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Archived posts: Typography

Interrobang: an international showcase of letterpress print

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The lovely people at St Jude’s Prints have just sent us the latest edition of their Random Spectacular journal, Interrobang, and it’s a corker.

It’s been published in collaboration with Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft, which is our new favourite place in the whole world.

The Sussex village of Ditchling was the home of letter-cutter Eric Gill (he’s the chap who designed Gill Sans) and calligrapher Edward Johnston (responsible for the famous Johnston typeface used by London Underground). The museum has collected together works from them, and from the artists and craftspeople who gathered around them.

We took a wander down that way a month or so ago. It made for a fantastic day out, starting with a stroll along the South Downs.

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Here’s a sign post set, of course, in Gill Sans.

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And an old National Trust sign, set in Albertus.

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On the way from the Downs to the museum, you pass the home where Edward Johnston used to work and live. (We believe the security light is a more recent addition.)

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The museum’s identity was designed by Phil Baines. And boy it looks great on a sunny spring day. Loving that arrow.

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The current main exhibition at the museum is a history of the development of the Johnston typeface, and that alone makes it worth a visit. Just look at this lower case qu ligature. And the alternate versions of the g!

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And check out this lovely set of Ws:

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If you do one thing this year, go to Ditchling. Twice.

Anyway, we digress.

As part of their brilliant Village of Type events which run throughout May, the museum has put together Interrobang – an international showcase of letterpress print. The exhibition is an open submission, with pieces selected by a panel of typographers and designers.

The journal, designed by Kenneth Gray, and put together by St Jude’s in tandem with the show, features a selection of fantastic articles about the current state of letterpress printing, as well as all the work from the show.

It opens with Phil Baines writing about Hilary Pepler, who set up the local St Dominic’s Press in 1919.

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Then there’s an insightful article by David Marshall and Elizabeth Ellis of The Counter Press about the state of letterpress. They rightly point out that letterpress printing is having a moment, with myriad new small presses joining the old hands who’ve been doing it for years. But they worry about whether letterpress printing is being valued purely for its old-world values: ‘it seems that more often than not, people struggle to leave the nostalgia and vintage charm of the aesthetic in the past.’ They warn of the danger of ‘pastiche and unimaginative reproduction’.

Coming from anyone else, this might sound like they’re just stirring the pot. But they’re one of the most exciting design teams working with letterpress at the moment. They specialise in what they call ‘traditional techniques with modern design thinking’. Here’s the cover of their recent publication Extra Condensed.

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It is beautiful. And we do care.

This theme continues in Patrick Baglee’s wonderful interview with Alan Kitching: ‘He is a designer that is surrounded by and works with letterpress type and letterpress technology. But it is the ideas and deeper meaning that step forward… This sense of expressiveness, of freedom and joy is still what marks Kitching’s work out from much of what passes for letterpress – where it is the means of production that people believe we ought to care about – rather than the final idea as evidence of artistry, craft and simple, clear thinking.’

Here’s Kitching’s recent print for Monotype commemorating Paul Rand:

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Later on in the journal, there’s an article about Adams of Rye, the printshop where Anthony Burrill creates his posters, including this recent one for the museum:

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Another piece looks at the collaboration between Tilley Printing and poet Nick Alexander, creating posters which are flyposted in the local Tinsmith’s Alley in Ledbury, Herefordshire.

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The bulk of the journal though is a showcase of the prints from the show. Here are just a few of those:

From Nicole Arnett Phillips in Brisbane, an analogue bitmap Q: ‘My intention with this series is to explore the space between analogue and digital type design and lettering. Each print translates form between analogue and digital instances. The letterforms start as pencil outlines. I then use physical type – either the face or the feet – (face being right way up type side of the sort, and feet being upside down backside of the physical piece of type) to typeset an analogue bitmap inside the pencil outlines.’

