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. 11: Woman’s Work?

This is a post that owes a big debt of thanks to Caitlin Dover, my former colleague at Print magazine. She is doing research on 19th c. signs in New York City and came across this intriguing reference to women signpainters. It is in The Employments of Women: A Cyclopaedia of Woman’s Work by Virginia Penny (Boston: Walker, Wise & Co., 1863), pp. 471–472. The entry, one of a long list of potential professions for women that defiantly avoids …
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Father Catich and the Serif: An Emendation

This is from your note on Cramsie’s book:
p. 43 “Some historians have linked the invention of the Roman serif to the carver’s chisel…. Another more recent theory has linked it to the invention of a square-cut writing implement; not a reed or quill, but a flat brush….”
[Father E.M. Catich should be identified as the author of the second theory which is now the preferred one.]
In saying this, like many others you do some injustice to W. R. Lethaby, who in …
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What’s Online no. 2: German Propaganda Archive

At TypeCon 2010 in Los Angeles last month I bought a copy of Der Schulungsbrief, a Nazi publication because it was dated January 1940 and I was curious about its typography. Unfamiliar with the periodical I Googled it and—to my surprise—came across an entire section of a website devoted to it. See operated by Prof. Randall Bytwerk of Calvin College, a specialist on Nazi propaganda. Der Schulungsbrief was a …
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Archeology in New York: Missing Subway Map Revealed

Recently, there has been buzz because a Vignelli subway map has been discovered in situ in the New York City subway system at the IND station at 57th Street and Sixth Avenue (F train). Nicholas Hall posted a photograph of the map on September 10th on his Flickr site. Then it was blogged about on Gothamist on September 16th by Jen Carlson who noted that it had appeared on the Forgotten New York …
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The 1979 New York Subway Map: A Question of Authorship, Part II

“I thus decided to designate the 1979 map as the Tauranac-Hertz map”
Your reasoning is impeccable, but the semiotics may not communicate the reasoning clearly. The priority of names may be taken to imply priority of design. (Hertz complains of being “at the arse end of the hyphen”.) I prefer the neutral name “1979 MTA map”, which I believe Tauranac and Hertz find acceptable.
You quote from your book, “Conceived by John Tauranac; designed and executed by Michael Hertz Associates” and then …
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The 1979 New York City Subway Map: A Question of Authorship, Part I

Thanks for your posting on the 1979 subway map, which focuses attention on the difficult question of authorship.
A subway map comprises several connected elements, which may have resulted from distinct design decisions, by different individuals or voted by a committee. The 1979 MTA map was produced by a committee of 12 people plus 3 staff at Michael Hertz Associates, working for almost 3.5 years (Nov 1975 to Jun 1979). During this time the chair changed (Fred Wilkinson to John Tauranac), …
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What’s Online no. 1: Display

For years website designers Greg D’Onofrio and Patricia Belen of Kind Company, best known for the design of the website Alvin Lustig 1915–1955: Modern Design Pioneer, have been assiduously collecting examples of modern design from old books and periodicals to corporate brochures and other ephemera. Instead of hoarding their wealth of material, they have decided to generously share it with the rest of the world through Display, their new website.
Greg and Patricia are doing this …
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Erhard Ratdolt’s 1486 type specimen

Patrick Cramsie is correct and I was wrong. The first known type specimen sheet, dated April 1486, was issued by Erhard Ratdolt at Augsburg (Germany). Only one copy survives. See Annals of Printing: A Chronological Encyclopedia by W. Turner Berry and H. Edmund Poole (London: Blandford Press, 1966), p. 56 which reproduces the sheet. It shows a decorated initial A in the white-vine style common in Paduan and Florentine manuscripts of the time, ten sizes of rotunda faces, three sizes …
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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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From the Archives no. 10: Specimen Sheets vs. Alphabet Sheets

The Desk Catalogue of ‘Monotype’ Faces (London: The Monotype Corporation Limited, n.d.) is a ring binder of specimen sheets of Monotype and Monophoto faces dated from 1962 to 1966. The short introduction (unsigned but probably by Beatrice Warde) has this to say:
“It should be emphasized however that the primary purpose of these official specimen sheets is not that to which designers have attempted to put them, namely that of model-letter sheets for tracing in pencil layouts. For that purpose, the …
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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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A Case Study no. 1—Chocolate & Zucchini

Several years ago I was hired to fix part of a book title. The book was Chocolate & Zucchini: Daily Adventures in a Parisian Kitchen, a cookbook/memoir by Clotilde Dusoulier (New York: Broadway Books, 2007), a spin-off from her website of the same name.
The problem was the word “Zucchini”. The jacket designer had set it in a typeface called Scriptina, a free font from Frederick Nader (aka Apostrophe) (2000–2001)*. Although the font is full of zesty letters, they do …
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