I have recently been working on designs for a memorial to a compositor. For those of you that don’t know, a compositor was a person who arranged movable type for printing lettering. The family emailed me these wonderful membership cards of his. I thought they may be of interest. They reflect the era somewhat, and I think they’re great.
Talking of typesetting, a few months ago I visited The Type Archive in Stockwell, London, and it was a fascinating trip. There was an amazing collection of old typesetting machinery and associated equipment. Their website is great too: “The Type Archive holds the National Typefounding Collection, purchased with grants from the National Heritage Memorial Fund; broadly comprising; 1. the typefounding materials of the Sheffield typefounders, Stephenson Blake, a collection dating from 16th century London typefounders to their 20th century counterparts; 2. the hot-metal archive and plant of the Monotype Corporation, operating from Salfords in Surrey from 1897, and in London’s Lambeth from 1992 to date; and 3. the Woodletter pattern collection and plant of Robert DeLittle in York from 1888, and in Lambeth from 1996″.
The first image here shows the lettering produced by the workshop of Sepp Jacob in Germany. The work he produced was very sculptural and direct and a wonderful blend of good strong lettering and an understanding of materials. This piece reminds me of the German font Neuland which was designed by Rudolf Koch.
Neuland is based on the handwriting of Rudolf Koch (as are all of his typefaces). Its simplicity and unusual shapes derive from the difficult and demanding art of punchcutting. In fact, it may be the only typeface designed by actually cutting the punches; Koch made no preliminary drawings, it is almost as though the punches themselves were sculpted, and these were then used in casting the type itself. Neuland was designed in 1923 and it became enormously popular as an advertising typeface. It is a sans serif, all-capital design with angular features, obliqued strokes and a slight concavity to some of the vertical strokes. Used with restraint, it can lend power and persuasion to display work, as it did when forming the basis for titles appearing in the film Jurassic Park.
Optima is another wonderful example of German lettering design. It was designed by Hermann Zapf, Contemporary German calligrapher, teacher, book designer and one of the 20th century’s most significant type designers. In the mid 1930’s Zapf studied the writing manuals of Rudolf Koch and Edward Johnston and taught himself. Zapf has designed some of the 20th century’s most important fonts, including Palatino and Optima, and some of my other favourites such as Michaelangelo, Sistina, and the wonderfully calligraphic Zapfino.