Typographical Ransom Notes #1: Fine Port and Ham

For a while now I’ve been planning on making a repository to store interesting pages from type specimen books that I come across during the day. And, more importantly, I wanted a place for visitors who use the Updike Collection to share their own images (we welcome researchers taking pictures of the materials they’re using when they visit). That site is now up and running: typesampling-logo1There are only a few images available at present, but expect many more in the future. And to celebrate, here’s the first post in an occasional series of ransom-note-style collages taken from images on the site: FinePortAndHam

Natural Language

A few weeks ago Occasional Nuggets subscribers got a bonus issue highlighting a little gem I had noticed for the first time and wanted to immediately send out:

Landscape Alphabet

It’s a small leather telescoping box containing twenty-six little sketches, each one representing a letter of the alphabet as a natural feature in the landscape. Here’s the card for “K”:

K

Rather than do any research to figure out what this thing actually is, I decided just to scan the cards and send them out to the Occasional Nuggets readers, who, it turns out, are pretty smart folks. Within a few days I had a couple responses pointing to an 1830 publication called The Landscape Alphabet, which was produced in two lithographed versions by G. Engelmann, Graf, Coindet & Co. in 1830. One version was done in standard codex form, but the other was done on individual cards (the same size as ours) with embossed borders stamped with the paper maker’s name, “Dobbs” (just like ours). The card version was, in turn, based on a series of pen-sketches done by an artist indicated only by the initials “EK”. (The original cards are now in the collections of the Pierpont Morgan Library.)

Here’s an image from an article by Michael Twyman that appeared in the journal Typography Papers (you can even buy your own copy), where the original pen and ink drawing (top) is compared to the lithographed version published on the cards:

TwymanIt’s immediately apparent that what we have is related, but it’s equally apparent that our version is not in fact the lithographed 1830 publication. Take the scene at the bottom left, for instance:

Litho version:litho-detail

Our version: pencil-detail

They’re close, but not quite the same (note that bundle on the right is sideways to the viewer in our copy and end-on in the lithographed version).

So what’s going on? In his article Twyman quotes a contemporary reviewer of Engelmann’s Landscape Alphabet who declares that “The value of this little work will probably be found to consist in the stimulus it will afford to the very young students of drawing, form exact copies of the scenes here affixed to them….”

Our copy seems to be an example of just that kind of copying: pencil sketches that do their best to mimic the original (25 years after the publication of the original, if the date of 1855 on the box is an indicator of when they were produced).

But that answer just prompts more questions. The cards our anonymous artist used aren’t just similar to the originals, they’re the same size, made by the same company and featuring the same embossing. The 1830 lithograph set was sold in a publisher’s box that seems to be the same size and format (sliding open in the middle) but featured a label that functioned like a title page. Were blank cards and boxes sold for this express purpose? Or was it a standard format before it was used by Engelmann in 1830? If you’ve got the answers, let me know.

Aside

Just a quick note to mention that our Bodoni event last week was terrific fun. Matthew Carter regaled a packed auditorium…

Auditorium… with tales of type design, including the pleasure of discovering that you (or at least your typeface) have made the cover of the Rolling Stone and that the designer “got” what you were intending:

Carter Rolling StoneMore photos of the evening are available on the Library’s Facebook page.

And don’t forget that the exhibition will be on display in the Library’s Providence Journal Rhode Island Room (Level 1) until April 19th. And if you want even more Bodoni in your life, send an email and set up a time to come in and look at the rest of the collection, which is not on display in the exhibition but is available for use any time.

 

 

Bodoni One More Time

We’re just a few days from our Thursday lecture and opening of the Bodoni exhibition, so I wanted to offer one more blog post. First, because I wanted to share the great poster that graphic designer Michael McDermott designed for the event. Here it is:

MatthewCarter_Poster

One of the great things about it is that it’s designed so that each panel can be printed on a sheet of 11″x17″ paper, creating a giant version of the poster. Here’s an example in the wild:

Poster on wall

Second, I wanted to share one image of something you can’t see in the exhibition:

Title page of Amoretti specimen

This is the title page of a type specimen (with a great border) by the Amoretti brothers of Parma. It’s often the case with exhibitions of books that there are a lot of openings from individual volumes that you’d love to show, but in the end you usually can only pick one. In this instance the title page lost out to another opening. But that’s just a reminder that if you see something that interests you in an exhibition you can always come back and work with the whole book, cover to cover, on your own.

The Alphabet from A to A

We’re less than a week from our big Bodoni celebration (you’re invited), so here’s an example of the kind of thing you can look for if you visit the exhibition.

One of Bodoni’s predecessors (and the man whose types he first used when he set up the press in Parma) was Pierre Simon Fournier, the great French typographer best known, perhaps, for his origination of the point system that became the basis for the system we use today. In 1766 he published the Manuel Typographique, and below on the left is a scan of the letter A from that book, which is on display in the exhibition.

FournierVsBodoni-sidebyside

On the right is an A from Giambattista Bodoni’s Manuale Tipografico, posthumously published in 1818. There is a long list of reasons not to make too much of the comparison (each A is just one example of just one letter, at a large size, etc.). But it’s still kind of fun to view a 50-year evolution of a letter in detail.

And just in case you want to see it in motion:

FournierVsBodoni

Hopefully you’ll be able to join us on the 27th for this typographic celebration, with a lecture by Matthew Carter at 6:00 pm. The Washington Street entrance will be open at 5:00, and I’ll be offering a short guided tour of the exhibition at 5:30. The exhibition will be up (in the Providence Journal Rhode Island Room) through April 19th.

More information is available on the Library website.

Planning Your February Calendar

If you’re in Providence (or anywhere else nearby), here are a pair of February events at the Library that you shouldn’t miss.

One week from today we’ll have the opening of an exhibition by two artists, Agata Michalowska and Andrew Oesch, who have been working with PPL Special Collections materials (particularly the Wetmore Collection) to create new art. The exhibition (on display in the Level 3 hallway outside Special Collections) will give offer a chance to see historical materials and their transformation into contemporary art. On February 3rd at 6:00 pm, Andrew and Agata will discuss the process in a lecture in the 3rd Floor Meeting Room. More information and online signup here.
primer

 

And if you’re planning even farther out in the month,  save space for our February 27th event. We’ll be opening a new exhibition on the printer and typographer Giambattista Bodoni, who dieed 200 years ago, in the Providence Journal Rhode Island Room. Our opening event will feature a lecture by prestigious type designer Matthew Carter, who will discuss the role of historical research in type design. It’s a fitting topic for a night on which we’ll also be launching the Updike Prize for Student Type Design, a competition to reward undergraduate and graduate students who use the Updike Collection and then go on to design their own typefaces inspired by their research. More information about the event and online signup form here.

Free Printing Press! (Some manufacture and assembly required)

Have you ever found yourself wishing for a printing press built to authentic nineteenth-century standards? Of course you have. And fortunately T.C. Hansard has anatomized the press and provided a detailed description of its parts, in his 1825 Typographia: An Historical Sketch of the Origin and Progress of the Art of Printing.

If you decide not to go all-out and build a press from the instructions, the wood engravings could be printed, cut out and used to build your own paper model of a press. Better yet, download a 3D modeling program, spend a few weekends and evenings creating models of each part, and then send them to a 3D printer. (Please send photos if you choose this route.)

In either case, here are the images: