Jack Stauffacher: A printer of the old school

- by Bruce E. McKinney

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Jack: Stauffacher: The man and his craft. Image by Dennis Letbetter.

In 2009 I was looking for a distinctive book plate to identify the 81 lots I would send later in the year to Bloomsbury, then in New York.  Several members of the Roxburghe Club in San Francisco suggested I visit 300 Broadway in the city as they thought I might be able to connect with Mr. Stauffacher.  It wasn’t possible but I did learn more about him after trying, unsuccessfully, to arrange an interview.  He passed away recently at the age of 96 and has left to the field and future collectors, a fistful of memories and memorials.  He was a scholar printer of the old school.

 

At 20 he established the Greenwood Press that would, between 1941 and 1955, become a fixture in the local fine printing field.  That year he closed the shop to move to Italy on a Fullbright grant to study under printing masters.  He would later teach at Carnegie Mellon and return to the Bay area in 1963 to become “typographic director” at the Stanford University.  In 1966 he reopened the Greenwood Press.  For the rest of his life he would mix his academic perspective with the art and style of printing, making friends and training future generations of printers.

 

These days print is under siege and yet the San Francisco Chronicle, itself a hobbled thoroughbred, recently provided more than half-a-page for Mr. Stauffacher’s obituary.  For a newspaper with an ever-shrinking news hole the scale of his memorial expresses a deep respect.

 

There is no life after death but there is, for some, significance that lives on beyond the boundaries of birth and death.  Mr. Stauffacher will live on, no doubt the subject of some collectors’ obsessive pursuit of directly associated materials for he left a footprint and many clues.

 

San Francisco prides itself on its appreciation of literary and artistic talent.  To my mind, he will merit a lane or alley.  The name will get mangled, be mispronounced and sometimes forgotten but his story will hold to become in time a footnote in San Francisco’s rich intellectual history.