From the Bookcase no. 2—Spacing in Typography

Type Spacing
E.R. Currier
New York: J.M. Bowles, 1912

The Art of Spacing: A Treatise on the Proper Distribution of White Space in Typography
Samuel A. Bartels
Chicago: The Inland Printer, 1926

These two books come from the Charles Francis Collection. I have singled them out because I am fascinated by the spacing in lettering and type and have been trying to figure out when the modern conception of such spacing developed. Both of these books are surprisingly modern even though they predate the more famous texts of Jan Tschichold, Beatrice Warde, Eric Gill, Stanley Morison and others. They also practice what they preach as both books are impeccably typeset.

Neither of the two authors is well-known, though I am somewhat familiar with Everett R. Currier (1877–?) through my research on W.A. Dwiggins. Currier began his career at The Merrymount Press of Daniel Berkeley Updike sometime in the first decade of the 20th century before moving on to work with Bruce Rogers at the Riverside Press. After that he was head of the Publicity Printing Department of Curtis Publishing in Philadelphia. During that time he became a member of the Brothers of the Book formed by Laurence C. Woodworth in 1913. But by 1916 he was in New York City where he was associated with Berrien-Durstine, Inc., Advertising Agents. A portfolio of his work for the agency was shown in The Printing Art (December 1918; vol. 32, no. 4, pp. 265–272). Sometime in the 1920s he established Currier & Harford, Ltd., an advertising agency that was still in business in 1930. From there the trail grows cold.

Bartels began his printing career in New York City. In 1917 he won first prize in a competition run by The Printing Art to determine the most appropriate typeface for an insurance company’s advertising literature. He won honors in several other contests sponsored by printing trade journals that same year. By 1918 he had moved to Chicago. He authored “A Plea for Hand Composition” in the January 1919 issue of The Printing Art (vol. 32, no. 5, pp. 339–340) and wrote The Type and Copy Computer (1922) several years later. Its title page describes him as a superintendent at Fred Klein Co., Printers in Chicago as well as an “Instructor in the Art of Typography” in the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. The book’s typography is poor, pockmarked with poor word spacing. There is no indication whether Bartels was responsible for the composition, but the fact that his next book was the one being discussed here suggests that he was not happy with its appearance.

Type Spacing by E.R. Currier (1912), title page. Monogram by Frederic W. Goudy.

Type Spacing was originally published in Graphic Arts (August 1910) and then reprinted in book form two years later. The printer was Norman T.A. Munder (1867–1953) of Baltimore, the first recipient (1920) of the AIGA Gold Medal. The booklet—it is only 19 pages long—was printed in a limited edition of 300 copies. It is set in Caslon with a title page decoration (CP monogram for Currier Press) and opening page initial T designed by Frederic W. Goudy. The paper is handmade with a hammer and anvil watermark suggesting it was made by Joseph Batchelor & Son in England. The binding is paper (probably Fabriano Roma) over boards. The copy of Type Spacing in the Charles Francis Collection was originally given by Munder to E.G. Gress, editor of The American Printer, in 1921. Gress later gave it to Francis.

“To make the printed page as effective as possible, by the simplest possible means, is perhaps the clearest statement that we can make of the whole function of typographic art.” p. 3

This is the opening line of the essay. It is a sentiment that is still applicable today.

spacing is the key element of typography “…since, broadly speaking, type cannot be set without being spaced.” p. 3

“It [spacing] means the orderly contrasting of white with black space for the sake of legibility, decorative quality and ‘attention value’.” p. 3

there are three ways of adjusting space: “They are spacing (in its specific sense), or the adjustment of words; leading, or the adjustment of lines; and indention.” p. 4

Currier excludes spacing of letters since it is not a universal element, yet he considers it to be of far-reaching importance.

• use 3-em spaces between words for roman, lowercase sans serif, and bold type

• use less space for condensed type

• use more space for all caps

• good typographers make exceptions: e.g. Caslon Italic requires 4-em spaces as does Century Roman and Cheltenham

“The idea that because matter is wider leaded it should also be widely spaced between words, is a fallacy.” p. 5

“The effect which a page should produce is that of a uniform succession of gray horizontal lines of greater or less color, according to the face used.” p. 5

machine composition has not improved spacing; it is actually worse since looser than handset type

Type Spacing (1912), spread. Set in Caslon.

• open lines are inescapable due to variegations of text p. 6

• space lines before and after [open lines] manually—don’t make successive lines that slowly approach normal

this seems to be a response to a common practice of the time

• hyphens vs. turning over is a choice between two evils in a situation where a word is awkward; bad hyphens such as “a-mong” or “a-mount” are preferred to bad spacing p. 8

• the number of hyphens in a row depends on house style p. 7; some say 3, others say 1, etc.

Currier is against a fixed number since it depends on the layout and the text; he is willing to accept as many as 6 in a row.

“It is true that a row of hyphens at the end of successive lines is not entirely pleasing, though after all it is but mildly defective as compared with a page or column badly spaced to avoid divisions, and may therefore be regarded as the less of the two evils.” p. 7

It should be remembered that Currier is assuming a justified format as his essay was written years before flush left / rag right layouts became common.

“It should be the attitude of typographers that even spacing is a thing to be preserved and not to be violated, and that the hyphen is a most convenient help to this end.” p. 7

• do not insert a full em quad between sentences p. 8; the period is part of the space between sentences and thus 3-em spacing is sufficient; full em quads lead to holes in a text

Despite this view, Currier’s text has more space after a period than is acceptable today. Compare his setting to that of Bartels.

• use a thin space before a colon, semicolon, exclamation mark and question mark

These are marks of punctuation that take up as much vertical space as a letter or figure.

• adjust sloping and overhanging letters at the end of words (e.g. v or italic f)

Currier says all of these guidelines are true of display type as well as text type p. 9.

• use the minimum space needed to distinguish individual words; study the work of Updike, Rogers and Walter Gilliss (1855–1925)

• leading is a “most useful means of regulating the legibility and color value of the composed masses of type.” pp. 9–10; determine by eye to make uniform in display

• “…it goes without saying that uniformity of leading is essential in a page or block of matter that is continuous and of one size and face; but whether a page should be solid, or single- or wide-leaded, can only be determined by the character of face, the length of line, the relation of type mass to margins, and whether reading ease or color value is the primary aim.” p. 10

This open attitude toward typography anticipates Erik Spiekermann’s approach in Rhyme and Reason: A Typographic Novel (1987).

• avoid padding out a page with extra leading

• “The effect of non-uniform leading is offensive, particularly on facing pages.” p. 10

Currier is referring to the practice of forcing the depth of text blocks on facing pages to be the same by adjusting the leading of one or more lines. He says that having lines match across pages is more important since this affects backing up (the viewing of lines from one side of a page on the other side). His attitude is echoed in the writings of Jan Tschichold.

• the maximum of reading ease should be sought p. 11

• there should be more space between lines than between words

• 7–10 words is ideal for lines

• most solid settings [zero leading] are not good p. 12; but it can be done in ads; blackletter is an exception—it needs minimum leading and its decorative character is emphasized by compact spacing p. 13

• wide-leaded pages need ample margins but wide-spacing words is bad p. 15

• book composition is always a good model for all typography, but not vice versa p. 15; display often uses 3-pica and 10-pica leads!

• indention not intended to improve appearance of page; “Indention has a distinct function to perform, which is to punctuate….” p. 16; it helps reading and is thus necessary; even though it detracts from aesthetics; indention is not only for paragraphs but also for headings and use in display

• one-em indent is customary but can be varied in display work p. 17

• if there are only a few paragraphs in a text then no indention or extra leading or even pilcrows can be used—but only for novelty p. 18

“…work will have some merit if carefully spaced, no matter how ugly or inappropriate the type, the choicest type face in the world may have its beauty or its legibility nullified by bad spacing.” p. 19

“The tools are not superior to the workman.” p. 19

The Art of Spacing by Samuel A. Bartels (1926), binding. Design by Paul Reisinger. Note the tiny composing stick stamped in gold.

The Art of Spacing by Samuel A. Bartels is not as aesthetically pleasing as Type Spacing . It is set—by Bartels himself—in Hollandse Medieval which he specially had imported for the purpose. The composition is excellent but the inserted examples of typography disrupt the page designs. (In the manner of Jan Tschichold or Aaron Burns, Bartels has taken poor examples of typography and then reset them to make them better.) The title page is poorly designed and the folios are unnecessarily flanked by obtrusive ornaments. The deckled paper is antiquated but pleasant. Paul Reisinger’s binding design is delicate and subtly amusing. Bartels’ text is, at 110 pages in length, a more substantial one than Currier’s.

Bartels wrote the book because spacing not properly studied: “On a cover, title page, or an advertisement, the copy is set up, and the required leading is then dropped in more or less at random.” p. 3; book aimed at compositors [this is a reminder that, in the mid-1920s, printers still controlled most typography]

• use 3-em spacing for Goudy Oldstyle but 4-em for Cloister Oldstyle p. 10

This advice echoes that of Currier.

