concept to publication

Category: typography Page 2 of 4

David Godine on Bruce Rogers

Elsewhere I mentioned recently that the David R. Godine blog has been a dispirited creature, with few and meager posts. I am happy to report that it has now been infused with new dedication and spark, and I am informed by both David Godine and Daniel Pritchard at the press that they are resolved to maintain the blog at a high level going forward.

For about the past week substantial posts have been coming almost daily. Yesterday featured a generous commentary on Bruce Rogers, the great American typographer best known for designing the neo-Venetian typeface Centaur.

Appreciating Tschichold

jan tschichold, 1926

Jan Tschichold is one of the inescapable figures in twentieth-century typoraphy. This photo was taken in 1926. Richard Hollis has written an appreciation, called “Jan Tschichold: Titan of Typography,” in the Guardian. Although Hollis’s article does not attempt much analysis or evaluation of Tschichold’s work, it does present another angle of approach to one of the most influential typographers of modern times.

What typeface says “Bali”?

“BALI” is a word that poses some problems typographically. The wide BA combination makes a lot of white space, while the LI tends to be narrow and sticklike. Furthermore, nobody seems to sure what kind of type connotes Bali. (You can confirm this by searching Amazon for books with “Bali” in the title — not many are great.)

I’m starting to think about this for a book that is more than a year off (maybe this is a way of avoiding current projects!). I like the way the word looks with some of the sans serif faces, like Avenir, but when I tested this on a few readers (notably, the author) none of them preferred this treatment.

Right now (and this is very preliminary) I’m here:

The Neon Boneyard

jackpot modern at the neon boneyard

This great photo is from a series by Andy Clymer devoted to Las Vegas’s Neon Beonyard, where neon signs go to die be preserved for posterity.

The Boneyard, according to Jonathan Hoefler of Hoefler & Frere-Jones, is “a project of the Neon Museum, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation and study of one of the nation’s great lettering traditions, the neon boneyard is of course located in the Las Vegas desert: an ideal climate for preservation, and convenient to the center of the energetic neon carnage of the 21st century.”


Ghost type: Brignole Estate General Merchandise

ghost type: general merchandise

I wonder how old this ghost type is. Located on an old building in historic Sutter Creek in Amador County in California’s Sierra Nevada (the town takes its name from John A. Sutter, who owned the sawmill where gold was found in January 1848), it reads “Brignole Estate General Merchandise.”

According to a history of Amador County published in 1927, “Bartholomeo Brignole … an energetic and scholarly young Italian, came to California in 1850, and mined successfully in the hills about Jackson and Sutter Creek, returning to Italy to claim his bride, afterward establishing their home in Sutter Creek in 1863. In that year, the business was founded where it is today, and is the oldest active mercantile establishment in Sutter Creek. ”

So the store was still operating in 1927 — but for how long afterward?


When kerning goes bad

bad kerning


via Cosmopoetica


A Spanish Renaissance calligraphy manual

Arte Subtilissima, por la Qual se Enseña a Escreuir Perfectamente' (The most delicate art of teaching a perfect hand), 1550 by Juan de Icíar

The resourceful peacay at BibliOdyssey, who seems to spend most of his waking hours rummaging through the online archives of libraries and museums searching for scans from old books, has found another gem in Arte Subtilissima, por la Qual se Enseña a Escreuir Perfectamente (The most delicate art of teaching a perfect hand), 1550, by Juan de Icíar (Juan de Yciar) with engravings by Jean de Vingles.

Iciar’s Arte Subtilissima, peacay observes, introduced the chancery script (cancelleresca corsiva) to Spain “and although it is described as a copybook, it is more intended as a manual for an engraver rather than the hand scribe.”


More illustrations from the manual here


Fonts for sale at the Museum of Printing

If you’re anywhere around North Andover, MA, you might want to check these out. The sale runs through August 28.


Ghost type: borated talcum toilet powder

ghost type near harper's ferry, west virginia

I’m not sure how the advertiser managed to put this copy on a nearly sheer cliff high above the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers near Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia.

Much as I wanted to think they were promoting baking powder, considering the location’s unfortunate history I figured this was probably an ad for gunpowder or blasting powder (some of the words almost come into focus for me and then fade away). But to my surprise, now that I have internet I read that it was in fact an ad for “”Mennen’s Borated Talcum Toilet Powder.

The typeface is a little compressed and has a stencil quality. According to the National Park Service, it dates from 1903-1906. I guess it’s probably a little older than the ghost type from Baltimore that I posted a while ago.

