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.

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 …
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“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 …
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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 …
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“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 …
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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. …
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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 …
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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 …
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“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 …
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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 …
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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 …
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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 …
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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 …
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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 …
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The Rchive no. 17—Italian neon signs

Detail from pizzeria sign in Testaccio (Rome). Photography by Paul Shaw 2013.
This R is from the sign for Il Grottino, a pizzeria in the Testaccio neighborhood of Rome. It is one of the best pizzerias for eating Roman-style pizza, but hard to find despite being on the busy via Marmorata. Its sign is discreet, faces only one way (towards the Tiber), is often obscured by trees—and only says “PIZZERIA”. Il Grottino was established in the 1930s but the sign is most likely …
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The Rchive no. 16—Three more from London

Arden House detail (Lambeth, London). Photograph by Paul Shaw (2014).
Arden House in the Kennington neighborhood of Lambeth, London was built in 1968. The name over the estate entrance is an excellent example of vernacular lettering: simple and unpretentious. The sans serif capitals are constructed out of flat strips of iron that have been cut and welded together. Combined with the bordering strips the design harks back to some of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s lettering. The R is a plain grotesque/gothic.
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The Rchive no. 15—Hamilton Wayzgoose

R composition (2012).
At the 2012 Hamilton Wayzgoose at the Hamilton Wood Type Museum in Two Rivers, Wisconsin I asked Lucio Passerini, the Milanese master printer who was one of the letterpress demonstrators, to proof some grotesque wood type letters for me. I was a calligraphy demonstrator at the Wayzgoose and I used some of Lucio’s R prints as the basis for improvisational calligraphic compositions for attendees. This one came out the best in terms of both vivacity and composition. For …
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