alphabet lettering lettering, typography, alphabets, stonework stone Typographic ephemera

Alphabet – when it’s needed

I have never carved an alphabet from A-Z. The pandemic and lockdown made me re-assess many things, including this omission. I have used this exercise to inform some short instructional videos for those starting out, and for those who have been following [also here] here’s the completed piece. It is far from ‘perfect’ but life is not about ‘perfection’ – it is about doing. [By the way, the slate was split from a single fragment, hence the mirror-like quality – look at base pattern.]

An alphabet in slate
60cm x c15cm – recycled slate from the UK


alphabet lettering lettering, typography, alphabets, stonework stone

Alphabet carving: the beginning

This is the start of an exercise in carving an alphabet in salvaged slate. You’ll notice that I’m carving the letters [c40mm] upside down – this is because the straight edge of the slate happens to be at the top of the letters as I sketched them. [There are two panels to the complete alphabet.] This makes it easier to hold the slate [which is fairly thin – about 10mm] firm on the ‘easel’ or banker, which I also made. If you would like details of how to make your own banker please let me know. Subscribe for further instalments. [Note also the ‘printer’s hat’ I’m wearing – this is an optional extra! Details on demand.]

Banker with slate
Homemade banker with slate and tools.
alphabet Typographic ephemera

A Modern Alphabet [vintage 1987]

This cartoon by the famed Guardian artist, Polly Simmonds, came to light as I searched through my Journal for 1987. Tucked away in a sleeve at the rear of the volume the newsprint is a little worn, a touch brown in parts, yet the humour is as fresh as ever.

Polly simmonds 1987
Polly Simmonds 1987

I notice that U stands for UB40. No, not the band. This was the Unemployment Benefit Attendance card handed out to the jobless, including me that year. This is mine:

UB40 card 1987

alphabet lettering Thoughts on lettering Typographic ephemera

The difference a sign makes

Street signage is all about readability, about ensuring the viewer/motorist understands the pictogram. When UK road signs were being redesigned in the 1960s by Calvert and Kinnier there was a clear imperative to ensure there was no ambiguity. However, some 50 plus years later in Australia I encounter these, minus hands and feet:

How much more satisfying is this, with both hands and feet – anatomically perfect!

Road sign with feet
Children about: fully armed and legged.


alphabet Elements of Lettering History of Lettering lettering Thoughts on lettering

Geofroy Tory, the Apostrophe and the letter S

Simon Griffin, writing in Fucking Apostrophes, [Icon Books, London, 2016] observes that ‘Geoffroy [sic] Tory is considered one of the people responsible for introducing it [the apostrophe] to the French language in the 15th century’ (p.16).

the S
The letter S as drawn by Geofroy Troy in his Champ Fleury

A disputable claim given that Tory’s Champ Fleury wasn’t published until 1529. Nevertheless, turning to that volume, Tory himself writes: ‘…if it should happen that one has occasion to write in Attic letters such verses, wherein the S should disappear, one may write them clearly & wittingly without putting the said letter S where it might be lost, and put an apostrophe over the place where the S should be. This apostrophe, being above the line at the end of a word, signifies that some vowel or an S has been dropped because of the metrical quantity of the vowel that follows it in the next syllable or word’ (trans. George B Ives, Dover edition, 1967, p.138).

the S by Catich
Hand drawn S by Catich from The Origin of the Serif

Tory elaborates on the letter S itself, noting its Greek origin and that it makes ‘a hissingsound, of the same quality that red-hot iron makes when it is dipped in water’ (ibid, p.139). He goes on to note how a letter S (sigma in ancient Greek) represents silence ‘…for which reason the ancients often wrote it alone above the door of the place where they ate and drank with their good friends; in order to put it before their eyes that such words as they should speak at table must be spoken soberly & listened to in silence; which cannot be if there be excess in eating and drinking, which are things not meet for decency at table & for pleasant company’ (ibid, p.139).

Note: For an earlier piece on Tory go here and for more on Catich and The Origin of the Serif here

alphabet lettering typographers


Two images leapt out at me today while browsing typography now, the next wave (North Light Books, 1994 pbk edition). BarnbrookThe first one of machine-generated stone carving (naturally, being a stone carver); the second a font called Prototype, this because the illustration stated it was an amalgam of other typefaces including Perpetua and Bembo.

