Roman Józef Mathia (1882-1932) – Printer in Warsaw

Zobacz po polsku = View in Polish Language

Roman Józef Mathia was born on August 9, 1882 in Warsaw, as the second child of Andrzej and Katarzyna née Rutkowska. We don’t know much about his youth, except that as a young boy he attended a Russian gymnasium (Polish schools were forbidden). We also know that after the students’ strike broke out in the second half of the 1890s, he had to give up his studies; his parents were unable to pay a second time the tuition required as a punishment for the strike. Forced to go to work, he started apprenticeship in a printing house.

Left: baptism certificate of Roman from the parish of St. John the Baptist in the Old Town in Warsaw; text in Russian. Right: Roman in his teenage years, probably in the 1890s.

In the advertisements section of “Kurier Warszawski” from March 1901 we read that he was already looking for a job as a young typesetter. Probably at the turn of the century, he went to Leipzig in Germany, the center of printing at that time, where he spent several years. In Leipzig, he gained knowledge that allowed him to become an outstanding specialist in his field in the future. After returning to Poland, Roman lived for some time in Krakow (1905), but in the same year he returned to Warsaw and here in 1907 he started a family. He immediately became involved in the activities of professional printers’ organizations; in the aftermath of the revolutionary events in Russia in 1905, he participated, among other things, in the commission that drafted the first union statute on behalf of the printers. In 1906, he was arrested for a few days by the tsarist security and left for Vilnius to cover his tracks. After returning from Vilnius in the same year, he joined the then illegal printers’ union, where he received a cashier’s mandate. In 1907, after the illegal and legal union merged, Roman was elected secretary of the union’s board, he participated in the meetings of the Association of Hosts (Delegates) and in the Price List Committee. Finally, in 1909, he focused on his professional career and started working as the manager of Lucjan Bogusławski’s printing house.

In July 1915, when the Germans began to approach Warsaw, the Russians ordered the internment into Russia of all foreigners and people with professions useful during the war. Roman as a Prussian subject (his grandfather came to Warsaw from Warmia in 1836) had to comply. He and his family ended up in Kharkiv. We know from the preserved work certificate that from December 22, 1915 to December 14, 1918, he worked in the office book printing house of the AM Suchanow and AM Ivanov Trading House, operating under the name “Adolf Darre”. The company was respectable, set up in 1850, with branches in Moscow (1882) and St. Petersburg (1895). Roman managed an office and a printing house there.

Kharkiv, December 14, 1918


This certificate issued to Roman Mathia certifies that from December 22, 1915 to December 14, 1918 he was the manager of the office and printing house of the AM Suchanow and AM Ivanov Trading House operating under the name “Adolf Darre”. Throughout the service, he treated his duties very conscientiously with perfect knowledge of his job. He left this place due to his return to his homeland.

Another surviving document is Roman’s ID, issued in 1917 in Moscow by the Central Department for the Care of Civilian, War and Administratively exiled prisoners. It is worth paying attention to the entry of Polish citizenship there and Roman identifying himself as a Pole from Poznań, even though he was still formally subject of the Prussian king with his ancestors from Warmia (although his one grandmother was actually from Greater Poland).

The war was over, a revolution broke out in Russia, so Roman and his family decided to return to their already independent homeland. They returned to Warsaw at the turn of 1918/19, probably with a large supply of rubles. With his recently acquired knowledge, Roman took over the position of director of L. Bogusławski’s printing house. At the same time, he became once again involved in the trade union activities and in the preparatory work for the unification of printing unions in Poland. He was, among others, elected to the first Board of the Union “Unification”, where he took the office of secretary. Soon, in order to be able to fully pursue his professional life, Roman put aside his active work in the printers’ union and in January 1923 applied for the formal granting of Polish citizenship. In the following years, he continued managing L. Bogusławski’s printing house, in 1928-29 he managed the printing house of Jan Burian, and in 1929 he took the position of the director of the printing house and graphic works of “Kurjer Poranny”. “Kurjer Poranny” was an opinion-forming newspaper published in the years 1887-1939, after the First World War it was associated with the Piłsudski camp. He remained in this position until his death.

Roman after World War I. Photo taken at the St. Brzozowski, Świętokrzyska 11 studio. The studio was located in the same building as L. Bogusławski’s printing house, which was managed by Roman.

Managing the printing house was the main activity, but in 1921 Roman became a co-founder and the first president of the Association of Graphic Works Managers in the Republic of Poland, “Kierograf”, in which he was active until the end of his life. The aim of the “Kierograf” was, inter alia, providing advice, undertaking publishing projects and spreading professional knowledge.

Directors of Warsaw printing houses. The photo was probably taken at the general meeting of the members of “Kierograf” in 1931 in Warsaw.

Roman strove to raise technical knowledge among printers, among others by writing and publishing professional articles and books. His aim was to raise the level of Polish printing and Polish graphic art compared to other European countries. “Let a memento remain of me” he would say. As early as 1908, he was appointed to the editorial committee of “Wiadomości Graficzne”, for which, apart from administrative work, he also wrote articles; he also published in the weekly “Drukarz i Litograf”, which appeared temporarily instead of “Wiadomości Graficzne”. He continued his popularizing work until the end of his life. In August 1921, the monthly “Grafika Polska”, devoted to artistic and applied graphics and the art of printing, was launched, at the initiative of the management of “Kierograf”; the founder and editor-in-chief was Roman Mathia. Due to financial difficulties, this magazine was suspended in 1924 and re-appeared in 1926 as a quarterly. In 1922, thanks to the efforts of “Grafika Polska”, a textbook written by Roman Mathia “Printing, part I. Typesetting” was published, and in 1923 “Manual for typesetters”. In 1926, another textbook was published: “Manual of Calculation of Printing Works”. All books were printed by L. Bogusławski. In addition, Roman also conducted “Courses for the calculation of printing works” by correspondence. In 1930, he founded and became a co-editor of the bimonthly “Grafika”. In the years 1925–27, as the president of the Society of Aquariums and Terrariums Enthusiasts established in June 1923 in Warsaw, he published a quarterly, and then the monthly “Akwarjum i Terrarjum”, on his own expense.

“Printing, part I. Typesetting”, published by “Grafika Polska” in 1922 in Warsaw. Clicking on the image will open a new window with Roman Mathia’s publications, digitally shared by the National Library.

In his non-professional activities, Roman was also active in the Warsaw Rowing Association, which in 1927 was renamed as the “Wisła” Rowing Club. He played the flute at home. Roman Mathia died at the Holy Ghost Hospital in Warsaw on April 6, 1932, according to a family report of lead poisoning, an occupational disease of printers.

Left: Roman dressed as a member of the Warsaw Rowing Association, 1920s. Photo taken at the St. Brzozowski, Świętokrzyska 11 studio. On the right: a group of members and guests of the Warsaw Rowing Association during the opening of the marina on May 10, 1925. Photograph of W. Machowski, “Wioślarz Polski”, June 1925.

The above biography was prepared by Roman’s great-granddaughter and granddaughter based on oral records of family members, documents from the family archives, letters, church records, books, articles found in pre-war newspapers and magazines, and photographs. Despite the wealth of sources, it is only a fragment of Roman’s life, most of it will probably remain a secret forever. The above-outlined sketch shows the image of a work titan, a man of great passion, a patriot striving to improve the standard of domestic printing. Honour his memory.