Monday, February 28, 2011

Goudy Stamped Cloth Cover Design

Am I the only one who was not aware that Frederic Goudy designed book covers? This one is a gem. From the Crossett Library Bennington College. The publishers mark for George Bell and Sons is on the back.

Experimental Ex Libris

There is no date on this great bookplate for Frederic J. Libbie, but it is from a Flickr set of the Pratt Institute Libraries Special Collection and most others in this set range in date from 1730 to 1901. I found one other bookplate for Mr. Libbie in this set which is dated 1895, although it is far more ornate. If you look carefully at the Garamond type pattern on this one, the designer, or printer for that matter, began in the center of the diamond shape and spelled out his name so it is right-reading, and then reversed the order of the letters to the left. They then repeated this pattern reading up and down from the center until an E creates the entire border of the diamond-shaped pattern. Probably designed by a printer who had a lot of E's and I's at his disposal or they just couldn't bear doing another Victorian style bookplate with fat cherubs sitting atop a stack of books. One thing about typographical patterns...they seldom go out of style.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Lost Thing

Tonight is the Academy Awards and my pick is for Shaun Tan's The Lost Thing nominated for best animated short. I was unfamiliar with Tan's illustration work until I saw a screening of the Oscar nominated shorts last weekend. There were no designer gowns, no red carpet laid out for us—only an amazingly long trail of spilled popcorn up three flights of stairs, down a long hallway and into the dismal theater—which actually made for a perfectly good intro to this odd little story.

The Lost Thing is based upon Tan's charming children's book by the same name, about a young boy who discovers a giant red creature while he is out searching for bottlecaps on the beach. When he tries to find where the thing belongs in this peculiar little world of industrial drabness, he is met with indifference from everyone he encounters. Work on this 15 minute film took 8 years to complete by a 4-person team in Melbourne Australia, using CGI (computer generated imagery) along with 2D handpainted elements. (That amounts to less than 2 minutes of film per year if you can imagine.) Tan was the writer, director, designer and illustrator on the project. Even with the aid of CGI, almost every surface is essentially handpainted using non-digital materials including acrylic paint, pencil, oil and collage, according to Tan's website. This risk undoubtedly prolonged the entire process, but helped to avoid the artificiality of so many computer animated films. His imaginative characters are delightful and endearing, but it is the scenery and incidental things ongoing at the edges of the frame which give this entire film so much texture. If you look quickly, you will catch glimpses of some nice handlettered typography—graffiti, random numbers, nonsensical industrial signage—oh, and bottlecaps. You just can't go wrong with any story that includes a collection of bottlecaps. 
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
Yeahhhh, The Lost Thing just won!!!
Oh, and by the way, the 2004 first edition of The Lost Thing is available on Amazon for $263 now.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Housekeeping Alphabet

Printmaker Chloe Cheese created a wonderful series of original alphabet monoprints she titles Housekeeping. A few of her letters have several states of prints and some of her signed artworks are still available for sale at St. Jude's Prints in Norfolk England. Chloe belongs to a very distinguished group of fine British printmakers represented by St. Judes who produce artwork in various print media, including wood engraving, woodcuts, silkscreen, litho and letterpress. In addition to artist's prints, St Jude's sells beautiful patterned fabrics and other textiles of their artist's designs along with stationery products, and artist books of 3 of my favorites; Edward Bawden, Eric Ravilious and Angie Lewin

Thanks For Visiting, Please Come Again

My discovery this past weekend of this tiny little welcome flag banner tucked inside the 1936 catalog, Encyclopedia of Sunday School Supplies, was quite accidental. Perfect timing however to personally welcome everyone who has stopped off recently to visit Letterology for their first time or a return visit. It makes me so pleased to see all the flurry of activity the past few days from all corners of the globe. However you arrived here, the welcome banners are flying.

