Typographic ephemera

Typographic ephemera- 1

Cover of Monoype Recorder of 1933, set in Gill sans.

(Please clip on image to enlarge.)

note – all items shown are from my collection of printed material.

eric gill

Eric Gill picture taken 1933

This comes from my copy of The Monotype Recorder, a magazine published by the Monotype Corporation, of Winter 1933. It is sub-titled ‘Modern Typography Number’

It shows Gill standing in front of the Flying Scotsman steam train. Enjoy.

(I would love to know whatever happened to Mr C.G.G. Dandridge, the advertising manager, seen right, who ‘initiated the reform’ [of the typefaces] – how did he know Gill? Was he a visionary in his own right?)

Eric Gill and Flying Scotsman
History of Lettering

Spectrum typeface by Jan van Krimpen

I have been going through some of those Penrose volumes on my bookshelves. Came across these images in the 1954 volume.

Spectrum typeface

These are reproductions of the original drawings for the Spectrum typeface designed by Jan van Krimpen, a distinguished typographer based in the Netherlands. It was designed for use in a Bible, being named after the company that commissioned the face – the Spectrum Publishing Company of Utrecht and Brussels.

According to the author of the accompanying article, John Dreyfus, at the time assistant University printer at Cambridge (and later succeeding Stanley Morison as advisor to Monotype – another story, another blog), Spectrum – which was van Krimpen’s last design – has a generous x-height, with narrow capitals and a ‘remarkable compression of the italic’.

What do I think some 50 years on? The upper case C is odd , as is the G naturally, both ungainly, I hate the Z and the Q, and particularly the ‘crossed swords’ of the W. All in all not a hit with me. (Did I mention the Q? Ugh!)


Spectrum typeface



Elements of Lettering

Elements of Lettering – 1

Here are some thoughts on how to approach hand lettering, taken from a guide I produced  for my students. This is the first page in a series, which will demonstrate basic techniques. Please subscribe to the feed to be alerted to updates on the site.


Contemporary stone lettering is generally based on, and adapted from, a script used by the Romans and known as Trajan.

It is believed this letterform was first painted on to the surface of the stone with a brush. Image taken from The ORigin of the Serif by Edward CatichThe same craftsman, or another, would then have carved the painted inscription with a mallet and chisel.

Today, letter carvers first draw the inscription on paper and only after having resolved problems with letter shape and spacing will then transfer the design to stone.

It is important to be able to draw a letter with pencil on paper at full size to understand the dynamics and proportions of each letter.

Note – the line illustration is taken from The Origin of the Serif, by Edward Catich, 2nd edition, 1991. This is the primary source for those wanting to know more about the traditional Roman letter form.

The other illustration is my own.

eric gill

Further pictures from visit to Pigotts

These are some additional photographs I took, using a Pentax ME Super with, I think, an Ilford HP5 black and white film. The first picture shows the house itself, an imposing property with plenty of outbuildings where Gill and his assistants worked. The next is a snap of an old plaque fixed to brickwork. I have no idea who carved it or what it says. Finally, a photo taken at the end of my visit that day to the churchyard at Speen nearby, showing Gill’s grave, with a footstone marking that of his wife, Mary.

eric gill

Visit I made to Eric Gill’s home at Pigotts

UPDATE – 12 November 2014. Please see here and here for a fictional response.


Gill and Pigotts, Memories of 1990

Back in the early 1980s I lived in High Wycombe, west of London, where I worked on a local newspaper. But my real passion then, as now, was printing and lettering – I had a treadle press in the spare room of the modest terrace house I lived in, and read avidly on typography, so I knew the area’s connection to Eric Gill.

Pigotts was just a few miles away, yet it wasn’t until one day in late November 1990 that I arranged to visit. By then I had moved away, was working in central London and living in Brockley (home of David Jones, another Gill connection, who is buried in a cemetery there).

Fiona MacCarthey’s biography of Gill had just been published and it was the 50th anniversary of his death. I had set up a printing workshop in Bromley, an old stable block set around a cobbled courtyard, where I had a Monotype keyboard and caster and a Western proofing press. I had already printed a range of ephemera as well as a couple of books, and decided to celebrate the Gill anniversary with a reprint of his article “On The Flying Scotsman”, offered together with a printer’s hat of the type he is seen wearing in a print.

I found a printer at the newspaper I was working, the Financial Times, then at Bracken House, opposite St Paul’s, who taught me how to fold the hat, and soon could make one in a few minutes.

This is a record of that visit to Pigotts, as written shortly after. (I have retained my spellings and use of lower case.)

visit to pigotts, Tuesday 20th Nov.

the buildings are very similar to what they used to be when gill lived there. four buildings around a courtyard. in the middle of the courtyard (which is grassy – apparently in days of gill used to be muddy) there are 2 pens, one of which held pigs.

the chapel used to be a dairy. piggots has an ancient history. but present buildings date from 18th century. however settlement could date from 15th century.

the place used to be a tenant farm, then was sold to a private individual. he went to the continent in the 1920s and never returned. the place then came onto the market which is when gill bought it.

the place is presently occupied by nick and sue robinson, together with family. I met nick who had been a headmaster at a thatcham comprehensive for many years, but had taken voluntary redundancy two years ago. nick’s father has been in the place for 25 years: I could only gather that he had been a physicist, but had a passion for music – for many years the place has been host to what is  described as ‘the music camp’, where amateur musicians gather to perform works. something up to and above 100 come to rehearse and then give a performance.

the place where the rbinsons live is where petra (tegetmeir) lived. After death of gill in 1940 the family continued to live there. the robinson’s father lives in the dwelling which was occupied by gill. the chapel is now a workshop, very cluttered, there’s a billiard table in there, itself covered by a board on which are bits and pieces. the ‘altar’ has an inscription (a chap called bayer coloured it in – forget who cut the initials, not gill anyhow, may have been tegetmeir, have to check).

