Thoughts on lettering

When only a good Scotch will do Mr Dwiggins


Typefaces have personalities, just like us, so when the designer of this Pelican paperback on Victorian architecture, Gerald Cinamon, cast about for the body type he probably had no hesitation in selecting the strong and robust Scotch Roman. Surprising maybe, given the view of Vincent Steer writing in Printing, Design and Layout: ‘The face is ideal for a detective story’.

Scotch Roman, writes Alexander Lawson in the very readable Anatomy of a Typeface (1990), was the name given to a fount produced in Scotland by Alexander Wilson and cut in 1837; although, he adds, the present-day face has an earlier genesis, being cut c1809 by Richard Austin for an edition of the poet Dryden edited by the famous Scot writer, Sir Walter Scott. Linotype in the US used this as the basis for a recutting; while Monotype in England did the same in 1907. You can see that one does, indeed, need to have detective skills to fully trace the antecedents of a typeface.

Let’s now introduce William Addison Dwiggins. The American type designer had a crack at redesigning Scotch in the late 1930s, coming up with Caledonia (a name given to old Scotland) in 1941. He is quoted by Carter (Twentieth Century Type Designers) as reporting: ‘The face as it emerges [he means Caledonia] is not at all like Bulmer’s Martin nor like Wilson’s Scotch, but it has touches of both of them in spots. Also it has something of that simple, hard-working, feet-on-the-ground quality that has kept Scotch Modern in service for many years.’


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