Lakeside Press, Plymouth-Polk Building, Columbia College Resident Center
Life Span: 1897-Present
Location: 731 S. Plymouth Ct.
Architect: Samuel A. Treat and Howard A. Shaw
Chicago Tribune, December 13, 1896
The Lakeside Press Building, designed by Samuel A. Treat and Howard A. Shaw, associated architects, and now in course of erection, will be one of the prominent buildings completed during the coming year. The building, which will cost $125,000, is in Plymouth place at Polk street, 99×99 feet, seven stories high, with walls of sufficient strength to carry two additional stories. It is being erected for R. R. Donnelley & Sons company, and is a radical departure from the usual lines of manufacturing buildings in this city. While the architects have been restricted by the commercial necessities of light and strength, they have obtained an architectural effect of striking character. As a manufacturing building, they have aimed at an effect of strength and dignity, which has been accomplished by carrying up from the bottom massive piers, and accentuating the weight of these piers by making the reveals of all openings the full thickness of the walls. The style is Venetian renaissance, and the material for the front and south elevations to Plymouth place and Polk street is cut stone, terra cotta, and vitrified red brick. The purpose of the building emphasized by the marks of such famous printers as Aldus, Caxton, and Elziver, reproduced in terra cotta medallions.
The front windows of the basement are protected by handsome wrought iron guards, and on each side of the entrance hangs an iron lantern. The entrance hall carries out the design in pressed brick, wrought iron, and mosaic.
Then interior construction is strictly fireproof, of steel and tile, designed to carry as heavy loads as any building in the city.
One of the special features in the building will be the novel manner of transmitting power. Two large dynamos in the basement will not only light the building by electricity, but will run elevators and other machinery by individual motors, thus doing away with the noise and dirt attending belts and shafting.
R. R. Donnelley, President of the company said:
- We intend to spare no pains to make our new business home a model one. The growth of our business has made our present quarters entirely inadequate, and we determined that when we moved we would move into a building specially adapted to the peculiar necessities of our business.
Chicago Tribune, January 23, 1898
THE twentieth century historian who will write the history of Chicago will find its city directories invaluable repositories of information. This will appear strange to many, but it is not stranger than the fact that the first great national directory and census of England, the “Domesday Book,” is one of the greatest historical documents in existence, or the fact that the account books of monasteries and cloisters have n proven to be mines of wealth to the historians of old world cities.
It is the obvious facts that escape the newspaper writer and annalist which often most interest the historian, and it is just these that the city directories, most stupid of all books, of reference, are apt to contain.
The old directories tell not only of those who have lived in Chicago, their places of residence and business and what they did, but in the registers on their advertising pages they present a terse history of the municipal government from year to year, the rise of miscellaneous societies, the extension of railways, the opening of streets, and the laying out of parks, and, in a word, give an epitome of municipal progress in every direction.
The most patent fact the directory files teach is the growth of population. Chicago’s first directory contained six pages of names in single columns, about 450 in all. The last issue from the Lakeside press is a volume of 2,692 pages and contains by close calculation 556,400 names. Less than two of the 2,140 triple column pages in the 1897 directory that are devoted to names would suffice in reproducing the first directory word for word. Compared to the bulky volume of 1897 the first city address book would be less than an inch thick, an inch wide, and two inches long. Represented along with connecting links from other years they are an impressive object lesson in municipal expansion. At times the rivalry of publishers caused the list of names to be unruly swelled, but the onward movement was in the main regular and natural.
Fergus’ First Directory.
The first Chicago Directory was an appendix to the city ordinances, published in pamphlet form by Robert Fergus in 1839. The directory was a happy accident. Mr. Fergus found there were going to be six blank pages left, and concluded to fill them in with the names of business-men. He set them up without copy just as they occurred and were suggested to him. The names were not even in strict alphabetical order, the compiler, editor, typesetter, and proofreader combined being satisfied to have the initial letters in proper sequence,
Joseph Jefferson appears in this directory as comedian and member of the firm of Jefferson & McKenzie, managers of the Chicago Theater, 8 and 10 Dearborn street. Frt Dearborn garrison was under the command of Captain Louis T. Jamieson. Fernando Jones is set down as a clerk for Thomas Church. Norman B. Judd had a law office at 105 Lake street. Grant Goodrich, George and A. O. Beaumont, and Mark Skinner being in the same building. A. G. Burley, crockery, 161 Lake street, is another entry every one would observe.
