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History of Lettering lettering, typography, alphabets, stonework

The Type Archive London

Follow this link to the fascinating, important and priceless Type Archive of London. The Type Archive holds the UK’s National Typefounding Collection, including material from Stephenson Blake, Monotype Corporation and wood letter patterns from Robert DeLittle. If you live in or near London the collection can be viewed in Lambeth.

Type Archive London

 

 

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lettering, typography, alphabets, stonework Thoughts on lettering typography

Robert Harling: a note

This post begins with the discovery of a copy of Image: 5  from a secondhand bookseller in Sydney, Australia last month. Robert HarlingThe issue was devoted to English wood engraving and contains many fine examples of the craft. But I Robert Harling_0001am less interested in that than in the man who edited the journal (and before that Alphabet & Image) – Robert Harling (1910 – 2008). Obituaries at the time of his passing make note of his relationship with Ian Fleming, both men sharing a passion for life and literature: Fleming secured, if that’s the right word, a job for Harling in the second world war, later using him as a character in one of his novels (The Spy Who Loved Me). Harling also turned his hand to fiction publishing several novels based on what was then Fleet Street, the centre of the newspaper industry in the UK. Later he worked with the renowned Sunday Times editor Harold Evans.

But it’s Harling as a typographer that I wish to write. He knew Eric Gill, visiting him at Pigotts (see here for a blog on that place) and commissioning articles for the precursor to Alphabet & Image, Typography. Robert Harling_0003Hence, he was a perfect fit to write that wonderful book The Letter Forms And Type Designs Of Eric Gill, published in 1976, an expanded version of pieces published first in Alphabet & Image. 

Not that Harling was an uncritical devotee. In an article printed in The Penrose Annual XXXIX (1937) he writes of Gill’s Kayo: ‘Kayo is a dismal type. In the hands of a skilful typographer it could probably be made to do a good-hearted, gargantuan job very well. In the hands of jobbing printers scattered throughout England it will be just plain MURDER. The type was originally named Double Elefans, which had a very pleasant touch of the lampoon about it. The new name, Kayo, is too horribly truthful. It will be popular from John o’Groat’s to Land’s End, but it will be a return to the popularity of the types of Thorne and Thorowgood in that grim mid-nineteenth century. Typographical historians of 2000 AD (which isn’t, after all, so very far away) will find this odd outburst in Mr Gill’s career, and will spend much time in attempting to track down this sad psychological state of his during 1936.’

Harling also designed three typefaces: Playbill, Chisel and Tea Chest Robert Harling_0004while his passion for architecture and design led him to edit  House & Garden from 1957 to 1993. A remarkable man. rsa-harling

 

 

Categories
lettering lettering, typography, alphabets, stonework Thoughts on lettering Typographic ephemera typography

Happy Third

Birthday’s should not go unnoticed, even if it is a blog. After all, behind the blog is a person.gold 3 The actual third anniversary of All About Lettering was on November 2 and, no, there was no celebration. (2nd anniversary blog here.)3 stones

This blog will make 355. I had intended when I began (full of enthusiasm and unaware of the amount of time  it takes to write a post, do the research etc) that I would have published 365 in the first year alone, that’s one a day. That hurdle – if it be one – still remains to be crossed, though it draws ever nearer.

The past year has been one of activity outside of typography (I have been completing a postgraduate course) and the frequency of posts dropped away. Indeed in the first months of the year there were none recorded, and yet I noticed that people were still dropping round to take a look.

Thank you, and to those who have been following since the beginning, a very warm thank you for sticking by. I still have a few things to say and illustrate about the marvellous world of print, typography, lettering and design. So don’t go away just yet. When it comes to numerals there isn’t a lot of good stuff around, but on a walk around my neighbourhood I spotted the stones shown here as a reminder that nature does best (though in truth these stones, forming a wall, were placed by human activity). The other  illustration is a quick calligraphic doodle of mine.

Categories
lettering, typography, alphabets, stonework

Oops….

On a recent trip to the Granite Belt of Queensland (Australia) I stumbled across this in the pavement of the town of Stanthorpe. Clearly a builder of an adjoining property had no understanding, or love, of lettering. It reminded me of the time  I carved a foundation stone to an architect’s instructions for an Oxford college. The stone (sandstone) was octagonal to fit in a paved area. I delivered the piece on time, was paid promptly and added the images to my portfolio. A month or so later the architect rang. ‘John,’ he said, ‘there’s a problem’. Immediately I thought perhaps I had made an error in some name on the stone, or the date of commemoration was wrong. But no. ‘The bloody builder decided that because the shape in the pavement was different to the size of the stone he would cut the stone to fit. It’s a disaster.’

The outcome was that I was commissioned (and paid) to produce a second stone. It was never as good as the first – letter carving is a one-off. Otherwise be a printer.

