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 Nomenclature of Letter Forms: A Brief Review of the Literature

The Belgian typographer Fernand Baudin, in How Typography Works (and why it is important) (New York: Design Press, 1988) wrote, “Novices are mistaken when they suppose there should be a ‘technical term” for every product of their enthusiasm & ignorance.” (p. 98)*. Although Baudin wrote this at the beginning of the digital type revolution—his text was originally published in French in 1984—his words are still applicable today. Indeed, they seem especially relevant as the horde of contemporary type geeks seem to …
Continue reading

AIGA Timeline: A Window on American Graphic Design

In the course of preparing my posts on AIGA Medalists I kept looking in vain to the AIGA website for information. I especially found the AIGA History Timeline on its website to be deficient. The timeline, which runs backward from 2014 to 1914, is very sketchy for the decades prior to 1980. Out of 33 entries, 24 of them are for the last thirty-four years. Here is a decade-by-decade breakdown:
1914—1919—1 entry
1920–1929—2 entries
1930–1939—1 entry
1940–1949—1 entry
1950–1959—2 entries
1960–1969—1 entry
1970–1979—3 entries
1980–1989—5 entries
1990–1999—7 entries
2000–2009—7 entries
2010–present—5 …
Continue reading

Blue Pencil no. 34—The Phaidon Archive of Graphic Design: E series

E [1920–1929]
E001
Pro Dva Kvadrata | El Lissitzky | book| UNOVIS | 1920
[Deborah Sutherland]
images: 5
text: 4
apparatus: 0
Why isn’t the Russian title translated into English in the heading as well as in the text? This is done with German items. In general, the text is good, though Sutherland does not explain how the book was done despite calling it “highly sophisticated” in execution. The date is misleading. Lissitzky designed the book in 1920 but it was not published until 1922. See Museum of Modern ArtChristie’s and The …
Continue reading

More on the National Board on Printing Type Faces

Among the material in the George Macy Papers at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Columbia University are three documents from the National Board on Printing Type Faces.
The first document is a second edition of  “National Board on Printing Type Faces: Its Organization and Work” dated 1935. Although the Board had failed in 1930 in its original attempt to reign in the proliferation of new typefaces, it apparently did not dissolve but continued on with an altered mission. No …
Continue reading

“Stop Making Type”: The Quixiotic Quest of the National Board on Printing Type Faces

In 2007 I wrote an article for Print magazine (LXI:V) titled “Stop Making Type” about an organization called the National Board on Printing Type Faces and its doomed attempt in 1929/1930 to limit the number of new typefaces being produced. Since the article is not available on Imprint I am posting my original text and some images from the issue here. I am doing it because I have come across some additional material about the organization at the Newberry Library in …
Continue reading

Boycott Nazi Type


Proclamation to Craftsmen, Artisans and Friends of the Graphic Arts
Last year I came across a document entitled “Proclamation to Craftsmen, Artisans and Friends of the Graphic Arts” issued by the Graphic Arts Forum in 1939. It announces a boycott of Nazi types as part of the war effort by those in graphic design and publishing. Among the signatories—all from New York—are publishers Bennett Cerf (of Random House), B.W. Huebsch (of the Viking Press), Alfred A. Knopf, and George Macy (of …
Continue reading

“Graphic Design”: more on the terminology of a profession

Alex Jay, an old friend and author of the excellent Tenth Letter of the Alphabet blog, has sent me a detailed addendum to my post on the terminology of graphic design. “I don’t know if you searched Chronicling America [I did not] but it’s a good source for old newspapers,” he writes. Through it Alex found a reference to “graphic design” as early as 1842 in the New-York Daily Tribune where it refers specifically to engraving. Similar references appear …
Continue reading

Two Pages Facing (1916): An early guide to layout

“Parallel Lines” from Two Pages Facing (1916). Design by Tony Sarg.
Two Pages Facing: Some Suggestions for Advertising Display (Philadelphia: The Curtis Publishing Company, 1916) is a remarkable publication. I came across a copy recently while digging into the Arthur S. Allen Collection at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University. (It is available digitally from the Hagley Museum and Library in Delaware.) The book, using layouts provided by Guy Gaylor Clark, Everett R. Currier, J.T. DeVries, W.M. Gerdine, A.K. Higgins, Ben S. …
Continue reading