This directory had a circulation of 100 copies, fifty being taken by the city for $25 and fifty being sold privately. Five hundred copies remain unsold. However, in 1876 the first first directory was reprinted on nine pages of the Lakeside Directory. Henry H. Hurlbut, Esq., supplying the copy. In the same year Robert Fergus published an enlargement of the work, making it embrace all the business-men he and other old-timers could recollect.
Walter Kimball, Probate Judge, South Water and Clark streets; John R. Mills, clerk for Matthew Laflin, the merchant; Walter L. Newberry, lawyer and real estate dealer; William B. and M. D. Ogden, real estate dealer and attorney respectively; and James H. Rees, draftsman and surveyor for William B. Ogden are entries that even the casual reader would observe.
Pioneers of the Press.
The press was represented by William Stuart, publisher and editor of the Daily American, and John Wentworth, publisher of the Chicago Democrat, 167 Lake street.
Modern mails and transportation lines are represented in embryo by Fred Tuttle, mail contractor between Chicago and Michigan City, and Nelson Tuttle, stage agent, 180 Lake street.
There are named a Baptist church on La Salle street, near Washington and Clark; Presbyterian, Clark, near Washington; St. James’ Episcopal, Cass, near Illinois; and the Unitarian society, over the City Saloon, Clark and Lake streets.
The saloon buildings also housed the Postoffice.
Fourteen hotels are located, among them the Tremont House, and the then fashionable Sauganash, Market and Lake streets.
The territory north of Chicago avenue and east of Clark street is put down as the “Dutch Settlement.”
The pious antiquarian will find a great deal more in this old volume which cannot be mentioned.
The directory of 1843 was the next issued and the first under separate cover. It was compiled by James Wellington Norris, a lawyer. Robert Fergus speaks in anything but complimentary terms of Norris’ labors. Fergus set the type and did his best to correct Norris’ errors, but in spite of all he could do tailors and sailors were inextricably confused, names were misspelled, and locations guessed at. It is called the “General Directory and Business Advertiser of the City of Chicago for 1844.” Norris begs indulgence for mistakes with names of “old country” people and Germans. A historical sketch occupies eighteen pages, while forty-four pages are filled with 2,200 names.
Advertisements played quite as important a role in directory-making then as now. One observes the notice of H. O. Stone, 114 Lake street, groceries and wholesale and retail dry goods.
One learns from the title page that the postage on the little pamphlet was seven and one-half cents for distance in Illinois under 100 miles, otherwise twelve and one-half cents.
Old North Side Residents.
William B. Ogden lived then on Ontario street, between Cass and Rush, M. D. Ogden’s home being in the same street between Dearborn and Wolcott streets, Wolcott answering to North State.
Chicago had begun to assume a citified air. A new Catholic church was erecting at Wabash and Madison, 55×112 feet, and with a stone foundation. Thirteen churches are now counted. Among the pastors whose names are observed are the Rev. Robert W. Patterson, pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church, and the Rev. Luke P. Hitchcock, pastor of the “new” Methodist Church at Randolph and Canal streets. Dr. Hitchcock is still living and at work.
Other evidences of an ambitious young city are found in the list of organizations. There was a Catholic Library society, Chicago Bible society, Society of Sacred Music, there temperance societies, a young men’s association, and a “Mechanics’ Institute,” the latter two being housed in the saloon buildings at Clark and Lake streets.
Six publications are mentioned, among them, as before, the Chicago Democrat and the Chicago Express, the Journal’s predecessor.
This directory embraced, besides names, a calendar and a varied assortment of information. The reader is informed that the weekly mail received by horseback from Michigan City in 1832 had been displaced by a mail wagon in 1833, and that in 1834 a semi-weekly four-horse stage line was established. By 1837 there was a daily Eastern mail, and at the time of issue the city boasted forty-eight mails a week, with postal receipts of about $10,000 a year. During the lake season the “great Eastern” arrived daily except Sunday at 8:30 a.m. Then there was aMichigan City land mail, a Southern mail by Peoria, a route to Galena via Rockford, another to Milwaukee, one to Janesvile, and lastly to Thornton via Blue Island.
For fire protection the directory enumerated two engine companies, one hose company, one hook and ladder company, the Chicago Fire Bucket company, and the Fire Guards. Three military organizations are named, the Chicago Guards, the Chicago Cavalry, and the Montgomery Guards.
Rush Medical College advertises a corps of five professors. Eight public schools are given, with 818 scholars. But the pride of the city is the Chicago Female Seminary.
The census population statement is given as 7,580.
