alphabet lettering typographers


Two images leapt out at me today while browsing typography now, the next wave (North Light Books, 1994 pbk edition). BarnbrookThe first one of machine-generated stone carving (naturally, being a stone carver); the second a font called Prototype, this because the illustration stated it was an amalgam of other typefaces including Perpetua and Bembo.

At the time I did not note the connection and it was only a few moments ago when reading Brnbrook’s entry in Typography, when who how (Konemann, 1998) that I came to realise he was behind both.

Barnbrook_0001Thanks Jonathan and merry christmas /happy new year (if you celebrate that is).

For more go to

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



lettering typography

Minimalism in Title Page Design

An example from a 1955 Penguin. First the Title Page in Bembo – would any designer have the courage to do so much with so little today? Followed by a beautiful contents page and then the Cover – using type to tell/sell the story.

Robert Graves Myths_0001

Robert Graves Myths_0002

Robert Graves Myths



Comedy Humour lettering

Eating the letter R or Eric Gill for lunch

I recently posted on VS Naipaul and typography here. Still reading Mr Biswas I came on this sentence: ‘ “I could eat the Gill Sans R,” the editor said.’ [Everyman Edition, 1995, p.310).  I could eat the Gill Sans R! What a wonderful expression. Made me think what other letters I would choose to eat at a dinner party; indeed who I would invite to that dinner party to eat those letters. More to follow….your comments/guest list welcome.


Penguin, Birdsall and Walbaum: 1971

Less is certainly more with this jacket cover, one that exemplifies the restraint of the designer with beautiful simplicity. Created by Derek Birdsall (see here for an excellent biography) his type palette was very limited, with Walbaum (as here) and Gill (as elsewhere – see the referenced page) used sparingly and well.

Thoughts on lettering

Eric Gill – the end of the affair

I am tired of Eric. Today I chanced upon the Eric Gill Society. I suppose I should not have been surprised. There are many who hold Eric in high esteem. Who are in awe of the ‘master’. I was.

Look. We can bury our heads in the sand and be in denial for as long as we like. The fact is that had Eric Gill lived today he would have been imprisoned for, at the very least, child abuse.

The facts are – his sculpture is of a type; his illustrations are erotic but so are many others by others; his lettering will last, but only because he was championed by the Monotype Corporation.

Dear Eric – thanks for your time. It is now time to move on. Goodbye.

eric gill typography

Kayo – also known as Gill Sans Ultra Bold

An article in the Penrose Annual of 1937 by Robert Harling – Necessities and Novelties – led me to the Monotype Type Catalogue, via a quick internet search, to discover more about a type he had designed and commercially produced in 1936 called Kayo.

Harling writes: “Back to novelties, we find that Eric Gill has again adventured into the display world with two new types, one of which, Jubilee, is almost ecclesiastical in its dignity, stability and general decorum, and the other, Kayo, so fantastic as to take us immediately back to the dark ages of so much of the nineteenth-century display typography. Kayo is a dismal type. ..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. ..Typographical historians of 2000AD (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.”

Well – will we?

What do you think about this ‘lampoon’?

alphabet Brand design Elements of Lettering eric gill History of Lettering lettering Thoughts on lettering typography

UHU glue, Futura and Kabel

UHU Glue is one of the most distinctive brands around, simple use of black on yellow, strong typeface that underscores the strength of the product. Futura dates back to 1927, designed by German printer Paul Renner during a period when designers were looking at ways to create a geometric sans-serif. It may owe its genesis to work by Edward Johnston and his famous alphabet for London Underground

On launch Futura was criticised as being ‘block letters for block heads’ but over 80 years later it still looks good. According to Alexander Lawson, author of Anatomy of a Typeface (Hamish Hamilton, 1990), for whom I am indebted for the basis of this article, ‘the type became enormously successful and instigated a sans-serif renaissance that quickly spread from Europe to the US’.

It inspired other designers, among them Rudolf Koch who designed Kabel, made public also in 1927. Lawson notes that in the lowercase the ‘e reaches back to the VEnetian period in its retention of the slanted crossbar’ while in the uppercase ‘several letters are unique in having slanted stroke endings’.

As an end note Gill Sans was launched in 1928 by Monotype in the UK but, writes Lawson, ‘the American Monotype firm refused to offer the Gill type for the American market’, which is how Futura became so widely used there.

History of Lettering lettering, typography, alphabets, stonework Thoughts on lettering typography

Brand design/typography and the LNER

Some weeks ago I posted about the LNERs adoption of Gill Sans and speculated about the influence of Cecil Dandridge, the man who had instituted a revolution in brand awareness in the the 1930s. If you missed those posts read them here and here and here.

Just the other day I chanced across this article written by CG Dandridge and published in the 1937 edition of the Penrose Annual.

It’s called ‘Evolution in Printing of Railway Propaganda’.

He described how he standardised the printing of timetables, posters, leaflets and handbills, using just the one typeface, Gill Sans – “The task was particularly difficult,” he writes, “because nearly one hundred printers undertake work for the LNER in London and the provinces, each with his own ideas of type setting and type equipment.”

He concludes: “Its (Gill Sans) universal use…constitutes what may be regarded as the largest type reformation in our time.”

What a modest man. He deserves greater recognition.

eric gill lettering typography

Full article from Monotype Recorder on LNER typeface reforms

This is the full article from the Winter 1933 edition. It is a PDF to be downloaded. If you encounter any problems please let me know.

LNER article