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.

Typographic ephemera

Looking at Books – 1960

No idea where I came by this but it is a delight. Set in Bembo too. Lovely yellow colour. How many publishers would use that simplicity today?



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.”


Times Roman Poster from Monotype

Talking about TNR in the previous post reminded me of this poster in the Monotype series



Pulling together some threads at a minor milestone

This being the 250th blog, I’ve taken the opportunity to look back over the past year or so to tease out one or two themes, chief of which continues to be the spectre of Eric Gill. (Remind me to write a piece on Eric Gill Exposed, Sinner not Saint or, An Unapologetic Critique of Gill.) So, if Gill figures large and is also a subject to which visitors to this site often refer, it is appropriate also to mention Stanley Morison. The two knew each other, rubbed shoulders so to speak, but came from quite different points of view. Morison, the ‘radical’, flirtatious Communist/Marxist (this was the 1920s-1930s) and Catholic convert did much to push Gill forward through promotion of his typefaces when he, Morison, was at Monotype. Yet they were both outsiders, while at the same time, and this is common among the solitary, both wanted to belong (more so in Morison’s case as he curried favour with Beaverbrook, accepted honorary doctorates and the like). Morison was not a great typographer but he was a good historian of typography and did much to promote good printing through a large chunk of the middle-20th century. (For more see James Moran’s excellent Stanley Morison: His typographic achievement. 1971. London: Lund Humphries.)

I dug out his First Principles of Typography, what is called a ‘slim volume’ (24 pages), so slim it was clinging to Barker’s  fat biography of the man, and read again the postscript, written in 1967, the year of his death. It’s worth a look.

Here’s some: “The typographical activity, like architecture, is a servant art. These are arts, which, by their nature, are predestined to serve civilisation…Even so, the analogy between the work of the architect and the typographer must not be pressed too far. It is still necessary for typographers to think for themselves. The idea prevalent in some fin de siecle  quarters that style is superior to thought, is a heresy, or should be, and not only to the typographer. For him as a designer of books…he must possess…a clearness of understanding of specific purpose and a governing sanity of reasoning power…Tradition is not well understood at the present day in some quarters. If it were a reflexion of the stagnation or prejudice of past ages of printers, little attention need be given to it by historians and none by practitioners of the arts and crafts. But tradition is more than the embalming of forms customary in the states of society that have long since cast aside. The sum of experience accumulated in more than one man’s lifetime, and verified by succeeding generations, is not to be safely discarded. Tradition, therefore, is another word for unanimity about fundamentals which has been brought into being by the trials, errors and corrections of many centuries. Experientia docet.”

Cut that in stone: Experientia docet. Experience is the best teacher.

History of Lettering

Phil Baines, Robin Nicholas, Nimrod and Monotype

Phew. A lot of names in the title. But this illustration brings them all together. I bought this poster from Monotype in the late 1980s/early 1990s. It measures 61cm by 91cm, was designed by Baines and printed on a Monotype Lasercomp. It is one of a series, and I have others to delight you.

lettering typography

Stanley Morison and book jacket design

Stanley Morison is one of the giants of 20th century  English typography, a man whose influence is felt everywhere, no less than at the Monotype Corporation where he was typographical adviser for many years. His death in 1967 prompted that company to issue a special edition of its ‘house magazine’, the Monotype Recorder, for the Autumn of 1968 from which these illustrations are taken.

The first illustrates one of Morison’s flamboyant book jackets for Victor Gollanz, publisher and left-wing advocate. Though undated it is probably from the early 1930s and demonstrates his approach in using the cover as an advertising tool for the text. The colours were chosen to make the book stand out from the crowd, a method that could well be used today – much more effective than a bland photo. (See my blog here on modern book jackets.)

The title page from the Recorder is a wonderful example of restraint. The typeface is Barbou, series 178, which has an interesting genesis as being the heavier, and Morison’s preferred, version of Fournier when first cut in 1924. For more on this see Carter (1987), Twentieth century type designers, p.34.

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.

History of Lettering lettering Thoughts on lettering

Albertus advertising poster

Albertus, designed by Berthold Wolpe between 1932-1940, is a face I much admire, coming as I do from a stone-carving background. In fact, the face was first cut in metal by the designer, not with a chisel but outlined and then the metal cut away around leaving the letters raised. As Wolpe said: “This makes for bold simplicity and reduces the serifs to a bare minimum”.

This advert is from the late 1950s. 

History of Lettering Thoughts on lettering

Bodoni, Officina Bodoni and Giovanni Mardersteig

There are some printers who are also scholars. One such was Giovanni Mardersteig (1892-1977). His press, Officina Bodoni, published some 200 books, many using type cast from the original matrices of Giambattista Bodoni. These illustrations are taken from a catalogue that accompanied an exhibition of the press’s work, held at the British Library in 1978.

Mardersteig had no formal training in press work, the catalogue reports, with his primary reason being “the slow process [a hand press] permits printing on damp hand-made paper. The ink is more easily received by a paper made of rags and hemp which has become flexible through wetting. Considerably less ink is required than in dry-printing and a sharper and more even impression is obtained”.

Mardersteig’s first type ‘design’ was Griffo (cut in 1929 by the French punch-cutter Charles Malin, who had a strong relationship with Mardersteig). This was cut on the instance of Stanley Morison, and based on the roman by Francesco Griffo for Aldus Manutius, first used in Pietro Bembo’s De Aetna of 1495. Morison thought it better than Monotype Bembo, being closer to the original.

Other designs by Mardersteig include Zeno (1937) and Dante (1955), which also has a resemblance to Bembo, being cut by Malin between 1947-1954. Morison had the face cut for Monotype, and it has become one of the ‘great’ faces.

Mardersteig noted that Dante was the finest achievement by Malin, who completed it before his death in 1956. “When the inventive powers of Malin came to an end so did my pleasure in type designing,” Mardersteig wrote.