The advertisements are as instructive as the reading matter. One observes Orrington Lunt’s name as a forwarding and commission merchant. W. B. Ogden and W. E. Jones are conducting the Northwestern Land agency.
Exports for 1842 are set down at $659,000, imports at $664,000, the exports including 586,000 bushels of wheat.
Second Shows Growth.
Norris got out a second directory for 1845-’46. Fergus again being the printer. It is, like its predecessors, a thin book, seven inches long and four inches wide, but is bound in a pasteboard cover and includes approximately 3,450 names, while claim is made for a total population of 10,800. Nearly all the prominent churches are shown in credible woodcuts and their size and cost are carefully set down. The First Universalist, 35×75; the Unitarian, 42×60; the First Baptist, 55×80 feet in dimensions, were mentioned with pride as ornaments of the city. A generous advertising patronage affords additional information of a most varied character to the students of early Chicago.
The directory of 1846-’47, issued by Norris & Gardiner, from the press of Geer & Wilson, has 3,950 names. For the first time the principal streets are laid down. Clark is spelled “Clarke” and Sangamon “Saugamon,” evidently misprints. “First” street is laid down as south of Jackson, while First avenue is west of the “branches.” Wells street is spelled “Welles” and it extends both north and south of the river. The remaining streets up to Chicago avenue and west as far as Halsted were named, with few exceptions, as they are now.
At this period the directory makers strove to make their production take the place of an almanac, postal guide, and city year book. The directory of 1846 has a “counting-house almanack and calendar” and room is found for a few pages of supposed jokes, along with the postoffice directory of Illinois and a review of local progress.
Under the head of “New Improvements”
Chicago Tribune, December 16, 1900
Architect Howard Shaw has completed plans for an addition to the Lakeside Press Building in Plymouth Place, near Polk street, for R. Donnelley & Sons company, to cost $100,000. The new building will be seven stories, 75×101 feet, and correspond with the main structure of the same height, covering 100×101 feet.
The Lakeside Press
Sanborn Fire Insurance Map
It was in 1903 that Thomas E. Donnelley, the second generation Donnelley, had a “novel” idea for a gift to give to his employees. A book. Not just any book. A book that is not only representative of the fine craftsmanship that is put into each book, but also a book that actually is representative of Americana. This book, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, was the first in the Lakeside Classic series. These books, especially the early editions, are very sought after by collectors.
Every twenty-five years the color of the binding was changed as well as the type style to keep up with modern techniques. The size of the books have remained unchanged at 4½ x 7½, which is the result of folding a standard sheet of paper (25″ x 38″) 4X to 64 pages per each sheet. This size is called sixteenmo (16mo).
The themes of the books have evolved naturally. The first eight consisting of famous speeches, then almost immediately followed with a fine series of Chicago first-person narratives, then Illinois, and finally to include all of America. The series has even included American experiences outside of the borders as well.
The very first preface from the very first volume, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, written by Thomas E. Donnelley, defines the purpose of the volume and the
philosophy of the company:
- The aim of this little series is not to add another collection of English Classics to the many already published, but to present to the friends and patrons of an old-established Press an occasional book of the best English prose, representing in its mechanical details the ideas of that Press in workaday bookmaking. And who could more happily act as the standard-bearer of such ideas than Benjamin Franklin, the patron-saint of American printers, who, in his wide experience showed the true spirit of progressiveness, tempered with sterling common sense?
This little volume goes forth as a modest= protest against the present craze for so called “Editions de Luxe”—books printed in unreadable type, on hand-made paper, on hand-presses, and sold at prices prohibitory to all except the rich. Such books may have their places in the collection of the dilettante, or on the shelves of those who affect a love for fine books, and thus attempt to convey an impression of literary culture. But to fulfill its grand mission of giving and preserving to the world the great thoughts of men, a book must be within reach of that world. To return in the name of art to the cost and elaborate antique methods of performing by hand what can be cheaply and better performed by machines seems a crime against progress.
In opposition to these attempts, this volume stands for the machine-made book. Its paper, its type-setting, its presswork, and its binding all are the product of the very latest labor-saving machines. It aims to be readable rather than eccentric, plain rather than decorative, tasteful rather than unique, useful rather than useless….
In the production of this book, the Lakeside Press takes pride, for with the exception of the paper it is entirely a product of the Press, an accomplishment possible in no other printing establishment in America. . . . In fact, the entire production—typesetting, electrotyping, binding, and even the inkmaking—was made possible by the complete facilities of the plant.