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From BunkerType in Barcelona, a print (#6) from their ongoing project, The New Call, based on the work of Hendrik Nicolaas Werkman:

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Artist Ruth Kirkby shows one of ‘a series of prints to represent the Western-imposed state borders and the effects they have had on the Middle East. The text in the prints is taken from recent Al Jazeera articles about the areas affected by the enforced borders.’

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From New North Press in London, comes a print from their ‘A23D’ 3D-printed letterpress font, designed by A2-Type, fusing old and new technologies.

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One Strong Arm in Dublin submitted a print featuring a quote from Rudolf Koch, but we couldn’t find a picture of it, so here’s one of their other pieces, with a quote from Roddy Doyle.

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Tom Pigeon, the studio of Pete and Kirsty Thomas, show one of their ‘Cinematype’ prints. ‘Cinematype is an original sans-serif, geometric typeface designed by us and inspired by the typography of early 20th Century film. We’ve worked with British printmaker Thomas Mayo to create these exclusive Cinematype letterpress numbers prints.’

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The next print is from The Print Project in Shipley. We’re rather in love with their fantastic posters for the gig night Golden Cabinet, printed using metal type and overprinted laser cut abstract shapes:

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We’re also quite taken by this print from The Wireless Press in Brighton. It’s based on Parisian graffiti from the 1968 uprising (the text translates as ‘Stop clapping – the show is everywhere’).

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All in all, the journal is a wonderful record of a brilliant show, giving a really thorough sense of what is being produced by the best designers and artists working with letterpress print today.

The exhibition is on until 30 May. In the meantime, you can (and should) buy the Interrobang journal from St Jude’s.

Alan Kitching: A life in Letterpress

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The good people at Laurence King recently sent over a copy of their fantastic new monograph, Alan Kitching—A Life in Letterpress. It’s quite brilliant.

You will have seen Alan’s work before, even if you’re not a graphic designer. He’s designed book covers, stamps, magazine covers, protest signs, theatre posters, wine labels and more. All this is done using the traditional letterpress tools – movable metal type, large woodblock letters, ink, paper and a press. His work is immediately recognisable: bold, witty, elegant, colourful and thoughtful, often with a painterly use of ink.

Here are a few of his wonderful Broadsides, the large format typographic prints he has created throughout his career. This is number 1, from 1988, designed to be cut up into individual items of stationery (letterhead, compliments slip, label etc.).

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This one is number 5, from 1992. A typographic map, it represents the streets, businesses, pubs and history of Clerkenwell. It’s a beautiful and beautifully considered piece of work.

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‘Printing in London: 1476-1995’ (below) was commissioned by Heidelberg for their magazine High Quality, and was reprinted in a folder as Broadside number 8. A visual history of printing in London, it features printers, publishers, art schools and type foundries.

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In 2003 Alan produced a dual-purpose petition and poster for The Guardian, ‘Why Iraq? Why Now?’. Published in the newspaper, it was designed to be cut out and pasted onto banners by people who met in London for the anti-war rally on 15 February of that year. (On the day, David Gentleman’s NO poster for the Stop the War Coalition was more visible – though that may partly have been because it was so readily available at the event.)

Why-Iraq

‘Taxi!’ (below) was commissioned for the London Poster Project, part of the 2009 London Design Festival:

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The new book details the entirety of Alan’s career so far, from his beginnings as an apprentice compositor at 15, through his work with Anthony Froshaug, Derek Birdsall and others, to his time running the Typography Workshop in Kennington.

It’s especially wonderful to discover Alan’s early, less familiar work, particularly that created while working with Froshaug at Watford College of Technology.

Here are a couple of great experimental prints from the late 1960s using just metal furniture (normally used for spacing out type).

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Here are a few spreads from the book:

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Designed by Simon Esterson and Jon Kielty, and written by John L. Walters, three editions of the book are available. The book edition (£40) won’t be available until March 2017, but in the meantime, the Special Edition (£75) is available, and more than worth the cost. It features a three-piece binding with greyboard covers.

