Typography on Instagram

Over instant messaging at our office, the typographic obsessions of our typeface designers, graphic designers, web developers and businesspeople have lately coalesced into a game of photographic oneupsmanship. We thought it time to share with the rest of the world, so pop over to Instagram and you’ll find the goods. Included are some typographic artifacts that have escaped scholarship, a few excerpts from our studio library, and some typographic moments that we’ve encountered in our travels from Havana to The Hague. Later this week we’ll be posting a peculiar bit of Americana that I’ve been holding on to for years, just in time for Independence Day. —JH

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

A Treasury of Wood Type Online

The Hamilton Manufacturing Co. traces its roots back to the very first wood types made in the United States. Darius Wells produced the first American wood type in 1828; his business was reorganized into Wells & Webb, then acquired by William Page, later passing back to the Wells family, and finally sold to Hamilton sometime before 1880. The product of this consolidation was a type specimen book issued in 1900, Hamilton’s Catalogue No. 14, which offers a good survey of American display typography of the nineteenth century.

Open to the public is the Hamilton Wood Type Printing Museum in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, a collection of 1.5 million pieces of wood type maintained by volunteers of the Two Rivers Historical Society. For at-home viewing, the calendar printer Unicorn Graphics has just launched their Web Museum of Wood Types and Ornaments, which offers a sundry collection of scans and photographs of American wood types — including every page of the great Catalogue No. 14.


The Smallest Letter in the World

A nice surprise: inside a folder of oversize type proofs, I found a stowaway: A Specimen of Printing Types by Joseph Fry and Sons, Letter-Founders, 1785. Like many contemporary type specimens, it separates dinner from dessert: on the front are romans and italics, in sizes from Long Primer (10pt) to Four Lines Pica (48pt), and on the back are all the specialty types. The latter category includes types for Arabic, Persian, Hebrew, Greek, and Samaritan, a collection of ornaments and coats of arms, a blackletter in nine sizes, and the above, a roman cut in the Diamond size (4pt) and identified as “The Smallest Letter in the WORLD.” It looks pretty good for a 223-year-old! —JH

What’s in a Font Name

For as long as fonts have had names, they’ve had bad names. Historical inaccuracies have been common for two hundred years: typefounders of the Industrial Revolution groped for historical labels to apply to newly-invented styles (Egyptian, Gothic, etc.), and it wasn’t long before typefaces began to bear the recognizable names of unrelated historical figures. Alongside the very un-Dutch Series Rembrandt, a nineteenth century French specimen book shows the Series Victor Hugo, unconnected with the author but doubtless hoping to cash in on his celebrity; Hugo was still alive at the time.

But most entertaining are faces like this one, which honor prominent figures from typography’s own history. This charming face is from the 1928 type specimen of the Nebiolo foundry in Torino, and here we have a typeface full of Art Nouveau vigor, fresh from the window of a chic gelateria, or a cinema marquee. And what famous early twentieth century figure is it named after? Why, Johannes Gutenberg of course (d. 1468), father of movable type. Can’t you just see Gutenberg stepping out of his Fiat GP racer, his handsome olive complexion set off by a rakish tweed cap?

It seems that most of the world’s typefounders have suffered this cruel fate. Here are some especially juicy mistreatments.


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

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

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, 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. —JH

Typographic Gifts for Designers, Part 2

A few weeks ago, I posted some scans of nineteenth-century wood types by William Page, from the rare specimen book Wm. H. Page & Co. Wood Type of 1872. The designers at the Cary Graphic Arts Press (Rochester Institute of Technology) apparently share my love of Page's colorful woodtypes, for their lovely Wood Type Notecards reproduce some pages from the exceedingly rare Specimens of Chromatic Wood Type, Borders, &c. of 1874. I don’t imagine I’ll need much of a pretext to send these to my favorite typophiles; I think I’ll save the SIN cards to send to clients who don’t correctly use small caps or smart quotes. —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

Grecian Fonts: A Miscellany

I thought I’d bid farewell to H&Co Greek Week with a glimpse inside some of our library’s more exotic type specimens. After the jump, some stellar Grecian typefaces which have yet to be properly revived, and the type specimen books in which they’re showcased so well.

The above is unusual: it’s the 10-Line Grecian Double Extra Condensed of William Page (1872), and eagle-eyed readers may have noticed that it’s printed not in black and white, but in retina-searing magenta. Why? It’s because this specimen, the rare Wm. H. Page & Co. Wood Type of 1872, was a joint venture to promote both wood type made by Page, and printing inks made by H. D. Wade & Co. of New York. Even at the age of 135, the book’s colors are alarmingly bright and rich, doubtless because they contain unlawfully toxic levels of cadmium and other heavy metals.


Mrs. Gray and the Mystery of the Grecian Italic

“Grecians” are slab serif typefaces in which curves are replaced by bevelled corners. The fashion for octagonal letters took off in the 1840s (the style may have begun with an American wood type, produced by Johnson & Smith in 1841), and by the end of the decade there were all manner of Grecians on the market: narrow ones, squat ones, light ones, ones with contrasting thicks and thins, and ones without. It’s unusual that the rather obvious “square-proportioned” Grecian didn't arrive until 1857, and that no one thought to add a lowercase until 1870. It’s this very center of the Grecian universe that our Acropolis typeface occupies, which includes an additional feature of our own invention: a Grecian italic, something that no Victorian typefounder ever thought to create.

Or so we thought. This is the Six-Line Reversed Egyptian Italic of William Thorowgood, which sure enough qualifies as a Grecian italic. It has many peculiar features, but the most unearthly is its date: 1828, thirteen years before the first Grecian roman appeared. What’s the story?


Time Traveler?

Except in the most conservative of settings, there’s nothing unusual about freely mixing serifs and sans serifs in text. This technique might still be unexpected in a novel, or in the main text of a newspaper, but otherwise it’s a familiar device that designers have employed for decades. This image could be a piece of printed ephemera from the thirties — a legal notice on a train ticket, perhaps, or a gummed label from an appliance box. It’s really only the loose spacing that marks this as an antique at all: track everything in a little, and brighten up the paper, and this could easily be a front-of-book service piece in a magazine.

Where it’s completely unexpected is in the pages of a 131-year-old type specimen book. This example, showing the eleven point Law Face in combination with an eerily Helvetica-like Gothic No. 7, is from the Compact Specimens of James Conner’s Sons (United States Type Foundry) issued in 1876. Conner’s foundry offered a promiscuous collection of fonts, and the layouts of his specimen books were pretty anarchic, so perhaps this setting was simply an accident of probability. Still, it’s odd to imagine this very modern piece of typography sharing a world with Wyatt Earp and Jesse James. —JH

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