If, in a modest way, this volume conveys the idea that machine-made books are not a crime against art, and that books may be plain but good, and good though not costly, its mission has been accomplished.
Chicago Tribune, December 26, 2002
By Patrick T. Reardon, Tribune staff reporter.
CRAWFORDSVILLE, Ind. — In his right hand, Ed Hintz lovingly holds the newest Lakeside Classic, as if the compact book with its gold-foil gilding and its chocolate-brown cover were something sacred.
And, in a way, it is.
The Classics — first-person narratives of American history, published each year for the past century by Chicago-based R.R. Donnelley as Christmas gifts for its customers and bonuses for its 30,000 worldwide workers—are showcases of the art of fine printing. But, for Hintz and many other longtime company employees, particularly at this Donnelley plant where the Classics have been printed for nearly three decades, they are also the embodiment of a life’s work and, in many cases, of a family’s history.
“My grandfather worked at Donnelley from 1923 to 1968,” says Hintz who, as a boy, lived with his grandfather and now holds the same job his forebear had as a bindery supervisor. “He never had a bad thing to say about Donnelley.”
And neither has Hintz, who not only has a passion for collecting Lakeside Classics and other Donnelley memorabilia but also flies a replica of the company’s flag just under the U.S. flag outside his home in nearby Darlington.
Hintz, who works in another part of the plant, has come over to the deluxe bindery machines on this early December morning to watch the first copies of the new Classic — the 100th in the series — come off the short assembly line.
He opens the book, “Narrative of the Coronado Expedition,” by Pedro de Castaneda of Najera, an eyewitness account of the 16th Century conquistador’s exploration of what later became the American Southwest, and flips the pages, studying the color illustrations and maps, feeling the tight heft of the book in his fingers.
“I see quality, consistency. I see dedication. I see pride. I see tradition. This is Donnelley,” he says. “The Donnelley family was proud of this, and so am I.”
The Lakeside Classics—avidly bought, sold and collected around the world on eBay and through antiquarian booksellers, in some cases changing hands for thousands of dollars — are the longest continuous-running series of Christmas books in the United States and probably the world.
And, even as Donnelley customers, employees, retirees and stockholders were receiving this year’s book during the two weeks before Christmas, preparations already were under way for the Lakeside Classic of 2003 and those beyond. Yet, this was the year when serious questions were raised about whether the series should be continued, about whether the tradition had run its course. Wouldn’t a cheese basket, some within the company asked, be just as effective?
The Classics were the creation of Thomas E. Donnelley, known as T.E., the son of Richard Robert Donnelley, who in 1894 founded R.R. Donnelley in Chicago. Although the company is now one of the three largest printers in the world, it had some rough early years, particularly 1871 when its plant and R.R.’s home were destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire. By 1903, however, the firm’s finances were on solid ground, and T.E., then the company president, decided to establish a Christmas gift program.
Inspired by a set of straight-edge razors he received from a friend in the razor business, T.E. decided to give, as a holiday present, a product that summed up the work his company did throughout the year: a book. But not just any book.
“This little volume,” he wrote in the preface of “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin,” the first book in the series, “goes forth as a modest protest against the present craze for so-called `Editions de Luxe’ — books printed in unreadable type, on hand-made paper, on hand presses, and sold at prices prohibitory to all except the rich. . .
“In opposition to these attempts, this volume stands for the machine-made book. Its paper, its typesetting, its presswork, and its binding are all the product of the very latest labor-saving machines. It aims to be readable rather than eccentric, plain rather than decorative, tasteful rather than unique, useful rather than useless; withal, to hold to the essence of the art of the old masters of bookmaking. . . .”
Elaborating on an idea
The idea of a publisher creating a book for Christmas and presenting it as a sort of elaborate Christmas card wasn’t new.
In 1851, just eight years after the creation of the first commercially sold Christmas card, the first Christmas book was published in England by the Daniel Press, “Christmas: A Vigil” by Charles James Cruttwell. The practice caught on there, but didn’t cross the Atlantic until 1894.
In publishing the first Lakeside Classic, T.E. envisioned a “little series” of books to be given away — never sold.
“He said [the book] had to be a size you could read on a trolley car, and it had to be our best quality,” says James Donnelley, T.E.’s grandson and a member of the company’s board of directors. But, as he acknowledged in the preface to the 25th book, T.E. had no plans initially to establish a tradition.
Nonetheless, that first volume had a hardy sturdiness to it that was attractive in its own right. A little less than 4 inches wide and 7 inches tall, the book was covered in a dark green cloth with the Donnelley Indianhead insignia in gold on the front and the title in gold lettering on the spine.
