Monday, July 28, 2014

The Needle Makes a Fine Point for Printing

The Needle is an odd name for a periodical on the printing arts, but the publishers evidently had a really good point to make, as their subtitle suggests. This monthly print journal began as an advertising medium for Young & McCallister, one of the largest print and advertising firms in Los Angeles in the early 20th century. The Needle's first issue was published 100 years ago, in April, 1914 and continued its run for another 12 years. This nearly complete set of 15 bound leather volumes of The Needle once belonged to the editor and publisher, Bruce McCallister and just sold at auction. The journal was heavily illustrated and included typographic examples, pochoir and stencil colored plates, and tipped-in samples of their fine press work. 

Bruce McCallister (1881-1945) was a letterpress tramp printer who came out to California from South Dakota to find work. He arrived in San Francisco in 1906 on the day of the Great San Francisco Earthquake, and soon after made his way to Los Angeles where he found work at Senegram Printers. In 1912, he formed a partnership with letterpress printer, Frederick Young who emigrated to the states from England. Their timing dovetailed nicely with the Los Angeles real estate boom and by 1919, they dominated the advertising field with many colorfully printed promotional materials. McCallister was a fine pressman, salesman and innovator. He launched an in-house bindery and a separate screen printing department to meet the demands for colorful sign and poster printing. 

Image via sign industry

In 1927 McCallister hired a young typographer and book designer, Grant Dahlstrom and pursued the printing of fine press books. Their first book together, The History of Warner's Ranch and Its Environs was chosen as one of AIGAs 50 best-designed books of 1927. A second AIGA award was received for the design and printing of California Hills and Other Wood Engravings by Paul Landacre in 1931.

Image via Bonhams

Although Young & McCallister achieved great success in the printing field, they did not survive the Depression. In later years, Bruce McCallister continued to find success in the printing of books for The Huntington Library, Los Angeles bookman Jake Zeitlin, and his friend, Grant Dahlstrom who went on to acquire The Castle Press in Pasadena. Through his associations and mentoring of young printers such as Dahlstrom and Ward Ritchie, he set the stage for Los Angeles to become the West Coast center of fine press printing and publishing for a good part of the 20th century.


  1. Thanks for the lovely images. I love the earthy design style of that era.

  2. Very cool bit of history! How did you find this?

    1. I found "The Needle" at this auction site:

      The rest of the history I sorted out through various sources and my familiarity with the vibrant Los Angeles fine press printing scene. After I wrote this post, an LA book dealer told me the nearly complete set of "The Needle" journals sold for $5000.

  3. I love this tidbit of history and the image. I am sure they did not imagine that a century later we would be experimenting with 3D printing. The evolution has been incredible.