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.

An addendum to Print: The Color Issue—George F. Nesbitt 1841

Here is a short visual addendum to the current Stereotype column in Print co-written by Stephen Coles and I that focused on chromatic typefaces. These are two pages from Nesbitt’s Fourth Specimen of Machinery Cut Wood Type “manufactured and for sale by George F. Nesbitt, Tontine Building, New-York” (1841).  The specimen book is very short and all of its samples are, like those shown here, two-color decorative typefaces. Some are in red and black while others …
Continue reading

A typographic mystery: an English typeface and a Maine gravestone

Last year while on vacation in Maine, I discovered peculiar letters on a well worn and lichen-encrusted gravestone in the Hope Grove Cemetery.  The tomb was for two children, Enoch P. who died in 1811 at the age of 18 and Sarah who died in 1804 at the age of ten. The foot of the tomb is missing and thus their last name is unknown, though local genealogists surmise it is Safford since a similar tomb nearby bears that name. …
Continue reading

The Rchive no. 9—The Return of the Classical Roman Letter

The New York Life Insurance Company Building (1899; now the New York City Criminal Court Building) was designed by Stephen Hatch but completed by McKim, Mead & White after his death in 1894. The building’s address is affixed to the side in copper letters that have classical Roman overtones not normally found at that time. They are surely the work of McKim, Mead & White rather than Hatch, reflecting the firm’s interest in Beaux Arts architecture with its adoption of …
Continue reading

The Rchive no. 10—Faux Art Deco

R from Tick Tock Diner, Manhattan. Photograph 16 February 2013.
The neon is real but the Art Deco letter R is not. This is a detail of the word “DINER” from the Tick Tock Diner in Manhattan, kitty corner from Penn Station and Madison Square Garden. It is the New York City outpost of a famous diner in Clifton, New Jersey of the same name.
The original—which I have never seen—is an iconic American diner judging by the many photographs online …
Continue reading

The Rchive no. 5—The Art Deco Empire

The Empire State Building (1931). Detail of “LAKE ONTARIO” from map of New York State in Fifth Avenue lobby. Photographed 16 February 2013.
The Empire State Building is not only one of the greatest examples of architecture in New York City, but it contains some of the greatest lettering. On the back wall of the Fifth Avenue lobby is a stunning map of New York State (the Empire State) made of marble, steel and bronze. The lettering of cities, rivers, …
Continue reading

The Rchive no. 6—Stencil

R from unknown storefont on the south side of West 34th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues, Manhattan, New York. Photographed 16 February 2013.
I stupidly photographed this R in the entryway to a store without recording its name. It is Times Roman but the stencil effect, coupled with the light (only visible in the stem), takes it out of the mundane. Who knew Times Roman could be so alluring?

The Rchive no. 7—the Industrial R (Sans serif division)

Hercules Seating Company, 25–45 Park Place, Manhattan, New York. Photographed 15 February 2013.
The Hercules Seating Company appears to be closed. That does not bode well for its lovely mid-century sans serif sign. The letters are typical of the interwar sans that inspired Hoefler & Frere-Jones’ wildly popular Gotham typeface. What is different about the Hercules Seating Company letters from the many other examples of “Gotham” sans serifs found throughout the five boroughs is the rounded faceting that is more …
Continue reading

The Rchive no. 8—the Industrial R (Serif division)

The Oltarsh Building, 418 Broadway, Manhattan, New York City. Detail. Photographed 3 February 2008.
The Oltarsh Building was built by David M. Oltarsh as the Major Theatre in 1927. It is a three-story brick building with capital letters spelling out “THE OLTARSH BUILDING” affixed to the facade between the third story and the roof.
This R has the same industrial proportions as the one in The Rchive no. 7. But now there is a contrast of thick/thin to the strokes coupled …
Continue reading

