Type & Type-Making History and Design

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This set of Notebooks is organized around the unfashionable assumption that the core of typemaking is the activity of making type.

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By Way of Explanation

See also A Heretic's Guide to Type.

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Why Are there No "Type Designers" Here?

Why is there no category for "type designers" here, when today everyone with a taste for the graphic arts wants to be a Type Designer in the great tradition from Gutenberg to Goudy? Because I have come to believe that the job description of "Type Designer" is a contemporary concept which did not exist until near the end of the metal type era, and that even after "Type Designers" started to be identified, to impose this category on the complex process of the making of letterpress printing types is to distort that process.

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How Do We Know?

How do we know what little we do know about the people involved in the making of type?

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The History of the History of Type

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Question: When did the History of Type start?

Answer: 1885.

What? Today we learn a well-established history of type (here meaning the visual aspects of typographical letterforms). Everybody knows it; it has its canon: Aldus and Griffo, Jenson, Grandjean, Caslon, Baskerville, Bodoni (now out of favor), and the rest. This standard history is taught as if it always existed, and there's good reason for a student of type to assume that it has. After all, a knowledge of other arts was an important part of a full education through most history since the Renaissance. You weren't really a Gentleman in the 18th century unless you knew about painting, poetry, and architecture. Surely you also knew about type.

Except you didn't. There are a few cases of works acknowledging typographical letterforms before the late 19th century, and even a couple of cases where type-as-type came to the popular attention. But these are in no way a part of the history of type as we now teach and learn it. The History of Type that we know was invented, deliberately, by a very few people in the decade or so following 1885 (with minor refinements through the 1930s). Most of them did so in the service of other causes (most notably two conflicting ones: social reform and business profits), not becaue of any underlying Truth in the letterforms.

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Not So Bad After All

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Graphic designers have been (and are still) taught that certain eras of type and printing were inherently bad (the "depths" of 17th century printing, Victorian "monstrosities," etc.) Most often, though, if you trace the origins of these notions they come down to a need to sell new type. You can sell a lot more Caslon Old Face if you establish Caslon I as the Saviour of English Typography, and to do that you must identify type and printing before him as bad enough to need saving. In looking at the history of type by actually looking at examples of it (not textbook opinions about it), I find that in broad terms printers and typefounders have always been conscientious practitioners of their trade. Good printing has been characteristic of every era, and much of what has been identified as "bad," such as Victorian display types, is better seen as very fine indeed.

This study will draw upon the survey of physical examples of Typography through the Decades collected within A Typographer's Florilegium.

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The Path Cut Short: Graphic Design 1900-1939

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Just as students today are taught a canonical History of Type, so they are taught how our graphic design developed through the first half of the 20th Century. But if you actually bother to read material published during this period to look for material outside of the textbooks examples, you find something quite strange: it isn't there.

Now, it may be argued that our received History of Graphic Design highlights the struggle against the Bad Old Days, and no doubt even the designers involved at the time thought that they were fighting this good fight. But this argument is hollow. It's an argument of the victors, who having conquered a land claim that there never were any indigenous inhabitants in the first place.

The design for printing that was actually being done in the first half of the 20th century wasn't just some remnant of earlier bad practice. It was a vibrant and distinct field of design with its own principles and practices. It was a valid aesthetic movement in its own right.

Yet after the horror of World War II (65 to 85 million people killed in six years), the need to rebuild in a radically new way was overwhelming. A relatively small group was able to take over American (and in post-war reality, thus International) design and present a clean and above all cheaply buildable kind of design.

That's just fine; there's always something new. But instead of just taking over, they took over and erased the past - the tactics of every two-bit dictator in history. They presented their own history to 1939, which was in reality just a minor and more than slightly lunatic fringe, as the history of Graphic Design.

Graphic design as it was really done in the first half of the 20th century is entirely different from anything you'll find in the textbook histories of that period today. It was a path cut short. It is well worth rediscovering.

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The People Who Made (and Make) Type

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Punch, Patrix, and Matrix Makers

Hand and machine punch cutters and engravers, hand and machine patrix cutters and engravers, matrix engravers, matrix electroformers, and matrix justifiers. These are the people who made the matrices which made the types which permitted modern media culture, yet to the best of my knowledge no even remotely comprehensive list of them exists. Some of them were also letterform designers, but since I privilege making physical things over drawing, I'll place them here. At least one ( Linn Boyd Benton) was also an engineer and works manager.

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Type Casters

Those who actually cast type, by hand or machine, are even less well known that the makers of matrices - yet without them there would have been no type at all. Here I'll cover those few who are known (when they were exclusively casters; certainly a number of Punch, Patrix, and Matrix Makers were also competent at hand or machine casting).

I'll also include here the proprietors of various smaller type foundries (primarily more recent ones) who were also ther own chief type casters. (Examples include Schuyler Shipley, the late Brian Hubbard, and the late John Eickhoff.)

There were several other trades, some skilled and some unskilled, involved with the dressing, finishing, inspecting, and fonting of type. These are important roles in any typefoundry, yet I despair of learning anything at all about the people involved in them.

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Type Drafters

In studying types made in the hand punchcutting era, it is not uncommon to consider some famous figure to whom the design of a type has been attributed and ask "but did not his punchcutter contribute greatly, in interpreting his design." In this way, we raise the status of the punchcutter (and are happy to do so because hand punchcutting has been given an aura of mystery that it never possessed when it was an everyday craft).