It was a format the company followed the next year and all the years since. Every 25 years, minor changes have been made inside the book in terms of typeface and layout—and one major change outside: a new color for the cover. Dark green was followed by a stolid red, then navy blue and finally chocolate brown. Next year’s book, the 101st, will have a cover of a different color, but no one at Donnelley yet knows what that will be.
After the Franklin autobiography, six of the next seven Lakeside Classics were collections of speeches. (James Donnelley suggests that their high rarity today—and high value to collectors—is because they were among “our most boring books. . . . Everyone who got them threw them away.”)
Then, in 1911, the series hit its stride with “The Autobiography of Gurdon S. Hubbard,” a first-person account of life in frontier Chicago by a fur trader and early business tycoon and described by Chicago history fans as one of the best books on the early days of the city.
In publishing the Hubbard book, Donnelley was providing a wide audience to a work that, previously, had been available only in a small edition, privately printed by Hubbard’s family.
Max Pinkard inspects Lakeside Classic books for proper binding. The Classics—first-person narratives of American history, published each year by Chicago-based R. R. Donnelley as Christmas gifts for its customers and bonuses for its workers—are showcases of the art of fine printing.
From then on, one key goal in making future selections was to bring to light obscure gems — little-known works like Hubbard’s or once-popular books now forgotten or hard to find, such as “The Americanization of Edward Bok” (2000), the autobiography of the former editor of Ladies’ Home Journal that won the Pulitzer Prize in 1920, or the book already chosen for 2003, “The Rough Riders,” Theodore Roosevelt’s memoir of the Spanish-American War.
Hubbard’s autobiography also set the tone for the type of books chosen for the series — first-person accounts of some aspect of American life. In the beginning, these centered on the history of Chicago, and then Illinois and the Midwest. There were books on the pioneers of Detroit and of the early days of Rock Island and Davenport, Iowa. But, for many years, more often than not, the selection was a book about the American West—such as “The Truth about Geronimo” by Britton Davis (1951), “Death Valley in ’49” by William L. Manly (1927) and “Narrative of My Captivity among the Sioux Indians” by Fanny Kelly (1990).
These choices reflected the tastes and interests of Milo M. Quaife, a noted historian of Chicago and the U.S., who edited 43 of the first 57 volumes in the series until his death in 1959. It was an approach that was carried on by Quaife’s successors until 1995, when Susan Levy was named executive editor.
“I’m looking for funky little books,” Levy says as she scans the titles on the shelves of the Regenstein Library on the campus of the University of Chicago where her husband Donald is a chemistry professor.
She walks quickly past a section devoted to Western Americana, explaining that her aim since taking over the series has been to discover “other voices” on more diverse subjects. The books she has published already have included the story of an arctic expedition, an eyewitness account of the Russian Revolution by Ulysses S. Grant’s granddaughter, Eddie Rickenbacker’s recollections of fighting air battles in World War I and the memoir of a former slave who, as White House seamstress, befriended Mary Todd Lincoln.
“It’s got to be a good read. That’s the first criteria,” says Levy, who has a bachelor’s degree in history from Harvard-Radcliffe, a master’s degree in history from Cambridge University in England and a master’s degree in library science from the U. of C.
In general, Levy prefers a book for which the copyright has lapsed, but, for the right title, she says she wouldn’t be averse to paying for reprint rights. The cost of producing 70,000 of the Lakeside Classic each year is roughly $500,000, or about $8 a book.
Levy, whose main job at Donnelley is as director of community relations, had a deep affection for the Lakeside Classics well before she became involved in their production. In fact, by searching used bookstores and antiquarian dealers, she had assembled her own complete set of the series by the time she was asked to become its editor.
“I usually come (to the library) looking for something specific, but I always look at the books on each side,” Levy says. “Sometimes, I get hooked and, six hours later, I’m still here.”
She turns a corner and continues to study the rows of titles. “It really is a question of whether something catches my interest,” she says. “Here’s a whole bunch of memoirs. These kinds of things, I just like to dig around in. . . . And, here, we have the first Lakeside Classic!”
Levy pulls from the shelf a copy of the Franklin autobiography in its dark green cover, a little roughed up along the edges, but still a solid, well-built book after nearly a century. It’s easy, she explains, to find Classics on the U. of C. shelves. With their scholarly introductions placing the book into its historical context, they are valuable components to any academic library.
