For John Anderson (born 1915), book designer, typographer and printer, a love of fine printing developed early. Inspired by the printing activities of the Wright Brothers, Anderson acquired a small hand press at the age of thirteen. Since that modest beginning, Anderson has established himself among the foremost of small press proprietors continuing the tradition of handset type. Over the course of his six-decade career, Anderson has printed numerous books, broadsides, and catalogues as well as myriad invitations, keepsakes, advertisements, announcements, and other ephemera. The consistent high quality and clean design of Anderson’s work have garnered him both awards and praise among printing circles and a high reputation with clients.
Anderson embarked on his first commercial enterprise in 1934 at the age of 19, when he founded Bantam Press in Atlantic City, New Jersey. He soon realized, however, that his enthusiasm for printing outstripped his experience, and in 1936 accepted a two- year apprenticeship with Peter Beilenson of Peter Pauper Press and the Walpole Printing Office in Mt. Vernon, New York. Anderson further developed his skills at a number of Philadelphia-area businesses, including Royal Typographers of Philadelphia, Sharp & Dohme, Westcott & Thomson, and Lanston Monotype Machine Company. During this period, in 1946, Anderson founded Pickering Press, the imprint under which he continued to print throughout his career, which he named for the nineteenth-century printer, William Pickering.
In 1960, John Anderson and family moved to Pasadena, California, where Anderson hoped to work for Grant Dahlstrom’s Castle Press. Friction with the foreman cut short his tenure, however, and in 1961 Anderson began designing for Paul Weaver’s Northland Press in Flagstaff, Arizona. Anderson designed many award-winning books for Northland, and continued to do so long-distance after he returned to the Philadelphia area in 1963.
Upon his return, Anderson reopened Pickering Press. The press gained mounting respect and claimed such clients as the Philadelphia Art Museum and the Franklin Institute, as well as previous clients like Lanston and the University of Pennsylvania. Notable was Anderson’s ongoing collaboration with wood engraver John De Pol, begun in the 1950s but intensified during this second incarnation of the press. This collaboration resulted in numerous illustrated books, pamphlets, catalogues, and advertisements with engravings by De Pol; all bearing the Pickering imprint.
Throughout his career, Anderson passed along his extensive knowledge of the craft of fine printing to numerous students. Several of his apprentices became successful printers themselves, such as Claire Van Vliet, proprietor of Janus Press; Neil Shaver, of the Yellow Barn Press; and Leonard Seastone of the Tideline Press. Anderson, with John De Pol, also taught annual bookmaking workshops at Fairleigh Dickenson University between 1981 and 1984, with a pilot program in 1979.
In the late 1980s, health problems forced Anderson to scale back his operations drastically, selling off much of his equipment and largely retiring from commercial work.
Biographical information is derived from material in the collection.
The John Anderson papers consist of 5 linear feet of material spanning the dates 1948 to 1994, with a concentration between the years 1978–1994. The archive includes material related to Anderson’s career as a printer and as proprietor of Pickering Press, as well as work he produced elsewhere. It includes books designed and printed by Anderson, broadsides, and copious correspondence from clients, fellow printers, and print enthusiasts. It also includes a significant collection of Pickering Press printed ephemera, including advertisements, announcements, bookplates, catalogues, keepsakes, greeting cards, and invitations. A number of Pickering imprints, originally received with the collection, have been catalogued and transferred to the stacks in Special Collections.
The collection is organized in three series. The first series contains correspondence, arranged alphabetically under the subheadings printers, printing-related organizations, universities, clients, family and miscellaneous. Among correspondents included are Claire Van Vliet (a student of Anderson’s who later founded Janus Press), German type designer and printer Hermann Zapf, and wood engraver John De Pol.
The second series consists of printed material divided into seven subsets. Its first subset contains pieces printed for specific clients. A second section holds work done for universities. In the third subset, printed pieces are arranged by type of job (e.g., invitations, exhibit announcements, advertisements, and keepsakes). The fourth subset includes promotional printing related specifically to Pickering Press. The fifth is a collection of pieces printed by Anderson at Northland Press. The sixth subset contains John De Pol engravings collected by John Anderson, many of which were printed at Pickering Press. A number of the engraved blocks are also included in the subset. The seventh and final subset includes Anderson’s sample books and type specimens. Oversized items are housed separately.
The third series consists of books with which Anderson was involved. They are subdivided into four subcategories: 1--Books designed by John Anderson for the Northland Press. 2--Books designed and printed by Anderson at Pickering Press. 3--Books designed by Anderson and printed elsewhere. 4--Miscellaneous.