Dissections

Blue Pencil was born out of the disappointment of seeing the editorial quality of books on graphic design and typographic history decline precipitously over the past decade. Its raison d’être is to dissect books on graphic design history and typography to ferret out errors—typographical, orthographical and factual—in such books and post them publicly. Dissections are not done to denigrate authors, but to rebuke proofreaders and editors who have failed their jobs and publishers who have abdicated their responsibility to the reader. Blue Pencil marks up a text with an eye to improving it.

Blue Pencil no. 6 comments

I completely agree with Paul’s comments. The book is visually excellent (in spite of reproducing many type specimens in gold (!) ink. But the captions are generally useless, obvious comments without any real knowledge of the specimens. I understand that Jan Tholenaar died before the book was published; that might be the cause of the lack of intelligent, pertinent captions.—Stephen Saxe
This is the only comment received since June 2010. It is about Blue Pencil no. 6 (16 August 2010) which …
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Patrick Cramsie response to Blue Pencil no. 10

Since Blue Pencil does not post comments without moderation (and I am a very slow overseer of the blog) I was not aware of Patrick Cramsie’s attempt to respond to my dissection of The Story of Graphic Design until he contacted me directly. At the time I promised to post his lengthy response but not until I had a chance to read through them. Unfortunately, the press of teaching and work prevented me from doing anything related to Blue Pencil …
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About Blue Pencil

Some people have misunderstood the lengthy postings about books on Blue Pencil as book reviews. They are not. The original impetus behind Blue Pencil was to provide detailed dissections of the shortcomings, both authorial and editorial, of books in the field of design, beginning with those devoted to the history of graphic design. The postings are intended to be the digital equivalent of the editor who, in the heyday of the 20th century, wielded a blue pencil with a vengeance …
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Blue Pencil no. 10—The Story of Graphic Design

The Story of Graphic Design: from the Invention of Writing to the Birth of Digital Design
Patrick Cramsie
New York: Abrams and London: The British Library, 2010

p. 23 “graphe” should have an grave accent on the final e

p. 23 “constantcy” [is this a Britishism or misspelling?]

p. 25 “distiction” should be “distinction”

fig. 2.6 Scribal palette and brushes[,] c.15,500–14,500BC the image should be larger; as it is, the objects are not clear

p. 33 “A red quartzite statue made in Egypt between 750 and …
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Blue Pencil Comments no. 2—Marian Bantjes



Marian Bantjes has responded to my posts about her Saks Fifth Avenue heart. Here is here comment and below it my response.

Marian Bantjes 4/4/10

Paul, for you to use my Saks heart as a comparison to a Spencerian script is madness. It bears absolutely no relation to a formal script (the first clue being that it is a monoline), nor was it meant to. The letters do not flow properly from …
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Blue Pencil no. 9—Type: A Visual History of Typefaces and Graphic Styles vol. 2 1901–1938

Blue Pencil no. 6 (1 October 2009) was devoted to Type: A Visual History of Typefaces and Graphic Styles vol. 1 1628–1900 edited by Cees W. de Jong, Alston W. Purvis and Jan Tholenaar. The companion volume was published in February 2010. It was obviously already edited and prepared for publication when my comments were posted as many of the same problems that plagued the first volume are still present in this one.
Type: A Visual History of Typefaces and Graphic …
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Blue Pencil Comments no. 1

When I set up this slow blog I decided not to publish comments for several reasons: 1. I wanted any comments to be substantive rather than simply expressions of praise or vituperation; and 2. I feared that I wouldn’t have the time to curate them properly. The sort of comments that I would like to include on the blog are those that add knowledge: correcting my posts regarding facts, spelling, etc.; adding additional information fleshing out my comments; or arguing …
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Blue Pencil no. 8—Idea 321 (2007)

Between 2006 and 2008 there was an astonishing outpouring of Tschicholdiana, books and magazines devoted to various aspects of the life and work of Jan Tschichold (1902–1974), the influential 20th c. typographer and typographic theorist. This is the first Blue Pencil post devoted to looking at these works. It is focused on a special issue of Idea, a Japanese graphic design magazine, dedicated to Tschichold.
Idea: International Graphic Art and Typography 321 2007.3
“Works of Jan Tschichold 1902–74”
222 pp.
This special issue of …
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Blue Pencil no. 7C—Helvetica and the New York City Subway System: The (Mostly) True Story