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Rather wonderfully, that’s the same style of binding as was used for the book Celia Sings, which celebrated the life of Alan’s late wife, Celia Stothard (and which was designed by the same team):

celia-sings

There’s also a boxed Collector’s Edition (£200), with the same binding, which includes a hand printed letterpress signed print, numbered and wrapped round the book to form a jacket. That’s only available in a limited edition of 200.

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You can actually get your hands on a copy of the book edition before March. In tandem with the publication of the book, a major retrospective of Alan’s work is touring around the UK, and a few copies of the book will be on sale at each show. We caught the exhibition at the recent Pick Me Up illustration show at Somerset House, and it was an absolute treat to see so much incredible work. Alan was even on hand to run printing workshops and discuss his work (that’s him in the red jumper below, and peering through the doorway).

Alan Kitching Pick Me Up

From 3 June to 20 August the retrospective will be on show at The Lettering Arts Centre in Suffolk. After that it moves to The Lighthouse in Glasgow, from 1 November through to February 2017. More dates are promised. We can’t recommend it enough, so if you get the chance do make the trip.

This short film, created to publicise the book, shows Alan at work, discussing various moments during his career:

Fantastic stuff.

Click and Stamp set

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Alistair has recently returned from a trip to Australia, where he gave a couple of talks to the good folks at AGDA (the Australian Graphic Design Association) in Melbourne and Adelaide. He also spent a fair amount of time bothering kangaroos and koalas. Here’s one he photographed in Adelaide:

Kangaroo

Adorable.

But when he wasn’t molesting marsupials, he found time to pick up this gorgeous Futura Bold stamp set, from Paper 2 in Sydney (we can’t currently see the set on their website, but it’s also available from Honest Paper and Telegram Open House).

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Each of the stamps clicks together with the next one, making setting a complete doddle – and perfect for getting your Wes Anderson on.

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Delicious. A lower case set, and a set of numerals are also available.

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The set is made by O-Check Design Graphics in Korea.

60 years of TV commercials

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We made our way over to Hixter Bankside yesterday for the annual Clearcast party, for which we’d designed an 8 metre long backdrop.

Clearcast are the clearance service for the TV advertising industry – they review TV commercials at the script stage, checking that they conform to the UK Code of Broadcast Advertising. That way, before production begins, advertisers can make sure their ads aren’t harmful, misleading or offensive.

Clearcast asked us to create an eye-catching backdrop to celebrate the recent milestone of 60 years of commercial television. We looked through the archives of the most popular TV adverts, and pulled together a selection of the best bits from the scripts. We then created a huge typographic backdrop, designed to fit onto a glass partition in the venue’s main room. (The backdrop was produced by the event organisers, PR Live.)

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If you click the image below, it should open up the full artwork.

Here are the ads from which those bits of copy come – nostalgia-fest!

Cinzano – with the fantastic Leonard Rossiter and Joan Collins:

 

Gibbs S.R. Toothpaste – this was the first advert shown on UK television:

 

Sugar Puffs

 

Renault Clio

 

Guinness

 

Boddingtons

 

comparethemarket.com

 

British Telecom

 

Um Bongo

 

R Whites Lemonade

 

Heineken

 

Budweiser

 

Yellow Pages

 

Birdseye Steakhouse Grills

(Going through those ads made us realise that commercials with great dialogue are few and far between these days. We have a feeling that might be because ads are made to work in many different countries now, so dialogue (except in voice-over) is far less common. Or perhaps witty copywriting is just out of fashion? Seems a shame.)

There was also a photo-booth at the party, run by the good chaps from Lots of Little Ideas, and we designed a series of prop-cards for that, featuring taglines from some old adverts – all set with the correct typographic styling.

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Baddeley Brothers – an account by the Gentle Author

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Printing is good. Books are good too. So a book about printing? Sign us up.