Letterology originally began several years ago as a forum to share material with my students, but it quickly became apparent there was a much wider audience with interests in book design and typography. I try to post somewhat regularly as time affords—and I often try to keep the content original (but not always) and provide minimal commentary and credits wherever possible. When I find something of relevance to books or typography which makes me smile, is particularly brilliant, inspirational, or truly amazing, I will post it. On occasion I try to share some of my student's work which is never frequent enough. Sadly, my Experimental Typography class, or xType as I called it, gave way to a User Interface | User Experience class this school quarter so there may be even less student work to share here for a while. Since handlettering and experiments with type and text continue to be one of my favorite topics, I fully intend to continue including it here along with more posts about typewriters, office supplies, ephemera, printing, signage, letterforms, historical design influences, packaging, the business of design and the world of the book. I have no idea where this will lead or how long it will continue, but I would be delighted to have you join me. Welcome to my hood!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Iconoclast Designer Imre Reiner

 The work of Hungarian born designer Imre Reiner (1900-1987) has always been a favorite of mine. He experimented with letterforms and layouts long before it became a popular pastime as it is today. Not much is printed about Reiner unfortunately, although he, himself published a number of books on typography, monograms, trademarks and the like. He also designed and illustrated book covers for other publishers including Penguin Books and designed many fonts such as Meridian, Corvinus and London Script. Most of his long career was spent living in Switzerland, although he never identified himself with the Swiss modernist movement. He preferred to blend his own modernist approach to design with historical influences and references from architecture, wood engravings and early type ornaments. This mash-up of the old and new ran counter to the post-war Swiss-modern style of his colleagues with their simple, less-is-more approach to design. I find this contrast of bridging such diverse styles quite refreshing. Contrast is an essential component to effective design. What I most enjoy however are Reiner's hand-drawn letterforms which are playful and charming. They could be characterized as experimental even though some of them were produced nearly 60 to 70 years ago.

If you would like to learn and see more of Imre Reiner's work, you can download the beautiful PDF, Below the Fold, Vol. 1, No. 3 with an interesting biography of him written by designer Lorraine Wild.  Below the Fold is an occasional publication designed by William Drenttel and Jessica Helfand of Winterhouse, always exploring a single topic. This issue is devoted entirely to Reiner. 

::Photos from the Letterology Archives.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Men of Letters Redux

I am so pleased to report the news today of on an article I wrote about three generations of the Benson family of stonecarvers for the Voice: AIGA Journal of Design. Some of you may recall my earlier post about the Bensons this past December, and how I discovered the account of their family's legacy from a 1978 documentary video I caught online. After writing the original Men of Letters post, I received an invitation from writer Steven Heller to do an adaptation of it for the Voice series. Writing an essay is not something I am practiced at, but I was quite honored to share their story. It is a fascinating account on many levels. The narrative includes handlettering, craft, American history, and a remarkable family of artists with more than one MacArthur award. They truly understand typography and the form of the letter. Most of us do well just to design with type and letters, and these guys raise the bar even higher by having to carve them into large blocks of stone. Their portfolio of work is a permanent record left on monuments, on the sides of buildings and on some of the most distinguished memorials in the US. In fact, long before I ever knew of John or Nicholas Benson or The John Stevens Shop in Newport RI, I marvelled at their beautiful stonework I found on so many of the memorials and monuments in Washington DC. I have taken scores of photos—film and digital of many of the words and text they've carved there—because of the beauty, but also because the permanence of a word carved in stone tends to lend it more spirit and meaning I guess.

In a conversation I had with Nick Benson weeks ago, he made brief mention of a book his grandfather, John Howard Benson co-authored called Elements of Lettering. Some of you may be familiar with his lettering work and book already, so I just wanted to connect the dots of the Benson family tree. I also want to share one last comment written about John Howard Benson which I think speaks well about all of the Benson's work. I came across it on Typocurious and it's from an article in 1943 of American Artist magazine written by Matlack Price. In it he writes, I am very sure that John Howard Benson gets the fullest possible measure of human enjoyment of his skills, and that his life and work provide us with an authentic definition of an artist. When as many people come to understand the work of the true artist, as there are people who merely enjoy it, a new golden age of art will have come to the world. ...If only artists could run the world!

