eric gill Thoughts on lettering typographers

‘The great thing about printing is it should be invisible’ – Beatrice Warde

Beatrice Warde was, by all accounts, a formidable woman. Typographic expert, friend and lover of Stanley Morison, a woman in a man’s world, Beatrice gave it as she saw it.

beatrice warde woodcut EG
Beatrice Warde woodcut by Eric Gill, 1926 [second state]
beatrice wardeBorn in the USA in 1900 [her mum was a literary critic, dad a composer], she moved to Europe to pursue her typographic career after learning her trade from Henry Lewis Bullen.

Now there’s another story. Mr Bullen [1857-1938] was born here in Australia [Ballarat], before emigrating to the States in 1875, ending up creating one of the greatest typographic libraries for the American Type Founders Co. [This is now with Columbia University.]

Back to Beatrice. She posed for Eric Gill [was one of his 25 Nudes, though which of the rather stylised cuts is unclear], caused Stanley to end his marriage, he spent the rest of his life in celibacy [being Catholic] and she became champion of the ‘traditionalist’ form.

John Dreyfus wrote this of Beatrice in the Penrose Annual [1970]: ‘She was a strikingly handsome woman…If she had wished, she could easily have built up her

beatrice warde by eric gill
Beatrice Warde in characteristic portrait by Eric Gill

reputation on charm alone. But her mind was too questing and honest to avoid intellectual problems. She thought out everything for herself and never lacked the courage to do what she thought needful’. There writes a man. [By the by, the 1970 Penrose  has a cover design by David Kindersley.]

If you’d like to listen to Beatrice, speaking in Adelaide, Australia in 1959, go here to the amazing Typeradio [I found it through the equally amazing Eye magazine].

PS – anyone want to write a biography of Beatrice? It’s well overdue.

printing Thoughts on lettering

No hot metal on this Penguin

It’s 1957 and those at Penguin, namely Allen Lane, had a problem. The imprint was becoming so successful that print runs of some 50,000 were necessary to keep costs down and the paperbacks affordable. However, Allen Lane also wanted to publish original titles: and the market for these was often small, much smaller than the popular titles that kept the firm afloat (these were the post-war years, years of austerity). Think of the number of formes kept locked up in metal on the hunch a quick re-print might be required. Therefore, film-setting was investigated and Private Angelo became the first book (in England) to be printed entirely on film.

This is recorded in Penrose Annual vol.52 (1958). An article by L.S.F. Elsbury, manager, Fotosetter division, Intertype Ltd., Slough, Bucks, explains: ‘The book chosen was Eric Linklater’s Private Angelo. Sir Allen Lane decided at once to print, apart from the trade edition, a special edition of 2000 copies as a Christmas gift from him and his brother to friends in the trade. Designed by Hans Schmoller, a charming book has been produced. The text is printed on bible paper, the volume is bound in Linson vellum printed in two colours with the spine lettered in gold, and there are special end-papers by David Gentleman.’

Mr Elsbury concludes in [restrained and English-like] rapture: ‘This, then, is a step forward in a new adventure…It may give a new standard of quality to the graphic arts and, if it should be widely used, the combination of filmsetting and offset reproduction could become one of the means to help the industry keep pace with the progress of our times.’

Anyone have a copy of the original limited edition?

[Also referenced: Fifty Penguin Years, Penguin Books, 1985.]


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, alphabets, stonework

Bookplates: ‘An opportunity for Pen(sic)men’

With the rapid increase in ebooks, whither the bookplate? Twenty years ago, maybe less, it was still possible to stick in a favourite book a ‘plate’, or a remembrance, of purchase. This might be nothing more than one’s name written with a 2B pencil, or an actual ‘sticker’. This helped when books were borrowed or lent – a sort of simple tracking system Going back  in time owners of great (and sometimes not so great) libraries had a plate printed – much in the manner of that shown below. The bookplate was an enduring legacy of ownership. And what of the penman? Will Carter was one (as was Reynolds Stone). Will was, however, critical of the fine penmanship that was able to inscribe with a quill pen on vellum. ‘…we are in fact neglecting a wonderful opportunity of enlivening our printed matter with a letter form which is  the natural development of the incised roman capital…’ he wrote in an article published in the 1954 edition of The Penrose Annual. He concludes: ‘The penman of today has lagged behind the times, steeped in too much medieval clutter…Calligraphy must not be allowed to decline…let us get busy and sharpen it alright so that it can serve us well, for it is a good tool’. Going back to the bookplate, it makes me ask: ‘Why not have bookplates in ebooks?’

Illustration from Lettering of Today, 1937 and Rampant Lions Press.


A Graceful image

One of the great things about the Monotype Corporation was the advertising they produced. Take this example to promote Century Schoolbook – some creative genius at the company decided to use an image of WG Grace, with this resulting tri-fold sheet tipped into a volume of Penrose. (Regular readers of this blog will know by now how much I love those volumes.) Century Schoolbook, as stated by Monotype in accompanying literature, originated in 1894, being commissioned by Theodore L de Vinne for the Century Magazine. ‘The letterforms reflect the taste for the modern face of the late 19th century, but the design is nearer to the old styles in having sturdier serifs and no fine hair lines…The large x-height, coupled with short but adequate descenders, makes it very legible in the smaller sizes, and in the larger sizes it takes on a clean, handsome appearance, uncluttered in extraneous detail.’

