By Ashlyn Harrop
When thinking of the vast amount of typefaces that have been produced over the last century, we often first recall the ones that have remained timeless even amidst the different design movements. For many designers and people alike, Futura, a sans serif typeface, is first on the list when choosing a typeface for a design.
The most common characteristics of Futura include it’s low crossbar, pointed apex, ascenders that rise above the ascender line, mono-weight strokes, crossbars that have an extended width, circular counter-space, center of the letters that extend to the baseline, and terminals that cut-off. Futura has remained popular over the past century because of it’s modern look and readability.
Created by German type designer, Paul Renner, in 1924, Futura was the first typeface of its time to combine geometric and old style figures into one face. This was a typographic style many type designers was striving to achieve during this time. Although Renner didn’t attend the Bauhaus School of Design like many other prominent designers, Futura was greatly inspired by the modern design style of the Bauhaus movement.
After a few years of meticulously altering the letterforms of this typeface, Renner commissioned the Bauer type foundry in 1927. The face was commercially released in light, regular, and bold weights. It wasn’t until 1930 that the type family grew to include semi-bold, bold condensed, light oblique, and regular oblique, with a book weight added in 1932. As of current, the Futura family now includes over 20 faces in total.
Interestingly enough, the face was originally intended only to be used for the body text in books. Today was see Futura highly used in advertising. In 1969, Futura was chosen as the typeface to be on the commemorative plaque that was left on the moon by the astronauts of Apollo 11. Since then, Futura has been most popularly connected to brands such as Volkswagen, Ikea, Dominos Pizza, Absolut Vodka, Louis Vuitton, Best Buy, Red Bull, Union Pacific, Costco, and films by Wes Anderson and Stanley Kubrick.
The Rise and Fall of American Type Foundries
Author: Brandon Montgomery
In a little more than 200 years, type foundries spread across America, helped the letterpress industry flourish, ushered in new printing technology and now recessed almost into nonexistence.
Records show that the first American Type Foundries came about in the late 1760’s and early 1770’s. Though accounts are conflicting, David Mitchelson and Abel Buell are generally regarded as the first to cast type in the Colonies. This was fifty years after the first American newspaper (John Campbell, Boston News-Letter 1704) and over a hundred years from the first printing plant (Stephen Day, Cambridge, Massachusetts 1638).
In the early days of printing, the average printer would have 3-8 fonts of type and if he needed replacements, might have to wait over a year to receive an order from England or Scotland. Eventually, the revolutionary war made replacing type nearly impossible. When type became illegible, the inability to replace type would multiply the amount of work required to compose an entire book. Without an ample number of each character, printers would be forced to set fewer pages at a time, print them, and then redistribute the type in order to continue setting pages. “I made use of such letters as we had for punches, founded new letters of lead in matrices of clay”, described Benjamin Franklin in his 1793 autobiography, detailing how he cast new letters as required by the Philadelphia printing plant he worked at. It was this necessity for more type that helped the early growth of American foundries.
By the late 1820’s, dozens of type foundries popped up across America and new type casting was available to the masses. This increased accessibility led to experimentation and competition in the industry, which in turn spurred improvements in casting methods and lowered the cost of type casting overall. However, this expansion would be short lived.
By the late 19th century, many small plants had begun to go bankrupt and the future looked bleak for all type founders. Not only had the popularity and increased number of type-casting plants driven sale prices below production costs, with the invention of the Linotype and Monotype, newspaper plants required less type casting support. It was around this time that over 20 different type foundries decided to combine resources in order to protect their industry. The American Type Founders Company was born (ATFC inc.1892). However, the Linotype and Monotype machines were revolutionary. They were able to cast entire sentences and lines at a time and in a much faster fashion. This was obviously ideal for news stations and book makers alike. Moreover, the ATF was hit hard by the depression. Finally, the rise of offset printing post WWII, further pushed ATF to the periphery of relevancy. The American Type Founders Company was disbanded in the 1970’s.
Today, only 4 commercial letterpress type foundries are still in operation around the world! The two remaining in the US are; M&H Type Foundry located in San Francisco, CA and Skyline Type Foundry, based in Prescott, AZ.
M&H Type is the largest and oldest type foundry dating back to 1915. Celebrating a century of continuous operation, the historic M&H still offers traditional lead typecasting for hand composition as well as digital typography to keep up with current printing technology.
Skyline Type Foundry uses four Thompson Type Casters for the bulk of their casting. These machines were patented in 1907 and use propane to perform the matrix precision mold injections. The metal itself is a mixture of lead, tin and antimony, and only takes about an hour to reach its melting point of 650˚F. Once the metal is molten, the machine casts one character at a time. A standard matrix font consists of 72 characters, with multiples of each, so this process takes a while. It was this aspect of the machine, and similar machines from the era, that led to its widespread decline.
Despite the undeniable edge digital typography has on the market, Skyline and M&H Foundries are keeping traditional type methods alive and making efforts to preserve the operation and production for current practice and historical import. The owner of Skyline Type Foundry, Schuyler (Sky) Shipley says, “It is very rewarding to preserve and perpetuate this ancient craft, and to put shiny new type into the hands of letterpress printers worldwide.”
