How The APA Was Named


Is this any kind of a name for a hobby printers’ association?

By Mike O’Connor, #1
(Reprinted from the APA Journal, February 2002)

If you’ve ever questioned the name of our organization, you aren’t entirely alone.

Back in 1984, then APA member Millicent Prowell #498, suggested that “Amalgamated” be changed to “Amateur.” He even obtained enough signatures to get the proposed change on the ballot.

But there were rumblings much earlier than 1984 about our dubious name.

The earliest reference I can find came from correspondence sent to me by APA Archivist David Kent (I didn’t keep any of my early correspondence) is from the summer of 1960. Remember that APA was founded in the summer of 1958 – so this first rebellion came early in our history.

For those not aware of how the name first came about, it was chosen by checking a thesaurus. At the time, my cousin and I decided to form another association based on a current amateur journalist association. This group used “United” in its name and if you check your thesaurus – as we did – you’ll find among the matches, “amalgamated.” The word “printers” was included at my insistence as I was more interested in printing; however, at the time I had no letterpress equipment but was looking for a press. I was 15 years old, my cousin 16.

During the summer of 1960, Fred MacMahon #11, a Connecticut printer, was assuming the office of president. (MacMahon joined when the organization was formed and was the major force behind changing APA into an exclusive printers’ organization rather than another amateur journalist group.)

Early on MacMahon was active in recruiting printers – hobby, private press and small commercial printers who also dabbled in the hobby.

To give the organization a boost in securing “quality” printers and to go beyond his own circle of friends, MacMahon asked J. Ben Lieberman #132 to serve as recruiting chairman. (I’m sure the name Lieberman is known to many members. He has a long list of credits back at that time in various printing endeavors, among them the founding the international Chappel movement – private press clubs – and founder of the American Printing History Association to name just a few).

Lieberman wrote back to MacMahon on July 19, 1960 and suggested stipulations before he would undertake a recruiting role: “The name and device of the organization are to be changed. ‘Amalgamated’ is not only ugly but non-descriptive and certainly too non-discriminating.” He suggested “Society of Personal Printers” or “Private Press Proprietors’ Association.” Lieberman stressed more quality, even to the point where bundle items would first have to pass approval before being included.

On the name issue, another member, Harold Faust #127, wrote MacMahon on July 6, 1960: “From the beginning, I didn’t care for the name of our organization. Amalgamated Printers’ Association does NOT say that we are hobbyists or amateurs. It distinctly misrepresents who we are.”

During those very early years most board business was carried on via “round robins.” These would usually start with the president stating an issue to be discussed. It would then be sent to the next officer or director for his comments to be attached to the original. It made its way through the board. This method would take three to four weeks to make its way back to the originator.

In a round robin to board members in July 1960, Dwight Agner #2 commented on the name change idea put forth by Lieberman: “You probably won’t get too much argument on changing the name and device, as there have been other remarks to this effect from time to time. I myself would favor the inclusion of the term ‘Private Press’ in the title, whether it be Society, Association, or what have you.”

Still another board member, Gary Hantke #78 on the name: “Certainly the name Amalgamated is an unfortunate one, suggested perhaps by the A.L.A. professional group, but not suitable for a hobby or private press group. Change might be difficult at this stage, but not impossible.”

Board member, John Arnold #158 was all for a change in name and direction for the group away from too many small commercial efforts in the bundles and to more quality. (The issue of small commercial printers in APA would be a battle for another day – a couple years into the future and would be very divisive.)

However, Director Frank Cushing #32 was not in favor of moving towards a “private press” organization and wanted APA to stay for hobbyists and amateurs. In a letter sent to MacMahon during this time, however, he did not express his views on the organizations name. Judging by other comments he made, I’m assuming he was against any name change. President MacMahon seemed to agree with Cushing’s assessment as to the direction of APA.

At the time, I don’t believe Lieberman took the position for recruiting and quite a bit of discussion went on regarding quality in the bundles.

The board at that time had too many other pressing issues and changing the name was not high on the list. While some felt at the time that it might be too late to change the name, in hindsight, it would have been a good time to do so.

Oh yes, forward to 1984 and Mr. Prowell’s efforts to call an election to change the name.

I’m not sure if there were any serious attempts to change the name between 1960 and 1984, but by the time Prowell’s suggestion surfaced, APA had been stuck with “Amalgamated” for nearly 25 years!

Some comments taken from APA bundle pieces regarding Prowell’s efforts:

Bill Johnson #293 had this to say: “Perhaps the term amalgamated suggests relations to commerce or industry and it may be a bit grand for this little group of private printers. But it has a couple of important things going for it: it is the first, the original, and only name given to the Association and it is clearly distinctive – no other such society has anything like it.

Member Emerson Wulling #115 added this comment back in 1984: “Amalgamated does sound heavy-handed. Nevertheless, I opt for retaining it for its historical background.”

Carol Kent #529 wrote: “Unlike the earnest hobbyists, APA members do know what they are doing (whatever it is). “Amalgamated” is precisely the right term. It meant originally ‘softened’ (not necessarily mentally), and now means a union connotation, ‘amalgamated’ cannot possibly allow our members to take themselves too seriously.

“…the Amalgamated Printers’ Association has class. The amateur anything does not.”

Judging from a later bundle piece by Prowell, it seems he hit a bit of a buzz saw in his efforts to change the name and it was akin to attacking motherhood, apple pie and the flag judging from some bundle comments at the time.

In a later bundle piece, he said he had enough signatures to put it to a vote but had given up on the idea and stated that if anyone else wanted to “carry the ball” they could. His final sentence: “As for myself I have given up on the idea, let it remain Amalgamated forever, or even longer!”

So if you scoffed at name Amalgamated upon hearing of APA, you weren’t the first.

As time passed during our early years, I admit that it wasn’t the best name and still feel that way. But I’ll not tamper with it – methinks there are too many traditionalists in APA to bring about a change. Besides, after nearly 45 years, what’s the point?