Friday, April 30, 2010

A Printer, A Job, A Motto, and The Constitution: Harold Berliner

In letterpress printing, the absolute most common printing job for part-time printers used to be business cards. Having an abundance of these small cards around also meant in their spare time, hobby printers - even those with only little tabletop presses like mine - would turn out stacks of the little wallet cards with mottos, prayers, witty sayings. Selling these things helped cover expenses between paying jobs.

A man well known in the Letterpress community passed away a few days ago. I never met him but have heard of him for a long time. He was both an Attorney - had served 4 terms as a District Attorney - and an avid printer admired for the quality of his fine books. He said of himself - echoing Ben Franklin - "I am first a printer."

As it happens, one of the accomplishments for which he will be most remembered combined both fields:

Harold Berliner wrote the Miranda warning. And then, he printed it.

What he did was put together the wording in a simple form and printed it on little cards,” [ Judge Frank] Francis said. “He then had it distributed to law enforcement officers all over the country so they could just read it. Later on, they knew it by heart.”

There's a fine obituary in the for Nevada County, California.

The Sacramento Bee has the full story ,by Robert D. Dávila, of how the Miranda Warning in its usual form came to be:

"The landmark ruling ordered police to inform suspects in custody of their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.
"Attorney General Thomas Lynch asked Mr. Berliner and Deputy Attorney General Doris Maier to craft a quick and easy statement that officers could recite during arrests. Within two hours, they turned out what is believed to be the first written version of the Miranda warning, starting with seven words penned by Mr. Berliner: "You have the right to remain silent."
"Sensing a business opportunity, he quickly printed and sold wallet-size Miranda cards to law enforcement agencies nationwide."
"When we wrote those words, we were carrying out a request for uniformity within the state of California" he told The Bee in 2000. "I have never considered it a piece of Americana. I just think it was a job, and I did it. It just seems quite ordinary to me."

Examples of his beautiful presswork can be seen here: including GENESIS, Illustrated by Helen Siegl, and here, at Confessions of a Bookplate Junkie, is a small tale worth reading, as well as an example of Berliner's presswork.

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