Written by Virginia Woolf in the essay Craftsmanship (1937). She is writing of how words convey so many fleeting images that it is difficult to disassociate from the living author. She continues: ‘Only after the writer is dead do his words to some extent become disinfected, purified of the accidents of the living body’. It is a fine essay and much deserving to be read entire. My copy comes from The Death of the Moth and Other Essays (Penguin, 1961), though the original edition was published in 1942 (Hogarth Press).
As much as I admire Woolf as a writer it is her reference to the typewriter that got me thinking. Got me thinking just as I chanced across a book in a charity shop on Shorthand and Typewriting (International Correspondence Schools, London, n.d) from which the accompanying illustrations are taken. It, too, is a good read (in parts). For instance there is vital information on Establishing a Copying Office: ‘Many typists find it profitable to conduct a copying office. Even in the smallest towns there is a great deal of typewriting work to be obtained from lawyers, clerks of courts, architects, contractors, merchants, doctors, authors, ministers, politicians, and others, whose patronage may be secured by soliciting their orders through the medium of a perfectly typed letter and price list. It is often possible to make arrangements with the owner of an office whereby the typist can have a desk in the office in exchange for certain services as a shorthand-typist. In this way a connection may be worked up without much expense.’ Sound advice.
And in the business section this: ‘A married woman usually takes her husband’s Christian name, as Mrs William Dawson, unless the husband is the eldest son of the family, in which case she takes precedence and is addressed as Mrs Dawson’.
Got me thinking too about the history of the typewriter, an instrument that has played such an important role in the development of the industrial world. Among all my books I found scant mention. There must be a History somewhere, but I don’t have it and I am not so lazy as to do a web search. I much prefer to stumble across books in the bookstore, secondhand bookseller or, as with Shorthand and Typewriting, the charity shop. (See here for my post on the demise of the secondhand bookshop.)
However, not surprisingly Typewriter Art (I have mentioned this before and you can go to the post here) did gloss on the antecedents. ‘An American,’ it states, ‘Christoper Lathan Sholes, is widely held to be the inventor of the first practical typewriter. His machine, perfected in the early 1870s, was bought by E Remington & Sons, gunsmiths of Ilion, New York, and put on the market in 1874.’ It goes on to note that the introduction of the typewriter ‘… has transformed business and created the largest female workforce in history, the monstrous regiment of typewriters.’ And while that ‘monstrous regiment’ may have passed into history what are computers but the modern equivalent, the keyboard the same, the drudgery not so different for many.
In the world of typography Monotype didn’t miss a trick and produced matrices in both the conventional and the IBM format as shown here.
People still remain fascinated by Gill. WordPress stats reveal the posts I have written about him are the most frequently visited. As many of you know I abhor the man Eric Gill after years spent in shameful admiration of his letter carving. Were EG alive today he would face prosecution for, among other offences, child sexual abuse and incest.
That aside, recently I had an email from Louis-Jack Horton-Stephens who is making a film about two Gills – one typographers have heard, the other a guy by the name of Jack who climbed the stones his namesake carved.
Louis-Jack writes: ‘The film is a visual essay entitled ‘Gill & Gill‘ that explores humanity’s relationship with stone by juxtaposing two masters of their craft: one of rock climbing, the other of letter cutting. The film looks at the way these two very different practices, united by a common material, share basic principles such as: creativity, problem solving, dedication, muscle memory and balance. Through this unusual comparison I believe that we can come to better understand the artistry in both crafts, and in so doing reflect on humanity’s relationship with the material world.’
Louis-Jack is seeking funds to make and complete his film. If you are interested in knowing more please follow this link
Many years ago now I was an archaeologist. I studied academically and went into the field though I never practised the art. However, I maintain a fascination in the process of discovery through the peeling back of layers, and by the peeling back the discovery of knowledge.
This too can be done with something at first sight as mundane as the tea bag, or, more strictly, the container in which the tea bag is enclosed. There is also something here to be said about the lure of packaging. Why, for instance, do I choose this brand over others on the supermarket shelf? Does the typography draw me in? Consider that nice interplay of calligraphy in the tail of the y in Quality embracing the word tea. Ah, I can smell the blackness of it already. Maybe too the way Lipton is nicely announced within a border. It speaks of prestige – a badge fit to be forged in brass and screwed permanently to a wooden chest that once might have taken the tea from its origin in India to the land of plenty and of hope and of demos – England.
But no. It is the colour. That yellow and red captivate the eye. That is why I buy Lipton (also it is one of the cheapest, yet not THE cheapest). Lipton exudes quality. And note, in the top right corner a logo certifying this tea as Rainforest Alliance. Now what exactly does that mean? Being green in colour this logo must be good. It says this tea has passed certain tests and measures set up by this or that group. I feel good about that too. Why, I have cheap tea (but not THE cheapest) and it is Rainforest Alliance certified. Great.
Wait a moment. As I dig into the packet I find myself confronted by a redundancy of packaging. As an archaeologist I am used to having to peel away layers in search of the evidence I seek. In this case I seek tea. I do not seek cellophane. I do not seek foil. I do not seek more thin card. At each obstacle I rebel. Lipton promotes, as it may, Rainforest Certified tea. Why not also Packaging free Alliance tea?
If like me you are disgusted at the amount of wasteful packaging then please let us begin a campaign. Less packaging, more tress, less landfill, a greener world. Our grandparents managed buying tea loose and in a paper container. Why not us?
There are times when lettering is not enough, when a stone beckons with another voice. So it was with this piece created slowly over the past three months. The sandstone (from Queensland, Australia) has lain in my garden many years. I picked it up one day, rectangular in form and placed it on the bench. To my mind I saw a fish and, though I had never carved one before, felt a compulsion. It came to being as the weeks went by. Then I used gold for the tail (only on one side as I did not have enough for both) and patinated copper for the base. The piece has energy, nicely displayed in the late afternoon light. I am happy. I think this fish may swim eternally.
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.]