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.

Blue Pencil no. 3.3—Humanist Bookhand


This is a detail from Harley 4965 f.127v in the British Library. The manuscript is an Eusebius (De evangelica praeparatione by Eusebius of Caesarea, translated by Georgius Trapezuntius) written out in 1482 in Florence. The script is commonly called humanist bookhand, though the Humanists themselves called it littera antica (in contradistinction to rotunda or littera moderna). This is the script that Drucker/McVarish confusingly call Humanist rotunda. The letters are “rounder” than those of either Spanish …
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Blue Pencil no. 3.2—Rotunda


Rotunda was a southern European script and it was as popular in Spain as in Italy. Spanish rotunda tends to be narrower, more rigid and more precise than the Italian model. The example here is an undated sheet of parchment—it looks as if it could have been written anytime from the late 15th c. to the end of the 16th c.—which I bought ten years ago in Copenhagen. The writing is on both sides and …
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Blue Pencil no. 3.1—Rotunda


The term that I quibbled with most in reading Graphic Design History: A Critical History was “rotunda”. On the assumption that most of those reading Blue Pencil do not have paleographical or calligraphic backgrounds I thought it would be easier to understand my comments if I posted some examples of rotunda and of humanist bookhand.
This first image is Ryl Latin Ms 32, f. 21. For those not used to manuscript notation this is the 21st …
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Blue Pencil no. 3

This installment of Blue Pencil is different from previous ones in that the “errors” being exposed are, for the most part, not factual, orthographical or typographical, but editorial. Editorial errors are harder to nail down and hence more insidious. They are also more subjective so this post will include a number of references, both print and online, in support of my comments as well as some relevant images.
One of the basic problems of Graphic Design History: A Critical Guide is …
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From the Archives no. 6—Artistic Printing

The October 1939 issue of The Inland Printer has a two-page spread on the history of Hatch Show Print in Nashville, Tennessee (pp. 27–28) and a short piece entitled “Way Back When Time Wasn’t Important” about an 1886 concert notice. The text of the notice is quite brief—CONCERT. / ARION CLUB / LIBRARY HALL, BERLIN, / FRIDAY EVENING, / JANUARY 8th, 1886— but the design is complex. It is set within an ornate border with three musical ornaments (top, right …
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From the Archives no. 5—Photo-lettering

Here is some additional information on photolettering techniques from The Inland Printer. The techniques have already been discussed in a previous post on information in The American Printer. There are no accompanying illustrations.
January 1940, p. 72 A short announcement of Photo-ray, a “clever-new process invented by Edwin W. Krauter” in which transparent pattern letters, made from original alphabets provided by “master letterers”, are assembled by hand from a case and then placed in a line (which can be angled or …
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From the Archives no. 4—Photo-lettering

The February 1954 issue of Linotopix (vol. 3, no. 1), published by Mergenthaler Linotype, announced the first demonstration of the Linofilm (to take place on April 19 to a select group of industry professionals). At the same time it also introduced Reditype from Linotype’s subsidiary, the Davidson Corporation.
Reditype, the idea of John A. Willett, was “designed to improve the Company’s competitive position in the growing field of photolithography.” The process was described as a “fast, economical method of setting …
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Research revealed no. 1

My research for the Print F.O.B. item about Trajan’s popularity in Hollywood was based on reading the advertisements in selected Friday Weekend issues of The New York Times. There were far more movies using the face than I was able to squeeze into the column. For those who are obsessed by Hollywood’s obsession with Trajan, here are the results of my investigation.
12 December 1990
no examples of Trajan
instead capitals of Times Roman, Perpetua, Schneidler Titling (Bauer Titling) (twice), Goudy Oldstyle (twice), …
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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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