For the record WG Grace (1848-1915) scored 126 individual centuries in first class cricket. He retired from competition in 1908, aged 60.

Thoughts on lettering

Will Lethaby, the Central School of Arts and Crafts (London), Ed Johnston and Germany


‘No good form is ever made by consciously designing it.’ So said William Lethaby (1857-1931). By which he meant that things should be designed by the craftsman who made them. This man, who founded London’s Central School (1896) and was a mate of William Morris among many others, was also one of the first, what we would call, holistic environmentalists. ‘Right building is a part of nature. A proper house and church, before man turned round as the enemy of the rest of nature, were but bigger chambers in another kind of honeycomb…The care of the Earth is the greatest of all the arts…Is this to be a world of wrecked machines, crashed aeroplanes and stranded warships, rusty iron everywhere?’

Lethaby had a major influence on Johnston, who he met in April 1898. No wonder the latter (then 26) found such inspiration in a man who thought handwriting ‘the most universal of the arts’ and wrote: ‘We might reform the world if we began with our own handwriting…the form of a letter cannot be properly “drawn” or “designed”; it must be written’.

Significantly it wasn’t Britain that benefited from this philosophy. Rather it was Germany. By the end of the nineteenth century students from that country were coming to Central to learn calligraphy, as well as investigating architecture and design. The Germans took up Lethaby’s ideas and ran with it, leading to the creation of the Deutsche Werkbund in 1907. By contrast the British printing industry turned away.


Rubens, G. 1976. WR Lethaby and the revival of printing in The Penrose Annual. London, Northwood Publications.

Johnston, P. n.d. Edward Johnston and WR Lethaby in Lessons in Formal Writing (1986). London. Lund Humphries.

Newdigate, B.H. 1922. Scribes and Illuminators in Book Production Notes (1986). Oxshott. Tabard Private Press.


eric gill

Howard Coster’s portrait photograph of Eric Gill and Eric Gill’s pencil sketch of Howard Coster

About Howard Coster (1885-1959) I am unable to reveal much, other than a cursory look on the world’s favourite search engine reveals little, save that he was prominent in the 1920s and 1930s and London’s National Portrait Gallery had a retrospective of his work in the 1980s. Perhaps someone has a catalogue from that show and can help flesh out this man’s life?

What of his picture of Gill, which I found by chance in volume 39 of Penrose (1937), a volume I have used as the basis for a number of previous blogs. The picture was taken in 1927, and is a bromide print, hence the sepia tone. Gill is in characteristic pose, puffing on one of the fags that would kill him at the early age of 58. (I am 55 so mindful of mortality, though I no longer smoke.) In 1927 Gill was living all over the place, chiefly Salies-de-Bearn in the foothills of the Pyrenees, Paris and Chelsea, where perhaps this photo was taken, while his family stayed at Capel-y-ffin, that remote village in Wales that proved not such a good idea. Anyhow, Gill’s travels gave him plenty opportunity to chase the flesh.

I don’t think it’s a great photo, for Gill is so much the poseur that we do not get (as we do from a truly great photo) an idea of the person behind the mask. How much more fun if Gill had posed for Coster naked – a bit of a Stanley Spencer or a Lucian Freud. We can’t see his eyes either but we can tell that he is right handed.

I am grateful to the National Portrait Gallery for permission to use the Gill drawing, downloaded for free from their website.

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.

History of Lettering

Sunday’s with a vintage Penrose

There’s nothing better than spending a fine summer Sunday with a Penrose. Often when I’m preparing a light lunch I’ll pull out one of the Penrose Annual’s and have a browse while something’s simmering on the hob. Today I had the 1964 volume out, blew off a covering of dust, and at the back, among the advertisements (which are often the greatest source of delight) came across this. It’s for GF Smith & Son (London) Ltd of 2 Leathermarket, Weston St, SE1, though the firm had branches too in Hull (Lockwood St) and Birmingham (Gazette Buildings, 168 Corporation St). The purpose of the ad was to promote a cover paper (Caslon Duplex Bright White/Blue Ripple, for the record); but that’s subsidiary to this typographic gem.

[If, like me, you love a Penrose click here for other posts.]


S.L. Hartz and Juliana

S.L.Hartz rates just one page in Sebastian Carter’s Twentieth Century Type Designers (Ist edition, 1987) yet, as Carter himself suggests, his work is unduly neglected. I was reacquainted with Juliana by an article I chanced upon in the 1958 issue of the Penrose Annual. (For those new to this blog please search for other posts that mention Penrose, possibly the greatest printing annual ever produced, and in letterpress of course.) Here Hartz was writing on An Approach to Type Designing at a time when the designer still drew letters by hand (at each size) and had to co-operate with the punch-cutter,who translated those drawings into metal suitable for die making. At the time he designed Juliana Hartz was general art director at the great printing-house of Joh. Enschede en Zonen in Haarlem, Holland. He had succeeded Van Krimpen (see here for a post about him and Spectrum), but was more of an engraver and stamp and banknote designer than typographer. Nevertheless Juliana is a pleasing face, apart from those squared ‘dots’ over the lower case i.