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Preliminary Reading List

Introduction to the History of Typography

Stanley Nelson


Preliminary Advices

Five centuries of typographical history in five days! Students will get more out of this course if they do some preliminary reading before coming to Charlottesville. Because there is such a vast literature on this subject (some titles of which are hard to find), the trick is what to read and where to find it. I recommend the following titles based upon content and availability, where possible within each section to be read in the order given. Many of the out-of-print titles below are available for reasonable prices via BookFinder. Don't feel you have to read everything, but do read what you can.


I. In preparation for the historical part of the course:

Steinberg, S. H. Five hundred years of printing. 1955; new edn rev John Trevitt. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 1996.

In print. Solid, comprehensive text, highly recommended.

Denman, Frank. The shaping of our alphabet: A study of changing type styles. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1955.

Good general history focusing on the evolution of types. Easy to read. Shouldn't be too hard to find. Notice his 'take' on the various typographic styles.

Lawson, Alexander. Anatomy of a typeface. Boston: David R. Godine, 1990; pb rep 2002.

Brief histories of a multitude of successful typefaces. Be sure to look at Chapters 15-20 (the transition from old style to modern faces) and Chapter 25 (20th-century newspaper faces).

Dowding, Geoffrey. The history of printing types: an illustrated summary of the main stages in the development of type design from 1440 up to the present day. 1961; rep New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 1998.

In print. Heavily illustrated: deals with Roman and italic, as well as decorated types. Worth a look.

Gray, Nicolete. Nineteenth century ornamented typefaces, with a chapter on ornamented types in America by Ray Nash. Revised edition (1st edn1939, with a somewhat different title). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1976.

Almost unique study of the decorative types that came into general use in the c19. Very helpful for the modern reader who tends to lump all of these ornate types into one category. Shouldn't be too hard to find. You don't have to read all of it, but rather get a sense of the evolution and elaboration of types at this time.

Tracy, Walter. Letters of credit: a view of type design. Boston: David R. Godine, 1986; pb rep 2003.

In print. Full of insights, especially part I: Aspects of type design. The book is an in-depth look at what goes into designing and making type. While published in 1986, it approaches the state of the art as it is today.

Carter, Harry. A View of early typography. The Lyell Lectures, 1968. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1969; rev edn London: Hyphen Press, 2002 (with an introduction by James Mosley).

In print. Harry Carter is one of my heroes. His work is first rate, and this series of lectures (recently reprinted) is of enormous value. In particular look at Chapter 5: The history of typefounding and punchcutting.

De Vinne, Theodore Low. The practice of typography: . . . plain printing types. 2nd edn. New York: The Century Co., 1902.

A jewel of a book, part of a series of four volumes written by De Vinne collectively titled "The Practice of Typography" (1900-1904; many reprints), all of which are terrific (the others are Correct composition, Modern method of composition, and A treatise on title-pages). Note Chapters 1, 2, and 3, which deal with type making and type measurements, and sample the various chapters on type designs, especially Chapter 12. Should be fairly easy to find.

Kelly, Rob Roy. American wood type 1828 - 1900. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1969.

With the invention of machine produced wood types in 1828 by Darius Wells, printers had the opportunity to economically print large letters. This technology affected the look of the landscape as well as the shape of letters. It's a technology that ought not be ignored.

Lewis, John. Anatomy of printing, the influence of art and history on its design. London: Faber and Faber Ltd., 1970.

An art history approach to typography, in which the environment of printing is considered, and relationships are drawn. Worth a look if you can find it.

McGrew, Mac. American metal typefaces of the 20th century. 2nd edn. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 1996.

In print. McGrew made an enormous effort to get everything into this book and I think he nearly succeeded. If you have a question about an American typeface, start here.

Updike, Daniel Berkeley. Printing types: their history, forms, and use. . ., 2 vols. 3rd edition. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1937 (pb rep Dover 1980).

Printing types is the classic study in English of the history and development of printing types. Some of the information is dated, and, while the book isn't light reading, it is a fountain worth dipping into. Especially useful for its focus in turn on the major European countries, giving chronological treatments of types as they evolved in each region. Not for the faint of heart.


