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

Things We Love

Typeface: Knockout

When we designed the Knockout type family, which celebrates the exuberance of nineteenth century wood type, we wondered: what designer would knowingly use the fonts to recall a world of quack medical cures and traveling vaudevillians? The answer, as it so often turns out to be, is “smart aleck Canadian advertising agencies.” Behold the truly excellent Grip Limited, who have created a typographic tour-de-force in Knockout (and a little Archer) that really repays scrolling in all directions. I especially like the end of the second column. —JH

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

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