Sunday, 28 November 2010

Ancient and Modern


The recently reprinted 1911 Oxford ‘facsimile’ of the 1611 King James Bible contains a major anachronism: the types are resolutely ‘Modern’ in style, that is they derive from designs that were developed at the end of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century, and bear no relation to the styles used in the original edition. The illustration shows the original 1611 setting of the Preface, and the 1911 resetting.

The problem is that the 1911 edition is not a simple reprint; if it had been, a photographic reproduction of the original pages would have sufficed. It was intended to be read as well as admired, so the black-letter type of the original, deemed unreadable, had to be abandoned, and rendered in roman type. And while Caslon was available for some headings, a Modern with a Scotch flavour was used for most of the setting. Some pages (the fiendishly difficult to re-set Kalendar, for example) were reproduced from line blocks.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Make your own book

The English Atlas, the first volume of which was printed in Oxford in 1680, was an ill-fated venture that ultimately contributed to the bankruptcy of its promoter, the bookseller and printer Moses Pitt. An oversize folio, the sheets took so long to emerge from the press that the following frank admission of the book’s inaccuracy had to be made in the second volume:


The sheets were too large to be bound conventionally in signatures of 8, 16, or 32 pages; instead, each leaf of 4 pages, supplied separately, was pasted on to a guard, which was attached to the spine of the binding. Furthermore, the text was printed letterpress and the maps from copper engravings, two quite separate printing processes. (The printing shops would have been at different locations in the city.) This required a clear plan for assembling the book:


But the nature of the task meant that purchasers could decide exactly what to do with the plates and text, as this final note freely admits:

E. G. R. Taylor. ‘ “The English Atlas” of Moses Pitt, 1680–3.’ The Geographical Journal, 95, 4 (April 1940), 292–9

Friday, 19 November 2010

Remind your reader

Mathematical notation took many centuries to develop. By the mid-seventeenth century, the main operators that we know today were established, +, –, =, but the multiplication sign × had only been used since 1631, and the proportion sign :: is of similar vintage. So the list of symbols in this 1703 edition of Archimedes’ Elements of geometry may have been technically redundant, but would still have acted as a useful reminder.

If you’re wondering why the division sign ÷ isn’t included, it wasn’t introduced into England until 1688.

Tacquet, Andrea. Elementa geometriæ planæ ac solidæ, & selecta ex Archimede theoremata. Cantabrigiæ: Typis academicis. Impensis Corn. Crownfield, MDCCIII [1703].

Oughtred, William. [Clavis mathematicae] Arithmeticae in numeris … Londini: Apud Thomam Harperum, M.DC.XXXI [1631].

Johann Heinrich Rahn, trs. John Pell. An introduction to algebra. London: printed for Moses Pitt. 1688.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Kinda nice

Reading Lidwell, Holden, and Butler’s excellent Universal principles of design, I noticed one that isn’t enunciated: being kind to your users. The authors of the 1662 the Book of Common Prayer clearly thought this was an important principle of design, as evidenced by these two examples, from ‘The visitation of the sick’ and ‘Prayers for use at sea’:

The very sick get spared the lengthy sermonizing, and those in peril on the sea are able to make their peace with their maker – quickly.

Friday, 12 November 2010

The whole world in your hands

However elegant this title-page from Christopher Plantin’s press may be, in 1583 it had a hard selling job to do. Nomenclator (‘dictionary’) is the title of this multi-lingual glossary ‘of all things’, organized thematically, but the largest type on the page announces that it covers ‘EVERYTHING’. This is the third edition: ‘much enlarged and corrected from the previous editions’ is the gist of the subtitle. Dictionaries are always announced as new and better than before. And of course the largest graphic item on the page is Plantin’s well established brand of the golden compasses. Fittingly for a classification of all human knowledge that is published in book form, the first section is about … words relating to books.

Hadrianus Junius, Nomenclator, omnium rerum propria nomina variis linguis explicata indicans, 3/e. Antwerp, 1583.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Dexter Sinister at Reading

This week’s visitor was Stuart Bailey, who presented some of his work under the Dexter Sinister label. Discussing publication/events in New York, Edinburgh, and Basel, Stuart demonstrated how his artwork/design is intended to set up frameworks that provoke writing, because writing can never take place in a vacuum, but must always have a form to fit into. Illustrated is the text to be read by an ‘elevator operator’ at the Whitney Museum, NYC, charmingly set in Johnston and Monotype Fournier.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Just like that!

David Pearson demonstrates the magic of Tschichold’s redesign of Penguin book covers to an appreciative audience at the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication today. David was visiting MA Book Design students who are working on a paperback series project with Fraser Muggeridge.