The cliff with the sign is just to the left of the area shown in this image:

shenandoah river near harper's ferry, west virginia



Ghost type: coal tar products

ghost type: coal tar products

Rightreading has been on the road for a while, and mostly without an internet connection. I’ve encountered some interesting ghost type on my travels, such as this example from Baltimore’s Fell Point district. I figured this type was pretty old because of the small counters, a notion that was confirmed when I finally made out the first word and realized this building was advertising “coal tar products.” What is a coal tar product?


Helvetica clip

Here’s a short section from the documentary Helvetica, by Gary Hustwit. This section features a brief interview with Erik Spiekermann.

2002 honest fonts

honest fonts

Why pay for fonts when you can get them free, right?

This site features fonts that really stand out in a crowd. Honest!

But sometimes honesty can be harsh.


How have new technologies affected book design and typography?

Caduceus asks that question at MetaFilter, and IndiaInk has started a thread in reply.

There have, of course, been many effects. some good, others not so good. Caduceus is probably asking for practical advice on using new technologies and media, but the question could also be answered in a broader sense. Following are a few consequences of new technologies that come immediately to mind.

  1. Maybe the most significant result of new design and printing technologies is just that publishing has become more affordable. I think it was Ben Franklin who said “Freedom of the press belongs to those who own one.” Through the centuries printing and publishing required a significant investment that kept the industry in the control of an exclusive group of specialists. That has changed and now anyone can easily and cheaply publish a book (although promoting, marketing, and selling it remain difficult).
    Print on demand and short run printing have also made it possible to keep books in print that formerly could not have been reprinted because of the expense of a conventional reprint, which penalizes short runs with very high unit costs. These technologies make self-publishing (or at least self-printing) economically viable.
  2. Word processing has changed the way texts are written and edited. Authors used to resort to elaborate strategies to make revisions. Evan Connell, for example, used to retype passages and then attach the new sheets with windows cut out of the pages where he wanted the original text to remain. Today revising and moving words, passages, and even chapters is so simple that the text is rarely a continuous stream, like that championed by Kerouac, for example, and instead is more like a snowflake, with elaborations being worked on all sides around the core idea.
  3. Regarding typography, rather than working with a limited set of font sizes (in the hot type era, one often had to make do with a very restrictive font set), designers now have a nearly seamless continuum of sizes and widths to work with. It also used to be difficult to set type in anything but a rectangularly block — now limitless effects can be achieved quickly and easily. This gives designers and layout people extraordinary freedom to create spectacular results — or to screw up spectacularly.
  4. New type formats have enormously multiplied the number of typefaces available, at a low cost compared to previous technologies. There was a time when typesetters might spend years working with only one or two typefaces — whose qualities they would come to know intimately — but today people flit from one face to another, in the same work, or page, or even sentence. While the principles of good typography remain largely unchanged, type families and traditions have have become kaleidoscopically confounded.
    Typography was formerly a craft that was highly constrained by tradition — probably master-apprentice lineages of typesetters could be worked out, much as Melissa Rinne has traced lineages of bamboo artists — whereas today relatively few people working with type are educated in the craft’s traditions.
  5. The integrity of the image has been sacrificed for ease of production and the graphic artist’s command of effects. Digital photography and low-cost digital scanning have reduced the cost of photographing and printing in color, and images and texts are more integrated than they used to be and can be moved and modified together. Image manipulation is easy and can produce effects that were previously almost unimaginable. Photographs are no longer authoritative. Images are tweaked and modified at nearly every stage of production and in nearly every instance of use, making image authorship itself problemmatic.

In sum, more flexible and affordable printing and publishing options are available than in the past, with a lower bar to entry. On balance this is good, but it means that a large percentage of work is amateur in nature. Writers rush to print before their work has matured or their texts have been sufficiently edited. Books are produced that are so painful to look at they are effectively unreadable, never mind the text.

Amateurs can, of course, produce first-rate work, but the very ease with which a book can be produced makes it unlikely that many people will educate themselves on the qualities that distinguish well-made books. Probably more excellent works are being created than ever before, but as readers we are drowning in a sea of pabulum, and finding those instances of excellence becomes challenging.


Photo Wednesday: woodtype figures

woodtype figures

This image of woodtype figures sorts at the Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, is from Nick Sherman‘s photostream.


A quick history of typography

The Porchez Type Foundry has restored a former feature of its site, a whirlwind tour of the history of typography. It says on the site that “This history, normally told from the Anglo-Saxon point of view, is from a French perspective, allowing the reader to form one’s own opinion.” It’s not evident to me what is particularly French about this history, but maybe it will become clearer in the second part, to be released soon, on twentieth century and contemporary fonts.

porchez type history


Better dot those i’s and cross those t’s!

