calligraphy History of Lettering lettering Thoughts on lettering typographers

The [not so] New Typography

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about NonHuman books, and particularly the version produced by a machine of Tschichold’s The New Typography (1928). After publishing this piece I realised that I did not have a copy of this book, much to my surprise; confusing it with Asymmetrical Typography, which I do. Rather than wait, I got onto ABE and within moments located a copy in Melbourne – the 1995 University of California reprint. new typography

The text reads of its period, but given the current crisis we are in, has prescience. Take for example:

Unity of Life! So the arbitrary isolation of a part is no longer possible for us – every part belongs to and harmonises with the whole.

It’s also worth bearing in mind his view [the late 1920s, one hundred years ago] against the cult of the individual, which is what we have seen these past how many decades, in so many creative areas – think architecture, think novels, think music.

The creator disappears completely behind his work. People of today regard the arrogant thrusting forward of the man before his work as aesthetically embarrassing. Just as every human being is part of a greater whole, and is conscious of his connection with it, so his work should also be an expression of this general feeling of wholeness.

new typo title

Thoughts on lettering typographers Typographic ephemera typography

Nonhuman Books. Really?

Check out first this short [3m] video about a project that produces ‘nonhuman books’ – books that have not been touched by any form of human interference.

Hello again. What I see is not ‘poetry’, as is a claim, but random words ‘selected’ by a non-thinking, non-sentient, algorithm. These are no more books than Father Christmas lives at the North Pole.

In the interest of fairness those readers who wish to know more can visit

and, when there, purchase a copy of A Nonhuman Reading of The New Typography by Jan Tschichold.

[Perhaps I will.]

UPDATE [21/3/2020] – And I did and the book arrived yesterday. Along with a balloon, which bore a text most apposite in today’s troubled times.


Original and non-human
The same page from the human and non human versions of the New Typography.

Atomic balloon



lettering printing Thoughts on lettering typography

Tschichold and Shakespeare: attention to detail

In a recent post I wrote of Jan Tschichold and his work at Penguin. Shakespeare Tschchold While reading up on that piece I came across comments by one of T’s assistant’s at Penguin. Erik Ellegaard Frederiksen writes: This period [1948-1949] was the typographic foundation of the rest of my life. Our desks were at right-angles, so he could see what I was doing. More important for me, I could watch the way he worked…He was totally uncompromising in maintaining design standards…His craftsmanship was great. I remember that Reynolds Stone had engraved the Shakespeare portrait, in a medallion for the Penguin Shakespeare covers. But Tschichold wanted to make the surrounding border himself. He used scraperboard in actual size, and drew the lettering with a pin held in a pen-holder. He did not need to correct anything: the letterspacing, serifs, everything was correct at the first attempt!’

Until this weekend I did not have a copy of a Penguin Shakespeare. Fortunately I was able to pick up a copy at a Brisbane bookstore, printed in 1957 but (like myself of the same birth year) is ageing magnificently. The paper is unblemished and not yellowing like so many ‘cheap’ paperbacks. In fact, it is much as the day it was released. See for yourself the hand-drawn reversed title on the cover and marvel that this was done with ‘a pin held in a pen-holder’. (Click on images to enlarge.)

Shakespeare detail Tschchold

Source: Jan Tschichold: typographer. Ruari McLean. Lund Humphries (paperback edition, 1990), p 98-99.

lettering typography

The art of the title page: Dante and Tschichold, 1949

The title page is the window into the book. There can be few better examples than this one designed by Jan Tschichold when he was at Penguin (1947-1949). Set in Monotype Bembo capitals throughout it has an elegance and simplicity that speaks for greatness in typographic purity (I particularly enjoy the half-diamond parenthesis marks.) And below is an example of Tschichold’s rigorous eye for detail as shown in layout instructions to the printer. (Taken from Jan Tschichold: typographer [1975]. McLean, R. London: Lund Humphries.)

Penguin Dante

Penguin Dante_0001

History of Lettering

Signore Giambattista Bodoni, Justus Erich Walbaum and Dr Giovanni Mardersteig

The relationship between the first and last named is that of an enthusiast who gained prominence through fine printing using the original matrices of the Italian type founder – known as ‘The King of typographers and the Typographer of Kings’ (for good reason: he was printer to Carlos III of Spain and received pensions from, among others, Napoleon. [Updike has a beautiful footnote in Printing Types (2nd ed), p168 that’s too long to quote here but for those with a copy near to hand deserves a read and a chuckle.] As for the grumpy German (my emotive), well he was active the same time as Bodoni and introduced a similar ‘Modern’ face with the thin serifs etc.

Mardersteig (born a Swiss) came across the Walbaum types in Leipzig and said; ‘My discovery that Walbaum originally stemmed from Bodoni…strengthened my conviction that it would be best to reach back to Bodoni and choose his type for my future press. A good recutting at that time did not exist’ (The Officina Bodoni, 1978, British Library, p16).

Life has moved on since then, with faces cut and recut like a hairdresser remodelling a style that needs to be tinkered with to fit in with modern taste. Stan Morison had a go back in the 1930s with Bodoni, producing what Updike called a ‘composite’ (p235).

The illustration of the face shown here is from the Bauer type foundry, which, according to Jan Tschichold (Treasury of Alphabets and Lettering, English language edition, 1985, p232) ‘…is the best and most faithful interpretation of Bodoni available’. These are contrasted with those from Monotype, of both ‘Bodoni’ and ‘Walbaum’.


Jan Tschichold

Famous for his book on asymmetric typography (1935 – notice the i tucked up into the r) and a huge influence on mid-20th century design, especially at Penguin.

Less well known for a publication issued in 1946 (in English) titled ‘An Illustrated History of Writing and Lettering’.

I’d forgotten I had this book, because of its slimness it had got ‘lost’ among larger companions and it has a battered cover, which of course adds to its charm.

In the introductory note Tschichold writes: ‘The immense flood of printed matter which characterises the present day has not only diminished our reverence for language. It is also beginning to destroy our living sense for the visible representation of language, for writing and lettering. There are few people who are still sensitive to the positive and negative values in lettering, probably because it is under the eyes whichever way we turn, and everybody has to make use of it, even if it be only on the typewriter’.

He has a point, though I think he would have delighted in the freedoms allowed today in the graphic arts and would have enjoyed using a Mac and excelled with InDesign.

lettering typography

Brody, Neville

Neville Brody and I share the same birth year. 1957. I didn’t realise that until today when, tucked inside a copy of Jan Tschichold’s An Illustrated History of Writing and Lettering (1946 – and about which I will write soon), I came across an article written about him in the Sunday Times Magazine, dated May 1, 1988.

He was then 31 and a star. Indeed the Victoria and Albert Museum was to open an exhibition, The Graphic Language of Neville Brody. Such was his status, akin to a pop star, that the magazine commissioned Snowden to take his portrait, shown here.

The article concludes with comment from David Hillman, himself a great typographer, who said: “I’m surprised he’s done enough to merit an exhibition. He’s got to prove that he can move on. You grow very old in this business. Your’re an angry old man if you’re 18”.

Brody is quoted: “What I’d prefer to happen is that everything went anonymous again”.

Neville, if you read this, you done well.