Charles Nypels

Charles Nypels was born on 31 October 1895 on Grote Staat 38 in Maastricht. In 1905, when he was ten years old, the Nypels family moved to Minckelerstraat 3. His father was Edouard Nypels. Charles first went to the HBS (grammar school) in Maastricht, and afterwards in Katwijk. He was expelled from both institutes. After his older brother Jo had left the print shop, his father pinned his hopes on Charles to continue the business.

One of the suppliers of Edouard, the Lettergieterij (type-foundry) in Amsterdam, was prepared to take on Charles as a volunteer ‘for higher education’ in 1914. Although it seemed too ambitious a move for a provincial trade printer’s, it was a happy choice, which probably gave The Netherlands one of its greatest master printers. In Amsterdam, Charles came to be supervised by Sjoerd H. De Roos, who was eighteen years older than him. Initially, he was more interested in Amsterdam and its many facets of life and culture than in type-cases and the press. He moved in with Jan Grégoire, who was a friend and came from Maastricht, too. He befriended Henri Jonas, seventeen years his senior. At the end of 1916 his father had had enough. He called him back to Maastricht in order to school himself in the practice of the printing business.

He started on 1 January 1917 at an annual salary of Dfl 2,000. In April 1918 Charles wrote: ‘In the beginning a business like this seems like a moronic chaos and it takes a while before one has mastered things. This is where I am at now.’ Still, at that time he manifested himself more as a literary expert, mainly of French literature, and as a print collector. There were as yet no signs at all of the master-printer-to-be. However, the lessons he learned and the steady association with De Roos must have born fruit. Charles began to convey his knowledge of typography and literature into printing plans. In 1919 his annual salary was increased to Dfl 3,000.

On 1 January 1920 he became partner of Leiter-Nypels, entitled to one-sixth of the profits. His bachelor pad on the first floor of the Grote Staat, at the corner of Leliestraat, also called ‘The Vatican’ by his friends, became a social and cultural centre. It was the meeting place of Henri Jonas; the painter Han Jelinger, also known as ‘the Cardinal’; C. (Cornelis or Kees) Vos, father of Peter Vos, the draughtsman; the sculptor Charles Vos and Fons Boosten. They had their own regulars’ table at Café Suisse at the Vrijthof and also referred to themselves as ‘the gang’. His first book publication dates from 1920: he immediately surprised many lovers of fine books with this ‘Verzen en fragmenten’ by Lousberg. Soon afterwards he published his sublime edition of ‘Poésies’ by Gérard de Nerval. From that moment on, he was enthralled by the noble art of printing for ever. On 3 June 1920 he wrote, having become aware of his possibilities: ‘There is so much to do in order to get a simple book transformed into a really finished product. That is very pleasant and we shall do everything to achieve that goal.’

Charles Nypels

Charles Nypels



On 18 April 1922 Charles married Germaine Malherbe, from Liège. There were two daughters from this marriage: Anne and Germaine. Charles was better off financially. He was entitled to a third of the profits, Dfl 6,500 that year. However, in terms of business he did not live up to this income. He had too keen an eye for beautiful, but costly print work. He purchased the Holland Mediæval, designed by De Roos, he ordered expensive paper from Japan and the United States. He preferred making bibliophilic editions to more profitable trade printing.

In 1924 Charles astounded the world of French bibliophiles with his ‘Sonnets pour Hélène’, published on the occasion of the fourth centenary of Pierre Ronsard by his friend René-Louis Doyon of La Connaissance. De Roos drew the vignettes. The edition of 380 copies was sold out within a fortnight. In the same year Charles did the publication of ‘Elégie à Janet’. In this period (1921 – 1924) he also produced ‘La profétie de Ioël’ and ‘De zeven broeders’ by Mathias Kemp, both illustrated with wood cuts by Henri Jonas. Charles did print work for La Connaissance in Paris, for The First Edition Club in London, for Uitgevers Maatschappij Holland in Amsterdam.

From its inception, Charles Nypels was connected to the periodical De Gemeenschap, as typographic advisor. During 1927, 1928 and 1929 he printed many editions for the publishing company of the same name. The periodical was a curious mixture of contributions by writers and artists: ‘Utrecht’ youngsters, including Jan Engelman, Henk Kuitenbrouwer, Louis Kuitenbrouwer (the writer Albert Kuyle); Limburg artists, including Charles Eyck, Henri Jonas, Joep Nicolas; Maastricht writers, including Pierre and Mathias Kemp; Anton van Duinkerken, from Brabant. Charles was highly valued by these and was a personal friend of most of them.

