“The Letterpress Song” by Bruce McCurley

I recently found a cache of my dad’s early letterpress work, going all the way back to his first attempts to print from a set of rubber stamps he received as a gift at the age of 13 in 1937. The box contains samples of job work (dance tickets, business cards, wedding announcements, stationery) from between 1937 and 1943, as well as some newer items.

Among the ephemera is a printed poem entitled “The Letterpress Song” and attributed to Bruce McCurley. My dad didn’t learn linotype until he returned from World War II and enrolled as a printing/graphic arts student at the Rochester Institute of Technology on his GI Bill. I am assuming that this poem comes from that era, but my Google searching has not produced anything on the “Letterpress Song,” Bruce McCurley or any of the lines of the poem.

I am thinking my dad composed and printed this piece as a requirement for one of his classes at RIT, and perhaps Bruce McCurley was a classmate, but would love to hear from others about this or similar “letterpress songs.”

Ironically, the last two lines didn’t play out for my dad and although he continued to do letterpress job printing until he was in his seventies, he made much more money when he added offset printing to the capabilities of his “moonlighting” print shop.

“Damn Offset to Eternity,
Lead, Lead, Lead.”

He continued to work as a “hot metal” typographer until the late 1980s, but in the end, even the best hot metal his company produced for repro proofs on its Linotype and Ludlow machines could not compete with the “cold comp” that heralded the era of desktop publishing.

image: LetterpressSong2.jpg


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Origin of the song’s words could well be your father’s or indeed, Bruce McCurley’s, but the rhyme is definitely that of “The Wiffenpoof Song”. Made popular by Rudy Vallee then later by Bing Crosby, the tune was favoured as a college drinking song. Quaffed a flagon or two myself whilst warbling: “…Baa, baaa, baaaa….” :o)

There’s a fine tradition of of writing spoof songs to the Whiffenpoof Song. See, for example, Tom Lehrer’s “Bright College Days”.

Michael Hurley
Titivilus Press
Memphis, TN

This is cool. The Whiffenpoof song is so called because it is the signature piece of the Yale Whiffenpoofs a capella male chorus. The words and sheet music were published in 1909 and later the song was popularized by Rudy Vallee (v supra). The words and meter are based on a poem by Kipling, “Gentlemen Rankers.” Having been a printer for the Timothy Dwight College letterpress shop at Yale, I have to like this ditty!