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eric gill Thoughts on lettering typographers

‘The great thing about printing is it should be invisible’ – Beatrice Warde

Beatrice Warde was, by all accounts, a formidable woman. Typographic expert, friend and lover of Stanley Morison, a woman in a man’s world, Beatrice gave it as she saw it.

beatrice warde woodcut EG
Beatrice Warde woodcut by Eric Gill, 1926 [second state]
beatrice wardeBorn in the USA in 1900 [her mum was a literary critic, dad a composer], she moved to Europe to pursue her typographic career after learning her trade from Henry Lewis Bullen.

Now there’s another story. Mr Bullen [1857-1938] was born here in Australia [Ballarat], before emigrating to the States in 1875, ending up creating one of the greatest typographic libraries for the American Type Founders Co. [This is now with Columbia University.]

Back to Beatrice. She posed for Eric Gill [was one of his 25 Nudes, though which of the rather stylised cuts is unclear], caused Stanley to end his marriage, he spent the rest of his life in celibacy [being Catholic] and she became champion of the ‘traditionalist’ form.

John Dreyfus wrote this of Beatrice in the Penrose Annual [1970]: ‘She was a strikingly handsome woman…If she had wished, she could easily have built up her

beatrice warde by eric gill
Beatrice Warde in characteristic portrait by Eric Gill

reputation on charm alone. But her mind was too questing and honest to avoid intellectual problems. She thought out everything for herself and never lacked the courage to do what she thought needful’. There writes a man. [By the by, the 1970 Penrose  has a cover design by David Kindersley.]

If you’d like to listen to Beatrice, speaking in Adelaide, Australia in 1959, go here to the amazing Typeradio [I found it through the equally amazing Eye magazine].

PS – anyone want to write a biography of Beatrice? It’s well overdue.

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lettering typography

Beatrice Warde and the Oxford Lectern Bible

This article appeared in the 1937 edition of The Penrose Annual (volume 39). The edition I have bears a small sticker on the inside front cover: Buchhandlung-Book Shop, Lehnert & Landrock Succ. Cairo (Egypt). Regular readers of this blog will recall the piece I wrote at Easter about the pages from this Bible I have, trial pages. (Go here to read that piece.) So what does Beatrice have to say about this work? “It is probably the most magnificent book that has ever been machine-set and machine-printed,” she declares. She alludes to the price (fifty guineas) of the original, then observes that a new edition on machine-made paper has been reset at a mere 18 guineas, before commenting that  the original caused a ‘sensation’ in the US. Maybe this was to do with the fact that the designer was one Bruce Rogers. He even published an account of the making of the Bible, printed in 1936, titled Account of the Making of the Oxford Lectern Bible. Beatrice concludes that ‘fitness for purpose’ has ‘never had a finer typographic expression. The book is an ‘absolute’ masterpiece.

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History of Lettering Thoughts on lettering

Some notes about Spanish typography and Vincent Steer

Printing Design and Layout was written by Vincent Steer in 1934 and dominated the typographic profession for several decades, as a primer for students as well as practising typographers. My copy is undated but I’d reckon it one of the later editions, though all have the foreword by Beatrice Warde.

My motive for writing, however, concerns the illustrations of Spanish type from Fundacion Tipografica, Madrid. Nothing very startling about the designs maybe, yet they made me wonder about Spanish typography in general.

The first reference book one goes to at times like this is Updike’s Printing Types, where he writes regarding the establishment of printing that it was ‘wandering Germans’ who introduced the craft in the fifteenth century. However, he goes on that quite soon Spanish printers adopted a style of their own – ‘…rugged yet effective, and reminiscent, to one who knows Spain, of its rough, careless splendour, its grave, sad magnificence’. Nicely put.

He also illustrates this title page from 1515, suggesting that it perfectly shows ‘Spanishness.’ Of Spanish incunabula in general he writes: “I am not saying that these books are the finest that were ever printed, but they were in one way among the finest. For if entire unity with the life about it makes great printing, these books were great.”

Clair, in his A History of European Printing, updates Updike by observing the first press was probably established in Barcelona, though by those wandering Germans, in January 1473.