At the time I did not note the connection and it was only a few moments ago when reading Brnbrook’s entry in Typography, when who how (Konemann, 1998) that I came to realise he was behind both.

Barnbrook_0001Thanks Jonathan and merry christmas /happy new year (if you celebrate that is).

For more go to

alphabet lettering typography

Something Xtra for the weekend: from U&lc magazine

U&lc was a typographic magazine published by the International Typeface Corporation between 1973 and 1999. During the early 1990s I was fortunate to be on the subscription list, with the illustrations shown here coming from the magazine’s 20th anniversary issue (northern Spring, 1993), appropriately showcasing the letter X (and double X). The page size is 27.70cm by 37.70cm.

X one X two X three

The original founding team in 1973 (Herb Lubalin, Aaron Burns and Ed Rondthaler) stated in the magazine’s inaugural editorial: ‘U&lc will provide a panoramic window, a showcase for the world of graphic arts – a clearinghouse for the international exchange of ideas and information’. Such tasks are now achieved through the web. But how much nicer to have a permanent record of type design printed on paper, gracefully ageing at the edges, likely to disintegrate one day (the paper was newsprint stock), yet full of vigour.

[See here for a blog and archive of the magazine.]

alphabet History of Lettering

The Letter K

The early Romans didn’t much like the letter K. Letter K_0003According to Tommy Thompson, writing in 1942 (The ABC of our Alphabet), Letter K thompsonthe letter was disliked ‘from a standpoint of design’, so they, he writes ‘substituted C for the voiceless K’.

He may be right but when it comes to the alphabet there is one writer I turn to: David Diringer and his The Alphabet, A key to the History of Mankind (Hutchinson, 3rd edition, 1968). Letter K_0002

Now Diringer has this to say of K: ‘…the Greek alphabet had two other signs for the k-sound, the K and the Q, and we find in the South Etruscan alphabet the sign C used (as a k) only before e and i, the K used before a, and the Q only before u (Etruscan has, as we have seen, no o). The Latin alphabet adopted all the three letters with their phonetic values, but in time it dropped the K (which, however, continued to be used as the initial of well-known or official words, such as Kalendae or Kaeso) and used C for the sounds of both g and k, the letter Q being retained for the k when followed by a u.’ (The Alphabet, 1968, vol 1, p.419).

I trust that is helpful – and I’d appreciate any comments.Letter K

KmartAs for the modern K, well, there are many variations and most of  them horrible. Particularly when in the Egyptian style!

My preference is for the style where the upright does not quite connect with the <

If you liked this you might like a diversion on R here.

Letter K_0001


Literature and letters (II)

Some time ago I wrote about VS Naipaul and his interest in sign writing. Now here’s a piece by Georges Perec about the letter X, taken from his novel W – that’s double v. (This is the English translation, naturally, of 1988 by David Bellos.)

‘My memory is not a memory of the scene, but a memory of the word, only a memory of the letter that has turned into a word, of that noun which is unique in the language in being made of a single letter, unique also in being the only one to have the same shape as the thing it refers to (the draftsman’s T-square is called a Te in French, pronounced like the letter it resembles, but its name is not written “t”), but it is also the sign of a word deleted (the string of x’s crossing out the word you didn’t mean to write), the contrastive sign of ablation (as in neurophysiology…), the sign of mulitiplication and of sorting (the x-axis), the sign of the mathematical unknown….’ (p.77 from the CollinsHarvill hardback edition).

And so it goes on. The drawing does not appear in the novel – it is my own.


Something colourful for the weekend

When I first began this blog (see here and how far I have departed from that opening statement) I had a notion that on Fridays I’d post something to amuse. That lasted not long, the last one being here. However, as a reminder of what I intended please enjoy this.

Unfortunately I only have an A4 scanner and the page size of this book, a children’s  English-French dictionary, published by Paul Hamlyn in 1965 (this the 4th impression of 1968) and printed in what was then called Czechoslovakia, is bigger. The pages are from the end pages and are unacknowledged.