On this visit, Levy finds one book that, at some future date, might become a Lakeside Classic: “Finding a Way Out: An Autobiography” by Robert Russa Moton. Although little remembered now, Moton succeeded Booker T. Washington as the principal of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama in 1915, gave the chief address in 1922 at the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial and was considered at one time the most powerful African-American in the U.S.
“This one is probably worth taking home,” Levy says.
In Evanston, Anne Coyle, a retired Chicago public school principal, is thinking of buying stock in Donnelley — just to be able to get copies of the new Lakeside Classics as they’re published.
“They’re the type of book you enjoy reading,” she says. “They’re always good type, good paper. They’re good books.”
Coyle was drawn to the Lakeside Classics initially through her interest in Chicago history and, for the past decade or so, she has been trying to assemble an entire set — with only partial success.
She has spent as much as $300 to purchase a book in the series, but she’s still missing the first eight volumes, the 1918 book and those of 2001 and 2002.
“For the old ones,” she says, “you’re talking some hundreds of dollars.”
Actually, Ed Hintz at the Crawfordsville plant, who has two full sets as well as some 500 other volumes from the series, says the 1904 book — “Inaugural Addresses of the Presidents of the United States from Washington to Lincoln” — sells for as much as $3,000, now that eBay has widened the market to the entire world.
While Levy estimates that a full set would bring $8,000 today, Hintz says, if sold individually, the books in a set could fetch perhaps $25,000.
Most of the books in the series, though, are much more reasonable in cost, with the most recent volumes going for $10 or so. The problem, though, is waiting for them to appear for sale.
That’s what has Coyle considering a stock purchase. Stockholders who list their home address and fill out the right form receive the Lakeside Classics each year, just like the Donnelley employees and customers.
Of course, it’s the 30,000 customers who are the main focus of the program.
But, with Donnelley going through a rough business period — one Wall Street analyst predicts that its revenues this year will be only $4.8 billion, a 17 percent drop from 2000 — some within the company questioned the usefulness of the Classics in the 21st-Century business environment.
“There are people who aren’t on the book side of the business who said we should send a CD instead or a Christmas basket,” Levy says. So, earlier this year, the company’s top executives and sales people were surveyed, and the overwhelming response, sometimes expressed with strong emotion, was to keep the tradition going.
“There was a feeling,” Levy says, “that this is what we do. One man called me at 6 at night and said, `I can’t even fill this out, I’m so angry.'”
Levy and others at Donnelley talk about the books as building relationships with their customers.
And that’s how one of those customers, Nancy Tait, the president and CEO of the Oregon-based Bear Creek Corp., sees it.
“I really enjoy the books,” says Tait, who has been receiving them since 1990 — and has read them all. “They’re wonderful stories. The books are so charming.
“To me, it’s part of the relationship. It’s something I look forward to: I look forward to getting the book. And reading it.”
Squeezed by the bottom line
Specially produced Christmas books from printers and publishers were once a normal part of the holiday season, the most prestigious being those from Cambridge University Press in England, which centered on the history of books and bookmaking.
In recent years, though, the practice has waned. Cambridge no longer creates its special Christmas books, and neither do a lot of others.
“There is the cost factor,” says Karen Elder in explaining the drop-off. “They think maybe a cheese basket is more cost-effective.”
Elder doesn’t agree. She oversees the American Classic, the annual Christmas book distributed by the Conn.-based MeadWestvaco, a major U.S. papermaker, which debuted in 1958 with a reprinting of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving.
Hand-delivered to some 20,000 of the firm’s customers, the American Classics, like the Lakeside Classics from R.R. Donnelley, are the same size every year, roughly 6 inches by 9 inches. But that’s where the resemblance ends.
The covers, inside layouts and typefaces of the American Classics vary with wild exuberance from year to year as befits the subjects, and the volumes are delivered inside a colorful slipcase. The books often are works of fiction, such as “O Pioneers!” by Willa Cather (2000), or volumes assembled from a variety of sources, such as “America: An Affirmation of Faith,” a collection of patriotic expressions (1984).
Producing the books, she says, is “a labor of love.” Besides, a cheese basket — “It just doesn’t have the same impact.”
In 1908, Donnelley decided to operate as an open shop as a response to the four major strikes between 1903 and 1907. It was in June of that year when president, Thomas E. Donnelley, placed an advertisement in the Chicago Tribune in search of apprentices and start an apprenticeship program.
Above is the advertisement in the June 29, 1908 Tribune, and below is the apprentice class of 1913, posed in front of the Lakeside Press.