Introducing Landmark

Typeface: Landmark

In 1999, we received an irresistible commission from Michael Bierut at Pentagram: to design a typeface for Lever House, one of New York’s most significant architectural landmarks. In a neighborhood of skyscrapers designed simply to warehouse the maximum amount of rentable real estate, Lever House is a rare building with thoughtful urban values, featuring a grand public colonnade, a welcoming sculpture garden, and an enormous setback that showcases that rarest of midtown luxuries: the sky.

The typeface we created was an airy sans serif, patterned after the existing lettering on the building’s Park Avenue window, and related to the style of its cornerstone inscription. The project revealed some interesting discoveries about the way architects use capital letters, and how a typeface designed specifically for architecture could serve designers especially well. A decade after completing the project, we set about creating a collection of decorative variations inspired the material and environmental qualities of buildings: the interplay of structure and surface, the effects of shadow and light, and the transformative power of perspective. Bringing typographic qualities to mechanical forms turned out to be a formidable challenge, but a fascinating one, ultimately absorbing our designers for more than a year. The result is the family of four new typefaces that we’re delighted to introduce: Landmark Regular, Inline, Shadow, and Dimensional.

For Immediate Release

October 25 has been designated World Pasta Day, and as part of typography’s contribution to this important initiative, we’re pleased to share the following: an excerpt from the typeface “Nr. 941. Dubbelmittel (corps 28),” as it appears in Berlingska Stilguteriet Stilprof, a type specimen book from the Berlingska type foundry of Lund, Sweden, circa 1900. It is a dimensionally extruded ring accent, shaped like a piece of rigatoni.

This concludes our contribution to World Pasta Day. See you in 2011. —JH

An Enchanted Alphabet

I have a special affection for decorated letters, especially the ornamented designs of the nineteenth century. You know the kind: they're chubby Regency typefaces, slab serifs or high-contrast ‘Fat Faces,’ mostly, whose surfaces are emblazoned with intricate patterns or pastoral scenes. The collection of L. J. Pouchée contains some genuine masterpieces that I’ve long admired, letters festooned with grapevines or peonies or cobblestones, or illuminated with bucolic vignettes of farmer at the plough. “We should really do something in this vein,” I once said to Tobias. “Covered in fax machines, or pigeons?” he quipped. I dropped the topic.

Designer Jeanie Nelson has picked it up. On her blog Jeanie & Jewell, she’s exhibiting a wonderful collection of ornamented capitals of her own invention, and they are absolutely enchanting. There are so many things to love about these that I hardly know where to begin: the cheery colors whose roles change from letter to letter, the witty imagery that conceals more than a few oblique puns, the whimsical way she tweaks the nose of typographic convention whenever the spirit moves her. (Most type designers start with the sober letter H that serves as a template for the rest of the design; Jeanie Nelson’s H, right now, is having more fun than any H that’s ever lived.) I’m delighted by this design not only because of its squirrels, dragons, pineapples and ice cream cones, but because it pays homage to a potent and beloved historical style without ever becoming a stuffy museum piece in period dress. That the koala bear in the K is climbing a letter made of wood just makes it doubly fantastic. —JH

Sham Rock

I have for exactly one year been waiting to open up the monumental copy of Ornamented Types of L. J. Pouchée that we have in the office, to find the example of the delicately curlicued shamrock type that historian James Mosley attributed to an unknown punchcutter he designated “Master of the Creeping Tendril,” and to post it here.

This is not that type. It turns out that Pouchée never made a shamrock type: what I was remembering was this, the Eight Lines Pica Egyptian Ornamented No. 2 of Bower & Bacon (1826), illustrated in Nicolete Gray’s Nineteenth Century Ornamented Typefaces. It is surely not the work of any Master, though perhaps it lends credence to the widely-circulated tale which holds that Mrs. Gray illustrated parts of her book by hand, rather than reproducing the work photographically. I’ve never heard an explanation for why this should be so, but there’s no denying that the bluntness of these forms suggests the pen more than the graver.

