Thoughts on lettering

Marshall McLuhan and all that

At the close of the year – at the close of the decade (though some dispute this) – it’s instructive to read or re-read McLuhan’s great text, the gutenberg galaxy.

19_12_31_Mcluha cover
Marshall McLuhan

I’ve had this book a long while (secondhand it cost me £1.50), being the 1967 reprint of the 1962 original. I can’t claim to have read it cover to cover; rather I’ve dipped in over the decades. Like today in fact. My motivation for posting was this sentence from the Prologue: ‘We are today as far into the electric age as the Elizabethans had advanced into the typographical and mechanical age’. OK, that was composed some 60 years ago, and our second Elizabethan is still on the throne!

What McLuhan couldn’t know then, although he hints at it throughout, is how the electric age has morphed into the digital age; and, as he does foresee, we are now one ‘global village’. He continues in that Prologue: ‘And we are experiencing the same confusions and indecisions which they had felt when living simultaneously in two contrasted forms of society and experience.

19_12_31_Mcluhan title
Marshall McLuhan

Whereas the Elizabethans were poised between medieval corporate experience and modern individualism, we reverse their pattern by confronting an electric technology which would seem to render individualism obsolete and the corporate interdependence mandatory’.

Perhaps he was wrong about individualism, since social media makes heroes of anyone and everyone not just the Kardashian’s. But all, or most, of us are daily, hourly, in the grip of the corporate giants who collect our data, share our data and make their coin many, many times over and over and over.

Happy 2020 to all my readers.

Thoughts on lettering

Letchworth Garden City and Everyman

Among the many books I have collected over the last 50 years, few are so modest and unbecoming – not to say inexpensive – as those in the Everyman’s Library. I mean the original Everyman, not the new one run through Random House and Alfred A Knopf. I was inspired to write this post (the first for many months, in fact as I look back only the third this year) when I pulled The Life of and Works of Goethe from my shelves on Christmas Eve, quite at random. It could as well have been The Heroic Deeds of Gargantua & Pantagruel (two volumes, 1929, with the price £1 in pencil on the endpaper) or A Literary & Historical Atlas of Asia (undated) or one of the many others I have.

Title page of The Life and Works of Goethe

Turning to the back cover, I was reminded that these volumes were printed by the Temple Press, Letchworth. This English town was one of the first Garden Cities, established in the first years of the 20th century, and home of many printers and publishers.

The Temple Press, Letchworth, England

Joseph Dent set up the Temple Press there in August 1906, combining printing and book binding, only months after the first 50 volumes had been produced to great acclaim.

You can still pick up Everyman’s in most second-hand bookshops. If you haven’t a few already on your shelves perhaps make 2020 the year you start. You won’t regret it.


Everyman’s Library advertisement

Indebted to Letchworth: A town built on a book sourced through Google Books.

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