History of Lettering Thoughts on lettering

Some notes about Spanish typography and Vincent Steer

Printing Design and Layout was written by Vincent Steer in 1934 and dominated the typographic profession for several decades, as a primer for students as well as practising typographers. My copy is undated but I’d reckon it one of the later editions, though all have the foreword by Beatrice Warde.

My motive for writing, however, concerns the illustrations of Spanish type from Fundacion Tipografica, Madrid. Nothing very startling about the designs maybe, yet they made me wonder about Spanish typography in general.

The first reference book one goes to at times like this is Updike’s Printing Types, where he writes regarding the establishment of printing that it was ‘wandering Germans’ who introduced the craft in the fifteenth century. However, he goes on that quite soon Spanish printers adopted a style of their own – ‘…rugged yet effective, and reminiscent, to one who knows Spain, of its rough, careless splendour, its grave, sad magnificence’. Nicely put.

He also illustrates this title page from 1515, suggesting that it perfectly shows ‘Spanishness.’ Of Spanish incunabula in general he writes: “I am not saying that these books are the finest that were ever printed, but they were in one way among the finest. For if entire unity with the life about it makes great printing, these books were great.”

Clair, in his A History of European Printing, updates Updike by observing the first press was probably established in Barcelona, though by those wandering Germans, in January 1473.

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