History of Lettering Monotype Composition caster printing Thoughts on lettering typography

In honour of a decade: number 5

Two years ago I posted about a film describing the Monotype works.

Monotype composition caster
Monotype composition caster

This photo is of the caster I owned in the 1990s, working from a workshop in Bromley, Kent, UK. I have written about my exploits here.

To finish off this tribute to hot metal follow this link to another video showing the machine in action and sounding wonderful.

calligraphy History of Lettering lettering Thoughts on lettering typographers

The [not so] New Typography

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about NonHuman books, and particularly the version produced by a machine of Tschichold’s The New Typography (1928). After publishing this piece I realised that I did not have a copy of this book, much to my surprise; confusing it with Asymmetrical Typography, which I do. Rather than wait, I got onto ABE and within moments located a copy in Melbourne – the 1995 University of California reprint. new typography

The text reads of its period, but given the current crisis we are in, has prescience. Take for example:

Unity of Life! So the arbitrary isolation of a part is no longer possible for us – every part belongs to and harmonises with the whole.

It’s also worth bearing in mind his view [the late 1920s, one hundred years ago] against the cult of the individual, which is what we have seen these past how many decades, in so many creative areas – think architecture, think novels, think music.

The creator disappears completely behind his work. People of today regard the arrogant thrusting forward of the man before his work as aesthetically embarrassing. Just as every human being is part of a greater whole, and is conscious of his connection with it, so his work should also be an expression of this general feeling of wholeness.

new typo title

History of Lettering Newspapers printing presses Typographic ephemera

In honour of a decade: number 2

It was back in late 2014 that I finally arrived in Dorrigo in NSW, Australia, and went to speak with the owner and printer of the last Australian newspaper printed letterpress – The Don Dorrigo Gazette and Guy Fawkes Advocate. 

Some five years later and the paper continues under the remarkable stewardship of Michael English and his wife Jade.

I still receive the paper weekly by mail. Read their story here. DDG Michael

Note: there are three parts to the post: click on part two and part three.

History of Lettering printing Thoughts on lettering

Linotype: how it works

I was always a Monotype man. The Linotype never much interested me. Until now. Here is this link to a fascinating and informative historical video.

History of Lettering Thoughts on lettering

The end of hot metal on the New York Times

I’ve just come across this wonderful and evocative film about the last night of hot metal typesetting at the New York Times, July 1978. Watching brought back many memories of when I was a sub-editor at the Financial Times, London, in the late 1980s. Hot metal was still very much in use [a decade later] and when it ceased I purchased equipment to set up my own private printing press, The Beeches Press. What is also interesting is that some 40 years later newspapers are still being printed and distributed in a physical format. For how much longer?

End of Hot Metal
At the New York Times newspaper
History of Lettering Thoughts on lettering typography

Christopher Plantin and the drunkards

Life was tough in the sixteenth century. Consider Christoper Plantin [c1520 – 1589] of Antwerp, though a Frenchman, known for his Biblia Real or Polyglot Bible [published 1572], with some of the types cut by Robert Granjon, another Frenchman.

Christopher Planti
Portrait of Plantin engraved by Jan Wiericx, 1588.

This venture almost cost Plantin his business, such was the financial investment needed.

Yet another strain on his wellbeing was the engravers he used to illustrate not just this but many other works, among whom the three Wiericx brothers were possibly the most troublesome.

According to contemporary reports fine draughtsmen, the brothers also liked their drink and other recreational past times to be had in Dutch taverns of the period. As Clair reports in his biography [Cassell, 1960], Jan and Jerome were ‘incorrigible drunkards’ [p.115].

Plantin himself wrote: ‘There are those in this town who offer them eight florins a day each if they will work for them in their own house, which the said Wiericx do with alacrity, and then, having worked one or two days, they go and spend all their money with disreputable companions in public places of ill fame, often leaving their gear and clothes in pledge, so that anyone who needs their services has to go and ransom them and keep them at work in his house until he has recovered his money’.

Yet Plantin admired the brothers so much [they were quick at their work] that he paid the fines, and paid them well.

Polyglot Bible attributed to Jan Wiericx
Polyglot Bible attributed to Jan Wiericx from volume five
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

History of Lettering Thoughts on lettering

‘Metalfounders who cast the slugs for Baskerville’s elegant type died paralysed with lead poisoning…’

So writes Robert Hughes [The Fatal Shore, 1988, Pan Books, p.21].* This got me thinking about the foundry process since, without the metal there is no type, and without type nothing else is possible. I turned to my books and scanned those lovely, ‘sanitised’ early prints of printing workshops.

