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.

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’.

History of Lettering lettering typography

Cobden-Sanderson, Hammersmith Bridge and Jenson

Cobden-Sanderson’s place in printing folklore is secure. The barrister turned fine printer and founder of the Doves Press (in 1896, along with Emery Walker) had what might be described as a ‘breakdown’ in or about 1916 when he systematically chucked the whole of the press’s type into the River Thames from Hammersmith Bridge.

The type was named Doves Roman and was based on Jenson’s original, both shown here. Why did C-B do this? One theory is that when the partnership with Walker was dissolved (1909) it was agreed that C-B could continue using the Doves Roman during his life, after which it would pass to Walker. C-B decided to abort this agreement. He wrote: ‘To the bed of the River Thames, the River on whose banks I have printed all my printed books, I, the Doves Press, bequeath The Doves Press Fount of Type, – the punches, matrices and the type…And may the River, in its tides and flows, pass over them to and from the great sea for ever and ever, or until its tides and flow for ever cease…untouched of other use’. What a waste.

According to reports, during this exercise (which took several nights of hard labour) he almost struck a boatman on the head with the bags of type.

Regarding the Jenson original (c1470), William Morris sourced it for his Golden Type, although referencing a darker fount; whereas C-B was more faithful to the original. Later Bruce Rogers would go a step better with his Centaur.

Sources:  A Tally of Types, Morison, 1973; Encyclopaedia of Type Faces, Berry and Johnson, 1953; Roman Types, Brown University Library, 1960; and Great Books and Book Collectors, Thomas, 1975.


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.

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.

Thoughts on lettering

Updike and Fell

Updike’s Printing Types is one of those books every student of typography should have on their shelves.

It should still be available as a paper cover (I think Dover put it out). The copy illustrated here is a hard cover, 2nd edition, 2nd printing. As I was browsing through I noticed the peculiarity of the cap G on the dust jacket, with a little spur coming off the leg.

The cap T is also shorter than the other caps in the line. Which made me think these were Fell types.

John Fell left a great legacy of type to the Clarendon Press, Oxford in the late seventeenth century. Stanley Morison wrote about this in John Fell in the late 1960s. It cost 25s when new. My copy cost about pounds 200 when I bought it about 20 years ago.

It is a superb production – presswork and illustrations of the highest quality. It also confirmed that the Updike dust jacket is printed using Fell.

The Fell book also contains many other wonderful type specimens. Among them these:

NB – please go to this link for some more information, and how to download Fell types to your computer.


calligraphy History of Lettering lettering typography

Arnold Bank, calligrapher

[If you did not read the first article please go here]

This picture appeared in a journal called Art Education (March 1985), written by Anne Gregory.

The article has some biographical information about Bank – that he was Emeritus Professor of Design at Carnegie-Mellon University, Pittsburgh, US; that he worked as Art Director for Time Magazine from 1941-1947; and he lectured at the Royal Society of Arts, England in 1955.

In his day he was highly influential, the article states, and taught many students.

One paragraph stands out for me. “When he became interested in something like paleography, he wrote to EA Lowe of Princeton. This contact resulted in many pleasant weekends with this Oxford scholar in the company of Stanley Morison and Marvin Newman. ‘We used to go see God every weekend!’ recalls Bank. He also wrote to Alfred Fairbank who was the author of A Handwriting Manual. Their correspondence on Renaissance paleography and italic handwriting is now in portfolios in the Cambridge University Library in England and is available for researchers on these subjects.”

More information about Arnold Bank cheerfully received…

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.


printing Thoughts on lettering

Monotype Composition caster and keyboard – Part 1

Of all the advances made in typography during the last century none surely rates more important than the Monotype Composition caster and keyboard. Okay, I declare an interest. In the 1990s I owned one of these  machines and on it cast the type for the private press books I printed under the Beeches Press imprint.

Nevertheless, this machine, or machines (there is also the Super Caster, which casts display faces), revolutionised the printing industry (in tandem with the Linotype). Not only that but Monotype, the company, initiated what can only be described as a revolution in best practice in the design of and revival of type faces. (Another story – this happened largely due to Stanley Morison.)

Those who have only known computer-setting may be at a loss to fathom how this machine, illustrated above, worked using nothing more than compressed air, the molten lead when injected into the mould cooled by water. It is a marvel of engineering, of exact engineering, for the tolerances are so fine that should anything be out of alignment the thing won’t work. And yet it is a machine whose moving parts can be understood by any mechanic – nothing is hidden – and it can be disassembled fairly easily. That’s why Monotype became so successful throughout the world, with machines, possibly, still in use somewhere out there – from China to Turkey, from New Zealand to Sri Lanka. (PS – if anyone knows of one for sale please do let me know! Also I have a reasonable library of Monotype manuals and instruction manuals – if anyone needs to know something please let me know.)

The illustrations shown above and below are taken from a tiny booklet (95mm by 115mm) called ‘The Pocket Picture-Book of ‘Monotype’ composing and casting machines” [undated]. Click to enlarge – back arrow to return to this page.

History of Lettering

Spectrum typeface by Jan van Krimpen

I have been going through some of those Penrose volumes on my bookshelves. Came across these images in the 1954 volume.

Spectrum typeface

These are reproductions of the original drawings for the Spectrum typeface designed by Jan van Krimpen, a distinguished typographer based in the Netherlands. It was designed for use in a Bible, being named after the company that commissioned the face – the Spectrum Publishing Company of Utrecht and Brussels.

According to the author of the accompanying article, John Dreyfus, at the time assistant University printer at Cambridge (and later succeeding Stanley Morison as advisor to Monotype – another story, another blog), Spectrum – which was van Krimpen’s last design – has a generous x-height, with narrow capitals and a ‘remarkable compression of the italic’.

What do I think some 50 years on? The upper case C is odd , as is the G naturally, both ungainly, I hate the Z and the Q, and particularly the ‘crossed swords’ of the W. All in all not a hit with me. (Did I mention the Q? Ugh!)


Spectrum typeface