THE BLACK CAT PRESS
I was headed to Chicago for an exhibition and opening program of Inland Printers: The Fine-Press Movement in Chicago, 1920-40, given by the Caxton Club of Chicago. Here my father, Norman W. Forgue and his Black Cat Press, along with others, were being honored. The Caxton Club was founded January 26, 1895 by a group of bibliophiles, some of them business and civic leaders who had made their fortunes in the exciting 1890’s in Chicago. Along with others involved in bookish professions, the founders were determined to celebrate their shared love of books. They chose the first English printer, William Caxton as the Club’s namesake. My father belonged to the Caxton Club.
Arriving at Columbia College Chicago Center for Book & Paper Arts on Wabash just west of Michigan Avenue, I began a special evening. I was the guest of John Chalmers and the Caxton Club. John had committed a great deal of time reading and researching my father’s printing legacy. He wrote the fine article included in the four-color illustrated 40-page exhibition catalogue. In this catalogue and on display is a copy of a wonderful black and white photograph of my father, Norman, that I had loaned John for the exhibition.
As I wandered through the exhibit I found many names I’d grown up hearing. Here were mentors and personal friends of my father, these fine Chicago printers of their time. Included were Will Ransom and his Private Press, Ernest Detterer, who had started the Department of Printing at The School of The Art Institute of Chicago, where my father taught some classes. I found Phillip Reed at The Monastery Hill Press where some of the Black Cat Press books were bound. I recognized William Kittredge’s name from R.R. Donnelley. In an essay written by Paul Gehl, Custodian of a collection at The Newberry Library, which introduced the exhibition catalogue, he writes about Norman Forgue and mentions men who were important to my father and to his work over the years.
While wandering the exhibit, I stepped back in time, a child again in my father’s print shop lining up old type face on the floor; my father working at his desk or in the shop on a project – the very work that is collected and appreciated to this day. I met collectors that night that named, with obvious pride, some of the Black Cat Press books they owned. They new a great deal about my father and his career, some having met him in person. A woman approached me, she had been in New York City at Argosy Bookstore in Manhattan. There she discovered a collection of BCP books they had taken in from a collector. She bought the few things she could afford, some books selling for as much as $400.00. One of her purchases was my birth announcement, a lovely little book my father produced on that occasion. It was a wonderful moment shaking hands; she able to meet Stepheny, whose birth announcement she now owned, and I thinking about this little book almost sixty-five years old bringing pleasure to a complete stranger.
Today, on my father’s birthday, I write in thanksgiving and in remembrance of my father’s contribution to fine printing. He always told my mother and me that we were the reasons he made something of his life so that he might provide for us all that we had. I am forever grateful.