The book in question is an account of Baddeley Brothers, the specialist printers, by the Spitalfields Life’s Gentle Author. It’s the second collaboration between the Gentle Author and our studio partner David Pearson, and features wonderful illustrations by Lucinda Rogers. It’s a great subject and a fantastic creative team – so it’s no surprise that it’s a glorious book.

We nipped along to St Bride’s yesterday afternoon for the launch (the perfect place for it, since much of the archive material featured in the book is held there).

The sumptuous cloth-bound book tells a story that reaches across four centuries, and is a real treasure trove. It features archive imagery from throughout the company’s history, as well as a host of tipped-in samples, used as section dividers, illustrating the range of Baddeley Brothers’ print techniques. There’s also a fine glossary of printing terminology, and an anatomy of envelope design.

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envelopes

Lucinda Rogers’ illustrations document Baddeley Brothers as it is today, her wonderful and energetic line work brilliantly capturing the mood and atmosphere of printers.

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David’s quiet and considered design gives the subject plenty of room to breathe; and the tipped-in dividers are just wonderful, all featuring Commercial Type typefaces.

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We asked David about his experience of designing the book: “What I loved about it was that the Gentle Author has an uncanny ability to bring people with shared interests together on a project. Commercial Type have long been interested in the work of the Caslon Type Foundry, which was based right next to Baddeley Brothers. I’ve worked with Baddeley Brothers on several jobs, and have a strong relationship with Commercial Type too (many of whose typefaces are based on materials held at St Brides).”

There’s a wonderful alchemy going on there, and it’s a rich mix that has produced a stunning result. We can just imagine the joy of some young graphic design student picking it up off the St Bride Printing Library shelves decades hence. No doubt Baddeleys will still be going strong.

Glorious stuff.

Buy the book.

Greetings and Thanks from Benwells and We Made This

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Hello!

Paul Haslam, director of the fantastic printers Benwells (we designed their identity a few years back) recently asked us to create a promotional mailer for his business. Paul wanted to have something to send to existing clients, and also to send out to potential new clients. We decided it would be great to create something that not only showcased Benwells’ particularly fine work, but which was also something that people could actually use.

So, we had a think about the sort of things you might send or receive in the post. Which got us thinking about postcards.

Now, it’s not that often you get sent a postcard these days. Email, texting and social media have usurped that role for themselves.

But when you do receive a card – well, it feels just great. It shows that someone thinks you’re worth just a little bit of effort – they’ve stepped away from their computer, found a card, then found a pen (that works), carefully hand-written the card, found your address, bought a stamp, and even walked to the postbox. Probably in the rain. (Actually, that’s quite a bit of effort – they must really like you.)

So we teamed up with Benwells to create some postcards that are a pleasure to send, and a joy to receive. A couple of limited edition packs of postcards in fact – one pack, ‘Thanks’, to say thank you; the other, ‘Greetings’, to say hello.

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We created two alternate sets of packaging for the postcards – one set for Benwells, and another for We Made This. Both feature white foil-blocked Nomad Buff sleeves, and are sent out in tear-open Colorplan envelopes – green for Benwells, grey for We Made This.

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Each pack contains ten different cards, all using delicious G·F Smith papers.

We don’t want to give the game away by showing you the whole lot, but here are just a few from the Greetings pack.

‘Howdy’ features a white foil on Woodside Garden Pine:

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‘Hola’, echoing the Spanish flag, uses a yellow foil on duplexed Colorplan Bright Red and Factory Yellow:

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‘Ey up’ features a white foil on a fantastically thick (1200gsm) Nomad Bedrock:

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And then there’s the Thanks pack:

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‘Much Obliged’ is blind debossed on 400gsm Moondream:

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‘Lots of Thanks’ features white and super-diffuser foils on Colorplan Dark Grey (with a Buckram emboss) duplexed with Colorplan Factory Yellow:

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‘Fanks’ uses a copper foil, again on the Nomad Bedrock:

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The reverse of each card details the process used to print it, and what stock it’s printed on. So even if you don’t decide to send them on to anyone, they’re still really useful.