There has been a lot of controversy over who deserves credit for the design of the 1979 subway map. In Helvetica and the New York City Subway System I tried to avoid getting tangled up in the fight between Michael Hertz and John Tauranac, both of whom were very generous in providing me with material and information about developments in the sign system. The sign system, not the map, was my primary interest at the time.
As someone who has worked …
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Blue Pencil no. 7B—Helvetica and the New York City Subway System: The (Mostly) True Story

I recently revisited the Transit Archives and discovered the contact sheet for the full page photograph on p. 26 of Helvetica and the New York City Subway. My sources for the photograph did not provide a date and I guessed that it had been taken in 1965. However, the sheet is dated April 18, 1968. The caption (Fig. 74 on p. 27) needs to be corrected. The contact sheet can be found in NYCTA Photographic Unit Photo Print Collection 1968, …
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Blue Pencil no. 7A—Helvetica and the New York City Subway System: The (Mostly) True Story

My posting of mistakes in Helvetica and the New York City Subway System immediately led to a few other mistakes being sent my way. Jackson Cavanaugh has pointed out the following errors:
p. 27 “They commissioned a new logo from Sundberg-Ferar, an industrial design firm responsible for designing a new subway car, and they created special strip maps (set in Futura) for use on the no. 7 Flushing Line (fig. 270).” The reference for the TA logo should be fig. 269.
p. …
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Blue Pencil no. 8—Bauhaus 1919–1933: Workshops for Modernity



Above. Das A und O des Bauhauses edited by Ute Brüning (Berlin: Bauhaus Archiv and Edition Leipzig, 1995), p. 63 (plate 46). Joost Schmidt. Plakat. 1922/1923. Lithografie. Druck: Reineck & Klein, Weimar. (60.5x48cm). Bauhaus Archiv.

Below. Bauhaus 1919–1933: Workshops for Modernity edited by Barry Bergdoll and Leah Dickerman (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2009), p. 153 (plate 194). Joost Schmidt. Poster for the 1923 Bauhaus exhibition. 1922–1923. Lithograph on paper. …
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Blue Pencil no.7—Helvetica and the New York City Subway System: The (Mostly) True Story



Blue Pencil has gained a reputation for hyper-vigilance in looking for errors of all kinds in design books. This does not mean that I expect such books to be completely error-free. That is an unreasonable expectation. Errors are inevitable. They are part of human nature and the products that humans make. However, it is the sheer number of mistakes, from the trivial to the substantive, in so many books today …
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Blue Pencil no. 6 addendum no. 2

James Mosley, former librarian at St. Bride Printing Library in London (one of the great repositories of type specimens), has this to say about the Claude Lamesle specimen in Type: A Visual History:
“…the big “thin” Gros Canon italic in the Lamesle specimen is Robert Granjon’s (not Jannon’s), and was used together with the “thin” Gros Canon roman (which is Garamond’s) in the Imitatio Christi of 1640, the first title from the Imprimerie Royale in Paris. There is a lot of …
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Blue Pencil no. 6 addendum

John D. Berry points out that the text of Type: A Visual History does not use f ligatures. This is emblematic of the book. Sloppy writing begets sloppy typography.

Blue Pencil no. 6—Type: A Visual History of Typefaces and Graphic Styles

Type: A Visual History of Typefaces and Graphic Styles 1628–1900 vol. 1
edited by Cees W. de Jong, Alston W. Purvis and Jan Tholenaar
texts by Jan Tholenaar and Cees W. de Jong
Hong Kong, Köln, London et al—Taschen, 2009
[the cover lists de Jong, Purvis and Tholenaar as editors but the title page only lists de Jong so it is hard to know who is responsible for the captions. The essays are credited to de Jong and Tholenaar.]
the design is by Sense/Net (Andy Dial …
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