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.

From the Archives no. 1—Times Roman

This is the first of a new series of posts that are intended to call wider attention to various nuggets of information and opinion I come across during my many researches in archives.
On December 18, 1949 Herbert Simpson, a printer (and amateur calligrapher), in Evansville, Indiana wrote to Paul A. Bennett, the longtime publicity manager for Mergenthaler Linotype, with an offer:
“I hereby give, will and bequeath to you all of my interest, concern, and future residue in Times Roman. I …
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Blackletter Myths no. 1

There is a commonly held belief that as soon as the Nazis took power in 1933 that roman (or antiqua) types were banned in favor of blackletter. This is not so. However, the complicated history of blackletter types during the years 1933–1941 has not been fully explored. My experience reading 1930s issues of Gebrauchsgraphik suggests that blackletter was not as widely used as is generally believed. For instance, today I looked at all of the issues for 1939 and found …
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Looking for Letters in New York City

Three years ago Christopher Calderhead, editor of Letters from New York, published by the Society of Scribes, Ltd., a New York-area calligraphic group, asked me to write about my fifty favorite examples of lettering in New York City. What was supposed to be an article in the journal ended up being the entire issue. Even though the photographs were in black and white, the 80-page Letters from New York 2 was an instant hit. It spurred me to systematically try …
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“How Helvetica Took Over the Subway”

Jennifer 8. Lee has posted a blog about a day we spent together prowling the New York City subway system. It is entitled “How Helvetica Took Over the Subway” and can be found at the City Room section of the New York Times online.

Blue Pencil no. 2—Graphic Design: A New History

This is the second Blue Pencil installment.
After Mary Ann Bolger wrote a fairly favorable review of Graphic Design: A New History in Eye no. 66 (vol. 17, Autumn 2007), I wrote a letter to the magazine pointing out that it is “riddled with errors”, most of them relating to typefaces and typography. The letter was published in Eye no. 67 (vol. 17, Spring 2008) and led, several months later, to a response from Prof. Eskilson. He wanted to know what …
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Blue Pencil no. 1—Font. The Sourcebook

This is a slow blog. I have lots of material I hope to post but not enough time to properly prepare it. Thus, I expect my posts to be sporadic which will make Blue Pencil part of the nascent trend toward slow blogging.
I chose the name Blue Pencil for the blog because my original intention in establishing it was to post lists of errors—factual, orthographical, typographical, etc.—I have been increasingly finding in the various books I read. Many publishers have …
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“The (Mostly) True Story of Helvetica and the New York City Subway”

Read the complex story of how and when Helvetica entered the New York City subway system at AIGA Voice. The documentation for the article will eventually be posted here along with additional photographs of subway signage. In the meantime, to complete my research I am still looking for more photographs of the subway system taken between 1966 and 1980 showing signs, especially signs that have black lettering on a white background. (The sign pictured here …
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