Goudy addenda

Monotype: The Journal of Composing Room Efficiency no. 70 (1924) is devoted entirely to Kennerley in celebration of the release of the typeface family—with the addition of bold and bold italic—for machine composition by Lanston Monotype. The issue, designed by George F. Trenholm and Ellsworth Geist, has several articles by and about Frederic W. Goudy to accompany showings of the typeface. In “A Medieval Craftsman and His Types: A Great Advertiser Comments on the Goudy Types”, Earnest Elmo Calkins, co-founder …
Continue reading

No Show; Only Tell

“Graphic Visualization and Visuality in Lester Beall’s Rural Electrification Postrs, 1937” by Michael Golec in the Journal of Design History (vol. 26, no. 4) 2013, pp. 401–415 is a prime example of what is wrong with design history in academic journals. The article contains no full or full color images of Lester Beall’s iconic posters for the Rural Electrification Administration. They do appear in the background of two REA photographs from 1938 (figs. 4 and 5). But they are obscured …
Continue reading

“Graphic Design”: A brief terminological history

“It was not until 1922, when the outstanding book designer William Addison Dwiggins coined the term ‘graphic designer’ to describe his activities as an individual who brought structural order and visual form to printed communications, that an emerging profession received an appropriate name.” This statement, by Philip B. Meggs in the Foreword to his A History of Graphic Design (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1983), has been taken as gospel over the past thirty years. Yet, it is inaccurate.
Dwiggins never …
Continue reading

Strathmore Papers and the Untold History of American Graphic Design

Recently Chris Harrold, Vice President of Business Development/Creative Director at Mohawk, invited me to up to the Albany/Troy area to see the Strathmore Archives that he has been digging into for the past few months. I was lured by the promise of seeing unknown work by W.A. Dwiggins and by the opportunity to do some preparation for my upcoming talk on “W.A. Dwiggins and the Promotion of Paper 1915–1935” at the Type Directors Club on June 3*.
For months both Dan Rhatigan …
Continue reading

Reflections on AIGA Medalists, part 2—non-Americans

As I expected the response to my post on gender disparity among AIGA medalists provoked questions about other anomalies. I will try to address the issue of minority representation among medalists in another post. But for now I want to look at the issue of honoring non-Americans.
Greg D’Onofrio, a partner in Kind Company and the website thisisdisplay.com, asked me why so few Europeans had been honored by the AIGA. My question is why have any been honored? I think that …
Continue reading

Reflections on AIGA Medalists

The occasion of the AIGA Centennial Gala on April 25th led me to some thoughts on the identity and choice of the AIGA medalists over the years. The AIGA medal was first awarded in 1920 to Baltimore printer Norman T. A. Munder. Between then and 1954 it was given out erratically with some years (e.g. 1921 and 1933) skipped entirely and in others (e.g. 1924 and 1950) with two being presented. Then from 1955 to 1972 only one was given …
Continue reading

The Rchive no. 19—The Terror of the Turks

Detail, Alessandro dal Borro plaque (Arezzo, Italy). Photograph by Paul Shaw (2008)
This unusual R is from a plaque marking the birthplace of Alessandro dal Borro (1600–1656) in Arezzo, Italy. Dal Borro was a nobleman and highly successful general who was given the nickname “Il Terrore die Turchi” for his successes in the wars between the Ottoman Empire and the Republic of Venice. The plaque is signed A.F. Sandrelli and dated 1828. There is at least one other plaque in …
Continue reading

The Rchive no. 18—Art Deco in Sunnyside

Detail, Phipps Garden Apartments in Sunnyside, Queens (New York City). Photograph by Paul Shaw (2008).
This Art Deco R is from a sign at the Phipps Garden Apartments in Sunnyside, Queens (New York), a housing complex that was built in response to the garden city movement begun in England at the turn of the 20th century following the theories of Ebenezer Howard. The movement, in response to the rapid shift in population to urban areas in the 19th century …
Continue reading