Upstairs in the bathroom is the black bath (story goes that gill had it in black to contrast with white nakedness of body. is large enough certainly for 2 people) – must be remembered that in the 20s and 30s there was no running water – everything had to be brought up in bucket frm wells. heating was limited to stoves and open fireplaces.

in the front room of the gill’s house (in photos it is shown with the gills and father macnab seated round a large rectangular table) there is a tile, 4 ins square (?) set into the floor cut by john skelton (took photo of it).

the workshop where gill did his stone carving has changed little. a supporting beam has been removed, this wld have supprted the blocks of stone, as can be seen in photos.

upstairs from the workshop is the room (now used as a music library) where gill did his engraving. Opposite to this workshop (and built onto gill’s house) is the workshop which would have been occupied by gill’s apprentices: this was divided in two: one section being occupied by dennis tegetmeir: the platform from which he worked is still there.

there are two cats owned by Robinsons, one called kinner because was born when young child of Robinsons was learning to talk and couldn’t pronounce kitten.

the carvd crucifix which d..potter made and placed in the woods around pigotts was ‘rescued’ by nick robinson when he heard that some of the trees were going to be felled. He knew the tree and decided to take it down – it now hangs in the ‘chapel’.

as I came to the bottom of the hill after my visit there seemed to be a strong smell of what I can only describe as incense in the air. where it was from I cannot say. There is a farm opposite and the smell may have come from there. or from a fire burning nearby.

At lunch with mick robinson (his wife being abroad – I think he said she was a music therapist) and another. he introduced me whose Christian name I only caught (Steven?). a man in his 70s wearing a cross – one of those large heavy ones attached to a leather ‘strap’ around his neck. at lunch we had a home made soup: home pickled walnuts which ive never eaten before and cider. Quite delicious.

I never returned to Pigotts but I did keep on with letter carving: I started taking lessons in letter carving from Richard Kindersley in Camberwell, son of David, an apprentice of Gill, as well as John Skelton – Gill’s nephew – at his workshop at Hassocks, Sussex. Gill associations were all around me.

I met David Kindersley on one occasion, Sunday 24 April 1994, after I had got to know Skelton a little (by then in his 70th year) which I recorded as:

To Cambridge. Pass David K’s in Victoria St this afternoon and see him walking outside. Marian [my wife] tells me to park and I go up and have a chat with him. He takes me into his workshop/studio. He was having a quiet smoke while the rest of the household were out for the afternoon. I asked him about Skelton and he said, funny man, found him too much, too much. At the end, when we stood outside in the gravelled courtyard, he asked me to remind him of my name. John Pitt, I said. Pitt, he answered. I should be able to remember that because the family has gone to visit some pits!

(This article first appeared in a newsletter of the International Society of Typographic Designers)

eric gill

Eric Gill portraits

Some pictures of Gill


Anatomy of a design

I will be showing you how I design for stone carving.

It begins with a pencil sketch. This is it.Preliminary sketch for stonecarving

The sketch is at half scale in this instance, with the carving to be done on a piece of sandstone, 300mm by 300mm. The text is a line from a Louis MacNeice poem. You will notice the free flowing lettering, with letter  height at c40mm, for the ascenders.

This may be adjusted as the drawing develops into a final version.

The letter design is my own style, with use of a capital G prominent and the ampersand (in the original text this is spelt out, and).

The drawing is done on tracing paper, using a 2H pencil.


Some Monotype stuff

Here’s a couple of images from Monotype to whet the appetite.

Thoughts on lettering

Eric Gill and Pilgrim typeface

Among the stack of books I bought from the secondhand bookstore that’s closing was a 1953 Penrose album. Penrose are fabulous volumes published yearly as a guide to that year’s graphic arts. They went from the early part of the 20th century through to the 1980s (I think).typeface

They are sumptuously illustrated and have articles by some of the most eminent typographers of the time. In this volume (which I did not have) is an article about Gill’s Pilgrim typeface by Robert Harling. This face was produced, the article says, 12 years after Gill’s death.

Manufactured by Liontype (the rivals to Monotype) it is a traditional roman.

Harling writes: “Here in Pilgrim we have all the recognisable and admirable Gill qualities. His touch is in very curve and line. Here is yet another of his felicitous essays in the unending quest for the perfect alphabet. The ceaseless and never monotonous preoccupation with the curve of the tail to the upper-case R, the distribution of solid and void in the lower case a and g and so on.”

The face was first named Bunyan, and used exclusively by Gill. After his death the design was bought from his widow, Mary, and the punches, patterns and matrices from his son-in-law Rene Hague. Linotype then adapted the face for machine setting, and also added an italic, sketches for which Gill had not completed.

Harling notes that the face was to be used in a limited edition run of Evelyn Waugh’s book, The Holy Places, published by the Queen Anne Press in the winter of 1953.