Re: Summer reading....
A very intriguing and thought provoking post.
As far as I can discern from reading Smeijers'_Type Now_ it does not seem that he has cut a complete alphabet from punches. His idea that the way type was cut and later, designed, results in a significantly "different" letterform is hardly a new observation. But drawn faces are also a great part of metal type during the twentieth century. There were very few (relatively) twentieth century metal typefaces that would have been hand cut from punches. The schism between the punch cutter and the drawn metal face created with the pantograph is
probably a much greater one than that of the pantograph and the digital.
On the other hand, I have seen it argued, though rarely, that the cutting of letters was more a violation of letterform than the drawing. One would have to discern how significant the differences are between drawn or sculpturally created letterforms of antiquity to secure a position in what is obviously a fairly untraveled argument.
The early printers were using the only technology at hand in their attempt to perfect mechanical writing. I just point this out. It was the only way to standardize the written letterform. But punchcutting drew from the numismatic world rather than the traditional world of the scribe. The Carter book is, I think, the most important thinking on the early manufacture of type. And requires a great deal of rereading. Though I have the first edition I was quite pleased that Kinross reprinted it. Note though, how Carter hardly mentions Gutenberg, and when he does, it is a query. More is not said there than was said.
But the way we see the development of metal type today may very well be incorrect. The very recent investigations of the DK-type (historically attributed to Gutenberg) have provided a much more interesting view of possible early metal type production. One that is more probably aligned with letterform structure and of significance, I think, in the way digital letterforms are themselves often constructed.
But I think a reasoned examination of the intentions of the early printers and the later ability to actually "draw" letterforms mechanically provides a very good rationale for the use of photopolymer. You surmise a preservation act, I see it as much more.
I was going to also refer you to the Andy Crewdson interview with Robin Kinross (publisher of Hyphen) at Andy's new-series.org but the link seems to be broken. Anyone know what happened to Andy's site?
> Yes, I really liked "Counter Punch"; it rearranged my thinking
> regarding the way type could be designed. I never saw how the sometimes
> contrived nature of twentieth century text fonts could have something
> to do with the fact that most contemporary fonts are drawn designs,
> which would be more open to arbitrary idiosyncrasies than a punch cut
> based on a common counter. The latter method limits one's design
> options but, God, what a wonderfully practical & satisfyingly tactile
> way of focusing a typographic design. It's a way of going about things
> that I can't imagine a design school student or teacher wanting to try
> - most schools like designing to be free of limitations.
> I'm curious if Smeijers has punch-cut a font and finished it digitally
> on a fontlab or fontagrapher program. If he's right in thinking that
> the early design of fonts is more of a sculptural rather than graphic
> process, and that with practice and learning of right techniques one
> could learn to make tactilly with punch and counter punch a font
> family as quickly as one could design it visually on paper or via a
> font program, it's conceivable that one could then scan smoke proofs of
> all the punch-cut letters into a computer and create a digital font for
> mass use that is much more solid a type form than a computer-only
> design. Like polymer plate letterpress, it seems like great way of
> using present technology to preserve - or in this case revive - an art
> form & keep it relevant with the current techniques of design. And by
> thus remaining relevant, older typographic design has a better chance
> of influencing future typographic thought.
> Oh, and to Paul: I'm reading Harry Carter's "A view of early typography
> (up to about 1600)" originally put out by Oxford UP in 1969. The
> version I have is a 2002 reprint by Hyphen Press (yeah, them again).
> It's a compact trade paperback clocking in at about 150 pages (126 of
> it text) based on a series of lectures Carter gave at Oxford in 1968.
> His prose is great - no stodgy dry lecture here. Carter was a guy
> whose love of typography is infectious; you get drawn in as he traces
> the origins of the early printing industry and the spread of roman and
> blackletter across Northern Europe. So far a ripping yarn.
> And what bully would dare kick sand your way if you're walking around
> swinging a big-ass book like "Printing on the Iron Hand Press"? A book
> like that could do some real damage.
- Gerald wrote:
On the other hand, I have seen it argued, though rarely, that the cutting of
letters was more a violation of letterform than the drawing. One would have
to discern how significant the differences are between drawn or sculpturally
created letterforms of antiquity to secure a position in what is obviously a
fairly untraveled argument.