Engraving by Abraham von Werdt (flourished 1640-80), taken from Printing To-day by John C Tarr. OUP, 1945, p.23.

They look so orderly, so clean, so hygienic. Then I turn again to Joseph Moxon and his Mechanick Exercises… [Dover Publications, NY, 1978, edited by Davis, H & Carter, H] which has sections Of setting up the Furnace and  Of making Metal [pp162-167].

Moxon describes in elaborate detail how the foundry is made and the type of ingredients used: ‘…for every three Pound of Iron, about five and twenty pounds of Lead‘. Moxon concludes: ‘Now (according to Custom) is Half a Pint of Sack mingled with Sallad Oil, provided for each Workman to Drink; intended for an Antidote against the Poisonous Fumes of the Antimony, and to restore the Spirits that so Violent a Fire and Hard Labour have exhausted’. There you are.

La grant danse macabre dated 1499 and printed in Lyon, purporting to be the earliest image of a printing workshop

It was an ugly job, and may well explain why those cadavers are inserted in the 1499 image of a printers office.

  • But there is no source given by Hughes to this statement. Does anyone know where he may have gleaned this information?
‘A caster at the furnace using a hand mould’. From Printing and the Mind of Man, 1963, being a catalogue of the Exhibition at the BM and Earls Court. This may be Sidney Squires of the OUP, who is shown in Moxon, p.406.
From back cover of the Printing and the Mind of Man catalogue, 1963.
History of Lettering Thoughts on lettering

Peter de Walpergen: a taste for ‘low company’

My recent blog on the history of the OUP shone my focus on Dr John Fell, a 17th century scholar who did more than any [aside from Laud] to establish the reputation of that institution.

Dr John Fell

Curious to know more I pulled out another fine volume from my shelves, not seen for many years: The Oxford University Press and the Spread of Learning by Nicholas Barker [1978, mine being the 1978 reprint]. In this it is written of Peter de Walpergen that he was sourced from Holland by Fell (strictly speaking through an agent) as the latter was seeking a craftsman who could cut punches, since hitherto Fell had been purchasing the best type he could lay his hands on from Europe – see Updike, vol II, p.95.

What intrigues me is the tantalising tit-bit given by Barker about the character of de Walpergen: ‘His stay in Oxford, where he died in 1703, was punctuated by troubles, financial and other; his taste for “low company” embarrassed Fell. But he was a good engraver’ (p.18). Low company:  what do those two words mask? I wish we had more.

I then turned to the magisterial volume on Fell, Morison’s John Fell: The University Press and the Fell Types, a volume I am proud to own. This is printed entirely in Fell, and was set up by hand, limited to 1000 volumes. It is simply staggering in its beauty and if you have the opportunity to purchase a copy do not hesitate: To the bibliophile it is like owning a Bugatti. [Barker says this book was published on 12 October 1967, the day after the author’s death. Morison worked 40 years on the text: ‘It is probably the last book on this scale in which the Fell types will be used throughout for the actual printing, and it marks an epoch in the Press’s life’, p. 60.]

Canon by Peter de Walpergen

Returning to point. Morison adds of this punch cutter: that he came to Oxford in or about 1675/76; worked in Christ Church, where Fell was Dean, and received an annual  salary of £36, rising to £40. [An inexact measure sourced at random from Dr G… suggests this is equivalent to between £5000 and £1.3m in today’s terms!]

Morison notes: ‘He offended the Bishop by selling punches, which he had said he had cut on holidays, to the London type founders Head and Andrews, Fell contending that De Walpergen had no right to work for anyone but him’ (p.71). Well, proof positive he had financial worries.

Title page of first appearance of the 3 line

Of further interest: de Walpergen may have been born in Frankfurt, while Barker adds he had travelled to the East Indies too – an impressive CV.

De Walpergen was important in giving the Press many fine founts, as shown here so, I attest, can be forgiven for a bit of ‘low life’ company from time to time. After all genius needs recreation.

Punches cut by Peter de Walpergen

Note: I did not have Moxon readily to hand when I wrote this entry last night. Having found him under a pile of other books there is some additional information about our man Walpergen. For those interested the source is: Mechanick Exercises on the Whole Art of Printing, Moxon, J [edited Davis, H and Carter, H], 1978. Dover Publications, New York: 376-377.

History of Lettering Thoughts on lettering

The Noblest Roman

The Book Club of California has just published  The Noblest Roman: A History of the Centaur Types of Bruce Rogers by Jerry Kelly and Misha Beletsky ‘an immersive dive into the history of the Centaur typeface, complete with rarely seen drawings and proofs from the Monotype archives and the Library of Congress’. Do check it out….

For more on Bruce Rogers see my post herecentaur jenson