We (and Benwells) will be mailing the packs out over the next couple of weeks – so keep an eye on your postbox.

Thanks!

Horniman Museum

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We nipped along to the Horniman Museum in south London yesterday. It’s brilliant. The ground floor features a fantastic Natural History collection, with more than a touch of Wes Anderson about it.

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Some of the signs feature beautiful hand rendered text:

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Well worth a trip.

Alan Kitching’s A–Z of Letterpress

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The good folks at Laurence King have just sent us this lovely new book – Alan Kitching’s A-Z of Letterpress.

It showcases Alan Kitching’s extensive wood-letter fount collection, which he’s amassed and restored over years in his south London print workshop.

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The book is divided up alphabetically, with each chapter featuring a single letter shown in up to thirty nine different founts. The chapters are divided up by spreads which each feature an additional full alphabet (so the one above, preceding the A chapter, is Latin Old Style).

This trick of separating out single founts across the whole book prompts you to examine each letterform on its own, and in contrast to the neighbouring designs of the same letter. We have a sneaking suspicion that it might also have been done to discourage people from just scanning in entire alphabets for their own use, rather than, say, going to an actual printer to have something set in actual type.

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The book is beautifully printed in five spot colours, onto quite a bulky uncoated stock, giving it a lovely feel in the hand. These images make it look quite large, but actually its roughly A5 size (just a bit squatter).

It was conceived and developed by Alan Kitching in collaboration with Angus Hyland, designed by Alexandre Coco at Laurence King, with a jacket by Pentagram.

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It’s quite a curio of a book. A wonderful historical record of a marvellous collection though to be certain. And the 16 Line Runic Grotesque is utterly delicious.

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Excitingly, Laurence King also have a monograph of Kitching’s work in the pipeline, due out next year. Huzzah!

Albertus and The Prisoner

For those of you not familiar with it, The Prisoner is one of the most iconic TV shows to have come out of the 60s.

It ran on ATV from September 1967 to February 1968. While any TV programme is obviously the work of a huge team of people, this show had one powerful force at its core: it was co-created, directed, and produced by Patrick McGoohan, who also starred in the lead role of No.6.

McGoohan had made his name in the black and white spy show Danger Man, and had even been asked to be the first Bond on the back of his work on that. He turned down Bond, but after more than 80 episodes, had grown bored of working on Danger Man. He proposed a new show to Lew Grade (the cigar chomping head of ATV) – The Prisoner.

The plot revolves around No.6 – we know little about him, not even his name. The fantastic opening credits (above) show him resigning from some sort of governmental position, and then being abducted, and waking up in The Village – a mysterious community in an unknown location. Over the course of the series, his captors use any means necessary to find out what he knows, and why he resigned. It’s a psychological battle of wills in each episode, as each new No.2 tries and fails to break him. It’s an incredible show, well worth checking out.

But what’s particularly of interest from a graphic design point of view, is the rich use of a single typeface, Albertus, during the show.

Arrival

Used far more extensively than just on the credits, the typeface appears on props and signs throughout the series. It represents the Village as much as the sets, the costumes or the characters.

Telephone booth

Exhibition of arts and crafts

Speed learn

Sometimes the lettering was very professionally rendered, other times slightly less so:

Polling Station

Occasionally another typeface sneaks in, but often this just highlights the ubiquity of Albertus everywhere else. Futura shows up a couple of times for example (decades before Wes Anderson made it his own):

Resigned

Push and find out

But Albertus is No.1 in this show.

