Victor Hammer was born in Vienna on December 9, 1882. Fifteen years later, he began his apprenticeship in architecture, and a year after that he transferred into the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. In 1922, Hammer moved to Florence where he set up a printing press. In 1939 he fled Europe and the Second World War and came to the United States with his wife, Rosl. They moved to Aurora, NY, where Hammer taught the fine arts at Wells College. He was believed by many to be “a perfectionist of considerable complexity.”
“Hammer was an artist in many fields but had gained a worldwide reputation as a book craftsman who designed, cut and cast his own type. The best known and most widely used of the five typefaces he designed was the American Uncial [which he designed while at Wells College]. He brought to the college an antique flatbed press dating from around the turn of the century and while at Wells he printed his own books by hand. The press was placed in the northeast basement room of Zabriskie. With the assistance of his son, Jacob, he established the Wells College Press, which put out some three dozen books, distinctive for beautiful and artistic printing, illustrations, design, and bindings. The subject matter was wide-ranging – works by some great figures of world literature in the early twentieth century, numerous essays on type design, and several volumes of Wells College material.” (from Jane Marsh Dieckmann’s “Wells College: A History”) In addition to creating the Wells College Press he continued under the name Hammerpress as well for some printings.
Upon mandatory retirement from Wells, Hammer moved to Lexington, KY in 1948, at this time Wells College named him Professor of Arts Emeritus. Hammer worked in Kentucky as Artist-in-Residence at Transylvania College until his retirement in 1953. Shortly after moving to Kentucky, he married his second wife, Caroline Reading Hammer. Victor Hammer passed away on July 10, 1967 at the age of eighty-four.
The flatbed press he brought to Wells College had been abandoned for years after his departure. In 1970, several faculty members reassembled it in Morgan Hall. As part of the 125th anniversary celebration of the college, Wells hosted a three-day symposium in October 1993 to honor the life and work of Victor Hammer. In addition, the Wells College Press was reestablished as a teaching and publishing tool.
The college is a repository of Victor Hammer’s works. In addition, the Archives has a collection of punches and matrices of several of Hammer’s type fonts. A sampling of his work can be seen on the Tools of History website.
More information and details on Victor Hammer can be found in the Wells College Archives.
This summary was compiled with Jane Marsh Dieckmann’s “Wells College: A History” and the Victor Hammer Collection in the Wells College Archives by Nicole Di Mauro’12