T-55. Type, Lettering & Calligraphy, 1830–2000 - Advance Reading List

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  • Preliminary Advices

    Some notes on the course, and a preliminary reading list

    This course begins at the date when printing and its related crafts became industrial processes, and the visual effect of the change can most clearly be seen in the typography of advertising and promotional printing. New techniques like lithography were able to exploit large and hand-drawn letterforms freely, and to make use of colour. This development had its effect on the appearance of the types that were made for commercial work.

    But in some ways type resisted the technical changes that took place in other areas of printing. Although the casting of type was eventually mechanized, the punches continued to be cut by hand until the end of the 19th century and many books were still hand set until well into the 20th. However by 1900 it became possible to translate a designer’s own drawings more or less directly into type by using Benton’s new pantographic punch-  or matrix-cutting machine, the device that had made possible the launching of complete composition systems like the Linotype and Monotype. In the face of this competition, the marketing of named type series in a wide range of sizes became necessary to the survival of the traditional typefoundries. Consequently type history in the 20th century is often linked to the names of star designers, such as Goudy and Gill, Van Krimpen and Koch, after World War 1 and Zapf and Frutiger in the period following World War 2. The course will look at the work of many well-known type designers, but it will also attempt to do justice to names like Morris Fuller Benton at the American Typefounders Company, C. H. Griffith at Mergenthaler Linotype, and Frank Hinman Pierpont (a Connecticut Yankee), with his German colleague Fritz Max Steltzer as the head of the type-drawing office, at the English Monotype company. These are the ‘type directors’ who deserve a substantial share of the credit for the quality of many of the enduring types of the first half of the 20th century.
    The aggressive commercial typography of the 19th century provided some new type models that are still in use, like sanserif and slab-serif. But a taste for ‘old style’ typography set in quite early as a reaction, producing many examples of the ‘revival’ of historical models from the 15th to the 18th centuries. It is seen at work in the products of the so-called ‘private press movement’. And some of the most widely used typefaces of the hot-metal typesetting systems like Linotype and Monotype were reproductions of historical models, many of which survive among the digital typefaces that are currently used.

    The Second World War effectively halted the making of new types for a time, and by 1945 the demise of metal type and its replacement by the photographic process known as ‘photocomposition’ or ‘filmsetting’ –a development that had long been predicted in printing trade journals –seemed inevitable, and the prospect haunted the traditional makers of type, many of whom developed their own systems. All the same, there were some major achievements to come in metal types during the second half of the 20th century, such as the brilliant series of types showing the inventive genius of Roger Excoffon, designer at the small Olive typefoundry in Marseille, the titanic programme of punchcutting by Monotype in Britain that was required to make the multiple widths and weights of the typeface Univers from designs by Adrian Frutiger (a design originally conceived for the filmsetting system known as the Lumitype or Photon). And the enduring work of Hermann Zapf (born 1918), whose first type, a Fraktur, had appeared in 1939, and whose Palatino was not only a bestseller among the metal types of the 1950s but became a basic font for the pioneering Apple Macintosh computer and its printers.

    Filmsetting was succeeded by digital type. At first this was output from expensive stand-alone systems, but the introduction in 1984–1985 of the Apple Macintosh computer, the LaserWriter, the PostScript page description language, the page makeup software PostScript, and Fontographer, a program for making digital type, changed the typographical landscape rapidly and permanently, opening access to typesetting and the design of typefaces to any owner of a computer. Some of the prominent type designers of this last period, from 1990 to 2000, which include names like those of Matthew Carter, Gerard Unger, Sumner Stone and Jonathan Hoefler, have made many of their more recent typefaces as commissions for individual clients, such as magazines and newspapers. These have in due course been more generally marketed, and are currently used widely in printed media.

    Preliminary reading

     Here are some titles that are worth looking at as an introduction to type and letterforms of our period. The most useful are marked with an asterisk. Bear in mind that in the United States works cited here with a British imprint will often bear that of the US distributor or co-publisher. See tabs below.

