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alphabet Brand design Elements of Lettering eric gill History of Lettering lettering Thoughts on lettering typography

UHU glue, Futura and Kabel

UHU Glue is one of the most distinctive brands around, simple use of black on yellow, strong typeface that underscores the strength of the product. Futura dates back to 1927, designed by German printer Paul Renner during a period when designers were looking at ways to create a geometric sans-serif. It may owe its genesis to work by Edward Johnston and his famous alphabet for London Underground

On launch Futura was criticised as being ‘block letters for block heads’ but over 80 years later it still looks good. According to Alexander Lawson, author of Anatomy of a Typeface (Hamish Hamilton, 1990), for whom I am indebted for the basis of this article, ‘the type became enormously successful and instigated a sans-serif renaissance that quickly spread from Europe to the US’.

It inspired other designers, among them Rudolf Koch who designed Kabel, made public also in 1927. Lawson notes that in the lowercase the ‘e reaches back to the VEnetian period in its retention of the slanted crossbar’ while in the uppercase ‘several letters are unique in having slanted stroke endings’.

As an end note Gill Sans was launched in 1928 by Monotype in the UK but, writes Lawson, ‘the American Monotype firm refused to offer the Gill type for the American market’, which is how Futura became so widely used there.

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Thoughts on lettering typography

Typography poll – the results

Not highly scientific this, especially as the question ‘what do you consider¬†the most influential typeface of the 20th century’ is somewhat vague. Define influential, one person commented.

For what it’s worth Helvetica and Univers topped the list,24 per cent each, while Futura put in an appearance among the also rans. Gill Sans notched up 10 per cent, and Times New Roman, Bodoni, Goudy and Caledonia brought in 5 per cent.

Comic Sans turned up too.

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Thoughts on lettering Typographic ephemera

Typography and the paper bag

My wife returned home from a trip to New York at the weekend. She brought me a present (well, actually I asked her if she could get me them) – a dozen pencils, 2H to 9H, plus Stabilio Aquarellable, ideal for drawing/sketching on slate.

If the pencils were not a gift enough the packaging they came in was a wonderful bonus. A brown paper bag from the art supplier. It’s a great big thumping sans which I can’t quite place – it’s not one of the usuals, Helvetica (because of the C), Univers (the K), Gill (the B,C,K). Any ideas? It’s in a grotesque/gothic style

Anyhow, the present (bag) made me realise that these throw-away items (true ephemera) were once everywhere but have since been replaced, for the most part, with plastic. Being throw-away most don’t think of them as collectible, though I am sure there are many out there who have drawers full of them.

For my part, I began a small collection of printed ephemera in 1987, and here are few paper bag pieces I retain. I wish I had more!

This one I particularly like as it was from a clothing store in the town in the UK I then lived – Sutton, south of London, where this shop shared my name. Got to love the H and the cheeky S – and the brilliant full length use of the J. What type is it? Don’t know again (revealing my ignorance big time today!)

Then of course there was the ‘greatest bookshop in the world’ – Foyles, which I used to visit often as a teenager and young man. It had a reasonable second-hand selection, while the general stacks occasionally offered up gems that had been left unsold for generations: this was the pre-computer stocktaking period.

Various combinations of both sans and serif in use here – including good old Cooper Black, very typical of the 1960s.

Next a little bag from a tobacconist, probably printed by a small jobbing printer. (I used to smoke in those days, a pipe, and this shop held a great variety of loose tobaccos: this bag, though, was probably for purchase of a pipe as it is long and slender.) Use of Gill Sans, which all jobbing printers would have had in stock, possibly hand-set too.

And to round things off a gem from a sandwich bar in central London. I probably bought a sandwich there in the late-1980s but the bag was likely to be unchanged from the 1950s or earlier.