The typeface was designed by Berthold Wolpe. Born in Germany, Wolpe had apprenticed at a metalworkers, becoming proficient at engraving in gold, copper and silver. He travelled to England in 1932, where he met Stanley Morison. Morison saw some photographs of a set of Wolpe’s bronze inscriptions, and asked him to create a typeface for Monotype based on the lettering. So in 1935, Monotype Series No. 324 was born: Albertus Titling.

Albertus Titling Monotype Series No.324

As you can see, it’s a beautiful typeface, somewhere between a serif and a sans-serif, with a few rather tasty alternate characters, and a frankly wonderful number 2. (Oddly, it doesn’t seem as if the Titling set has ever been digitised. What’s that all about?)

The marketing material of the time described it as follows:

“It is obviously a cut, and not a drawn letter, and possesses that squareness which in Roman inscriptions so notably serves legibility; but while true to the orthodox proportions, displays a marked individuality in the treatment of detail. The main strokes so terminate that the alphabet stands midway between the classical inscriptional letter and the modern sans serif.”

Albertus Titling was uppercase only, but a lowercase set followed in 1937, with bold and light versions arriving shortly afterwards in 1940.

Albertus Typefaces 1962

We’ve not been able to find any direct statements from the McGoohan or any of the other creators of the show about why Albertus was chosen. It has a strong flavour to it, which will have helped to define the Village as somewhere out of the ordinary, and perhaps its duality fits well with the feeling of the setting as somewhere both old and new.

At the time the series was made, people would mainly have been aware of the typeface thanks to Wolpe’s vast number of book covers at Faber & Faber, where he used it extensively:

For the union dead

Lord-of-the-Flies

Lupercal

But we should perhaps look a bit closer at the way Albertus was used within the show. As with all things in The Prisoner, first appearances can be deceptive.

Opening McGoohan

In the opening credits, the typeface is tweaked here and there. In the instance above, the ‘G’ of McGoohan has an extended stem that drops below the baseline.

The programme’s title was carefully adapted too:

Opening The Prisoner

The dot of the ‘i’ has been removed, but most distinctly of all, the lowercase ‘e’ has been attacked! The right hand side of the bowl has been lopped off, so that it resembles a sort of epsilon (the fifth letter of the Greek alphabet).

This adaptation was extended across nearly all appearances of Albertus in the programme. We’ve hunted high and low for information about why this was done, but as yet we haven’t discovered any facts. Obviously it makes the typeface feel much more bespoke, but we’d love to know if there was any reason beyond that. Was it perhaps done to instil a feeling of discord?

Here’s a look at the difference between a regular setting of Albertus, and a Prisoner style setting:

A still tongue original

A still tongue revised

We created those two slides for this post, but here’s how it looked in the show itself:

A still tongue makes a happy life

As you can see, the sign is hand-rendered, and the ‘e’s have been given their own little flared terminals. A little bit bonkers. By contrast, in the credits, the ‘e’s have clean sharp ends:

Opening Guest Stars

Here the ‘e’ has a distinctly even stroke, and a vertical terminal at the top:

Vote for No.6

And in fact, the lettering changes constantly throughout the show, presumably depending upon who created each piece, and how much time they had to work on it:

Roland Walter Dutton

Progress report

Questions are a burden

Check out this heavyweight version:

Music begins where words leave off

And what’s going on here?

The village storybook

That poor ‘e’ looks a little bit stretched out.

And sometimes, the customised ‘e’ was forgotten about entirely:

Village Map

You can picture the scene on set when that was produced:

Art dept guy: ‘So here’s the map you asked for.’

McGoohan: ‘Great, that’s looking really… Wait. What. Is. This?’

Art dept guy: ‘Um, is something…’

McGoohan: ‘What is this ‘e’? What the hell is this ‘e’? What the bloody hell is this ‘e’ doing here? Answer me that. I want information. Information.’

And it happened more than once:

You have just

been poisoned

Sometimes they even got it right and wrong at exactly the same time:

Village foods

Regardless of any inconsistencies though, The Prisoner is a fantastic example of using typography as a key part of the creation of a fictional world.

