Lexington, Kentucky: Stamperia del Santuccio, 1960. Octavo. Bound in original brown paper covered boards, with printed paper label to the spine. In very good printed paper dust jacket. [x], 21, [xiv] pp. Minor rubbing to the foot of the spine, some light foxing to the front and rear blanks (limited mostly to the pastedowns), else clean and bright; sewing is a little loose between some gatherings, exposing the supports, but is otherwise tight. Some wear to the extremities of the dust jacket, with very slight loss to head and tail, and a 6mm. tear at the lower front joint. Overall a Very Good copy. Printed by Victor Hammer in red and black in American Uncial type. One of 60 ‘Presentation Copies’ signed by Merton, of which this is number 10. Item #78
Victor Hammer was born in Vienna in 1882, and studied painting and architecture at the Akademie der bildenden Künste Wien. Having completed his studies in 1908, he relocated to Florence to supervise the cutting of punches for a type-face based on his Uncial hand; the finished type-face was named ‘Hammer Unziale', and though he was dissatisfied with the result, it would become the first of five Uncial faces designed by Hammer. Hammer remained in Florence until the outbreak of the First World War; during the War, he served some months in the infantry, and later as a war artist stationed in the Urals and Turkey. He returned to Florence after the War, and there he established his Stamperia del Santuccio, using a press modelled after a wooden common press held in the Bibliotecca Laurenziana. With the assistance of Rudolf Koch’s son Paul, who had been sent to Florence to apprentice with Hammer, another Uncial was cut. The newly cut face was designated ‘Samson Uncial’, taking its name from the subject of the Stamperia’s first book, Milton’s Samson Agonistes, which was printed in 1931.
Hammer accepted a professorship at the Akademie Künste in 1937, but left for the United States shortly after the Nazi annexation of Austria. With the help of émigré friends already established in the States, the Hammers managed to settle in Aurora, New York, and Hammer secured a teaching post in the Art Department at Wells College. There he established the Wells College Press, where he printed a number of books, including a de luxe issue for James Laughlin’s New Directions of Wilmot’s A Satire Against Mankind and Other Poems. In 1948, Hammer’s paintings and typographic work were exhibited in Chicago by the Renaissance Society, and there he met two admirers with connections to Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky: Joseph C. Graves, who was a Trustee of the University, and had an interest in private printing, and Raymond McLain, then president of the University. At their request, Hammer relocated for the last time to Lexington, and took up a residency at Transylvania.
At Transylvania, Hammer founded the Anvil Press, which was established as a teaching press for an association of printing students and enthusiasts. He also revived his own Stamperia del Santuccio, and realized what was arguably his greatest typographic achievement, designing and cutting his fourth and penultimate type-face, American Uncial.
It was during his time at Transylvania that Hammer began corresponding with Thomas Merton, who was cloistered in the nearby Trappist Monastery of Gethsemani. The correspondence between the Hammers (for Victor’s second wife Carolyn also participated in the exchange) and Merton began sometime in the fall of 1955, surviving Victor’s death in 1967, and ending with Merton’s own death in 1968. Through the letters, which ranged in topic from literature to politics, philosophy to the role of art in worship, developed a close friendship and creative exchange. Merton’s best known poem, Hagia Sophia, owes its afflatus to the center panel of a triptych depicting the madonna and child by Hammer, which Merton viewed on a trip to Lexington in 1959. And Hammer’s practice of art, best captured by the Stampeira’s press motto ad maiorem Dei gloriam, echoed Merton’s version of Monasticism and the solitary life. Indeed, Hammer’s obsession with perfecting the Uncial face aimed at giving the reader pause, and opening up a contemplative approach to the text.