Yet when we consider the 20th century equivalent of the hand punchcutter - the drawing office personnel without whom there would have been no path from letterform design to matrix making - we do not grant them equivalent status. Instead, we denigrate them as villains, obstructing with their French curves and T-squares the true artistic expression of the capital-D Designers. This is manifestly unfair, as their work in the creation of type was as important as that of anyone else. Drawing office personnel created the actual forms of every commercial type made in the metal type era. Yet while it is possible to identify several dozen punch/patrix/matrix makers, we know the names of only a very few type drafters.

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Engineers, Works Managers, and Owners

Of type and matrix making plants.

As 20th century typefounding was an industrial undertaking, the roles played by those who did not themselves make punches, matrices, or types but "merely" designed the machines and managed (or owned) the manufacturing plants and matrix departments are important. Yet they remain largely unknown (with only a few exceptions, such as Barth for Cincinnati/ATF or Pierpont for English Monotype). There is of course an overlap here with Punch, Patrix and Matrix Makers and in a very few cases with Letterform Designers (e.g., Pierpont).

Until its period of decline with the advent of corporatist culture after WWII, the type industry was characterized by a remarkable number of administrators who were also competent technical people. So for the most part, I'll include administrators (all the way up to owners and capitalists) here. But there will be exceptions. Also, because we know so little of the daily activities of many of these people, it is certain that I've made errors of classification (or that reality breaks my classifications). For example, Morris Fuller Benton will be found here, because while he was certainly a great student of type (and thus would fit in Type Scholars and Collectors and probably also a Letterform Designer, he was trained as an engineer and excelled in the role of manager of the type-making process. By way of contrast, while Stanley Morison occupied a role at (English) Monotype which was in many ways very similar to M.F. Benton's, I've put him in Type Scholars and Collectors. This is perhaps unfair. But we're dealing here with people who had many talents and many roles; any categorization of them is bound to fail.

Note: Especially in our own age after the demise of mainstream hot metal type there are a number of smaller type foundries owned and managed by their chief casterman. In honor of the importance, too long neglected, of the casterman, I've tended to file these people under Type Casters, above. (Examples include Schuyler Shipley, the late Brian Hubbard, and the late John Eickhoff.)

Note: Wood type fits poorly into my organizational scheme, largely because my own focus is on metal type. But there were strong links between the two industries. Most of the better-known figures in the wood type industry (e.g., Wells, Page, and Hamilton) are here because, as Rob Roy Kelly notes, they were businessmen who had "an inherent knack for working with machinery." ( {Kelly}, p. 49)

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Letterform Designers

This is what most people think "Type Design" is. It is not. The art of drawing new letterforms is only one aspect of the making of type, and considered in itself it is frequently more closely associated with the entirely independent traditions of lettering.

Insofar as it is possible, I wish here to sketch out the links between letterform designers and the many other people involved in making type. Very few people could actually do it all.

Notes: I'll put Goudy here, even though he came very close to being able to do the entire process. He would himself, I think, have considered the drawing of letterforms to be his primary role. Yet he was also a pattern and matrix engraver, a type caster, and the manager of his own typefoundry. The only thing he really didn't do was the difficult process of judgement and revision in fitting and lining necessary to produce a fully commercial series of types. (Paradoxically, this was because he could do almost everything. Because he was his own casterman, he could make decisions "hot" on the caster which were not then folded back into the type design. We have good evidence that it could take a full year of work to turn Goudy letterform designs into commercial type.)

For designers who operated primarily at the level of the page or the book, as well as printers who could actually make pages and books, see the CircuitousRoot Notebooks on The History of Printing. (But because they also designed letterforms, Bruce Rogers (the quintessential, and nearly the original, designer) and William Addison Dwiggins will be found in this present Notebook on Letterform Designers. It's hard to categorize people with many talents.)

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Type Scholars & Collectors

The ultimate preservation of any field is due largely to the initial efforts by individual enthusiasts to save it when it is still unfashionable and being thrown away. Without these collectors and scholars, we would have and know very little indeed.

Also a few people in management at various foundries and matrix manufacturers who, from non-engineering roles, were part of type making (e.g., Stanley Morison, Stevens L. Watts).

Also others who don't quite fit in elsewhere, including non-graphic artists whose works/installations precipitated the making of type.

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Types as Made

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21st Century New Metal Type

Newly designed metal type continues to be made today. This is a list of new types which have been created since 2001.

See also the List of Current Type Foundries for the casting of new type to existing designs.

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An Incomplete Typeface Index

[DEEPLY INCOMPLETE; probably the messiest part of this entire messy website] When was it made? Who made the matrices? For whom were they made? Who cast it? Who designed it? Why was it made: in what context? in response to what? What was its position in relation to similar products of other manufacturers? What were its design sources/antecedents?

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Bibliography (Type Design)

[NOT REALLY UP TO DATE] That is, bibliography for design and the history of design of types and letterform designs for use in types (but not of lettering qua lettering). For the bibiliography of the history of type and matrix making per se, see ../ Making Printing Matrices & Type -> Bibliography. (There is some overlap between the two, of course.)

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[NOTE TO SELF: Work through Lawson's Anatomy of a Typeface and Carter's Twentieth Century Type Designers to try to nail down the details of the types from the point of view of punchcutting, matrix engraving, and making type or matrices.]

[FURTHER TEXTS TO CROSSLINK:]