Albert Schiller, a master in the art of printing ornament, was born in Russia (1898 -1970) and immigrated to the United States in 1904. He began working in a Harlem print shop at the age of 17, and, around 1918, joined the staff of the J. Walter Thompson Agency as a type director. In 1924, Schiller became the art director of Advertising Agencies’ Service Company, a post from which he retired in 1959. Shortly after retiring, he established Typographic Laboratory as a consulting firm for the advertising industry. He became known for his “Type Pictures” employing type case ornaments to create decorative frames and vignettes.
Schiller’s typographic compositions were exhibited nationally during his lifetime. An exhibition held at the Los Angeles Library in 1970 resulted in a gift of his work to the institution. Schiller’s work is collected a the Cary Library at R.I.T. and The New School Archive. I spoke to his grandson Jeff, a professional musician with degrees in music and film, to learn more about this rediscovered typographer.
How did Albert Schiller become a designer?
As far as I know it was an offshoot of his work as a printer, where he became familiar with al the varieties of ornamental type pieces. At one point he was tasked with creating the company Christmas card and he used the ornamental type pieces to create holiday scenes.
Where did he work in the formative years?
He worked at a printing agency called Advertising Agencies’ Service Company.
Do you know where this very distinctive “constructive” style of his derived from?
It was a completely original concept that he came up with. He wrote: “Printers’ type ornaments as produced by type-founders, are to me ‘prefabricated’ pen strokes prepared in limitless duplication and considerable variety which have but to be put together to form a picture. . . . This is distinctly a machine age development of sensational significance to create art. . . . The key to this most personal form of expression is my secret of mind that selects with sensitive discernment the units to be combined and guides the entire design to completion. . . . By my power I can visualize the final effect as if on a mental screen, and strive toward it by a series of simple, though very exacting, mechanical operations.”
Did he consider his work typography or design?
I’m not sure if design was a word that was used back then? He considered it art, pieces worthy of hanging in galleries and museums, which sadly never came to be.
What makes a Schiller a Schiller?
Painstaking attention to detail, labor intensive realization of concept, bucolic, medieval, and figurative subjects, often accompanied by couplet rhyming witty verses.
He came from Germany as a young boy. Was he aware of and a fan of German or other designers?
He was actually born in Russia, coming to the US at age 6. He was probably most influenced w his work at a Harlem print shop in his teens and at J Walter Thompson before his tenure at AAS.