Telephone directory typography in 1908
Why Talk About It?: “The Linotype Way Is the Right Way” to Set Telephone Directories (New York: Mergenthaler Linotype, 1908) is an early booklet by Mergenthaler Linotype dedicated to promoting the linotype as the best method of composing text for telephone directories. It has been scanned by GoogleBooks but cannot be read through them. Instead it can be read via HathiTrust using the link above or at Circuitous Root.
The booklet has 15 pages showcasing 74 different ways to set telephone directory entries using the linotype. Three sizes of type (5 pt, 5 1/2 pt and 6 pt) and 17 typefaces are used. The typefaces are either roman, bold or gothic (sans serif). Nearly all of them have generic names such as Antique No. 3 or Gothic No. 7. The exceptions are Aldine, Clarendon, De Vinne and Royal Gothic. There is some variety in the positioning of the names, addresses and telephone numbers (which are amazingly short), but all of the settings use leader dots. There is also some experimentation with all caps vs. U&lc setting for names, though not for addresses or telephone numbers. Bold is tried for all three elements.
The variations may seem tame to 21st century eyes, but I find them quite surprising for a publication from the first decade of the 20th century; especially given the limitations of the linotype library at that time. It would be instructive to compare the sample settings to actual telephone directories from a century ago.
The other comparison of interest is to Bell System telephone directories after 1937 when Bell Gothic (designed by C.H. Griffith of Mergenthaler Linotype) began to be used; and again after 1978 when Bell Gothic was replaced by Bell Centennial (designed by Matthew Carter of Mergenthaler Linotype).* There are other custom typefaces for telephone directories that are not as famous as either Bell Gothic or Bell Centennial. A good summary can be found at Conor Mangat’s website typographicproblemsolving.com.
Now that cell phones are rapidly replacing land lines and telephone directories are rapidly disappearing, will we ever see similar type design projects?
*I was unable to find a sample of Bell Gothic in use online.