A supreme example of his ability, and also of his non-businesslike approach, was the ‘Don Quichotte’ edition in four parts (1929 – 1931), proffered to Leiter-Nypels by Le Balancier. This edition ended up in a financial disaster for Leiter-Nypels. However, it also was one of Charles’ greatest creative achievements, with ornamental capital letters by De Roos, fabulous wood cuts by Hermann Paul, and the monumental title pages by Charles himself. However, there was no market for this edition. According to Charles’ brother George the business had to cough up a Dfl 250,000. At the time, his life-style, too, was more luxurious than his financial means allowed for. Like a true Maecenas he supported young artists and others, while behaving generously and hospitably, especially also to artists and writers from the north. His artistic achievements gave Charles a fast-growing national and international fame; at least as big as that of his friend and fellow townsman Alex Stols. Thanks to Charles, Willem Veltman received a unique typographic education at Leiter-Nypels, making him an asset to the art of typography.

In the meantime Charles had been made director of Leiter-Nypels, but soon afterwards the company needed to curb him and stop him plunging the business further into debt. Their father appointed his brother George to put things in order. He was confronted with enormous amounts of money owed by Leiter-Nypels to various foreign and Dutch publishers.

From 1939 to 1949 Charles handled a large part of the Spectrum fund, working as a typographic advisor. When De Gemeenschap was taken over by Het Spectrum, as far as its book publishing activities were concerned (the periodical had had to be discontinued in 1941), Cornelis Vos and Charles Nypels started working for this publishing firm, founded in 1935 by P.H. Bogaard and Guus Bloemen. Charles had enough flexibility to empathize with the popular book. This can clearly be seen in the set-up of such series as ‘Schijnwerpers’, ‘Bongerd’, ‘Wat leeft en groeit’ and it is also manifest in the very popular ‘Zonnewijzer’ and ‘Windroos’ almanacs, illustrated by Otto van Rees.

Outside Het Spectrum he worked on articles in the ‘Drukkersweekblad’. He also translated the important work of Jan Tschiebold, which appeared in 1938, entitled ‘Typographic design’.

Charles Nypels

Together with Henk Kuitenbrouwer and Gabriël Smit he edited Spectrum’s house magazine ‘In ‘t Licht’ during 1939 and 1940. Charles wrote articles for this magazine on Illustrations, on handwriting and letter writing and about a title page.

The war years had seriously weakened Charles and they had also lain the foundation of the weakness that he would later succumb to. In the meantime, he had been given assistance in the shape of Aldert Witte, who soon had to succeed him. In 1945 he founded the De Roos Foundation, together with Chris Leeflang and G.M. van Wees.

Dr G.W. Ovink wrote about Charles Nypels in the ‘Drukkersweekblad’ of August 7, 1948: ‘As a result of his great erudition and rich fantasy, which can be linked to a tendency to experiment, he managed, as a publisher and typographer, to introduce ever new elements in the gamut of forms of our profession, in terms of content as well as appearance. Less so than any other did he develop one, fixed, style, although his works always bear witness to the characteristics of his personality: excellent, successful ideas feature next to bloopers. However, his search for new possibilities also pushes the others to beware of rigidity. To quite a large extent he also functioned as a stimulator in his personal contacts.’ In 1948 Charles was awarded for the ‘best non-bibliophilic book in the field of science’, for ‘De Heilige Schrift’. Many of the ‘fifty best books of the year’ bore his signature. 

Charles Nypels

Charles spent the last years of his life in sanatorium Dekkerswald. He used them well. The 1951 Christmas edition of the ‘Drukkersweekblad’ featured an article written by Charles, entitled ‘Verleden en toekomst van de Nederlandse drukkunst’, a passionate essay which was much more than a description of the state of affairs in Dutch typography. Aldert Witte on this essay: ‘When I reread this article, I can see him before me again, in the full glory of his personality, with his passion for the beauty of typography, with the enthusiasm he knew how to engender in others, with all his honest conviction. After all, everything he had spoken of and written about, the principles one can find in his typographical body of works, he once more, and for the last time, collated in this article in striking and evocative Dutch, as a lasting consideration for everyone practicing the art of printing. It is my conviction that this contribution will become one of the classic texts on Dutch typography, which cannot be ignored without detriment.’

On November 9th 1951 Charles wrote to his friend Jan Engelman: ‘Cher Jean, I have been more than myopic for a month now (I can read book nor newspaper) and I am writing this in a haphazard way and according to my own little system, without seeing it clearly. The cause of all this is a kidney infection and poisoning, which made me rather ill. Things are a bit better now. So for the time being I will keep purgatorying (verb).’ The post scriptum was: ‘Dekkerswald, Groesbeek, in the fifth year of our pontifically lying in state. Amen.’

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