Legacy of Letters 2013 profile—Tony Di Spigna

Tony Di Spigna has been creating gems of Spencerian script—his term for drawn lettering derived from roundhand and other forms of pointed-pen writing—for over forty years. He learned the skill from Tom Carnase while working for Herb Lubalin & Associates, though I believe he has surpassed his mentor. There are two things that have always impressed me the most about Tony’s Spencerian script: 1. the gracefulness and naturalness of his curves; and 2. his ability to make compositions that hold …
Continue reading

The Rchive no. 4—more neon

Neon R from RESTAURANT (Tom’s Restaurant, 2880 Broadway, New York City), 1957.
This lovely neon R is the second one from Tom’s Restaurant in Morningside Heights, made famous by the sitcom Seinfeld. It can be found on p. 116 of New York Neon by Tom Rinaldi (mentioned in The Rchive no. 3) as well as on his neon blog. Rinaldi says that it was originally manufactured for the Columbia Restaurant, but does not indicate when …
Continue reading

The Rchive no. 3—Neon

Neon R from LIQUORS (Riverside Liquor, 2746 Broadway, New York City), 1955
It has been far too long since I added an image to the Rchive. This neon R from the Manhattan Valley neighborhood of New York City dates from 1955 according to the authoritative New York Neon by Thomas Rinaldi (W.W. Norton & Company, 2012; p. 104). Liquor stores are one of the best places to see neon signs. But most are predictable: sans …
Continue reading

Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana announces digitized manuscripts

The Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana has finally begun to make public digital versions of its vast manuscript holdings. The first 256 manuscripts went online earlier this week, starting with Ott. Lat. 259 (a collation, combining a 9th c. manuscript of a text by Augustinus with a medieval manuscript of texts by Valerianus Cemelensis and Isidorus) and ending with Vat. lat. 11506 (a 9th c. Cicero). Most of the manuscripts are from the Palatini latini (Pal. lat.) collection.
Looking at the Digitized Manuscripts …
Continue reading

Blue Pencil no. 26—Zapfiana no. 4: The Typefaces of Gudrun Zapf-von Hesse

After completing Zapfiana no. 3 it seemed only right that Gudrun Zapf-von Hesse* (b. 1918), Hermann Zapf’s wife and a talented type designer in her own right, be given the same treatment. Unfortunately, the literature on her is much slighter than that on her husband. There is are only two sources of significant length, one that focuses on her alone and one on the two Zapfs; and then there is one slender publication about the both of them. None of …
Continue reading

Blue Pencil no. 25—A last word on About More Alphabets

Jerry Kelly has emailed me (12 December 2012) with a response to Blue Pencil no. 24 but also with a request not to post his comments. Although I will honor his request not to quote him or his email I will respond to two of his assertions. First, he claims that Comenius Antiqua had oldstyle figures and suggests I look at the Berthold Exklusiv specimen. Although I am not sure which specimen from Berthold he has in mind, my copy …
Continue reading

“Who Made That? (Subway Signage)”—Who Knows?

“Who Made That? (Subway Signage)” by Pagan Kennedy, in The New York Times Magazine for 9 December 2012 (p. 30), discusses the signage of the New York City subway system that Unimark developed between 1966 and 1970. I was contacted for information for the short article, specifically about Helvetica as the iconic typeface of the system. I tried to explain the complicated history of the system’s use of Standard (Akzidenz Grotesk) and Helvetica; and to distinguish the contributions of …
Continue reading

Blue Pencil no. 24—Jerry Kelly response to Blue Pencil no. 23

Jerry Kelly has emailed me about Blue Pencil no. 24. Here is his commentary with my responses.

While it was good to see Paul Shaw acknowledge that “Kelly is right,” “Kelly is absolutely right,” “Kelly is making a subtle but important distinction,” “mea [Shaw] culpa,”; etc., about many errors I pointed out in his review of “About More Alphabets,” I’m afraid that his response to me introduced yet more errors.

[I did acknowledge errors in Blue Pencil no. 23 but three times …
Continue reading