Continues…

Wearable Rococo

Look up and you’ll see the floriated, ornamented, shaded letters of the H&FJ logo (l. gravura tuscana), as well as an italic cousin used for the News, Notes & Observations nameplate. I have a special fondness for these kinds of letters, which reflect a synthesis of traditions from both typemaking and engraving. Is it therefore any wonder that I love these alphabet brooches from Bena Clothing, spotted by our friends at Design Sponge? They’re made from laser-etched cheery veneer over mahogany, thoughtfully offered as set of 53 pieces with duplicates of popular letters. (I wonder how the frequency distribution of initials differs from that of other kinds of words: extra Js, I imagine?) —JH

Heavy Metal

Photos: Left: Johan de Zoete, Stichting Museum Enschedé; Right: James Mosley

Four hundred years after Gutenberg’s death, “metal type” was still being made the way he made it. Using files and gravers, a steel rod was cajoled into the shape of a backwards letter; this steel ‘punch’ was struck into a brass blank, called a ‘matrix,’ which would serve as a mold for the casting of individual pieces of lead type. (The term ‘lead type’ is a convenience: the material of printing type is more accurately called ‘type metal,’ as it contains a special typefounders’ blend of lead, tin, and antimony.)

This elaborate pas de cinque requires five different materials, each chosen for a different metallurgical property. Steel’s tensile strength helps it hold small details and resist the blow of the hammer; the malleability of brass makes it a good candidate for receiving the steel; lead, cheap and abundant, has a low melting point; tin is more fluid than lead when molten (yet more durable than lead when it hardens); and antimony is highly crystalline, giving printing types more crisply defined edges.

The few typefaces that have departed from this process have done so for very good reason. Common were large typefaces that would have been impractical to cut in steel (and impossible to strike into brass) which were instead made as wood forms, which were pressed into sand molds from which metal type was cast. But a lingering mystery are the Chalcographia in the collection of the Enschedé foundry in Haarlem, said to have been made with ‘brass punches.’ James Mosley corrects the record on his Typefoundry blog, explaining the types’ unusual gestation through a convoluted five-part process. The photographs, like the types themselves, are marvelous. —JH

An Early Snowtype

The snow-themed alphabets below all belong to the world of lettering rather than typography, but typefounders have made their share of snow-covered fonts as well. Some of these go back quite a bit further than I imagined, as I learned this afternoon: at lunch, Tobias mentioned offhandedly that he remembered being surprised to see a snow-covered typeface in a specimen book from Weimar Germany. “I don’t remember which book it was,” he added, a sure-fire way of triggering a typographic wild goose chase at the office.

Half an hour later, and covered in dusty fragments of brittle yellow paper, we found it. Naturally it was in none of the specimen books that we thought to check first, from the Bauer, Berthold, Klingspor, Ludwig and Mayer, Schelter & Giesecke, Schriftguss, Klinkhardt, C. E. Weber, or Flinsch foundries. It was lurking on page 120p of Die Haupt Probe, otherwise known as The Behemoth: the 1,478-page, six-kilogram, scanner-breaking type specimen of the Stempel Foundry, issued in 1925, and thought to be the largest typefoundry specimen book ever produced. Behold Schneekönigin, a snow-capped adaptation of the Fette Teutonia typeface. Like the book that contained it, it is equal parts delightful and menacing. —JH

My Big Fat Grecian Lettering

Greek Week Continues!

Making good on his standing promise to rid the world of enamel signs, and warehouse them in the office for our personal amusement, Tobias came across this little bit of heaven in a local antique shop. The full image features a stalwart gent in lederhosen hoisting a beer stein, but for typophiles, this is where all the action is: cousin to the Grecian italic, it’s a (1) faceted (2) chromatic (3) blackletter that would have made a nice auxiliary to our Knox typeface. Three great tastes that taste great together! — JH

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