lettering, typography, alphabets, stonework

Will Carter: typographer, designer and letter carver

He was all of the above, and letterpress printer and wood engraver as well. Will Carter (1921-2001) was part of that great flowering of artist-craftsmen in the UK post-WW2. He designed Monotype Klang and collaborated with another 20th century master of the chisel, David Kindersley, in Octavian.

These illustrations are from Carter’s Caps (1982). He writes: ‘The wood used is what is sold in DIY stores for shelving and consists of mahogany veneer on a chip board base.’  Of the R he writes: ‘A more obvious nod towards Trajan, with its strong tail coming out of the bowl. The placing of this, like the proportion of the bowl itself, can make or mar the letter, which, at its best, can be most satisfying of all…’ Of the B: ‘Gill used to liken the lower bowl of a young gill’s buttock – the way it hangs gently’. [Enough said.]

calligraphy lettering typography

A long overdue note on Michael Harvey

Prompted by the chance spot of a news item announcing the publication of his latest book – Adventures with Letters. For those who do not know Michael’s work please check this link. MH has been working in lettering/calligraphy for more than 60 years, being taught the art of letter cutting by Joseph Cribb, one of Gill’s assistants. He is a renowned and distinguished typographer as well. His earlier books, including Carving Letters in Stone and Wood (Bodley Head, 1987) and Creative Lettering Drawing and Design (Bodley Head, 1985), were among those volumes that influenced me when I was starting out. I’d recommend them to anyone wanting to know more about either discipline.

The link to his new book can be found here.


Thoughts on lettering Typographic ephemera

WOW, it’s the weekend

Piece of sculptural lettering for your weekend pleasure. By Midge Johnansen (Qld, Australia), exhibited at the Swell Sculpture Show, September 2012. Dimensions: 2.4mx1mx6m. Made from plywood and painted.

Sculptural lettering

calligraphy lettering

Something mysterious, something Gid

Sometimes an illustration hits you with such force that you just want to share it with others. Such is this, which I came across in Book Design and Production, vol 2, number 2, of 1959. The accompanying text relates that it comes from Livre D’Heures of 1959 and was designed by Raymond Gid using the Vendome type family. Of this type it is described as having a ‘resemblance to wood-cut or stone-chiselled lettering’. A same is shown below, though it does not seem to bear much resemblance to the text above – answers please.


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.

History of Lettering lettering typography

Name that song (I mean typeface)

If you can. Clue: 1920s, advertising.

Typographic ephemera

Three random images from my week

There’s something beautiful about things seen at random, by chance, that otherwise may have gone unnoticed and unrecorded. This first one was taken as I was waiting for a bus on Monday (my truck was in for a service and I was catching the bus back home) – seen in the waiting shelter. The poster has been mutilated and overlain with others.

The next as I walked out from my place of work at lunchtime on Wednesday. While the last was snatched today (Friday) as I went to meet someone in the local town. All random, all wonderful demonstrations of lettering in action, caught unawares, just as, without any overlay or analysis. Fresh.

Typographic ephemera

Suitably ephemeral

This advert was published on Thursday, November 7, 1991. I know that because I have the original kept from The Guardian newspaper. The newsprint is fading but the joy of the lettering remains. No idea who the designer was – if it’s you please send me a line. [The ad, by the way, was for Epson’s LQ series printers.]



Ulysses, Joyce and the book typography of Ernst Reichl

My first (and up to yesterday) only copy of Ulysses has been the Bodley Head edition of  1960 (as revised 1969, tenth impression). Bought in 1976 (demonstrating the long shelf life of books in those days) it is a solid publication (measuring 4.5 inches by 7.5 inches – 19.2cm x 11.5cm), with its moss green cover: there is even a commendation from The Times. “That the format of a book can affect its readability has long been known. Rarely can it have been so strikingly exemplified as by the Bodley Head’s new edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses. The work has been reset and a handy volume produced. It is a great improvement…”

Until yesterday I had not heard of Ernst Reichl, maybe never would had I not got to the Hip Pocket bookshop in Murwillumbah. (Sadly long since gone. This revised 25/8/2019.) It’s only opened recently, run by a young fella called Elliot who specialises in Beat Generation books. The room is large, friendly, a few old sofas and chairs dotted around, a record player playing 60s albums, a sewing machine, pots of poster paint and unfinished posters/designs, with the afternoon I visited the powerful (overwhelming) smell of incense sticks. Murwillumbah is not the sort of place you’d expect to find such a bookshop, which makes it even more attractive.

Because Elliot can’t source enough Beat books – at least enough that are affordable – he sells other stuff: volumes of poetry you see everywhere (Penguin editions of Donne etc); novels; children’s books too. Also psychology (at the same time I picked up a couple of volumes of Freud, one a paperback edition of General Introduction to Psychoanalysis) and plenty of those “What your Dreams say about You’-type books.

Anyhow, among this mix I came across the Random House edition of Ulysses (1946, but no different in design I believe from the first of 1934, and measuring 6 inches by 9 inches). I was  immediately struck by the cover  (designed by F McKnight Kauffer, himself a genius of graphic arts) but when I turned to  the title page my mouth, as they say, dropped. It was/is staggeringly beautiful.

By the looks of it, hand-drawn lettering commanding the pages. What a thrill compared with the stolid, respectable Bodley.

I flicked further and found the chapter heads – the first simply a delight. “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan…” Stately and plump – how appropriate.

There is more. De-nudding the volume of its paper cover reveals – much like an archaeologist scrapping away the sand to uncover a gold torque – this –

How much pleasure can one take from one book? It will be a pleasure to re-read.

For an excellent overview of Reichl go here, including a summary of the events leading to the publication of the 1934 edition following the attempt by the US Government to prevent publication on grounds of indecency.

The Reichl archive is kept at Columbia University. Anyone live near Columbia and fancy rummaging around in the archive? Must contain treasures.

History of Lettering

Castellar, John Peters and ‘Fine Print’

Of those display faces I once owned, Castellar (not a great name – always sounds like a cheap cigar to me) rates among them. The face was designed by John Peters, whose short biography I came across in an edition of Fine Print (16, 1, spring 1990).

Those who do not know of this ‘magazine’ (not the word to use for such an illustrious publication, subtitled ‘The Review for the Arts of the Book’) then now is the time to search out back copies. I only have a few, bought from a shop in Charing Cross Road, London, which also sold handmade paper and all the sundries one needed for bookbinding, calligraphy and other human arts. The publication came from San Francisco and largely set letterpress.

Anyhow, back to Peters.

The article in Fine Print is written by John Dreyfus (himself a wonderful man and for some time at CUP) and describes Peters as “unmistakably an officer and a gentleman, with dark hair and a beautifully laid out moustache”. It ends by noting that Peters took his life because of pain associated with a wound picked up in WW2. Dreyfus writes: “For such a creative person to be driven to a self-destructive end was a great tragedy,” which I think an under-statement of magnitude.

What I did not know was that Peters also designed a number of other faces for Monotype, sadly not used, including the one shown here, Traveller, commissioned by  the British Transport Commission.

He was also a printer, establishing The Vine Press in 1956 with Peter Foster. He suicided at 72.