  • Making Type

    *T. L. De Vinne, Plain printing types. New York, 1900 (and slightly-revised editions of 1902, 1925). One of the best books ever made about the traditionally-made type, written by an author who know his subject thoroughly, and full of good and reliable historical notes. It has never been reprinted in facsimile, but copies are still pretty easy to find secondhand and in libraries. (Plain printing types is the title generally cited, but in searching for it bear in mind that it is one of four volumes issued under the overall title The practice of typography. The subtitle of this one is A treatise on the processes of type-making, the point system, the names, sizes, styles and prices of plain printing types.)

    L. A. Legros and J. C. Grant, Typographical printing surfaces. London, 1916. More often cited than read, this work is full of accounts of composing machines of the early 20th century and of the making of type generally at its date. It is certainly worth looking at, but the detail tends to swamp the reader, and its authors were too close to their subject to provide a good overview.

    *Walter Tracy, Letters of credit: a view of type design. London, 1986. A readable work that drawing on the author’s experience with the British Linotype company, but provides more of the practical details involved in making type than any previously-published work. His case-studies of the types of W. A. Dwiggins and Jan Van Krimpen are highly illuminating.

    *Richard  Southall, Printer’s type in the twentieth century: manufacturing and design methods. New Castle: Oak Knoll; London: British Library, 2005. The most detailed historical study of the technology of type making, from the Linotype and Monotype, via filmsetting, to the development of digital type, with much material drawn from the author’s own experience.

    W. A. Dwiggins, WAD to RR.: a letter about designing type. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard College Library, Department of Printing and Graphic Arts, 1940. A brief (8-page), revealing note adapted by Dwiggins from a letter to his friend the illustrator and type designer Rudolf Ruzicka about his own methods and his working relationship with ‘G’ or ‘Griff’ – the Linotype type director C. H. Griffith.

    Alan Marshall, Du plomb à la lumière: la Lumitype-Photon et la naissance des industries graphiques modernes. Paris, 2003. A detailed account of the most innovative of the filmsetting systems that also gives an overview of the competing technologies.

    *David Earls, Designing typefaces. Mies: RotoVision, 2002.  A practical handbook for designers of digital type, with studies of leading contemporary designers.

    Karen Cheng, Designing type. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006. A widely praised and comprehensive handbook for present-day type makers.

  • General Type History

    *Michael Twyman, Printing 1770–1970. London, 1970 (revised reprint 1998). Twyman’s wide-ranging work sets type history against the changing processes and purposes of printing.

    *Robert Bringhurst, The elements of typographic style.Vancouver, 1992. (2nd ed. 1996). Gives a good idea of the historical elements that lie behind many classical revivals that began life during the era of metal type and which have survived the transition.

    *Alexander Lawson, Anatomy of a typeface. Boston: Godine, 1990. The fruit of experience and wide reading, but be wary of taking all its information too literally. Notwithstanding the title, it does discuss several different types and their makers.

  • The 19th Century

    There are really only two essential works, both of them classics.

    *Nicolete Gray, Nineteenth century ornamented typefaces. (London, 1976) was first published in 1938. Its second edition, though only slightly revised, has far better illustrations. It is easy to point out its shortcomings: it hardly discusses how such types were made, and those it describes are mostly what the author could find in specimens located in London (at the St Bride Library). Contemporary types in France, Germany and the US are mostly ignored. (The US distributor demanded an additional chapter, by Ray Nash, on American types of the period.) But, however narrow its focus, Gray’s work also has the virtues of a pioneering history by an unusually perceptive writer.

    *Rob Roy Kelly, American wood type 1828-1900. New York, 1969, tells the story of the vigorous designs of the big types used for printing posters and similar work, in the context of the mechanical inventions that made them possible. Kelly, who died in 2004, was an enthusiast for what might be styled ‘the types that won the West’, and his book is well-informed and hugely enjoyable.


  • The 20th Century

    *Sebastian Carter, Twentieth-century type designers. 2nd ed. London, 1995. This is a very comprehensive and readable account of the lettering artists whose work is seen in the metal typography of the century, and which also deals well with several of the later designers whose work provides the typographical landscape of the present day.

    Lewis Blackwell, Twentieth-century type. London, 1992, a more sumptuous work, with excellent colour illustrations. It was reissued in 1998 in a different format under the title Twentieth-century type: remix.

