Blue Pencil

Blue Pencil is a “slog”: a slow blog. It does not get updated daily or even on a regular schedule. Instead, it gets updated when there is something of value to be posted. Postings often take a long time to prepare and appear at intervals of a few weeks or even months. Sometimes there is a flurry of postings within the span of a few days. Blue Pencil may be unpredictable in its frequency, but not in its purpose. Blue Pencil is fiercely dedicated to the 3Rs: research, reading and writing.

The Official Typeface of Hollywood

Recently Sumner Stone sent me a link to an amusing video that attempts to explain the continuing popularity of Trajan in Hollywood movie posters. It spurred me to search through my files to find this short item which I wrote in 2000 and Print published in the F.O.B. section of their January/February 2001 issue (Print LV:1, p. 16).
Typecasting
The summer and fall of 2000 saw continued evidence that Trajan, the typeface designed by Carol Twombly and based on the inscription …
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From the Archives no. 2 addendum

Further research in The Inland Printer has turned up additional references to phototype processes in the years 1938 to 1941.
October 1938, p. 66 Typecraft Studios offered “type stretching” and “type condensing” services that would enable the printer to do away with the need for handlettering. No details of the process were revealed.
March 1939, p. 72 The Weber Process was briefly discussed with a few examples shown.
August 1939, pp. 38–39 The Weber Process was shown in a lavish two-page spread but …
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Standard vs. Helvetica in the New York City subway system: addendum no. 1


I was just perusing the 1970 New York City Transit Authority Graphic Standards Manual by Unimark when I noticed something odd. On p. 74, devoted not to station signage but to proposed train graphics, there is a discrepancy between the text discussing The Inside Line Map and the two diagrams illustrating it. The text reads, “For better distincition between type showing express stops and local stops we have chosen 48 pt. Standard medium and light˘ …
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From the Archives no. 3—Plastic type

In the spirit of its title, this intriguing item is from the Share Your Knowledge Review*, March 1941, p. 44.
“Printing types cast in plastic material, according to an  article in Schweizer Reklam for December, 1940, are apparently destined to replace type cast in the traditional lead.” Dr. Paul Thomas Fischer of Weimar has patented a process for producing plastic type. It is lighter and more hygienic than lead and tests have shown it to produce a clean impression even on …
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From the Archives no. 2—Photo-lettering

While looking through issues of The American Printer for material relating to W.A. Dwiggins I noticed that during the years 1939 to 1941 there was a rash of notices of “new” methods for creating type photographically.
February 1939, pp. 38–39 “Rubber Type Via the Camera” by Irving B. Simon. Simon profiled the Weber Process invented by Martin J. Weber of New York City. Weber took repro proofs of assembled metal type—his exemplar was ATF Garamond Bold—photographed them. He boasted of his …
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From the Archives no. 1—Times Roman

This is the first of a new series of posts that are intended to call wider attention to various nuggets of information and opinion I come across during my many researches in archives.
On December 18, 1949 Herbert Simpson, a printer (and amateur calligrapher), in Evansville, Indiana wrote to Paul A. Bennett, the longtime publicity manager for Mergenthaler Linotype, with an offer:
“I hereby give, will and bequeath to you all of my interest, concern, and future residue in Times Roman. I …
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Blackletter Myths no. 1

There is a commonly held belief that as soon as the Nazis took power in 1933 that roman (or antiqua) types were banned in favor of blackletter. This is not so. However, the complicated history of blackletter types during the years 1933–1941 has not been fully explored. My experience reading 1930s issues of Gebrauchsgraphik suggests that blackletter was not as widely used as is generally believed. For instance, today I looked at all of the issues for 1939 and found …
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Looking for Letters in New York City

Three years ago Christopher Calderhead, editor of Letters from New York, published by the Society of Scribes, Ltd., a New York-area calligraphic group, asked me to write about my fifty favorite examples of lettering in New York City. What was supposed to be an article in the journal ended up being the entire issue. Even though the photographs were in black and white, the 80-page Letters from New York 2 was an instant hit. It spurred me to systematically try …
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“How Helvetica Took Over the Subway”

Jennifer 8. Lee has posted a blog about a day we spent together prowling the New York City subway system. It is entitled “How Helvetica Took Over the Subway” and can be found at the City Room section of the New York Times online.

Blue Pencil no. 2

This is the second Blue Pencil installment.
After Mary Ann Bolger wrote a fairly favorable review of Graphic Design: A New History in Eye no. 66 (vol. 17, Autumn 2007), I wrote a letter to the magazine pointing out that it is “riddled with errors”, most of them relating to typefaces and typography. The letter was published in Eye no. 67 (vol. 17, Spring 2008) and led, several months later, to a response from Prof. Eskilson. He wanted to know what …
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Blue Pencil no. 1—Font. The Sourcebook

This is a slow blog. I have lots of material I hope to post but not enough time to properly prepare it. Thus, I expect my posts to be sporadic which will make Blue Pencil part of the nascent trend toward slow blogging.
I chose the name Blue Pencil for the blog because my original intention in establishing it was to post lists of errors—factual, orthographical, typographical, etc.—I have been increasingly finding in the various books I read. Many publishers have …
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“The (Mostly) True Story of Helvetica and the New York City Subway”

Read the complex story of how and when Helvetica entered the New York City subway system at AIGA Voice. The documentation for the article will eventually be posted here along with additional photographs of subway signage. In the meantime, to complete my research I am still looking for more photographs of the subway system taken between 1966 and 1980 showing signs, especially signs that have black lettering on a white background. (The sign pictured here …
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