From the Archives no. 22—Grids and Ornamental Typography

Newspaper Advertising: Advertising Course of Eleven Lectures Conducted by The New York Times Advertising Department (New York: The New York Times, 1932)

Lecture No. 7 “Typography”—“Fundamentals of Good Typography” by Elmer Adler, pp. 61–70

“…it shows the meticulous care with which a man like T.M. Cleland approaches the job of laying out a page. You will notice (25) that Mr. Cleland has carefully ruled the sheet in pica squares and has stamped in each ornament in the exact position he wants it to be set. With a plan of this sort, it is almost impossible for the compositor to fail to properly carry on (26).” pp. 69–70

The New York Times Class in Newspaper Advertising (1932), p. 70

By “it”, Elmer Adler (1884–1962) was referring to fig. 25 above. This is a layout by illustrator and advertising artist T.M. Cleland (1880–1964) for the title page of the retrospective survey of his work published by Adler’s Pynson Printers in 1929 (fig. 26). Cleland was known for his decorative work, usually executed by hand, but for the title page he used fleurons or printers’ ornaments. Fig. 25 shows Cleland’s working method which involved a baseline grid as a means of precisely positioning each fleuron.

We tend to think of grids as a modernist design tool and as decorative design as the polar opposite of modernism. But laying out complicated ornamental designs such as this one—or the border in the advertisement designed by Adler for publisher Alfred A. Knopf (fig. 27)—require some kind of aid and a grid is a logical choice.


The Decorative Work of T.M. Cleland by Alfred E. Hamill (1929). Detail of title page. Design by T.M. Cleland.

For those interested in advice on how to use fleurons see the extensive discussion in The Monotype Recorder: Containing a Grammar of Type Ornament, an Analysis and Classification of Typographic Border Designs and Their Behavior in Use… vol. 42, no. 1 (1960). Although it is discussing Granjon Arabesques and other monotype material, the illustrations are equally applicable to their digital versions.