From the Archives no. 16—Choosing a Typeface

Among the items that interested me in the former library of the High School of Graphic Communications Art have been books, pamphlets and articles that promise to shed light on an often overlooked aspect of 20th c. graphic design: the origins and development of the type director and the type house. Two of the names that often pop up as early figures in this area are Frederick M. Farrar and Gilbert P. Farrar. I assume that they were brothers, but I have been unable to find out much about either man beyond what is in the books they wrote. Time magazine wrote two short profiles of Gilbert, one in 1936 and the other in 1943, that focus primarily on his career after 1936 as a magazine and newspaper design consultant. See,9171,885001,00.html,9171,756618,00.html

Gilbert P. Farrar wrote <i>The Typography of Advertisements that Pay: How to Choose and Combine Type Faces, Engravings and All the Other Mechanical Elements of Modern Advertisement Construction</i> (New York and London: D. Appleton and Company, 1920) which is available for PDF download from Google Books.

Fred Farrar worked as an art director at Calkins & Holden, Inc., the famous New York advertising agency co-founded by Earnest Elmo Calkins. In 1919 he left to become Vice President and Art Director of The Typographic Service Company in New York where he still was eight years later when he wrote <i>Fred Farrar’s Type Book</i> (New York and London: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1927).

One of the fascinating aspects of these two books is their discussion of which typefaces to use and why. The options are extremely narrow compared to the current world of digital type. Here are some excerpts from <i>Fred Farrar’s Type Book</i> about each of the eleven of the twelve typefaces he deems worthy of being used in advertising. (The missing face is Caslon 540 which he discusses only in terms of how it differs from Caslon Oldstyle 471.) Note that none of them are sans serifs.

Caslon Oldstyle 471: “This type is unquestionably the best to use in speaking English.” p. 6

Scotch Roman: “This is a splendid type of modern design with the peculiar characteristic that the capital letters are much heavier in face than the lower-case… but despite this apparent defect it composes beautifully….” p. 8

Bookman: “A vigorous heavy-face type of even tone, strong and convincing.… This type may not have anything to recommend it in the way of design, but it would be greatly missed if it were not in the equipment of the modern printing plant.” p. 8

ATF Garamond: “A graceful letter of some distinction, rather feminine in its graceful qualities.” p. 9

Goudy Oldstyle: “It is a nice round letter, well designed, but somewhat lacking in vitality. It is gracefully drawn in its individual characters, and when composed in a mass is good in color but not particularly easy to read. The capital letters are excellent and in themselves are sufficient reason for this being a popular type.” p. 9

Cheltenham: “This type suffers terribly from overcrowding, and when set in a mass, seems to be pinched to the point of suffocation.” p. 10

ATF Bodoni: “It is a modern letter, quite formal in design, but of great strength and dignity…. The proportions of the letter make generous leading essential.” p. 10

Century Expanded: “A newspaper type of simple design, utterly without charm, but of sufficient mechanical quality to recommend it for some uses. It is especially readable in the small sizes….” p. 11

Kennerley: “It has a rather pleasant freedom in its individual characters which, when set in a mass and properly leaded, is quite reminiscent of the old scribes, which is rather charming in thee machine-made days.… It is also a face of great utility in advertising, being of medium tone and of some decorative quality. It is rather classic in feeling and suggests most anything but motor trucks.” p. 11

Le Cochin: “It is a full-faced type—easy to read—but its marked individuality confines it to certain uses, such as advertisements for French products.… The roman capitals look quite large, owing to the shortness of the letters and the height of the ascenders; but they are so beautiful in design that they seem to decorate rather than mar the page.” p. 12

Cloister Oldstyle: “Cloister is a type of great utility, with a splendid decorative italic. The roman takes on so much color as it increases in size that it makes its own display lines without resorting to the bold face, which is a desirable quality in type for advertising use.” p. 13

Fred Farrar’s Type Book was published a year before Layout in Advertising by W.A. Dwiggins and Die neue Typographie by Jan Tschichold. Dwiggins acknowledged the existence of sans serifs in advertising but complained about their quality, remarks that led to his being commissioned by Mergenthaler Linotype in 1929 to design a good sans serif for them. The face that resulted was Metro and it launched his career as a type designer. The views of Farrar and Dwiggins were in stark contrast to those of Tschichold, who advocated the use of sans serif as the preferred typeface of modern times.

Gilbert P. Farrar lists thirty-three typefaces in The Typography of Advertisements yet none of them are sans serifs. He classifies typefaces not in the stylistic manner we are accustomed to, but by how they can be used in advertisements. Thus, there is “The Forceful Educational Style” which includes Cheltenham Bold, Cheltenham Oldstyle, Cheltenham Old Style Italic, Cheltenham Wide, Caslon Old Style, Caslon Bold, Caslon Bold Italic, and Old Style No. 15 (and Italic). “The Passive Educational Style” is best achieved by using Bookman Old Style, Cheltenham Medium, Scotch Roman, Scotch Roman Italic, Bodoni, Bodoni Bold, Bodoni Italic, and Bodoni Bold Italic for advertisements that appeal to men.

“Both the Bookman and the Scotch Roman have a sturdy dignity that is very pleasing to men.

“When Bookman is unobtainable use Cheltenham Wide, which is very similar. When Scotch Roman is unobtainable use Bodoni; Scotch Roman is so similar to Bodoni that I have often used it with Bodoni Bold for display because of the lack of another suitable bold letter to work with the Scotch Roman.” p. 59

For advertisements directed at women, Farrar recommends types that are “fancier”: Kennerley Oldstyle, Kennerley Italic, Cloister Old Style, Cloister Old Style Italic, and Della Robbia. And then there is always that reliable standby, Caslon Old Style which “knows no gender in its usefulness, and is a delicate, modest type in which to dress an appeal to women.” p. 73

“The Character or Comic Style” of advertising is best served by the same typefaces as in “The Forceful Educational Style” along with Foster (an ugly but surprisingly popular typeface prior to the 1920s). Slab serifs Foster and John Hancock are recommended in place of “Gothic” (meaning sans serif) for display in the “The Mail Order Style”. They are joined by Winchell (a type that is partway between Bodoni and a slab serif) and Webb (an outline slab serif) for “The Department Store Style”. All of these styles build upon “The Forceful Educational Style”.

Farrar also includes some condensed typefaces to be used in “high narrow spaces.”

Fred Farrar rails against the use of handlettering in advertisements—“the present-day avalanche of garbage”—unless it is done by one of the handful of masters of the genre such as T.M. Cleland, W.A. Dwiggins or Fred G. Cooper. Otherwise, he says, “It would seem that where hand-lettering is being considered, and in the absence of a good designer, we might let Mr. Caslon or Bodoni substitute.” pp. 36–37. In contrast, Gilbert P. Farrar accepts the use of handlettering in advertisements, an indication of the aesthetic changes that took place in the 1920s. He even suggests typefaces that can mimic or substitute for handlettering such as Packard, Pabst and Tabard. However, he warns his readers not to use such types “unless there is a good reason why you should imitate handlettering.” (p. 101).

Gilbert P. Farrar concludes his survey of typefaces for advertising with this bit of advice, “Do not try to memorize a mass of type faces. If your code of principles on which you choose type faces is correct you will immediately see that you only need to know a few type faces. We have been trying to remember and use too many type faces. Let’s forget a few of them.” His final words anticipate Massimo Vignelli’s famous statement in the 1990s that we need to only use five typefaces and trash all the rest.