are elected on staggered six year terms, one being elected each two years.

The Mainstay — The Bundle

The APA bundle is the mainstay of the organization. It is prepared for mailing on or before the first of each month by the mailing manager. To assure being included in a bundles you should plan your work to arrive at the mailing manager’s address by the 25th of the preceding month.

Always send at least 160 copies of your work. This allows extras for inclusion in sample bundles, occasionally sent to prospective members and persons on the waiting list.

Bundles usually sent in 6×9 envelopes, are mailed fourth class. This expense is paid in full by the organization; you pay no mailing fee. Your only responsibility is to pay the postage on your package of specimens when you send it to the mailer. This is done usually via parcel post. However, depending on the nature of your specimens, you may qualify for a cheaper “educational material” rate. Some also use UPS.

What’s acceptable? The first requirement is that the piece be something you have produced. If at all possible, you should identify it as being your production, either by imprinting your name or your APA number.

No restrictions are placed on subject matter, except that it conform to the usual standards of good taste. It should not be vulgar, blue, off-color or libelous. Keep in mind that APA members range in age from teenagers to 90-year-olds, are both male and female, and are of widely varied racial and religious backgrounds. Your work may preach or promulgate a special or particular point of view, but should not point the finger of accusation or blame toward any other individual or group of individuals

APA Merit Awards Panel

To encourage and stimulate members to improve their standard of craftsmanship, three members of the Association with recognized superior accomplishment and craftsmanship are selected by the president (with Board approval) to sit as judges on the organization’s Merit Awards Panel.

Members applying to the panel for judging are awarded apprentice, journeyman, craftsman, or master craftsman ratings.

The panel gives constructive remarks about specimens submitted, made in relation to the equipment used, so to help the member improve his work in the future

Entries are voluntary, but must be accompanied by a 50¢ handling fee. Six specimens must be submitted, mailed with an application to the Merit Awards Panel chairman.

Entries are judged solely on their printing merit—a visiting card receives the same consideration as a book. This way, owners of limited equipment will be on a par with those with larger shops.

Entrants must certify that specimens submitted are their own un-aided productions. Judging is based on inking, spacing, impression, design, and suitability

The Association’s Manual

The APA Manual was initiated to give some standard arrangement for all members to store pertinent information about the organization and the hobby. Starting your Manual is simple—get a 5.5″x8.5″ three-ring binder and insert this Handbook.

The Handbook completes Chapters 2 and 3. A chapter arrangement is set up to provide for organized reference to both Association activities and the printing hobby. Overall objective of the project is an eventual gathering of printed pages from various members into an easy reference on all aspects of the hobby.

Write to the Manual coordinator for pages which give the table of contents and guidelines for printing pages for the Manual. All members are urged to participate in the project by writing and printing up sheets telling of their procedures and short cuts in hobby printing—from homemade type cases to press wash-up.

Special Group Projects

Special printing projects come up or are suggested from time to time. If you are a new member, one of the first jobs you should print is a “prop” card, giving the name of your press, your name and address, date of press founding, plus any other details you care to include, such as your APA number and your pressmark. Such cards vary in size, but generally are 3×5.

The Annual Association Calendar

The APA Calendar is one of the better-known activities in the organization. Each year, a coordinator is appointed. Members volunteer to print up a cover and pages for each month.

The combined effort is an attractive, hobby-printed calendar distributed through the APA bundles each November. This again is another excellent way for a member to be active in the organization. You may volunteer by writing the calendar coordinator.

Printing Competition

From time to time, contests for printing design are also held. In such contests, a subject is chosen, such as the 23rd Psalm, and members are urged to design and print their own specimens of the subject. Designs are judged and usually awards are given those producing the better designs. These contests are initiated either by the organization or by individual members willing to put up a prize.

If you are interested in any of the activities mentioned in this chapter, or interested in the government of the Association, you are urged to write to the coordinator involved, or to the president, for additional information. Either the president or the secretary-treasurer can supply the names of all coordinators involved.