D in stanthorpe

 

S in stanthorpe

 

Categories
lettering, typography, alphabets, stonework

Nicolete Gray and women in lettering

It was two years ago that I first mentioned Nicolete Gray, writing then that I would have more to say about her (see here). Well, finally I do!

Today there are many accomplished and brilliant lettering artists and typographers. In the field of letter carving in the UK there’s Brenda Berman and Annet Stirling at Incisive Letterwork. I am sure you can think of many others now active in typographer and graphic design – please let me know. However, back in the 1940s and on it is true to say that women were not often noted (or noticed perhaps) in the field. There were exceptions, and Nicolete Gray (1911-1997) was foremost among them.

She was an historian of lettering as well as a practitioner, and among the projects she completed (in partnership with John Skelton – whose daughter Helen Mary is also an excellent lettering artist) was the one illustrated here, made out of wood to commemorate Shakespeare in 1964. Nicolette Gray shakespeare

Writing about the piece she says: ‘The work is interesting, I hope, as an experiment in the sort of expressionism particularly suited to lettering…I wanted my letters to work at different depths and, as it were, to wear different clothes…As I read the poets and tried to understand their place in their time, their names took on shapes and the letters in them characteristics: Christopher Marlowe with his great R’s striding across the wood, like Tamburlaine over the map of the world…shakespeare and Nicolette GrayAnd Shakespeare himself? One thinks not of him, but of the people he created. He is Protean, impossible to grasp.; I found that I was trying, as I carved each letter, to express something of his immense revelation of all the depths and delights known to human consciousness. So some of the letters are in boisterous relief,; some gay; some, like the last A and R, cut as harsh, ruthless forms through the surface cherry wood down to layers of dark rosewood and ebony.’ [From Expressionist Lettering in Calligraphy and Palaeography, 1965, Faber and Faber.)

For an obituary of Gray see here (from The Independent newspaper).

Categories
lettering, typography, alphabets, stonework

Clifford Harper, anarchy and An Alphabet

On Clifford Harper see here for information. This ‘chapbook’ was published in 1990 in the UK. (Any idea what S is for?)

 

 

 

Source: personal collection.

 

Categories
lettering lettering, typography, alphabets, stonework

More slate – more beautiful

It’s been a while since I carved but once learnt… This was a scrap piece of roofing slate I had lying around the studio (it is 32cm by 45cm), hence the holes. The first image shows work in progress – the second complete. The text comes from a Navajo chant and continues for some verses.

 

Categories
lettering lettering, typography, alphabets, stonework Thoughts on lettering

Slate arsed

A curiosity. But clearly not carved by the ‘artist’. Thanks to a comment from a reader of this blog please follow this link to an earlier post on Ian Hamilton Finlay, who really knew how to exploit the medium – and in a far more intelligent manner.
http://creativereview.co.uk/cr-blog/2012/november/arse-and-other-new-works-by-seb-lester
Categories
lettering, typography, alphabets, stonework

Bookplates: ‘An opportunity for Pen(sic)men’

With the rapid increase in ebooks, whither the bookplate? Twenty years ago, maybe less, it was still possible to stick in a favourite book a ‘plate’, or a remembrance, of purchase. This might be nothing more than one’s name written with a 2B pencil, or an actual ‘sticker’. This helped when books were borrowed or lent – a sort of simple tracking system Going back  in time owners of great (and sometimes not so great) libraries had a plate printed – much in the manner of that shown below. The bookplate was an enduring legacy of ownership. And what of the penman? Will Carter was one (as was Reynolds Stone). Will was, however, critical of the fine penmanship that was able to inscribe with a quill pen on vellum. ‘…we are in fact neglecting a wonderful opportunity of enlivening our printed matter with a letter form which is  the natural development of the incised roman capital…’ he wrote in an article published in the 1954 edition of The Penrose Annual. He concludes: ‘The penman of today has lagged behind the times, steeped in too much medieval clutter…Calligraphy must not be allowed to decline…let us get busy and sharpen it alright so that it can serve us well, for it is a good tool’. Going back to the bookplate, it makes me ask: ‘Why not have bookplates in ebooks?’

Illustration from Lettering of Today, 1937 and Rampant Lions Press.

Categories
lettering, typography, alphabets, stonework printing Thoughts on lettering

Something essentially typographic for the weekend

This cover is from Graphics World magazine, dated Nov/Dec 1988. The designer was Phil Baines, about whom click here for more. 1988 was an interesting period with computer typography still in its infancy. The issue notes in its editorial: ‘…fuelled by advances in computer technology which promise (even if they do not always deliver) to bring the process of typesetting completely within the designer’s control, typography is firmly back in fashion’. Twenty-five years later, is that still the case do you think?