• good spacing aids message and helps to sell things p. 11

• different capitals require different spacing: straights, rounds, diagonals p. 17

Bartels is referring to the shape of capitals; straights comprises B, D, E, F, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, P, R and U; rounds are B, C, D, G, O, P, Q, R, and S; and diagonals are A, K, M sometimes, V, W, X, Y and Z.

• “Correct letter-spacing prevails when the area is approximately the same between different capitals.” p. 17; this also applies to word spacing p. 20.

The notion that good spacing is defined as equal area between letters or words is commonly accepted today by typographers and graphic designers but it is a relatively new idea. So far, I have been unable to find any earlier texts that take this approach. Instead, the common view—still found among non-designers today—is that good spacing is based on equal distance between letters (measured from the farthest extremity of each adjoining letter). Most ancient Roman inscriptions and Renaissance inscriptions are spaced in this manner.

• more leading is needed for letterspaced capitals

• don’t spread out lines to a set measure p. 21

Spreading out lines to a set measure is the same as using force justification in today’s page layout programs.

• try to avoid lines set all in italics p. 24

• “Contrast in sizes simplifies readability….” p. 25

• “Spacing of lower-case words in always objectionable, and in italics even more so….” p. 25

The Art of Spacing (1926), spread. Set in Hollandse Medieval by S.H. de Roos.

machine composition has pushed out handset and contributed to a decline in quality p. 27; poor composition is caused by speed

However, all of the examples in Bartels’ book are set either on the Linotype or the Monotype.

“While there are still many machine operators, and also hand compositors, who persist in placing a full em quad after periods, the practice has happily been discontinued by leading printers everywhere.” pp. 30–31; there is no need for extra space due to capitals following

In this, Bartels agrees with Currier, but his own typesetting has tighter—more modern—wordspacing. See the two sample spreads posted here.

•use 8–12 pts indent for a line up to 20 ems in length

• use 14–20 pts for a line of 21–30 ems

• use 22+ pts for a line of 30 picas or more pp. 32–33

• the rule of thumb for a measure (line length): “one and a half to two times the linear width of a lower-case alphabet.” p. 34; this equals 39–52 characters or 8–10 words per line; a line can deviate by 1 or 2 picas p. 36

This rule of thumb is still a useful guideline today.

don’t do paragraphs without indentation p. 36; it creates monotonous text; 1 pt leading is preferable to solid or to 2 pt leading p. 38

Currier seems to be assuming text set in type at 10 pt.

the face size of type is not the same as its body size p. 46

This is something that designers still need to remember since it is just as applicable to digital type as to metal type.

the face (or appearing) size of type affects leading (e.g. bold faces need more leading than regular ones)

Bartels was as punctilious as Herb Lubalin or Erik Spiekermann. In several of his examples of improved typography he has hung punctuation in the margin. He also endorses mortising of initials p. 58 This means cutting into the metal to make a closer fit of the text that follows the initials rather than leaving excess white space caused by the irregular shape of the initial letter. I suspect he would have been in favor of the various tricks that Lubalin (and Aaron Burns, who oversaw his typesetting at The Composing Room) did to achieve compact headlines in advertising. See the examples in Typography by Aaron Burns (New York: Reinhold Publishing, 1961).

• margins are part of white space p. 59

• pages in a spread are a unit

On pp. 60–61 Bartels has a diagram that presages Tschichold’s famous one in “Consistent Correlation Between Book Page and Type Area” (The Form of the Book, p. 47) showing how text area is proportionate to page area it but does not show how to achieve this relationship without using measuring tools.

• examples of the ratio of type area to page area: 6×9 page is 26×39 ems; 7×10.5 page is 30×45 ems

• different size pages need different size margins, but “How to determine what these margins ought to be is another perplexing subject.” p. 62

“The method employed on the specimens shown herewith [pp. 60-61], and which was also used in determining the margins of The Art of Spacing, was to draw a line diagonally across the sheet…; then we arrived at the type-line length by figuring about five-sevenths of the page width…; and placed on the paper with the diagonal line. The points at which the type corners met the drawn line on the paper determined the page position, having kept in mind the gradations from back to foot margin.” p. 63

This is harder to understand and not as satisfyingly elegant as Tschichold’s method.

• folios, running heads and the ascenders and descenders of top and bottom lines of text are not part of the text area being measured p. 66

The Art of Spacing by Samuel A. Bartels was still in print as late as 1948. It deserved to be.