From the Archives no. 10: Specimen Sheets vs. Alphabet Sheets

The Desk Catalogue of ‘Monotype’ Faces (London: The Monotype Corporation Limited, n.d.) is a ring binder of specimen sheets of Monotype and Monophoto faces dated from 1962 to 1966. The short introduction (unsigned but probably by Beatrice Warde) has this to say:

“It should be emphasized however that the primary purpose of these official specimen sheets is not that to which designers have attempted to put them, namely that of model-letter sheets for tracing in pencil layouts. For that purpose, the Corporation is now issuing standard ‘Alphabet Sheets’ which are sold in sets at a price based on sixpence per sheet…. The loose-leaf specimens thus revert to their original purpose as a means of showing potential purchasers of matrices, as succintly as possible, enough words or letters in any size to permit accurate identification.”

The Alphabet Sheets, intended for designers, showed every character in a fount at every size up to 72 pt. This sometimes required as many as five sheets. The Specimen Sheets were intended for Monotype operators. The distinction between the two recalls a moment of transition when the responsibility for typographic layout was turning decisively from those in the printing trade (the printer, the compositor, the Linotype or Monotype operator) to the graphic designer. This all sounds very quaint now that the designer in the digital world is the typesetter as well. There is no longer any need for pencil tracings from specimen sheets (or whatever one wanted to call them) since layouts can be done using actual fonts.