    Mac McGrew, American metal typefaces of the twentieth century. Second revised edition. New Castle, Delaware, 1993. This is frankly an illustrated catalogue, comprehensive, and strong on facts and dates, that was wisely circulated in a provisional form before publication, which eliminated many myths and errors (but beware of those that remain).

    Max Caflisch, Schriftanalysen: Untersuchungen zur Geschichte typographischer Schriften. St Gallen: Typotron, 2003. Essays that Caflisch contributed over many years to the Swiss journal Typografische Monatsblätter. They include many detailed case studies, excellently illustrated, of the design of some major typefaces, including some revivals of classic historic models.


  • The Modern Movement

    The modernist designers of the 1920s, including El Lissitzky, Moholy Nagy, Herbert Bayer, were acutely interested in typography and their work made its mark more generally, especially in the world of publicity and advertising.

    *Jan Tschichold, The new typography: a handbook for modern designers, translated by Ruari McLean, with an introduction by Robin Kinross. Berkeley, 1995. Jan Tschichold was one of the most articulate and dogmatic of the exponents of the principles of modernism. The original edition of Die neue Typographie, his little handbook of 1928, one of the first textbooks published for typographical designers, has now become an iconic, and very rare and expensive artefact. A facsimile edition of it was published in Berlin in 1987. McLean’s English translation is good, and Kinross’s excellent introduction places the work in context.

    *Herbert Spencer, Pioneers of modern typography. London, 1969. Revised edition, 1982. A good overview of the movement generally, and of the work of some major modern designers in several different European countries.
    The following detailed works add an updated supplement to Spencer’s book:

    Richard Hollis, Swiss graphic design: the origins and growth of an international style, 1920–1965. London: Laurence King, 2006.

    Christopher Burke, Active literature: Jan Tschichold and New Typography. London: Hyphen Press, 2007.

  • Some Individuals

    *Stanley Morison, A tally of types cut for machine composition and introduced at the University Press,Cambridge 1922-1932. Cambridge, privately printed, 1953. Morison, an adviser to the British Monotype Corporation, The Times newspaper, and the University Press at Cambridge, was persuaded to write this typographical apologia pro vita sua for limited circulation. After his death this work was reissued twice, once in 1973 with the addition of essays by other hands on some types with which Morison had been concerned, and again by Godine in Boston in 1999. This latter edition is worth seeking out for its new introduction by Mike Parker, who was type director of Mergenthaler Linotype in Brooklyn during the transition from metal to film and to digital formats. While generous to Morison, Parker even-handedly pays tribute to figures whose role with Monotype was under-appreciated.

    *Nicolas Barker, Stanley Morison. Cambridge, 1972. Morison’s very full ‘authorized’ biography, written with much personal affection, but admirably clear-sighted about its subject. It provides a wealth of detailed typographical information relating to his period.

    Christopher Burke, Paul Renner: the art of typography. London: Hyphen Press, 1998.

    For all their virtues, to my mind none of the biographies of Eric Gill does full justice to his lettering or his type designs. His littleEssay on typography, High Wycombe, 1930 (reprinted 1988, with an introduction by Christopher Skelton), set out his own philosophy on these matters. The Typophiles of New York coaxed the following brief typographical autobiographies from their authors.

    Jan Van Krimpen, On designing and devising type, 1957.

    Hermann Zapf, About alphabets, 1970.

  • Calligraphy and Lettering

    *Nicolete Gray, Lettering on buildings, London, 1960. A brilliant and polemical essay, which critically examined received ideas about lettering. Gray’s other writing about letterforms is also worth looking at, including the more complexHistory of lettering, 1987.

    *Edward Johnston, Writing and illuminating and lettering, London, 1906 (still in print). The classic textbook, which promoted the revival of the use of the broad pen and which coloured the ideas regarding the essential qualities of lettering of a whole generation.

    Claude Mediavilla, Calligraphy. Wommelgen, 1996. A historical work which also includes the work of major 20th-century calligraphers.

    Phil Baines and Catherine Dixon, Signs: lettering in the environment. London: Laurence King, 2003. A useful and wide-ranging overview of public lettering.