There is a wild difference between drawn and sculptured letterforms in
antiquity. Drawn forms, such as the political campaign slogans painted on
walls of Pompeii, are in a style now called "rustic", painted by a brush
held in a manner that produces heavy serifs, or terminations, and thin
lines. They are also very narrow letters. There is a museum of inscriptions
in the Baths of Diocletian where sculptured letterforms can be studied. The
letters are not only different shapes but different proportions. I found
one inscription that was basically Garamond. (E.g. T with serifs pointed in
different ways.) Our Roman type derives, indirectly, from the sculptural
forms. Of course the stonecutters had to draw the outlines of letters
before starting to chisel, but I am unaware of any use of the drawn letters
by themselves. But there may well have been painted imitations of chiseled
letters on signs and the like that have not survived. Mosaic letterforms
are different yet. Some have triangular serifs and dipped crossbars in the
A and H and thus are probably the model for nineteenth century Latin types.
- I should add to my previous posting that the Romans occasionally inserted
bronze letters into their carved monumental inscriptions. These were
presumably cast although they may have been trimmed to fit the hollows in
the stone. This raises fascinating questions, such as whether the bronze
casters dictated the design of the letters using standardized moulds or
exactly how the letters and incisions were made to match. Whereas most
inscriptional lettering has a V shape, the stonecutting where bronze letters
were to be attached has a flat bottom. Thus the stone cut letters were
altered to accommodate the bronze inserts. Intriguing that the Romans had
learned to cast metal letters but never thought of printing from them.
Yes, script and sculptural forms were "wildly different" and there is certainly, as you point out, abundant artifacual evidence of this. I suspect, though, regarding your last comment, that the thought of printing from the cast letters, or of applying casting technique to printing, might have taken a giant leap for the Romans. I suspect the reason has less to do with potential than it does with established practices. I offer here some thoughts on why this may be the case. Though, of course, this is only speculation.
Throughout the history of western letterforms, from the time of the Egyptians up into the middle ages, there seems always the potential for casting letterforms and printing with or from them. The Phaistos Stone, as an isolated and aside example, was a casting of symbols or possible letterforms that were seemingly repeatedly punched into the mold with a carved device. But nothing further than this artifact has been found. (Replications of carved forms have even been found in cave paintings and early textile work.)
The problem of "transfer" may not have been one of technical restrictions (or even the ephemeral nature of materials) as much as cultural restrictions. Casting technology was fairly restricted to medallions, coins, etc and written technologies were restricted to pliable and "mobile" substratum. I've really not found much historical consideration at all about why the connection was not made.
But it would seem that Tradition (and the restrictions held in this regard) kept sculptural and script like letterforms quite separate. Artifactual evidence reveals that the Egyptians had three sets of the written language, each had its own usage in the social/cultural hierarchy and each with its own separate technique/process for delivery. This hierarchical separation can be seen to be carried along into other cultures that evolved from this, including the Greek and Roman cultures, as well as into medieval Europe. Script like faces were always at the lowest stratum, but somehow managed to persevere through the ages,
probably because of this.
It would seem that important early European political/religious documents were to be written in a certain hand on papyrus rather than parchment, later on, parchment rather than paper. This had little to do with the quality of the technique/process/substratum. But rather, tradition. The early split editions of printing, using both parchment and paper, are part of this. Even though it was much more difficult to print on parchment and it is not well suited to the process, the practice continued. The parchment edition, though often not as well printed, was considered the traditional method of choice for the higher end market. Perhaps also because the illuminated manuscripts, which held the high end book market for near a century following the development of printing, were themselves commonly produced on parchment.
With the development of paper in Asia, there was early on some successful castings of letterforms that were printed. But the problem there, not faced by the Romans, was that the character set required was far too large to allow the process to take hold and have universal application.
In regard to your previous statement on the roman alphabet, it may very well be that the evolvement backward of the textura into the roman letterforms as seen in the transitional work of the early printers during the period of incunabula, had very little to do with the sculptural forms surrounding them (the letterforms on the columns seem to have had little influence or effect on the local populace for well over the previous millennium!!!), but rather that the marriage of the Carolingian minuscule and Roman majuscule is more a case of working with, and emulating, Renaissance manuscript materials (which themselves reveal a consideration of the Roman majuscule form).
>Intriguing that the Romans had
>learned to cast metal letters but never thought of printing from them.