Vivian Ridler, Printer to the Universe!

One of my prized possessions is a 1945 edition of Addison and Steele’s The Spectator (Volume 1 of a four-volume set of pocket-sized hardcovers, published by Everyman’s library). I picked it up for 100 rupees (a little over a dollar) at a used-books shop in Bangalore. This particular volume has the name “K. K. Salkade” inscribed on the inside of the back board. I also found a folded piece of paper marking pages 511 and 512 with the note, “Mr. Salkade is now engaged in the construction work of our new head office building at Worli, Bombay,” scribbled on it.

Some of the many charms of old books are the little meta-tales embedded in their yellowing pages. I happen to possess another couple of pocket-sized hardcovers (acquired at the very same used-books shop where I stumbled upon The Spectator) that I’ve come to prize and adore as much as my Addison and Steele. The “First Series” of English Critical Essays: Twentieth Century, was first published in 1935 and the “Second” in 1958 by Oxford University Press (OUP). Mine are reprints from 1964 and 1968 respectively. As fascinating as the contents of both volumes are, they can’t beat the riddling reference, in a note printed where, typically, “A Note on the Type” would be found, to “VIVIAN RIDLER PRINTER TO THE UNIVERSITY.”


Vivian Ridler, Archetypographicus Academicus, Printer to the University and the Universe!

Unlike the mysterious Mr. Salkade about whom I could glean nothing more than the little that the little note would yield, Vivian Ridler proved to be a titan—a figure of such eminence in his chosen field that an obituary in The Guardian, published a few days after his death on 11th January 2009, described him as “The last great figure in 500 years of Oxford University printing.”

Vivian Ridler, who has died aged 95, was printer to the University of Oxford from 1958 until 1978, and perhaps the outstanding holder of this prestigious post since academic printing began in Oxford in 1478 (two years after William Caxton set up his press). Only 11 years after his retirement, the delegates of the Oxford University Press (of which printing was then a part) decided that they no longer needed their own printing house.

(Source: The Guardian)

When Ridler joined the OUP’s printing house as its works manager, “he earned the respect of the conservative, but very competent, workforce, which then numbered 900.”

It soon recognised Ridler’s qualities. He was experienced, a good designer, had a good war record, was firm and fair and only lost his temper on purpose. And he walked to the shop early each morning. He once gave a brilliant lecture, the Bed-Motion of Letterpress Machines, and quickly showed his feeling for Oxford’s printing history by mounting a fine exhibition to mark the Festival of Britain in 1951.

(Source: The Guardian)

I couldn’t suppress my (Terry) Pratchett-esque glee on reading,

Millions of books bore his imprint “printer to the University of Oxford”, and sometimes he received letters addressed to the “printer to the universe”.

(Source: The Guardian)

Printer to the Universe! Therein lies a Discworld tale Terry Pratchett never wrote and that we, now, alas, will never get to read, of Archetypographicus Academicus, printer to the University and the Universe, who designed elegant books and beautiful documents, and to whom,

What mattered … above all were the author’s ideas, the reader, and the undergraduate on a tight budget.

(Source: The Telegraph)

The undergraduate on a tight budget.

This entry was posted in Books, Links and Quotes, Notes on Biography, Notes on History, Notes on Reading and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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