We’d love to know more about the specifics of why the typeface was chosen, why it was adapted, and who actually created all the props and signs. So if you know anyone involved with the show, do get in touch.

Oh, and if you’d like to play around with making your own Prisoner bits and bobs, there’s a downloadable font called Village, created by Mark Heiman in 1994 in homage to the show, which features the lopped off ‘e’, and which also has ‘i’s and ‘j’s with their dots removed.

And remember – you are not a number.

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This post is an adapted version of a talk given by Alistair Hall at Grafik’s Letterform Live event on 25 February 2015. Larger images are available on Alistair’s Flickr set.

Dumb quotes

Tony's-Cafe

This is Tony’s Cafe. It’s a lovely little place on Leather Lane in Clerkenwell. They do a really fine create-your-own salad for just £4. We go there often for lunch.

But. Their sign. It’s a problem.

Look at it. Just after the Y. Just before the S. What is that? It thinks it’s an apostrophe. It certainly wants to be an apostrophe. Heck, it downright needs to be an apostrophe.

But it’s not.

And you know what’s to blame for that?

Typewriters. Damn typewriters.

Take a look at this. It’s a full set of the characters available on an Olivetti Lettera 22 typewriter:

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Rather beautiful right?

Let’s take a look at the punctuation characters along the bottom row.

Right up front there, that character made of two little vertical lines, like a pair of rabbit’s front teeth? That’s what you’d generally have used to mark out a bit of quoted text. It’s a versatile little thing: you could use it both at the beginning and the end of a chunk of quoted text. You could also use it to indicate various units of measurement – a number of inches, or a number of seconds, or even a number of arcseconds if you were a nagivator. It even doubles (if you’ll excuse the pun) as the ditto symbol.

Further along the line, just after the ampersand, sits its singular sibling. You could also have used that to mark out quoted text, but more frequently you’d have used it as an apostrophe. It also did fine work when it came to measurements, denoting numbers of feet, numbers of minutes, and of course, numbers of arcminutes.

So back up to Tony’s Cafe, we can see that little fella doing his job just fine as an apostrophe, right?

Nope. Uh uh. No sir. Not at all.

You see, although those two characters I just mentioned, which we can call typewriter quotes, were fantastically versatile, they were in truth a mashing together of different characters. It made perfect sense to do that back then, because typewriters only had a set number of keys available.

Here’s the layout of the Olivetti Lettera 22.

lettera_keyboard

The characters that got messed with were the single and double Quotation Marks, which come in left and right varieties; the Apostrophe (which is the same as the single right quotation mark), and the Prime, which is the angled mark used for various units of measurement. Those look like this, when set in the Georgia typeface:

prime-examples_2

So, with typewriters, those characters got mashed together. The left and right varieties of the quotation marks were merged, losing their ears and becoming upright verticals, which meant they could also double for primes. They must have felt good about that versatility, but you can’t help but wonder if they looked at the still-curved comma and semicolon with a sense of loss and longing…

Either way, it was a sensible solution in the days of the typewriter, typing in a single typeface at a single size, when stylistic finesse and grammatical accuracy could be ditched in favour of utility.

But, you know, we don’t generally use typewriters now.

We use computers. Which are just a little bit more sophisticated.

So we shouldn’t really need those vertical typewriter quotes anymore.

But, and it’s a fairly sizeable but, when computer keyboards were put together, they were largely based on typewriters. Here’s the current Mac keyboard, with the key with the quotation marks / apostrophe highlighted.

apple-wireless-keyboard

Theoretically, that key should only bring up left and right quotation marks, either single or double.Those should be the default setting right?

But they’re not. The default characters are the straight vertical typewriter quotes. Characters designed specifically for a drastically reduced set of keys on a machine from the last millennium.

