Afternoon in the Library—Letters of Credit

For the last couple of days, I’ve been spending my afternoons in the library. The university campus, brick buildings and the library all remind me of school. Sure, everything is much bigger here but I was much smaller when I first went to school. Thanks to the library in school, I have an image of how a library must be, and the one in NIFT always felt like something of a fraud. The one here, on the other hand, feels perfect.

Walter Tracy’s Letters of Credit was one of the books from the reading list I couldn’t find back home and the first one I picked up from the shelves. What follows is not highlights from the book, but a list of things that caught my interest. The first of them being Stanley Morison’s preference of a sloped roman to a true italic (which he felt blended in better with the roman) in his 1926 article in the Fleuron, and his consequent disregard for this opinion when he designed Times Roman. Also, the commentary on the shape of the old style zero, which curiously made its appearance on my Twitter feed today [link]. What caught my eye, as well, was the ampersand in Dwiggins’ experimental typeface, Charter. It looks like it could almost be Tamil!

Of the two parts in the book, I preferred the second with its stories of type designers and their typefaces. Rudolph Koch’s Neuland made me wonder when was the very first time when a type designer intentionally created alternate versions of a letter in order to emulate lettering. Mendelssohn type by the Schriftguss foundry of Dresden and André van der Vossen’s Houtsneeletter for Enschedé are also mentioned in the essay for their “unpremeditated” appearance.

Tracy is critical of these efforts and writes that a perfect fusion of lettering and typography cannot be achieved. He goes as far as saying that a special computer program necessary for the composition of alternate forms would be ‘hardly justifiable’. I wonder what he would feel about a typeface like Liza Pro, that prides itself on its Open Type features and could not have existed without them.

Images in this post are photographs from the book.

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Comments 4

  1. blogatdoornumber3 October 1, 2011

    Hey,
    I have been reading up on certain posts of yours for some time and i must say that your quest for knowledge makes me feel sort of insecure of my own lack of knowledge but also makes feel inspired to try and push myself to read and find out more and know more. Thanks and Keep it up! 😀

  2. Pingback: Afternoon in the Library—Counterpunch « Its a Nerd's Life!

  3. Amateur6 January 16, 2013

    “when was the very first time when a type designer intentionally created alternate versions of a letter in order to emulate lettering”

    The very first. Not only was Gutenberg’s 42-line Bible type designed to imitate (or impersonate) the calligraphy of the time, but its 290 characters made it possible.

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