2 June, 2008
I've been trying to find a type specimen book from the Italian foundry of Nebiolo for twenty years, and this morning one finally turned up: the Campionario Caratteri e Fregi Tipografici of 1928. Here's a sample of what's inside, perfect for a beautiful spring day in New York! —JH
16 May, 2008
A Parisian Palimpsest
This one took me a minute.
Gustave Peignot spent the last four decades of the nineteenth century acquiring small French typefoundries, which by 1899 were formally organized into the firm of G. Peignot & Fils. Twenty-three years later they would merge with the venerable foundry of Laurent & Deberny, and Deberny & Peignot would be born. Soon after, this collaboration would produce the most significant typefaces of the Art Nouveau period, designs by Eugène Grasset and Georges Auriol, and later, Machine Age masterpieces by A. M. Cassandre. There would be historical revivals in the manner of Garamond and Didot, new work by Imre Reiner and Maximilien Vox, and in 1952, a series of faces by a new Swiss designer named Adrian Frutiger. Five years into their collaboration came Univers.
A design long associated with Peignot — but not attributed to any particular designer — is the typeface Nicolas Cochin. Named after an eighteenth century French engraver (but not especially representative of his work), the Nicolas Cochin typeface was advertised in a lovely little booklet produced by Peignot & Fils around 1920, a copy of which survives, barely, in our library. After an introduction and a number of settings in period dress, the specimen unfolds into an album of blue kraft paper pages, framing a charming collection of printed ephemera. There's a menu, a calendar, a business card; one delightful page is an interior decorator’s invoice. And then there’s this.
Aside from the fabrication technique — the checkered background has the smoothness of offset lithography, and the image appears to be impossibly continuous-tone (!?) — there's the design, which looks about sixty years ahead of its time. The atmospheric quality of the background reminds me of a Vaughan Oliver album cover for 4AD, and the deconstructed typography-in-motion feels very much like something Pierre Bernard might have made with Grapus. The explanation, of course, is a happy accident: the page was originally a pink and lavender parquet, parts of which have oxidized through eighty years of contact with the facing page, but the result is simply beautiful. I’m hoping that whoever designs the poster for the next Peter Greenaway film keeps this typographic ambience in mind. —JH
1 May, 2008
Answers to Frequently Asked Questions
Just kidding. A beauty though, isn’t it? This page of tastefully arranged number signs comes from a type specimen book issued by the Schelter & Giesecke foundry of Leipzig, around 1900. In a good type specimen, no piece of typographic material is too insignificant to merit proper attention, but to see such a peripheral symbol treated with this kind of thought and artistry is really touching. —JH
17 March, 2008
St. Patrick’s Type
Three of my favorite things are big type, chromatic type, and type specimen books, and St. Patrick's Day offers the perfect occasion to bring all three interests to the table, literally. Parked here at our conference table is the 1904 type specimen of the Roman Scherer company, a wood type manufacturer in Luzern who specialized in two-color type. This page shows the shamrocked "Serie 5401" in the gargantuan size of 40 ciceros — that's a cap height of almost seven inches (173 mm) — which cleverly gives the illusion of a third color by overprinting red and green to produce a perfect black.
The font was manufactured in at least six sizes (more pictures after the jump), none of which have we ever seen in the wild: like the rest of Roman Scherer's other chromatic faces, which I'll post later, these seem to have vanished into obscurity. —JHContinues...