II. In preparation for the laboratory portion of the course:

We will not be happy unless we get our hands dirty, for there is much to be learned in the doing. Our afternoons will be occupied in setting type, assembling and locking up a form, preparing a common press for working, knocking up ink balls, making ready, and printing. As a timesaver, students need to acquire some basic knowledge before we begin. The good news is that this task is easily accomplished using the sources listed below.

Typesetting: You need to arrive knowing the 'lay of the case.' While arrangements can vary, we will follow the lay of the basic California job case. You must also understand the system of spaces (em, ens, 3-to-em spaces, 4-to-em spaces, &c.) used to fill out each line of type to justify it to a particular length. Any printing textbook of the 1960s or earlier will cover this subject. Use whichever text is most convenient.

Lieberman, J. Ben. Printing as a hobby. New York: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. 1963. Pgs. 16-19, 32-34.

Basic, limited, but easily found. Shows case layouts and gives rudimentary instruction.

MacKellar, Thomas. The American printer. Philadelphia: MacKellar Smiths & Jordan. 18 editions, 1866-93. 15th edn rep Nevada City, CA: Harold A. Berliner, 1977.

Wonderful source of information on trade practice and equipment of the third quarter of the 19th century. Using any edition between the 11th and the 18th, see distributing and composing, pgs. 128-138.

Smith, John. The printer's grammar. London 1755; rep London: Gregg Press, Ltd, 1965 (English Bibliographical Sources series).

An earlier look at typesetting and typographical style. Note pages 199-215 with extensive instructions regarding the rules of typesetting. Out of print for some time but ought to be available.

Polk, Ralph W. The practice of printing. 1926; rev 1937, 1945, 1952, &c. Peoria, IL: The Manual Arts Press (later edns: ibid., Charles A. Bennett & Co.).

Common textbook in many editions, with clear explanation of typesetting. Avoid using the 1971 edition (called The practice of printing: letterpress and offset), which was updated to de-emphasize handset type. Read chapters on printer=s type, type cases, spacing material, and the process of setting type.

International Typographical Union (ITU). Bureau of Education. I.T.U. lessons in printing. First three volumes (of 9 published; volume 9 never seems to have appeared). Volume I: Elements of composition. Volume II: Display composition. Volume III (Job): Job composition. Indianapolis, IN: ITU, various dates 1945-56.

Sorting out volumes in the two separate subsets (News and Job) of this 9-volume set of volumes, many of them several times revised, can be tricky. Volumes I and II are the same for the two subsets, but there are two different Volume IIIs: be sure to look at volume III: Job composition, rather than Volume III: Newspaper practice. Superb resource covering every aspect of typesetting.

Henry, Frank S. Printing:A textbook for printers' apprentices. 1917. Revised edn as The essentials of printing: a text-book for beginners. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1924.

Excellent, in-depth text.

Other possibilities include various textbooks by R. Randolph Karch: Printing and the allied trades (1931, rev edns 1939, 1954, 1958, 1962), or the first edition (but not later ones) of his Graphic arts procedures (1948; sev times reprinted)


Printing on the common press:

Moxon, Joseph. Mechanick exercises on the whole art of printing, ed. Herbert Davis and Harry Carter. Rev edn. London: Oxford University Press, 1962 (pb rep Dover Books).

The original text, published in parts 1683/84, represents the earliest and best description of printing on the common press. See pages 45-81 and 252-311 of the Davis & Carter edition. Moxon isn't easy reading, but it's primary material and hard to beat. If what he writes isn't clear to you, we'll cover all of this in class anyway.


III. Reference Shelf

Berry, W. Turner and H. Edmund Poole. Annals of printing, A chronological encyclopaedia from the earliest times to 1950. London: Blandford Press, 1966.

Browsing through this book is an eye opener. It helps to make connections between the varying threads of printing history. Look for it.

Jaspert, W. Pincus, with W. Turner Berry & A. F. Johnson. The encyclopaedia of type faces. 1953; 5th edn. London: Seven Dials (Sterling Publishing), 2001.

In print. A basic reference that includes European faces. The prefatory material is worth a look, especially the typeface classification.