Street signage is all about readability: is about ensuring the viewer understands the pictogram. When UK road signs were being redesigned in the 1960s by Calvert and Kinnier there was a clear imperative to ensure there was no ambiguity. However, some 50 plus years later, in Brisbane, Qld, Australia I encounter this:
What does it mean? And why the lettering? And why no feet?
I have written at some length on this blog over the years about the man known as Eric Gill. [See here and here and here for example – there are others too.] I am motivated to add to the already swollen record by an article in The Observer of London by Rachel Cook headlined Eric Gill: can we separate the artist from the abuser? I recommend you follow this link and read the (very long) essay.
To clear up one point. Cooke writes: ‘Eric Gill, long dead and widely considered to be one of the greatest and most influential British artists of the 20th century…’.
Who considers this statement to be true? What is the source for this assertion? Gill was and never will be considered ‘one of the greatest and most influential British artists of the 20th century’. In my opinion, Gill was a sculptor of repetitive talents; however, Gill was a fine letter-carver and useful typographer.
He was also a paedophile, as I have stated in the past. My conflict is that I was heavily influenced by his work as a stonemason, letter-carver and for a long period of time actually sourced his material and went on a sort of pilgrimage to Pigotts [see here].
I will not be able to visit the new exhibition at Ditchling – for those in the UK who can please do and please comment here on your thoughts/reactions. Many artists, perhaps the majority, do, as one observes at the end of Cooke’s essay, have a ‘…libidinous drive…’ and this charges their work – think of Lucian Freud for instance. But this is no excuse for the man Gill.
In Gill’s singular case I argue that, no, it is not possible to separate artist from abuser, neither should we. Yes, there needs to be full transparency in the Ditchling exhibition; and yes, young adults, do need to be told of his incestuous relationships and be told his daughters, and others, were victims (please don’t dodge this by using the politically correct ‘those who experienced abuse’) of his abuse.
Your comments welcome.
Simon Griffin, writing in Fucking Apostrophes, [Icon Books, London, 2016] observes that ‘Geoffroy [sic] Tory is considered one of the people responsible for introducing it [the apostrophe] to the French language in the 15th century’ (p.16).
A disputable claim given that Tory’s Champ Fleury wasn’t published until 1529. Nevertheless, turning to that volume, Tory himself writes: ‘…if it should happen that one has occasion to write in Attic letters such verses, wherein the S should disappear, one may write them clearly & wittingly without putting the said letter S where it might be lost, and put an apostrophe over the place where the S should be. This apostrophe, being above the line at the end of a word, signifies that some vowel or an S has been dropped because of the metrical quantity of the vowel that follows it in the next syllable or word’ (trans. George B Ives, Dover edition, 1967, p.138).
Tory elaborates on the letter S itself, noting its Greek origin and that it makes ‘a hissingsound, of the same quality that red-hot iron makes when it is dipped in water’ (ibid, p.139). He goes on to note how a letter S (sigma in ancient Greek) represents silence ‘…for which reason the ancients often wrote it alone above the door of the place where they ate and drank with their good friends; in order to put it before their eyes that such words as they should speak at table must be spoken soberly & listened to in silence; which cannot be if there be excess in eating and drinking, which are things not meet for decency at table & for pleasant company’ (ibid, p.139).
Piece of street typography taken from a train parked at Ashfield, Sydney, Australia. I present it as a record only since in a few years, who knows, this building may have been demolished or new ownership may have erased the lettering.
It’s 1957 and those at Penguin, namely Allen Lane, had a problem. The imprint was becoming so successful that print runs of some 50,000 were necessary to keep costs down and the paperbacks affordable. However, Allen Lane also wanted to publish original titles: and the market for these was often small, much smaller than the popular titles that kept the firm afloat (these were the post-war years, years of austerity). Think of the number of formes kept locked up in metal on the hunch a quick re-print might be required. Therefore, film-setting was investigated and Private Angelo became the first book (in England) to be printed entirely on film.
This is recorded in Penrose Annual vol.52 (1958). An article by L.S.F. Elsbury, manager, Fotosetter division, Intertype Ltd., Slough, Bucks, explains: ‘The book chosen was Eric Linklater’s Private Angelo. Sir Allen Lane decided at once to print, apart from the trade edition, a special edition of 2000 copies as a Christmas gift from him and his brother to friends in the trade. Designed by Hans Schmoller, a charming book has been produced. The text is printed on bible paper, the volume is bound in Linson vellum printed in two colours with the spine lettered in gold, and there are special end-papers by David Gentleman.’
Mr Elsbury concludes in [restrained and English-like] rapture: ‘This, then, is a step forward in a new adventure…It may give a new standard of quality to the graphic arts and, if it should be widely used, the combination of filmsetting and offset reproduction could become one of the means to help the industry keep pace with the progress of our times.’
Anyone have a copy of the original limited edition?
[Also referenced: Fifty Penguin Years, Penguin Books, 1985.]
It’s that time of year again – time for the ‘famous‘ All About Lettering Quiz that comes without a Prize – just the quiet satisfaction that in correctly answering you, dear reader, know one hell of a lot about typography and the printing arts!
So, who is illustrated here and what is wrong with the image, according to one historian?
1 January: Thank you to all readers who took up the challenge. As most of you correctly identified this is a portrait of our man Gutenberg (or Guttemberg) and used as a frontispiece in Moxon’s Mechanick Exercises… It is believed to have come from an engraving made in 1584, though this shown is taken from a 17c painting that copied the 16c engraving. The painting was destroyed by fire in Strasbourg in 1870. What is wrong about it? Some authorities attest Gutenberg was beardless. [See Ruppel, A, 1947: Johannes Guteberg. Berlin.]