Monday, 11 October 2010

Type | Introduction | Sound of the Baskerville

Week 21 | Type | Contents

Tuesday | Poetry | Kathryn Lewis Interview
Wednesday | Fiction | They Call him Dr Turnips 
Thursday | Music | Celia
Saturday | Mixtape | Belly Kids by Mike Coley
Sunday | Mini Essay | Just what is on our mind? by Nima Seifi

“Amongst the several mechanic Arts that have engaged my attention, there is no one which I have pursued with so much steadiness and pleasure, as that of Letter-Founding. Having been an early admirer of the beauty of Letters, I became insensibly desirous of contributing to the perfection of them. I formed to my self Ideas of greater accuracy than had yet appeared, and have endeavoured to produce a Sett of Types according to what I conceive to be their true proportion. … It is not my desire to print many books: but such only, as are books of Consequence, of intrinsic merit, or established Reputation, and to which the public may be pleased to see in an elegant dress, and to purchase at such price, as will repay the extraordinary care and expense that must necessarily be bestowed upon them.” John Baskerville

I recently finished reading ‘Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell’ by Susanna Clarke, a book I would heartily recommend to anyone interested in 17th century history, magic or typography. Once you have thumbed your way through the first 1005 pages of Napoleon and sorcery you will arrive at ‘A Note on the Type’, which reads…

“The original punches of types cut by John Baskerville of Birmingham were sold by Baskerville’s widow to Baumarchais and descended through various French foundries to Beberny & Peignot. Some of the material survives and is now at the Cambridge University Press. Baskerville has been called the first of the transitional romans in England. Compared with Caslon there is more differentiation of thick and thin strokes, the serifs on lower-case letters are more nearly horizontal and the stress nearer the vertical.”

I must admit, I am uncertain why Susanna Clarke draws our attention to the font – however, as somewhat of a typophile myself, I am glad she gives John Baskerville the credit he deserves, maybe she simply agrees with me that he deserves credit. Another theory I have on this unusual note on the type, is that Norrell and Strange the eyponymous protagonists of the novel mirror Baskerville in the canon of English typography in the sense that they are the transition between old style and modern magic, just as Baskerville paved the space between Caslon and the modern styles of Giambattista Bodoni and Firmin Didot. I am getting distracted.

What I intended to write about today was the problem of the contemporary designer in choosing a typeface which best represents our modern age? Helvetica is always a safe choice, reassuring as seeing ‘swiss-made’ on a watch face (Helvetica literally means Swiss). Futura is one of my favorites, although I know quite a few people that would defend Univers to the hilt. Akzidenz Grotesk was the founding father of the san serifs. Not to forget the serif fonts, which could have moved cyclically back into vogue, Garamond or back to good old Baskerville. The problem, I think, is that with all these typefaces so easily at our disposal the true tendency of our time is to want all of them. The answer to my question of which font best represents our modern age, is ‘all typefaces’.

Although, if I wasn’t going to cop out I would say VAG Rounded – quite literally the corporate love child of Futura and Times (and if you have an apple keyboard, the very font your fingers have been tapping at all this time).

James Harringman

1 comment:

  1. There is a lot of filler in Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. Some nonsense about magic. I read it for the bit where they go to Venice.