So if we go back to Tony’s cafe, and its sign, this is what you get if you type it out, in AG Book (which is a passable approximation for the actual typeface used on the sign):

 

tonys_dumb

 

And of course, that damn typewriter quote is there, happy as Larry.

Or Tony.

Whose salads, as we’ve mentioned, are really quite good.

Now, of course, there are ways around this intolerable situation. Depending on your software set up, you can tell your machine to ignore the typewriter quotes – sometimes (and entirely justifiably) called ‘dumb quotes’ – and replace them with what are called either ‘smart quotation marks’, ‘smart quotes’ or ‘typographer’s quotes’. Those are all software settings – you might also hear the characters referred to as ‘curly quotes’ or ‘inverted commas’ – really, how many terms to these things need? Smart quotations, smart quotes, typographer’s quotes, book quotes, curly quotes, inverted commas – identity crisis much?

In Microsoft Word, where they’re called “smart quotation marks”, and you’ll find the setting in the AutoCorrect tab of the Word Preferences. This is how it looks in the version we’re running:

Word-AutoCorrect-preferences

Using InDesign, as we are with our revision of Tony’s sign, you switch on ‘Typographer’s Quotes’ in the Type section of the Preferences panel.

With that done, this is how Tony’s looks when you type it out, now with a proper apostrophe:

 

tonys_smart

 

How much better is that? Not only is it the correct grammatical character, its weight and form just fit so much better with the word.

So, we can use the correct characters if we tell our software that we want to. But we shouldn’t really have to do that right? These are hardly obscure characters, only used once in a blue moon. Why on earth do those typewriter quotes even still exist? They were ingenious, but they’re a relic from another age. Stick ’em in a museum.

And actually, you know what, the problems don’t really end there anyway.

Because even if you have your smart quotes turned on, you’re not guaranteed to be getting things right.

Have a look at these three examples, set in Georgia again.

The first one uses the default typewriter quotes:

prime-examples_a1

Unpleasant. Deeply unpleasant. And more than a little confusing.

 

The second one uses typographer’s quotes:

prime-examples_a2

Better. But wait – punctuation klaxon! That height measurement? That’s totally wrong. For that you need to use primes, as we have done in the third version. The eagle-eyed amongst you will also notice that the apostrophe before ’70s is wrong. Despite being called smart, sometimes these quotes can still be a little dumb. When they appear with a space before them, they automatically assume they’re at the beginning of quoted text. But here, we’re using the mark as an apostrophe (marking the absence of 19 from 1970s), so the mark needs to face in the other direction. So in this instance, despite having smart quotes on, we have to use a key command to insert the right character.

So, with all that in place, it should look like this:

prime-examples_b

Peace at last! Typographically and grammatically wonderful.

Headache much?

And it doesn’t even end there. Many contemporary fonts don’t even feature primes in their character set. They’ve just sort of been forgotten about. Instead, those inferior usurpers, the typewriter quotes, have taken their place. You can sort of fudge them, by italicising the dumb quotes, but that’s hardly an ideal solution.

And this isn’t just a problem for purveyors of fine salads.

You’ll notice the problem most online, where typewriter quotes are slung about with a hideous abandon. That’s not a giant problem in body text (though it still irks), but it’s grimly obvious in headings. Here’s a recent post from the very popular tech site Engadget:

Engadget-UK-post

Those typewriter quotes must be laughing it up. Relics they may be, but there they are, in the heading of a post about Google Glass – they could hardly be hanging out anywhere more modern!

This seems to be something to do with the software used for most blog posting, which is less than eager to insert smart quotes.

So, you’re smart people. And you probably know even smarter people. How do we fix this? Surely we can get rid of those dumb typewriter quotes?

Because dumb isn’t clever.

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Oh, and if you’re looking to read a little further on any of this, we’d like to highly recommend Matthew Butterick’s wonderful online book, Butterick’s Practical Typography, which is a treasure trove of learning. His article about this very topic is brilliant, and far more concise than this one.