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

Thoughts on lettering

‘Paragraphs on Printing’ and the demise of the secondhand bookshop

Last week I chanced across a first edition of Rogers’s Paragraphs on Printing at a secondhand bookstore in Sydney, Australia. paragraphs aThis was a wonderful discovery, though I was impressed at the size and range of books on printing, typography and bibliography at this shop.

I have had a Dover reprint of this book for many years so was familiar with the contents but the ‘real deal’ was a delight to hold and handle. As I took the book home with me I wondered how long it had remained in this store, how long had it been since it had seen sunlight on its covers. I reflected that I was liberating the book from its imprisonment, giving it a new lease. However, this particular store is not long for this place. It is closing, and all books there were at half the price that had been carefully inscribed in a 2B pencil on the flyleaf. (I’ll let you into a secret – the original price for Rogers was 100 Australian dollars.)

My delight at finding this volume was tempered later by the realisation that yet another secondhand bookshop is going, in this case the owner is taking the contents online. Now, I may be old-fashioned but browsing a bookshop, let alone one that sells a pot-pourri of books just ain’t the same online. I love the randomness of secondhand stores, the fact that despite the efforts of the staff to place their charges in some order you yet may stumble upon a curiosity, a treasure, something that you’d never find elsewhere in this ordered, well-mannered world.

paragraphs bLet us support our secondhand bookshops, let us open new ones, let us let others know our enthusiasms for this remnant of a milder time.

printing Thoughts on lettering

Homer, TE Lawrence and Bruce Rogers

TE Lawrence is (or perhaps) was an icon of Englishness – the world has moved on. The David Lean film in which Lawrence was played by Peter O’Toole (no finer role) claimed him as a legend, and I grew up thinking so. (I’m surprised that the film came out in 1962 when I was 5, so I must have seen it much later – it still haunts me.) I collected Lawrence books as a teenager, and still have this Odyssey, though others have since gone in various house moves.

I never read the Seven Pillars… (who can claim with honest heart they have?) and always hankered after a copy of Crusader Castles. Being once an archaeologist I had romantic dreams of retracing Lawrence’s steps through Arabia – not that I was ever much interested in Middle Eastern art or archaeology.

Reading Rogers’s Paragraphs on Printing (Dover reprint, 1979) the other week I chanced across some information about the first Lawrence Odyssey. This was initiated by Rogers, used Centaur, of course, and took nearly four years to complete.

Rogers writes that the ink was specially made: ‘I had an ink made from an old formula I found in Savage’s Decorative Printing, which called for balsam of copaiba instead of varnish. It was somewhat slow in drying, but has still a pleasant spicy aroma on which many people have commented on opening the book.’ This edition came out in 1932.

My edition is the first UK trade of 1935, though printed in the US.

History of Lettering lettering typography

Cobden-Sanderson, Hammersmith Bridge and Jenson

Cobden-Sanderson’s place in printing folklore is secure. The barrister turned fine printer and founder of the Doves Press (in 1896, along with Emery Walker) had what might be described as a ‘breakdown’ in or about 1916 when he systematically chucked the whole of the press’s type into the River Thames from Hammersmith Bridge.

The type was named Doves Roman and was based on Jenson’s original, both shown here. Why did C-B do this? One theory is that when the partnership with Walker was dissolved (1909) it was agreed that C-B could continue using the Doves Roman during his life, after which it would pass to Walker. C-B decided to abort this agreement. He wrote: ‘To the bed of the River Thames, the River on whose banks I have printed all my printed books, I, the Doves Press, bequeath The Doves Press Fount of Type, – the punches, matrices and the type…And may the River, in its tides and flows, pass over them to and from the great sea for ever and ever, or until its tides and flow for ever cease…untouched of other use’. What a waste.

According to reports, during this exercise (which took several nights of hard labour) he almost struck a boatman on the head with the bags of type.

Regarding the Jenson original (c1470), William Morris sourced it for his Golden Type, although referencing a darker fount; whereas C-B was more faithful to the original. Later Bruce Rogers would go a step better with his Centaur.

Sources:  A Tally of Types, Morison, 1973; Encyclopaedia of Type Faces, Berry and Johnson, 1953; Roman Types, Brown University Library, 1960; and Great Books and Book Collectors, Thomas, 1975.

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.


Easter Typographic Message (from an atheist)

This being Easter it is appropriate to draw in a typographic gem that has been long sitting on the top shelf of my small library. These images are taken from the prospectus to a Bible that the Oxford University Press announced in or about 1935.

I cannot remember where I picked up this typographic gem (but guess it was the UK, and not Australia) but gem it is. The page size for reference is 29.5cm (or 11.5 inches) by 46cm (18.25 inches) and the stock, as can be seen from the images, is hand-made. (Click here for a blog on watermarking.)

The prospectus contains just eight sheets, enclosed in a stiff pale blue folder. Not shown here is the Announcement. This states “Not since Baskerville printed his great Bible of 1763 has a practical folio volume been produced that challenged comparison with the early Bibles on the score of printing…To this end Mr. Bruce Rogers has undertaken, in collaboration with the University Printer, to produce at the Oxford University Press a Lectern Bible…Plans for this edition were begun in 1929. They involved experiments with many kinds and sizes of type; choice finally being made of a modification of the 22-point Centaur type, which had lately been produced by Monotype from Mr. Rogers’s own designs.

To adapt it to a smaller body and closer setting nearly all of the lower-case characters were re-cut, with the addition of suitable figures, initials, and other special sorts…”  The cost? “Of the hand-made paper edition 200 copies only will be printed…fifty guineas net.”

Elements of Lettering printing

Bruce Rogers and Proportion in printing

Bruce Rogers was an American type designer, known still for Centaur. This quote comes from Paragraphs on Printing (1979, Dover Publications reprint from the limited edition large paper edition first published in 1943). Its advice is as relevant today as it was then.

“As in architecture, and in many other arts, the most important element of beauty in bookmaking is PROPORTION: that is, proportion of type to page, proportion of leading and spacing to type, proportion of page of paper, proportion of margins to each other – it pervades the whole process. You may take the most beautiful type in your stock, and if it be carelessly set, if it be too large or too small for the page, or the page badly placed on the paper, then no beauty of type or paper will compensate for any one of these violations of proportion. On the other hand, if all these elements be in proper relation to each other, then even somewhat mediocre type and paper will make, if decently printed, not a masterpiece of printing, perhaps, but at least a pleasant book.”