H&FJ Supports Hamilton

In support of their unique work to both safeguard and celebrate American wood type, we’re proud to announce the donation of a $10,000 Sustainability Grant to the Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum of Two Rivers, Wisconsin.

Wood type is a vital part of our visual culture. Its riot of technological and typographic innovations remains as relevant as ever to modern typographic practice: whether your favorite font comes in multiple widths, or features chromatic layers, it owes a considerable debt to its wood type forebears. H&FJ has always believed that the preservation and study of historical typography serves even the most progressive experiments, so we’re proud to support Hamilton, not only in its curatorial mission, but for the relevant and exciting programming it provides to both the community in Two Rivers, and the design community at large.

This Sustainability Grant kicks off a new fundraising chapter for the museum, to help secure the future of its new home at 1816 10th Street. If you love typography, we hope you’ll join us in supporting their wonderful work. —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.

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His Name Was Almost Legion

Typeface: Great Primer Uncials

James Mosley shared with me this striking photograph of some of the world’s oldest type-making material. These brass matrices, made by a Dutch punchcutter in 1508, are now in the collection of the Enschedé Museum in Haarlem. It’s remarkable that they’ve survived long enough to celebrate their 500th birthday.

Especially enthusiastic type buffs might recognize these as the Great Primer Uncials that we adapted for our Historical Allsorts collection, but even the most devoted connoisseur is unlikely to know the name of the man behind them. It’s amazing that we don’t, given his significance: historian H. D. L. Vervliet identifies an entire historical period with the designer’s name alone, noting that as many as half of all books printed in Holland in the first half of the sixteenth century featured this one man’s typefaces. This was an extraordinary achievement for a man less famous than his contemporaries Garamond, Granjon or Plantin, so we have to ask — doing our best Graham Chapman impression — why is it that the world has forgotten the name of Henric Pieterszoon Lettersnijder?

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Type Night at Delta House!

Describing the sand casting method for making type, Rob Roy Kelly quotes eighteenth century printer Christian Friedrich Gessner thus:

“The ingredients of casting sand are fine sand, to which is added calcinated baking-oven glue, the redder the glue the better. This mixture is finely pulverized and passed through a mesh sieve. Thereupon the mixture is placed upon a level board. The center is hollowed out and good beer is poured into the cavity — much or little according to the sand used. This is well stirred with a wooden spatula.”

Both H&FJ’s recycling bin and our expense reports are testament to the importance of “good beer” in the type design process, but to have this connection documented in the literature? The potential tax write-offs are positively off the chart. —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

Spotting the Long-Necked Kern

This publicity photo, from the Berthold foundry’s Specimen No. 525B (late 1950s?) shows the foundry type for Arabic Shaded No. 50. In addition to demonstrating the maker’s facility with both non-Latin scripts and elaborate ornamentation (this is an outline face with a drop shadow, produced at 30pt), this diagram shows an interesting technique for kerning Arabic’s many delicate features.

A kern, in the literal sense, is any part of a character that extends beyond the body. The more delicate a kern, the more likely it is to break off during use, and Arabic is among the world’s most sinewy scripts. To compensate, this typeface was cast with an especially long neck — the distance from the top-most printing surface (the face) to the non-printing surface below (the shoulder) — so that kerns would be stronger, and more fully supported by adjacent characters. A clever, simple solution.

Pop quiz: Arabic reads from right to left, and printing type is always reversed. Which end is the start of the line? If you’re disoriented, imagine the sixteenth century French and Flemish typefounders who produced some of the world’s finest Arabic typefaces, three hundred years before the invention of the mass-produced silvered-glass mirror. —JH

Favicon Unmasked

Designer Randy Pfeil wrote to ask the burning question, “what the heck is the favicon for typography.com? All I can see is a pixelated masked-man. What’s the story?”

In a signature bit of H&FJ atavism, it’s a sort, otherwise known as a piece of printing type, seen in profile. The printing surface — uncoincidentally called the “type face” — is at the top. Below are the “feet,” separated by a “groove,” accentuated in our tiny icon. At left is the “nick” that appears on the front edge of a piece of type, a detail that helps establish that type is correctly oriented in a composing stick.

As a sort of typographic Easter egg, hunt around the character set of any H&FJ font and you’ll see an image of a sort lurking somewhere inside. —JH

Typographic Gifts for Designers, Part 3

Much nattering takes place on this blog about the distinction between lettering (letterforms rendered for a particular situation) and fonts (sets of type designed for reproduction.) Edible lettering is an ancient tradition, but edible fonts may be something new: our designer Sara Soskolne discovered this marvelous set of Movable Type in Chocolate, created by Sandra Kübler and Christine Voshage.

I have to commend the duo for including a broad character set, including accents and punctuation. (The Droste company, which makes the chocolate initials given to Dutch children for Sinterklaas Eve, doesn’t produce even the letter I, presumably because it’s challenging to design a chocolate I that matches the weight of the M or W.) As we know, children are a stickler for fairness, especially when it comes to chocolate, just as typographers are a stickler for fidelity, especially when it comes to chocolate. —JH

Reconstructing Harry

One of the best things about the type community is the way in which attitudes seem to transcend its generations. It’s heartening to be at a professional event, and see that the exciting new idea that’s being embraced by art school undergrads is also received with equal enthusiasm by, say, Max Kisman, Wim Crouwel, and Adrian Frutiger. But I’ve experienced one clear division in typography that’s drawn along generational lines, and it’s this: typophiles above a certain age know the type historian Harry Carter, and his son who’s also involved in type; and those below that age know the distinguished type designer Matthew Carter, and perhaps also that his dad was in the business. A recent book points out what woefully insufficient descriptions these are.

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