The Gerrit Noordzij Prize, Part 1: Outgoing

One charming aspect of the Gerrit Noordzij Prize is the design of the award itself. By tradition, it’s something created by the current prize holder, and presented to the incoming awardee. Past winners have used the occasion to create something that not only encapsulates their own work in some personal way, but postulates some connection to the interests of the next designer in succession. Erik Spiekermann, winner of the 2003 award, presented the above to our own Tobias Frere-Jones in 2006: it’s a witty rendering of his twentieth-century Meta typeface, produced in the distinctly nineteenth-century technology of wood type. As a gift to a type designer whose work regularly engages with historical form, I thought it was especially poignant.

The set was made by Scott Polzen, who began exploring the resurrection of wood typemaking while still a student. His latter-day wood types are lovely artifacts, cut from cherry and finished with sandpaper and file, as Polzen explained in an essay in Letterspace, a journal of The Type Directors’ Club. As intriguing as the how of this project is the why: “I’ve come to understand,” Polzen writes, “that my real motivation for this project was to gain a greater sense of participation in the culture of reading and writing: making wood type forced me to think quite literally about how the written word works.” I thought this sentiment nicely echoed Noordzij’s own philosophy about the primacy of written, not printed, words; it makes Polzen’s connection to the award even more apt.

Wim Crouwel will receive the 2009 Gerrit Noordzij Prize on Friday, when we’ll have the first photographs of the award that Tobias designed for him. I will miss seeing it around our office. —JH


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