My Type or True to Type — Alan Powell — 6th July 2015

Alan was Editor of the Star and re-launched the Sheffield Telegraph in 1989.

There is evid­ence of early forms of type in ancient China and pos­sibly Korea but in Europe it is Johannes Gutenberg who is cred­ited with ‘invent­ing’ type. He wanted to make reusable let­ters and pro­duced 300 letter forms, includ­ing upper and lower case let­ters, punc­tu­ation and spaces. Prior to Gutenberg’s inven­tion, books were hand-written and illus­trated and the value of a major book was equal to the value of an average-sized farm.  Most books were the prop­erty of mon­as­ter­ies or the very rich.

Printing then took off and in the next 20 years many major cities built print works. Venice became the main European print­ing centre and by the late 14th Century had over 50 print works. Gutenberg’s type was later refined by Aldeus Minutius, who pro­duced new type faces and was sup­posed to have inven­ted the semi-colon and pocket-sizes books. Suddenly there was a pro­lific increase in the number of books and the most pop­u­lar were ‘lust­ful’ books!  Type was regarded as being the fount of all know­ledge and this is pos­sibly where the word ‘font’ to describe a type-face, comes from.

In England William Caxton set up a print works in Westminster in 1476.  The first book pro­duced was “The History of Troy”.  Type led to the stand­ard­isa­tion of English and, as Caxton impor­ted much of his type from Bruges, pos­sibly led to the intro­duc­tion of ‘silent’ let­ters into English, like the ‘h’ in ‘Ghent’ and in ‘naught’. Certainly type caused a vast increase in com­mu­nic­a­tion and edu­ca­tion as books became    more avail­able and cheaper.

At this time, type was the exclus­ive prop­erty of the print­ers and design­ers, but nowadays we all have access to a large range of fonts on our com­puters.  We all carry many dif­fer­ent fonts if we have credit cards, driv­ing licences and other doc­u­ments.

Alan intro­duced some Giants of Type.

Beatrice Ward, who had posters in all her print­ing works that stated:
 “This is a Printing Office,  the Crossroads of Civilisation.”
and after some explan­a­tion of the theme; at the bottom of the poster it said:
“Friend, you stand on Sacred Ground.”

This gives some idea of how some print­ers regarded the power of type.

Steve Jobs, the founder of the Apple com­pany.

For use in his com­puters he chose a wide range of fonts and inven­ted some that he called after cities, like Chicago, Venice, Los Angeles.

Microsoft and IBM fol­lowed suit.

Conn Aire designed the Comic Sans font. This is the most loved and most hated font ever. He designed it for comics in speech bubbles and it was used in Windows 95 and cards and posters.  Later there was a strong cam­paign to ban it.

Fonts fall into two types.  Serifs, which have ‘strokes’ on the ends of the upper case let­ters and at bases of the let­ters and Sans Serifs that are plain (like this font).

The descrip­tions ‘Upper case’ and  ‘Lower case’ come from the print works where metal type was used to print.  After a print run the appren­tices had to break down the ‘page’ and return the metal type, in alpha­bet­ical order, to the ‘case’ (a ver­tical par­ti­tioned box that had the large let­ters in the upper sec­tion and the small let­ters in the lower sec­tion). This is thought to be the the origin of “Mind your p’s and q’s” because the type was mirror images of the actual let­ters and these two were easily con­fused.

20th Century Fonts: 

Gill Sans was developed by Eric Gill and used on Penguin book covers but dis­liked by many  because he had a sexu­ally dubi­ous past.  He also developed ‘Perpetua’ that was used on the poster “Keep calm and carry on”.
Underground Sans, used on Underground signs is copy­right of the Tube.
Helvetica is used on fabric care labels, and food pack­aging. Research shows that it is the easi­est to read and there is even a film about it.
Transport is used on road signs and research sug­gests that lower case is easier to read at speed.
Albertus is used in the City of London on signs (and on Faber and Faber book covers).

Alan gave a brief para­graph on print sizes (points) and 72 point is 1 inch tall in UK but  font points are dif­fer­ent sizes and many dif­fer­ent names in other coun­tries. He fin­ished by men­tion­ing the new 3D ‘print­ers’ which do not use inks but lay down layers of mater­i­als and build up a three-dimensional image of some­thing that has been scanned in 3D. These are a mil­lion miles away from Gutenberg’s ori­ginal idea.

A very enjoy­able talk from an expert!