The Riverside Press was a captive press within Houghton Mifflin & Co. which was committed to the creation of high quality books. Bruce Rogers came to Boston, Massachusetts, the home of Houghton Mifflin and an area with a rich printing history, to work for the magazine Modern Art creating decorations and doing design (Blumenthal). After the closure of Modern Art, Houghton Mifflin & Company hired Rogers in 1895 to fill the position left open by another great American printer, Daniel Berkeley Updike who left to found the Merrymount Press (Kelly). Rogers wanted to produce fine editions at the press, but didn’t know how to convince those above him at Houghton Mifflin to invest in such productions. When Rogers entered some small books he created in his private workshop, using type that he bought from the press, into an arts and crafts exhibit in Boston, he caught the attention of George H. Mifflin, and was granted the opportunity to design fine editions at the Riverside Press.
Unlike Updike, Rogers was a capable artist and draftsman, and he put those skills to use in the Riverside editions, creating many of the decorations found in the books such as the monumental and arabesque styled title pages.
When it came to selecting type—what we popularly call fonts—for the editions, Rogers moved away from the usual practice of using one favored type for all of the books printed by any one press. Instead, he practiced what was called “allusive typography.” This means that the type chosen for each work alluded to, or in some way referenced, the subject of the work or the time in which it was originally created.
Another way in which Riverside’s production methods differed from the norm is that the books were printed using individual pieces of type, as opposed to using plates. This means that each page would be composed by hand. The more common practice of the time was to create a plate, a single piece of metal that would contain the type for an entire page. The Riverside editions were also commonly produced on hand presses. Working this way was much more costly and time consuming, but allowed for a greater degree of control, and produced unique, artful pressings.
You can learn more about Bruce Rogers by reading these books:
The First Flowering: Bruce Rogers at the Riverside Press by Jerry Kelly. Boston: David R. Godine, 2008.
Bruce Rogers: A Life in Letters, 1870-1957 by Joseph Blumenthal. Austin: W. Thomas Taylor, 1989.