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Rogers, Bruce (1870-1957) | Purdue University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections

Name: Rogers, Bruce (1870-1957)


Historical Note:

Albert Bruce Rogers was born the younger of two brothers in Linwood, Indiana (now part of Lafayette) on May 14, 1870.  His parents were Ann Eliza Gish Rogers and George Rogers, a local baker and confectioner.  Growing up, young Bert (as he was called until he went to college) developed an interest in drawing.  He also spent a lot of time at his uncle's carpentry shop, learning the finer points of woodcarving and gaining a familiarity with the tools of the trade.  His first attempt at fine printing occurred sometime in his early teenage years, when he hand-illustrated a copy of William Cullen Bryant's poem "Forest Hymn" and added his own etchings with the help of his mother's iron.

In 1886, at the age of sixteen, Rogers enrolled as a freshman at nearby Purdue University, hoping to one day become an illustrator.  He and another local boy, John McCutcheon, were the only two male students in Purdue's Art Department at that time.  Not interested in sports or other social engagements, Bruce spent his time providing illustrations for various Purdue publications, such as the Exponent and the Debris.  He did enjoy boating on the Wabash River, however, and a love of boats and sailing would follow him all of his life.

Rogers graduated from Purdue with a degree in Science in 1890.  His first job was as an illustrator for the Indianapolis News.  After that he tried his hand at painting landscapes, then working in a railroad office with his brother in Kansas.  He briefly returned to Indianapolis and illustrating, then in 1895 took a job as a designer at L. Prang and Company in Boston.  His first published design work appeared there in Modern Art, which was produced by Prang.  In 1896, Rogers made the acquaintance of George H. Mifflin, who invited him to join the Riverside Press.

After four years of learning the general printing trade, Rogers was given charge of the new limited editions division at Riverside in 1900.  This was also a time of personal happiness in Bruce's life; he married Anna Embree Baker, a Purdue woodcarving instructor, that same year.  Their daughter and only child, Elizabeth, was born in 1901.  The new family set up residence in Massachusetts, and Bruce got to work.

One of the highlights of Rogers' notable fifteen-year career at Riverside was the development of the Montaigne type, which Bruce redesigned from a fifteenth-century Roman typeface.  He also produced over one hundred limited editions before he left the Press in 1912, first for a dream-fulfilling trip abroad, then for a career as a freelance "tramp" designer in New York. 

During the years 1912-1935, Rogers worked on a variety of projects for a variety of presses, both in England an America, including among them Carl Rollins' Montague Press, Emery Walker's Mall Press, Cambridge University Press, William Edwin Rudge, and Harvard University Press.  Rogers was already gaining recognition as a typographer and book designer, but he had never been very happy with his Montaigne type.  He began to tinker again with it and, in 1914, christened the redesigned type "Centaur."  The first book printed in Centaur type was, appropriately, The Centaur, for which Anna Rogers herself set the type.

The creation of the Centaur type brought Bruce Rogers much prestigious attention and opened all sorts of professional doors for him.  Always haunted by a touch of wanderlust, Bruce moved his small family several times around the Northeast and even to England, a country he had been fascinated with for some time, in pursuit of various projects.  In 1925 he bought a house in New Fairfield, Connecticut, five miles outside of Danbury.  Rogers called the place "October House" because of the date inscribed on the cornerstone.  Despite the purchase, it would be some time before Bruce settled down long enough to live there permanently.

The development of Centaur won Bruce Rogers much acclaim, but on the heels of his success came great personal tragedy: Elizabeth Rogers Burroughs died in 1924 at the age of twenty-three.  Because her marriage to Alan Burroughs had dissolved, her two-year-old son, Bruce, was left to be raised by her parents.  Anna Rogers, who had battled serious illness for many years, died in 1931.  Rogers was left alone to care for his grandson with only the help of housekeeper, nurse and nanny Myra Pierson, affectionately known as "Pink" or "Pinky."  Mrs. Pierson had first been employed as a nurse for the ailing Elizabeth, and after the young woman's death joined the rest of the Rogers family full time. 

Despite the loss of his daughter and wife, Rogers' career continued to climb inexorably toward its stunning apex.  In early 1929, Oxford University Press was looking for both a typeface and a designer for its new folio Bible.  The typeface they chose was Centaur, and the designer Bruce Rogers. The Oxford Lectern Bible, published in 1935, was a massive project, but amazingly Rogers still found time to put out other pieces during its production.  But it was the Bible that would leave his largest artistic thumbprint on the world; hailed by critics from around the globe as a masterpiece, the Bible flung Rogers into the realms of typographical immortality.  Sixty of his friends, among them George Ade, Edward C. Elliott, John T. McCutcheon and David Ross, donated funds for a special printing of the Bible on a small quantity of unique Japanese paper.  This one-of-a-kind treasure was donated to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.  The Library honored Rogers in turn by putting his printer's emblem on two of its bronze door panels, the first time a living printer had been so recognized.

Even before the Oxford Lectern Bible, Bruce Rogers had already been recognized academically for his impact on the printed word.  Yale University awarded him a Master of Arts degree in 1928; Purdue University a Doctor of Humane Letters degree in 1932; and Harvard University a Master of Arts degree in 1939.  He received a gold medal for graphic arts from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1948, and the American Institute of Graphic Arts named him an honorary life member.  Despite his fame, Rogers never accumulated a great fortune, and continued to live very economically for the rest of his life.

After the furor over the Oxford Bible subsided a bit, Rogers settled down for a quieter life with Pinky and little Bruce at October House.  Although his wandering lifestyle slowed down, his pace of work did not; over the next twenty years he produced a steady flow of a variety of material.  In 1949, Rogers put out another version of the Bible, this time with the World Publishing Company.  He also produced several books for the Limited Editions Club, including a thirty-seven volume series of the works of Shakespeare.  But Rogers' secret desire was to produce a series of works of that he could have complete control over, without having to yield to the creative limitations of working on a commission.  He laid the groundwork for a set of books called October House Classics, and produced the first volume in 1957, The Life of St. George.  Although he had made plans for another title, Bruce Rogers did not live to see it started.  He died of pneumonia on May 18, 1957, five weeks after the release of St. George and four days after his eighty-seventh birthday.






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