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. 5—Type: A Visual History of Typefaces and Graphic Styles 1628–1900 vol. 1

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 book comes with a keycard that allows the buyer/reader to access and download 1069 high resolution (jpeg format) images for free and without restrictions on their use.
The 134 page-website displays 8 images per page. Each is tagged with the title of the item, and …
Continue reading

The Prevalence of Italian

This year both David Shields (Austin, Texas)—“A Short History of the Italian” in The Journal of St Bride Library—and James Clough (Milano, Italy)—“The ‘Italian’ Monstrosity” in TypoItalia 1—have written about the famously bizarre Italian typeface that Caslon & Catherwood launched in 1821. And Nick Sherman of MyFonts (and the Woodtyper blog) has pointed out that we now have two digital interpretations of the design (Slab Sheriff by Alex Sheldon of Match & Kerosene—an appropriate design for such an incendiary foundry—and …
Continue reading

From the Archives no. 8: The New Typography Hits a Speed Bump in the United States

This editorial from Vanity Fair is a small but telling indication of the difficulty that the new typography had in gaining a toe-hold in America in the late 1920s and 1930s. When the anonymous author refers to the “new typography” he is probably speaking of die neue Typographie of Jan Tschichold et al in mind, but it is not entirely clear since he mentions it as having started c.1920 and associates it with advertising. Many design observers in the late …
Continue reading

Update: Blue Pencil no. 1 re: Civilité

Gilles Corre of GLC Fonts, in responding to a comment in Blue Pencil no. 1,  has pointed out that his website only shows pictures of his fonts and that information about their background can be found on MyFonts. His 1742 Civilité is derived from a model in Pierre Simon Fournier le jeune’s Modèles des caractères de l’imprimerie et des autres choses nécessaires au dit art nouvellement gravés par Simon-Pierre Fournier le jeune (1742).

More about Sarah and Enoch

David Shields, Assistant Professor in the Design Division at the University of Texas at Austin and curator of the Rob Roy Kelly American Wood Type Collection, has pointed out that no. 21 in Nicolete Gray’s Chart of Ornamented Typefaces 1800–1900 (in her Nineteenth Century Ornamented Typefaces, rev. ed. 1976) may be the model for the Sarah and Enoch gravestone lettering. No. 21 is from New Specimen of Printing Types from the Fann Street Letter Foundry …
Continue reading

Gravestone typography part 3

This gravestone for Harriet D. Cross (d. 1840) in the Grove Cemetery is an example of the typographic epitaph I was speaking of earlier. It is not what I had hoped to show since it does not have a Fat Face or an Egyptian but the mix of elements (bold grotesque in relief, light grotesque incised, outlined grotesque in relief, and Tuscan in relief; and the cartouche backgrounds) certainly shows the influence of 19th c. …
Continue reading

More from Maine

The gravestones in Midcoast Maine reveal some other oddities.
That of Mary Butman (d. 1848), wife of Samuel Butman, has an odd form of underscore in the abbreviation for Samuel: a short line under the l and below it three dots in increasing size.
That of Peter Hilt (d. 1845) has a similar underscore for the abbreviation of September: a thin short …
Continue reading

Gravestone typography continued

Here are a few more examples of the lone decorative DIED from Maine cemeteries. The decorative capitals for John Cochran (which would have been carved in 1850 when his wife died, not in 1839 when he did) and Deacon Job Pendleton have been found on other gravestones. I suspect they are from a typefounder’s or …
Continue reading

Gravestone typography

During my vacation in Maine a few weeks I visited as many cemeteries as I could find in the mid-coast region with the aim of finding gravestones from the 18th century that showed evidence of vernacular carving. I failed miserably. The earliest stone I was …
Continue reading

Questo blog non è morto

When I began this blog I called it a slow blog. But I had no intention of making it this slow, to the point of appearing dead. My PowerMac hard drive died on Friday, March 13th and by the time I got my new iMac up and running (with all the right programs) I was too deep into classes and other projects to keep up with the blog. I had also begun the next Blue Pencil post which has proven …
Continue reading

The Revival of Roman Capitals in the Quattrocento 1

Constructed Capitals vs. Written Capitals
One of the central arguments of my writings and talks on the revival of the Roman Capital in the Quattrocento is that the emphasis on the constructed letter that has dominated much writing on the subject since the mid-1950s is a red herring. Close examination of …
Continue reading

Blue Pencil no. 4—Typography and Graphic Design: From Antiquity to the Present

Typography and Graphic Design: From Antiquity to the Present
Roxane Jubert
Forewords by Serge Lemoine and Ellen Lupton
Paris: Flammarion, 2006
Translators: David Radzinowicz and Deke Dusinberre
Copy Editor: Lindsay Porter
Proofreader: Penelope Isaac
Typography and Graphic Design: From Antiquity to the Present, a broad history of graphic design by Roxane Jubert, appeared before the Eskilson and Drucker/McVarish books that have already been dissected on Blue Pencil. It is different from those books in several basic ways. Its captions are brief, limited (usually) to the name of …
Continue reading

Writings / Andrea Bregno

Andrea Bregno: Il Senso della Forma nella Cultura Artistica del Rinascimento
Claudio Crescentini and Claudio Strinati, eds.
Rome: M & M Maschietto Editore, 2008
The long-awaited book on Andrea Bregno (1418–1506), the Quattrocento Roman sculptor, celebrating the 500th anniversary of his death has finally been published. It contains the essay I wrote in collaboration with Starleen K. Meyer, a Milanese art historian, on Bregno’s role in the revival of the Roman capital letter in the Quattrocento. The essay is “Towards a New Understanding …
Continue reading

From the Archives no. 7—Notes on Books and Printing

Some Notes on Books and Printing
Charles T. Jacobi
London: Charles Whittingham & Co. at The Chiswick Press, 1903
originally printed 1892
I discovered this printer’s guide through Google Books. These excerpts are relevant to the Blue Pencil project on this blog.
“Whatever else be wrong a book must be spelt correctly!”, p. 14
“All works are the better for an Index….” p. 18
“A good index must be exhaustive; must include the various “points” of a book; must gather under one heading the same subjects; must …
Continue reading

“The (Mostly) True Story of Helvetica and the New York City Subway” in Portuguese

Daniel Campos of the website LogoBR has posted a Portuguese translation of my AIGA Voice article “The (Mostly) True Story of Helvetica and the New York Subway Sign System”. It is in three parts at

Blue Pencil no. 3.4—Bodoni

There is much confusion about what the types of Giambattista Bodoni really looked like. This is because Bodoni’s types changed over the course of his 45 year career. His early faces were influenced by the types of Pierre-Simon Fournier le jeune while his mature ones were influenced by the fonts of Firmin Didot. Bodoni also constantly refined his types to …
Continue reading