In itself this object is iconic. It stands 18cm tall, is as tactile as polished stone and sprayed in gorgeous (and brand) red. The distinctive legend sweeps around the middle. As a sculptural item it is magnificent, and it only cost $2 from my local supermarket here in Australia.
However, I lament the waste. Were I to live in South Australia I could expect a 10c refund at recycling points. However, that is the only State in this country with such a scheme. True, my local council provides recycling bins and I could recycle this empty aluminium container – expect it is too beautiful to discard.
I find myself in a dilemma. On the one hand, I admire the thing with a designer’s passion; on the other I curse the waste of a finite raw material: the sheer labour that went into crafting this $2 throwaway; the energy that went into production and getting it from factory to market. And all for what? The contents are hardly sufficient to quench a sparrow’s thirst let alone an adult’s. What then is it for?
It seems yet another example of our contempt for our world: a side-swipe at the less fortunate, a snub at the weak and the poor by a global conglomerate that soaks up resources with negligent ease.
Yet…it sits on my desk as if a tribute. A tribute to what? To the splendour of the imagination. I temper my indignation with the view that at least this container will be preserved and not lost among the millions of others that either fail to be recycled or are, themselves, placed on the shelves and mantelpieces of morally tortured aesthetes.
So is quoted Eric Gill by Jan Van Krimpen, as noted in Warren Chappell’s A Short History of the Printed Word, which, for those who do not know, is a primer to Updike’s Printing Types. Okay – enough name dropping.
Put Gill’s statement (and at this juncture I do not have a source from Gill’s extensive bibliography) in context and dwell awhile on it. Chappell writes: ‘In late 1957 [blogger's aside: coincidentally the year of my birth: read what y0u will into that - Sibelius passed that year bye the bye], the year before his death, Van Krimpen and I exchanged views on punch-cutting. He wrote that his own engraver, Helmuth Raedisch, with whom he had worked for 30 years, “has grown, alas, more and more polished”. I regretted that our postal colloquy could not have continued, for it seemed to me he must have recognised that his own tight style of working allowed little opportunity for a punch-cutter to make his particular contribution. Van Krimpen quoted Gill: “Letters are things, not pictures of things,” and it is exactly that distinction that has been sorely tried today, time and time again.’
Interested in punch-cutting? Go here for a previous blog on Edward Prince.
U&lc was a typographic magazine published by the International Typeface Corporation between 1973 and 1999. During the early 1990s I was fortunate to be on the subscription list, with the illustrations shown here coming from the magazine’s 20th anniversary issue (northern Spring, 1993), appropriately showcasing the letter X (and double X). The page size is 27.70cm by 37.70cm.
The original founding team in 1973 (Herb Lubalin, Aaron Burns and Ed Rondthaler) stated in the magazine’s inaugural editorial: ‘U&lc will provide a panoramic window, a showcase for the world of graphic arts – a clearinghouse for the international exchange of ideas and information’. Such tasks are now achieved through the web. But how much nicer to have a permanent record of type design printed on paper, gracefully ageing at the edges, likely to disintegrate one day (the paper was newsprint stock), yet full of vigour.
[See here for a blog and archive of the magazine.]
So wrote Simon-Pierre Fournier (1764) in his Manuel Typographique, a phrase deeply admired by Vincent Steer who I have briefly mentioned previously in the pages of this blog (see here). Steer was by training a compositor and as Moran writes in ‘Fit to be styled a Typographer’: A history of the Society of Typographic Designers, 1928 – 1978 sought to be ‘acknowledged as a typographer’.
Let Steer put it his own way (from Printing Design and Layout: The manual for printers, typographers and all designers and users of printing and advertising): ‘A layout which is intended for submission to the customer must, in the first place, be carefully executed. While there is no need for meticulously finished lettering, it should convey a very near impression of the final result in type.’ And he gives this as an example.
This is an art long lost.
Steer was a founding member and past president of The Society of Typographic Designers, now the ISTD.
Bradbury Thompson (1911 – 1995) did much for graphic, book and postage stamp design during the 20th century. I came across him recently when I purchased from a second-hand bookshop his 1988 The Art of Graphic Design, from which the accompanying illustrations are taken. He was intimately involved with the Westvaco Corporation, a US-based paper manufacturer, and this led to many fruitful collaborations, including Homage to the Book.
In the introduction to The Art… he concludes:
‘This volume can provide only a time-lapse camera glimpse of an involvement with the graphic arts. Yet it is hoped that the retrospective may inspire thoughts about possible rewards with typography as a tool, a toy, and a teacher in the graphic design of this computer age’.
Follow this link to the fascinating, important and priceless Type Archive of London. The Type Archive holds the UK’s National Typefounding Collection, including material from Stephenson Blake, Monotype Corporation and wood letter patterns from Robert DeLittle. If you live in or near London the collection can be viewed in Lambeth.
This post begins with the discovery of a copy of Image: 5 from a secondhand bookseller in Sydney, Australia last month. The issue was devoted to English wood engraving and contains many fine examples of the craft. But I am less interested in that than in the man who edited the journal (and before that Alphabet & Image) - Robert Harling (1910 – 2008). Obituaries at the time of his passing make note of his relationship with Ian Fleming, both men sharing a passion for life and literature: Fleming secured, if that’s the right word, a job for Harling in the second world war, later using him as a character in one of his novels (The Spy Who Loved Me). Harling also turned his hand to fiction publishing several novels based on what was then Fleet Street, the centre of the newspaper industry in the UK. Later he worked with the renowned Sunday Times editor Harold Evans.
But it’s Harling as a typographer that I wish to write. He knew Eric Gill, visiting him at Pigotts (see here for a blog on that place) and commissioning articles for the precursor to Alphabet & Image, Typography. Hence, he was a perfect fit to write that wonderful book The Letter Forms And Type Designs Of Eric Gill, published in 1976, an expanded version of pieces published first in Alphabet & Image.
Not that Harling was an uncritical devotee. In an article printed in The Penrose Annual XXXIX (1937) he writes of Gill’s Kayo: ‘Kayo is a dismal type. In the hands of a skilful typographer it could probably be made to do a good-hearted, gargantuan job very well. In the hands of jobbing printers scattered throughout England it will be just plain MURDER. The type was originally named Double Elefans, which had a very pleasant touch of the lampoon about it. The new name, Kayo, is too horribly truthful. It will be popular from John o’Groat’s to Land’s End, but it will be a return to the popularity of the types of Thorne and Thorowgood in that grim mid-nineteenth century. Typographical historians of 2000 AD (which isn’t, after all, so very far away) will find this odd outburst in Mr Gill’s career, and will spend much time in attempting to track down this sad psychological state of his during 1936.’