Turkish cellphone storeWhy? Well consider the case of Emine and Ramazan Çalçoban. Theirs was a fatal love affair. But it was hardly Romeo and Juliet.

In the beginning all was sunbeams and roses for this young Turkish couple. But then things started to go bad, and get worse, and finally they separated. A flurry of e-mail incriminations followed, and finally Ramazan in frustration complained to Emine, “You change the topic every time you run out of arguments.”

Unfortunately, Emine’s cellphone didn’t have available the dotless i character that was needed to properly read Ramazan’s sksnca(run out of arguments); instead, she read the word in his message as sikisince, forming the sentence “You change the topic every time they fuck you.”

And that’s the message Emine showed to her father, who immediately called Ramazan and accused him of calling his daughter a prostitute. When Ramazan hurried over to apologize, he met an entire family armed with sharpened knives. Ramazan was seriously wounded, but he struck back, killing Emine; later, he committed suicide in jail.

See, typography matters.


via Gizmodo
(image borrowed from this page)


A rather difficult font game

difficult type game

Typeheads might want to try the Rather Difficult Type Game. I scored 32 out of 34 (didn’t notice which two I missed). Most of the questions can be figured out by elimination, but it kept asking me about typefaces like Affair and Yanone Kaffeesatz, about which I know nothing.


Insert tab A into slot B

How did the order of letters in the Western alphabet get so firmly established that there are more similarities than differences between such languages as Latin (a, b, c), Greek (alpha, beta, gamma), Arabic (alif, b?’, t?), Hebrew (aleph, bet, gimel), and so on? As Jonathan Hoefler at Hoefler & Frere-Jones observes, the order can be traced back 3,500 years to the Ugaritic alpa, beta, gamla.

Part of the answer might lie in the use of letters to indicate the assembly of parts in construction projects. Witness this passage, which Hoefler came across in Peter T. Daniels and William Bright, eds., The World’s Writing Systems, Oxford University Press, 1996

Ancient Near Easterners used fitters’ marks, single letters of the alphabet apparently used to indicate the order in which various building materials are to be assembled. Various decorative ivory pieces from Nimrud, Iraq, were letter-coded to show the order in which they were to be inserted into furniture. In a temple at Petra, Jordan, archaeologists found “large, individually letter-coded, ashlar blocks spread along the floor of [a] room … in the temple structure.” In a 1971 salvage expedition of a ship downed off Marsala, Italy, Honor Frost discovered “letters at key places where wood was to be joined … the ship assembly [was thus] a colossal game of carpentry by letters, like a modern paint-by-numbers project.”


Shown: Artist’s reconstruction of the palace at Nimrud



19th-century printing press

Typographia: An Historical Sketch of the Origin and Progress of the Art of Printing was published in 1825, “Printed for Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy.” The author was Thomas Curson Hansard. The book is now available as a Google scan. Its musty pages contain some information that has been largely forgotten. Here’s a passage offering some insight into the life and character of the typographer William Caslon.

character of william caslon

As you can see, like many nineteenth-century books, this one, despite its topic, is not a good example of the typographic arts.

Is it too technologically difficult or time-consuming for the texts of these public domain books to be rendered by Google as texts rather than graphics? In this respect Project Gutenberg is far superior.

Font stars

font stars of 2007

FontShop has a nice offer for anyone wanting to freshen up their typeface collection. Called FontStars 2007, it includes 29 OpenType fonts from 14 foundries at a discounted price ($599 for the lot). It’s a judicious selection that includes six text fonts and eleven display fonts. Shown below are Anziano from OurType, Amalia from Fountain, Clan from FontFont, and Seravek from Process Type Foundry.

Anziano is a kind of laconic old style face that has much of the character of a Venetian typeface but streamlines the serifs and outlines in a modern-seeming way. Amalia is a sharp-edged text serif that brings a fresh approach. Clan is an entry in the squarish sans serif category that comes in a range of weights. Seravek is a really handsome linear sans serif. Check out the FontStars webpage to see more.

The downside of the package is that you only get some of the fonts from each type family. You get the basic regular, bold, and italic fonts, but if you want the Anziano alternates or a larger range of Clan weights, for example, you will need to buy them separately.

four text typefaces

Page 2 of 4

Some rights reserved 2022 Right Reading. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons (attribution, noncommercial, no derivs: 3.0) License (US), although some of the work this blog incorporates may be separately licensed. Text and images by Thomas Christensen unless otherwise noted. For print permissions or other inquiries please request via