I invite you to take a few minutes out to read the Family of Letters article (sorry, but Men of Letters was already taken) over at AIGA and view a slide show of the Benson's fine work. They truly are this country's first family of letters.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Royal Picture Alphabet

Front cover of The Royal Picture Alphabet published in England between 1854 and 1861. Illustrated by J. Leighton. Found at
:: Via Nancy Ellis

The Puffin Club

The Puffin Club was founded in 1967 by Kaye Webb, the editor of Puffin Books for children. Within the first year it had over 16,000 members who invented their own language, gathered for readers' meet-ups, and attended Puffin author exhibitions with writers such as Roald Dahl, Spike Milligan and Quentin Blake according to the PuffinPost (no relation to the HuffingtonPost). At its height there were over 200,000 members who each received a monthly issue of the PuffinPost and an annual membership badge pinned to a card like the 2 samples posted above. These were illustrated by Jill McDonald, The Puffin Club's house illustrator and most popular and recognized children's book artist. Sadly, I could find little information about Jill McDonald but you can see a lot more of her work at the Puffin Club Archive blog which is hosted by Thin Puffin, an original club member. He has a nice collection of PuffinPost covers along with some illustrated envelopes and other treasures there too. The original Puffin Club was a remarkable example of a method to inspire young readers and such a clever marketing model at the same time.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Mid-19th C Typography

Advertising pages in St. Paul Directory from 1847. I stumbled into this recently at a paper show and the dealer was kind enough to allow me to take some cell phone images of it. He had $375 on it because it had some ads (with no photos) from a famous photographer by the name of Joel Whitney from St. Paul MN in the book. As always, click on images for enlargements.

The Presidential Letters

Presidential ascii artwork by none other than typewriter artists working with a single monospaced typeface. Nathan Veach's illustration of Abraham Lincoln is featured with only the letters of his name. A typewriter portrait of George W. (not that one), whose birthday we are celebrating today, is featured in a 1939 Popular Science magazine. An interesting sidenote—this is the same issue that reports an exclusive on Vest-Pocket Telephones. They predict telephones without connecting wires will be a possibility in the near future. I'm not kidding. Popular Science gets a scoop on this nearly 72 years ago.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Letter Smack Down

A year-long letter smack down finally comes to a close with the letter Z results just in. Apparently it was so much fun, they are calling for a submission of built-from-scratch, custom designed numbers beginning with no. 1 to be submitted by February 27th. You can see all the past letters from Z to A over at LetterCult. See many of last year's letter submissions at Nate's Letter Playground and on Flickr Alphabattle 2.0. Below are some of my favorite letters from this last year's battle designed by Ryan Frease, a senior designer at Alphabet Arm Design in Boston. Very fine custom work. He's available for independent freelance projects as well.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

1920s Hungarian Print Shop

A rather imposing composing room, yet a very beautiful photograph. The image is printed as a collotype.
:: Via Bielerpr's photostream

Pre Texting

Click image to enlarge.

The printing press of the Royal Irish Rifles. This remarkable photograph of a military field print shop, complete with an iron handpress, appeared in The Navy and Army Illustrated in 1897. The copy accompanying the photo claims a good many of the regiments' monthly newspapers generally provided results for football and cricket matches, reports of dances, suppers, theatricals, notices of promotions and official regimental notices. What, no gossip column? This image gives new meaning to the term lead soldiers.
:: A great find via Typesticker's photostream.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Pot Lids

I'm not making this up. The term pot lid comes from the decorated lid of porcelain containers often used as packaging for food, cold creams, toothpaste and other apothecary supplies. They were used as advertising as early as the mid 18th C, but most common from mid to late 19th C. The ceramic container increased the product's shelf life, and they came in many shapes and sizes and colors. Most were printed single color as these were less costly to produce. They are printed using transfers, just like transferware dishes. According to collector, Bruce Pynn who writes for Food & Beverage magazine, The method of printing on a pot lid was a multi-staged, time-consuming process. The transfer was lifted on tissue-thin paper from an engraved copper plate that previously had been inked and coloured. It was then transferred to the lid after the first baking and rubbed until the print firmly adhered to the pottery. The paper was then carefully removed, usually by washing or floating it off in water and the lid was glazed and fired to fix the design as an integral part of the pottery.

The designers of these ceramic containers were skilled artisans who worked for popular potters such as Staffordshire in England. Their hand-illustrated decorative typography and ornamentation reflected the same popular Victorian styles seen in books, packaging labels and songsheet title pages at the time. You can see many samples of pot lids at The Antique Pot Lid Gallery and learn more about their history here.