The Multiplicity of Type-Faces

There is always someone complaining that there are too many typefaces. In The Printing Art for August 1916 the editors, under the heading “The Multiplicity of Type-Faces” (pp. 562–563) have this to say:

Seriously, there is little need for the great variety of type-faces now offered. Of course, we require enough to relieve monotony in the appearance of our books and magazines, and to give proper emphasis in the advertising pages, but aside from this there is no absolute necessity for all the faces shown.

Good work and artistic results can readily be obtained with a very few series of type. This has been proven from time to time, when some so-called crank has shown how much can be done with the Caslon and a text and the italic of Caslon. While we would not contract the supply to this extent, we fully believe that ten series of good faces, properly selected, according to the kind of work to be done, would be all the equipment needed by the average printery.

The lesser number of faces would render the study and practice of display easier, and the larger fonts that could be carried for the same investment would make for economical production.

That the later faces have been an improvement on the former horrors of design no one can deny, and that the display of the foundry specimen sheets is very tempting is also acknowledged. That the former is good for the business, and the latter good business on the part of the type-makers is undeniable. But would it not be for the good of all concerned, including the public, if the older, less useful, and less artistic faces could be retired when the newer ones came out to take their places?

The printer would be the gainer, and the typefounder would lose nothing as the same number of pounds of type would be bought and the same amount of money change hands. The non-distribution system would then be brought nearer. The printer who is nearly scared to death by the idea of dumping hundreds of fonts he now has could under the new plan look complacently on the continual interchange of the lesser number.

There are entirely too many type-faces and too few types in the average printing plant, and it is time for decided reform along this line. It will be just as easy was the reform in the style of composition—from “every line a different face” to the setting of all decent jobs in one style of type for the whole job and making emphasis by size and spacing. Now is the time to start this reform.

What precipitated this outburst? There was no significant change in the American typefounding industry nor any major release of typefaces in 1916. What would the editors think of the 100,000 or so fonts that are for sale today?