It is rare for individuals who carve lettering to be remembered. I have carved a number of public inscriptions in the UK and I doubt anyone in a thousand years time will pause to reflect on the hand behind the cut. I would not expect otherwise. So I was taken aback when browsing Alan Bartram’s indispensable Lettering on Architecture (one of two books that should be on the bookshelf of any serious student of lettering – the other is Nicolete Gray’s A History of Lettering – see here for an earlier post on her) of the revelation that certain monumental inscriptions in Roman can be identified with one Luca Horfei and Matheo de Meli, in or around the late 16th century. Now I would like to write more on these characters, and Nicolete Gray gives a hint as to where to find further information – none other than James Mosley. For those who have not stumbled across that name before take note. He was librarian of the famous St Bride printing library in central London for many decades (until 2000) and what he didn’t know about printing history could…well, it could be written on the back of a postage stamp. He is a legend and I remember visiting that library when I was working in Fleet Street and being awed by the great man’s presence. Of Mosley, and this is a digression, a long one, I quote from Bulletin 32 [page 19] of the Printing Historical Society that I happen to have to hand: ‘After lunch, the company reassembled for James Mosley’s “Morris and the ‘Rugged’ School of Typography”. The most invigorating and original of the day’s offerings, this included a particularly fine and telling sequence of slides and [unscripted] commentary bringing to life an apparently neglected context of Kelmscott typography lying in some of the freehand drawn lettering of its period.’ You get my drift. Anyhow, regarding further commentary on Horfei and de Meli, that can be found in Mosley’s 1964 article ‘Trajan Revived’ printed in Alphabet. However, Gray offers a glimpse when she writes that Horfei followed the style of the writing master, G.F. Cresci, and designed ‘much of the lettering connected with the great town planning works in Rome inaugurated by Pope Sixtus V (1585-90)’ [p.147]. The illustrations below show: Luca Pacioli B; a B based on Trajan from Cresci (1570); and lettering designed by Horfei and cut by de Meli (1588).
These pages come from the Printing Historical Society Bulletin (32), summer 1992. The photos are a fine record of a craft, I suspect, all but gone. [Credit for the photos goes to Elli Hadjiloizi and Nick Howells.) If you like this you’ll love this previous post.
Hello New Zealand. This article is prompted by a piece written by Reynolds Stone, an eminent wood engraver, in the Journal of the Printing Historical Society, 1966, 2, 58-73, too which I either subscribed or obtained a back copy. (Actually the latter, as I did once have an Albion and was curious as to antecedents.)
Stone starts his piece with reference to Cockerell and the Kelmscott Press (which I have alluded to in this blog), and states that in the 1890s Albions “were still two a penny…They were taken for granted; but it is now possible to see them as a product peculiar to the nineteenth century. Like a sailing ship of the same period they were the last flowering of a traditional method brought to something near perfection: efficient and beautiful objects, and both dependent on skilled and cheap labour.” How often does that arise – ‘cheap labour’? Think of Apple and iPads and China.
The reference to my comrades in NZ is the fact that when this article was written, according to Stone, an Albion was still in daily use at the National Printing Co. of Auckland, in fact a 1825 model used for proofing. If those readers of this live in or near Auckland could do a bit of sniffing and find this press much gratitude will ensue (and no doubt another piece in the blog).