Mac McGrew Truly Knew His Type!
Mac McGrew Truly Knew His Type!

by Richard Hopkins, Editor,
American Typecasting Fellowship Newsletter #32

August 2008

Saying goodbye to Mac McGrew is difficult. He was no stranger to the pages of this publication. His article “My Life with Type” was published in the ATF Newsletter 24 (November, 1999). He attended a few of our biennial conferences, and although not a typecaster himself, he probably knew more about type than … well, anybody! I had known Mac since way back in the 1960s. While he was still working in the advertising agency in Pittsburgh, he hosted more than one group of my students (I was teaching at the time) during their field trips to Pittsburgh to visit (a) the agency, (b) a typographer, (c) a photoengraver, (d) an electrotyper, and (e) a small commercial litho shop. I doubt any of those businesses exist today.
      Mac was a quiet person who loved the work he did. Early on, he realized he had a great need for additional information about type, because he was buying it on a regular basis from a variety of sources for his agency’s many clients. You must be reminded that back then, the only option was hot metal and if an advertiser specified Trajanus as the font they wanted to use, Mac had to find it quickly, and get the job set. Though there were several typographers in Pittsburgh, he often had to go all over the country to find typographers with enough type to set the job in question—sometimes pooling the resources of several type shops in different cities!
      That need was the inspiration for Mac to start gathering little 3x5 cards with detailed information about the various hot metal fonts. Those cards ultimately served as the foundation for his triumphant book—a lifetime of work—American Metal Typefaces of the Twentieth Century. I am certain there’s no other source of information about type as extensive and thorough as Mac’s book. His love for the subject sent him in all directions seeking details. He spent time at American Type Founders, he talked with many type designers and type directors, gathering first-hand information that is recorded nowhere else.
      Obtaining adequate specimens of the various faces took many, many years and the help of so many people who still are associated with our Fellowship. Mac didn’t have the instant ability to scan, touch up, reduce or enlarge, etc., which those familiar with computers today take for granted. Each step was an agonizing effort to preserve fidelity and the high quality of his book is a great testament to his insistence on quality and his perseverance.
      His almost infinite knowledge of the details involved in hot metal typography is evidenced by this off-the-cuff statement he made to me one afternoon. I paraphrase: “You know I always had a particular affection for Monotype Baskerville. I know the American version was largely adapted from the English version, but even so, I preferred it because the English setup mandated a 19-unit EM and that made things much more difficult for the keyboarder, especially when working with tabular material in financial work—which we often did.” He not only knew the trifling differences between the two versions, he also understood their ramifications in the work-a-day world of typesetting.
      I relate another incident which will give you a better feel for how dedicated Mac was toward getting precise details on everything. He and Laura were visiting Terra Alta for an annual family gathering of Laura’s clan at nearby Alpine Lake. Mac put in his appearance at the gathering, but then excused himself to come and visit me. We were talking about the progress of his book and somehow got to the issue of Linotype faces. “There are so many holes in my information about Mergenthaler’s early offerings,” Mac told me. “Surely you’ve checked their 1915 specimen book?” I inquired. He stood there bewildered and confessed he did not know of the volume.
      Immediately, I pulled it (a huge volume about 3 inches thick, landscape format 13"x 8¾") from my shelf and handed it to him. He was amazed that he’d not known of its existence. Thereupon he excused himself to an easychair for over an hour of intense study, complete with pencil and notepad. I went to my shop to allow him to concentrate on his work.
      Finally, he came to me and apologetically informed me that he absolutely had to take the book back to Pittsburgh so he could thoroughly digest it. I agreed and I believe he had it a little over a month. When he returned it he said the book had allowed him to fill in virtually all his unanswered questions.
      I am certain this sort of thoroughness was represented time and again with anyone and everyone who had any knowledge of type. That’s the stunning essence of his book. I’ve already said it was Mac’s lifetime accomplishment and I fear the world simply doesn’t realize what a seminal accomplishment the volume really is.
      Mac and Laura raised two children and lived many years in Mt. Lebanon. He rode the trolley to work each day and was quite involved in the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum. After retirement they moved to a retirement village where home upkeep, etc., would no longer plague them. It was then when Mac disposed of his small shop of marvelous fonts.
      Laura preceded him in death and he once referred to the village where he lived as “God’s waiting room.” Sadly, macular degeneration caused Mac’s eyesight to diminish to the point where reading was no longer possible. But as long as he was able, he always was willing and anxious to help anyone with a typographic question. He was 94 when he died in 2007.

—Richard Hopkins
Article from the August 2008 issue of American Typecasting Fellowship Newsletter, #32

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Reprinted through the kind permission of the author and publisher.

Richard Hopkins
American Typecasting Fellowship Newsletter
P. O. Box 263
Terra Alta, WV 26764