eric gill History of Lettering

‘Letters are things, not pictures of things’

So is quoted Eric Gill by Jan Van Krimpen, as noted in Warren Chappell’s A Short History of the Printed Word, which, for those who do not know, is a primer to Updike’s Printing Types. Okay – enough name dropping.

SHPW ChappellPut Gill’s statement (and at this juncture I do not have a source from Gill’s extensive bibliography) in context and dwell awhile on it. Chappell writes: ‘In late 1957 [blogger’s aside: coincidentally the year of my birth: read what y0u will into that – Sibelius passed that year bye the bye], the year before his death, Van Krimpen and I exchanged views on punch-cutting. He wrote that his own engraver, Helmuth Raedisch, with whom he had worked for 30 years, “has grown, alas, more and more polished”. I regretted that our postal colloquy could not have continued, for it seemed to me he must have recognised that his own tight style of working allowed little opportunity for a punch-cutter to make his particular contribution. Van Krimpen quoted Gill: “Letters are things, not pictures of things,” and it is exactly that distinction that has been sorely tried today, time and time again.’

Interested in punch-cutting? Go here for a previous blog on Edward Prince.

alphabet lettering typography

Something Xtra for the weekend: from U&lc magazine

U&lc was a typographic magazine published by the International Typeface Corporation between 1973 and 1999. During the early 1990s I was fortunate to be on the subscription list, with the illustrations shown here coming from the magazine’s 20th anniversary issue (northern Spring, 1993), appropriately showcasing the letter X (and double X). The page size is 27.70cm by 37.70cm.

X one X two X three

The original founding team in 1973 (Herb Lubalin, Aaron Burns and Ed Rondthaler) stated in the magazine’s inaugural editorial: ‘U&lc will provide a panoramic window, a showcase for the world of graphic arts – a clearinghouse for the international exchange of ideas and information’. Such tasks are now achieved through the web. But how much nicer to have a permanent record of type design printed on paper, gracefully ageing at the edges, likely to disintegrate one day (the paper was newsprint stock), yet full of vigour.

[See here for a blog and archive of the magazine.]

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

Fit to be styled a typographer

So wrote Simon-Pierre Fournier (1764) in his Manuel Typographique, a phrase deeply admired by Vincent Steer who I have briefly mentioned previously in the pages of this blog (see here). Steer Steer pic was by training a compositor and as Moran writes in ‘Fit to be styled a Typographer’: A history of the Society of Typographic Designers, 1928 – 1978 sought to be ‘acknowledged as a typographer’.

Let Steer put it his own way (from Printing Design and Layout: The manual for printers, typographers and all designers and users of printing and advertising): ‘A layout which is intended for submission to the customer must, in the first place, be carefully executed. While there is no need for meticulously finished lettering, it should convey a very near impression of the final result in type.’ And he gives this as an example.

Vincent Steer

Vincent Steer_0001

This is an art long lost.

Steer was a founding member and past president of The Society of Typographic Designers, now the ISTD.

lettering, typography, alphabets, stonework Thoughts on lettering typography

Something bookish for the weekend

Bradbury Thompson (1911 – 1995) did much for graphic, book and postage stamp design during the 20th century. I came across him recently when I purchased from a second-hand bookshop his 1988 The Art of Graphic Design, from which the accompanying illustrations are taken. Homage to the Book 2He was intimately involved with the Westvaco Corporation, a US-based paper manufacturer, and this led to many fruitful collaborations, including Homage to the Book. Homage to the Book

In the introduction to The Art he concludes:

‘This volume can provide only a time-lapse camera glimpse of an involvement with the graphic arts. Yet it is hoped that the retrospective may inspire thoughts about possible rewards with typography as a tool, a toy, and a teacher in the graphic design of this computer age’.

Homage to the Book_0001

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 Monotype Composition caster printing

Something ornamental for the weekend

From December 1958, a Monotype broadsheet (440mm x 570mm). Composed on a caster no doubt. (For more on ornamental type see this post.) For more Monotype posters see here.

Ornamental type face

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.

Typographic ephemera

New Year’s Quiz 2013 – number two

What are these? (Clue: Taken from a magazine published in 1953.)

Quiz two 2013 A


Answer below

Quiz two 2013

Typographic ephemera

New Year’s Quiz 2013 – number one

Simple this. Just deduce what letters are missing from the image. (Taken from an advertisement placed by Grosvenor, Chater & Company Ltd in Book Design and Production, vol 5, number 3, 1962.)

new year quiz 2013

Answer below

new year quiz 2013

Brand design

The demise of Holden in Australia – a (sort of) typographic memory

This week in Australia Holden (aka General Motors, aka Vauxhall, aka Opal, aka Chrysler) chrysler advertannounced that it would cease production of vehicles in a couple of years.

This brings me to the advert here, reproduced in The Typography of Newspaper Advertisements by Francis Meynell (Benn, 1929). The display type is a variant (I am guessing here so help me out) of Neuland. (See this post December 2014 for clarification and comment below.)

Holden’s going – Chrysler is still around somewhere with its ‘long, low lines – and spacious comfort. Flashing speed – seventy miles an hour and more.’

Have a relaxing weekend.