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.

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

Blue Pencil no. 3.3—Humanist Bookhand

This is a detail from Harley 4965 f.127v in the British Library. The manuscript is an Eusebius (De evangelica praeparatione by Eusebius of Caesarea, translated by Georgius Trapezuntius) written out in 1482 in Florence. The script is commonly called humanist bookhand, though the Humanists themselves called it littera antica (in contradistinction to rotunda or littera moderna). This is the script that Drucker/McVarish confusingly call Humanist rotunda. The letters are “rounder” than those of either Spanish …
Continue reading

Blue Pencil no. 3.2—Rotunda

Rotunda was a southern European script and it was as popular in Spain as in Italy. Spanish rotunda tends to be narrower, more rigid and more precise than the Italian model. The example here is an undated sheet of parchment—it looks as if it could have been written anytime from the late 15th c. to the end of the 16th c.—which I bought ten years ago in Copenhagen. The writing is on both sides and …
Continue reading

Blue Pencil no. 3.1—Rotunda

The term that I quibbled with most in reading Graphic Design History: A Critical History was “rotunda”. On the assumption that most of those reading Blue Pencil do not have paleographical or calligraphic backgrounds I thought it would be easier to understand my comments if I posted some examples of rotunda and of humanist bookhand.
This first image is Ryl Latin Ms 32, f. 21. For those not used to manuscript notation this is the 21st …
Continue reading

Blue Pencil no. 3—Graphic Design History: A Critical Guide

This installment of Blue Pencil is different from previous ones in that the “errors” being exposed are, for the most part, not factual, orthographical or typographical, but editorial. Editorial errors are harder to nail down and hence more insidious. They are also more subjective so this post will include a number of references, both print and online, in support of my comments as well as some relevant images.
One of the basic problems of Graphic Design History: A Critical Guide is …
Continue reading

From the Archives no. 6—Artistic Printing

The October 1939 issue of The Inland Printer has a two-page spread on the history of Hatch Show Print in Nashville, Tennessee (pp. 27–28) and a short piece entitled “Way Back When Time Wasn’t Important” about an 1886 concert notice. The text of the notice is quite brief—CONCERT. / ARION CLUB / LIBRARY HALL, BERLIN, / FRIDAY EVENING, / JANUARY 8th, 1886— but the design is complex. It is set within an ornate border with three musical ornaments (top, right …
Continue reading

From the Archives no. 5—Photo-lettering

Here is some additional information on photolettering techniques from The Inland Printer. The techniques have already been discussed in a previous post on information in The American Printer. There are no accompanying illustrations.
January 1940, p. 72 A short announcement of Photo-ray, a “clever-new process invented by Edwin W. Krauter” in which transparent pattern letters, made from original alphabets provided by “master letterers”, are assembled by hand from a case and then placed in a line (which can be angled or …
Continue reading

From the Archives no. 4—Photo-lettering

The February 1954 issue of Linotopix (vol. 3, no. 1), published by Mergenthaler Linotype, announced the first demonstration of the Linofilm (to take place on April 19 to a select group of industry professionals). At the same time it also introduced Reditype from Linotype’s subsidiary, the Davidson Corporation.
Reditype, the idea of John A. Willett, was “designed to improve the Company’s competitive position in the growing field of photolithography.” The process was described as a “fast, economical method of setting …
Continue reading