Blue Pencil

Blue Pencil is a “slog”: a slow blog. It does not get updated daily or even on a regular schedule. Instead, it gets updated when there is something of value to be posted. Postings often take a long time to prepare and appear at intervals of a few weeks or even months. Sometimes there is a flurry of postings within the span of a few days. Blue Pencil may be unpredictable in its frequency, but not in its purpose. Blue Pencil is fiercely dedicated to the 3Rs: research, reading and writing.

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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Tutorial no. 1—Spencerian Script

In Lettercentric, my blog for, I recently complained about the rise of the “squigglists”, young designers who have discovered the joys of handlettering but lack the experience and knowledge of the masters of the past. I compared the work of Marian Bantjes for Saks Fifth Avenue (art directed by Michael Bierut of Pentagram) to that of Tony DiSpigna, former member of Lubalin, Smith & Carnase. Unfortunately, was not the place for an extended explanation of why Bantjes’ …
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Legacy of Letters 1997–2000 Testimonials

“I was on the very first Legacy of the Letters trip to Rome and was so impressed I became addicted and went on a further two tours. On each occasion the trip was enjoyable and educational, informal and serious in its scholarship. I would unconditionally recommend these tours to anyone considering going to Italy to discover more of the arts and culture than is normally available through ordinary commercial tourism.”
Richard Kindersley, lettercutter, Richard Kindersley Studio, London
1997 Tour of Rome, 1999 …
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Legacy of Letters 2010

Paul Shaw and Alta Price, tour leaders

After a decade of quiescence Legacy of Letters is back with a new lettering tour of Italy. This time the tour, led by Paul Shaw and Alta Price, will bypass Rome and Florence and instead explore the Veneto and Emilia-Romagna regions. They are home to some of the most exciting, though lesser-known, lettering in a country rich in extraordinary lettering. The …
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Second Addendum to Tutorial no. 2—Hermann Ihlenburg

In Tutorial no. 2 I compared Marian Bantjes’ American Preview piece for Details magazine to brownstone decorations and 19th c. fancy types and artistic ornaments. Here are a few examples of these Victorian designs.
The first photograph is of a brownstone ornament in Hunters Point (Queens). The second is of an ornamented door on a Brooklyn Heights brownstone. And the third is from a brownstone in Park Slope (Brooklyn).

Below are two examples of Ihlenburg’s typographic work as reproduced in MacKellar, Smiths …
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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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From the Archives no. 9—Typographic Sanity

The May 1930 issue of The Linotype Magazine (vol. 19, no. 2) issued by Mergenthaler Linotype is entitled “Typographic Sanity.” It opens with this look back at the typography of the 1920s:
“As the cold gray dawn breaks upon the morning after an orgy of tangled type design, a weary printing industry shakes its aching head and asks, ‘Whither are we bound?’
“The descent was …
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Caslon’s Italian by James Clough

Paul Shaw mentions two commercial, digital versions of Caslon’s Italian: an accurate revival done by Paul Barnes from original smokeproofs in the St. Bride Library and the playful Slab Sheriff by Alex Sheldon. To put the record straight, some months before he died in 2005, Justin Howes kindly passed on to me his own digital revival of Caslon’s Italian. His starting point was the smoke proofs in the St. Bride Library (the same ones later used by Paul Barnes). Last …
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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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Heil Hikler

The paean to Wilhelm-Klingspor-Schrift was occasioned by seeing this bookjacket for A History of Modexn Gexmany: The Reformation by Hajo Holborn (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1959) a few weeks ago. I was immediately struck by its spelling. In the calligraphic portion of the title Guy Fleming, the book and jacket designer, had ignorantly substituted x for r in both Modern and Germany. How this escaped the German author is anyone’s guess, though it is …
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Addendum to Wilhelm-Klingspor-Schrift

Wilhelm-Klingspor-Schrift is usually reproduced in large sizes (48 pt or 60 pt) because they show the face at its most elegant. But, as a metal type, it was cast by Klingspor in a range of sizes that were optically scaled. At the smaller text sizes Wilhelm-Klingspor-Schrift was shorn of its delicate decorations. And, as was typical of metal faces, it was made sturdier, wider and with an increased x-height. This is illustrated on p. 24 …
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Paean to Wilhelm-Klingspor-Schrift: Textura in pinstripes

One of the most impressive metal typefaces of the 20th c. is Wilhelm-Klingspor-Schrift (also known as Wilhelm Klingspor Gotisch) designed by Rudolf Koch between 1919 and 1926 for the Klingspor Foundry in Offenbach am Main. It is a blackletter, specifically a textura. But it is no ordinary textura. It is sharp. Both in the sense of being spiky (as Steve Heller would expect of a blackletter) and in the sense of being natty. Wilhelm-Klingspor-Schrift is …
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