National Geographic

I don’t know if this is the right forum for this, but I will ask. In clearing out Mom’s house we have found Dad’s 35 year collection of National Geographics. It was a great work printed letterpress for decades. For people who think letterpress has to have the “distressed” look, or smashed into the paper, look up some old issues. During the 1970’s they switched from letterpress to Gravure. I think there were one or two issues that were printed combining letterpress, offset and gravure. I would like to ask if anyone might know which issues they might be. I would appreciate it very much.
Thank You, Danny

Log in to reply   8 replies so far

Danny… I have a collection of NG books (not magazines), beginning in 1895 thru the early 1900’s. Some of the more uniquely printed items for NG were a book limited to an edition edition of 500 titled “Machu Pichu” by Hiram Bingam and designed by Carl Putington Rollins of Yale Univ Press. In 1917 a special issue of the magazine was printed on “waterproof paper” for use by the Army & Navy during WWI illustrating the various flags of the world and was meant for use aboard the ships. NG printed commemorative bookmarks made from the thin fabric of the 1935 Explorer II Balloon, and sent to various subscribers. Not so common were the monographs, technical books/journals with graphs, fold-outs and inserts. Some, more current editions of the magazine, came with 3-D glasses and stereograms, hologram covers, and some with flexible 45rpm recordings attached to the bindings, all which required multiple printing methods.

I’ve never evidenced even their earliest publications printed by handset type. Perhaps electrotype and stereotype plates where employed although it is not stated. I wonder if this book about Judd & Detweiler Printers, or it’s author, may have your answer as they claim to have done much of the printing for NG. Most of the early books I have were printed by other printers and many only give NG Society as the printed source.

Not quite correct on the letterpress to gravure. They went web offset between the two. It was printed flatbed cylinder press here in Washington, DC by Judd and Detwiller for many years and then they went to Web Offset because NG wanted to move in that direction. Gravure did not take place untill 1990’s or later. Will try to nail those dates down it is printed somewhere in the south. Some section may still be web offset.
Tough part for web offset was getting enough ink down on the National Geographic Gold Borders so it would not fade quickly. Special inks and pigments.

A note on the NG. The type for this fabulous magazine was set for a long while by a premier firm in the Washington, D.C. area known as Harlow Typesetting. They decided in about 1988 to close down their hot type department after NG went offset and ultimately to cold type. I got word and rushed to their place, acquiring many items, including the Model 31 Linotype which they told me was devoted almost exclusively to setting the Smithsonian magazine and earlier the NG magazine. Got the mats (Baskerville) and the machine. It was in excellent working order, beautifully maintained. I have it wired up and on my typesetting floor now.
Great memories. I have a photo with Mr. Harlow and his son along with the magically resourceful rigger I always use, Mr. Tom Williams from Atlanta. Tom actually flew into Reagan International with only his saw and hammer (I had to rent the forklift) and proceeded to move heaven and earth with them. Couldn’t fly that way today!
He is a “doubting Thomas” and a great jokster. Said he once was hired by an oil-rich Saudi Arabian royal to load a huge web press and other heavy equipment onto a plane in the USA, and then loaded a number of Mercedes vehicles, carrying the prince himself and what Tom thought looked like the royal’s copious harem. When the plane was ready to leave, others on the ground crew wanted to go, but Tom said, No, he wanted to wait and see the plane actually lift off.
Enough for today.
Bill Murray

vandy, sounds like you have quite a collection, are you located on the east coast??

There is a quick and easy way to tell if something was printed via rotogravure. EVERYTHING on a rotogravure image will be broken into “pixels” (for lack of a technical term) because of the process. Even the smallest type. There are absolutely no solid areas within the image. Letterpress and offset allow a solid lay-down of ink, rotogravure does not.

Get a loop or a powerful magnifying glass and check it out.You will also notice that rotogravure does not use the traditional dot pattern associated with the other processes.


Thanks for your responsiveness, Dick. We are in my native Georgia. Our door is always open to you and yours.
Bill M.

Bill, that doesn’t narrow it down too much, Georgia takes up almost half the east coast!!

Americus 31709, in west central Georgia (about 255 miles due south of Atlanta). Phone 229-942-8490. We have a beautiful magnolia tree in our south lawn (wink). Forgive me~ over the years we’ve learned to be carefully particular about guests. You are welcome.
Bill M.