Pictured below is the Thompson Type Caster. In the top left photo you can see individual type blocks lining up to the left of the machine after they are cast. Another photo shows the molten pot of lead alloy that gets injected into the matrices. The last image highlights J and L matrices on the workbench at Skyline. In the video you can see the Thompson Type Caster ejecting individual blocks of type.
Annenberg, Maurice. Type Foundries of America and Their Catalogue. New Castle, Delaware: Oak Knoll Press, 1994.
M&H Type http://www.arionpress.com/mandh/index.htm
Skyline Type http://skylinetype.com/
By: Nikki Villatoro
The history of writing was created to express emotions, imagination and language by letters or any other mark, Through writing, we had the ability to transfer complex information, ideas etc from one individual to another, because of this we were able to grow and learn from one another. Since 25,000 – 30,000 BP, humans were painting pictures on cave walls. Through this, we learned stories from one another.
Learning how to write taught us how to express ourselves– whether it was a way to represent our tribe, our emotions or our experiences.
The writing system started to become more of a representation of hunter-gatherer societies. People's property were solely relied on their 'mark'– food, land, animals. We saw this on their 'tokens.'
The history of writing was created to express emotions, imagination and language by letters or any other mark, Through writing, we had the ability to transfer complex information, ideas etc from one individual to another, because of this we were able to grow and learn from one another. Since 25,000– 30,000 BP, humans were painting pictures on cave walls. Through this, we learned stories from one another.
Learning how to write taught us how to express ourselves–whether it was a way to represent our tribe, our emotions or our experiences. The writing system started to become more of a representation of hunter-gatherer societies. People's property were solely relied on their 'mark'– food, land, animals. We saw this on their 'tokens.' The tokens began to be symbols, then they started to transition into being used as an impression or inscribed in clay. First they were pictographs but started to become more, certain pictures representing an idea or concept, ideographs and then sounds.
We have grown much more since then.
From glyphs, to Greek/Trajan/Roman, alphabets to Gothic lettering, to Letterpress.
Gutenberg was in 1439 was the first European to use printing press and movable type in Europe. Along with the many experimental things that create the printing– the invention of movable type, the machinery, oil-based ink, wooden print press etc. Through his invention of all these elements, he was able to make a system which we all know as today as Letterpressing.
Thanks to Gutenberg, the use of movable type was marked as such a magnificent improvement in on handwritten manuscripts. Gutenberg has changed the printing world, this rapidly started to spread around Europe and soon, the world.
Mankind is known for is evolution: in its self and it's inventions– although we have not forgotten about Letterpressing, it's now as easy as clicking a letter on a keyboard. Letterpress is making its comeback since we have founded the 'computer' but, there will always be something unique of the process of letterpress, and the outcome of the work itself. Having to gather the ink, going through drawers to find the typeface and manually having to put the work into it. Every step of it is so beautiful and different each time. We have grown so much but will never forget where it all started from.
By Yiao Zhang
Letterpress printing could simply described as " Pressing paper onto wood and metal letters and hand-carved images, with ink in between." , according to <HISTORY OF LETTERPRESS PRINTING>. After a German named Johannes Gutenberg of Mainz, became the first one to invent a metal movable-type printing system in Europe. At middle of 1400's, Letterpress revolutionized printing and possible mass communication in the western world. Get back to Far-East, a Chinese called Bi Sheng from Northern Song Dynasty used baked clay to create the earliest movable type printing It is about 400 years earlier than European.
About 202 BC, a people called Cai Lun from Western Han Dynasty, created one of the most important materials for printing---Paper, people in China started to use paper to replace the bamboos. After Cai Lun, at the end of Eastern Han Dynasty, a writer named Zuo Bo improved the way to make paper and about 751 AD, paper had been introduced to Korea. After People in China and Korea got their new Invention --- Paper, they found out the way to achieve the massive production of books, paper money and something else.
In China, after Sheng Bi created the clay movable types. At Yuan Dynasty, Wang zhen---an official, invented the wooden type to replace the clay type in 1297. Also, Chinese attempted to use tin to create the type, but chinese water-based ink is very hard to be griped on tin character. Because of this, tin characters only appeared for a very short time.
In Korea, Dharani sutra was the oldest surviving wood block-printed text. Koreans first began to work with movable type was at Goryeo Dynasty. During that time the text called Tripitaka---the Buddhist religious text, which included sutras, treatises and law. By printing two complete sets, it required more than 8,000 different wood blocks.
During the time, when Mongolian forces invaded Korea, many Korean documents were destroyed by war. Lucky, about four decades ago, Korea already used bronze types to replace the wooden types. That allowed types surviving from the war and allowed Koreans to replace their documents.
Present Facts for Chinese Movable Type
Now, Movable types in Asian countries are slowly disappearing. It is not only because Asian type characters are hard to make. but also because most Asian countries' languages have over thousands characters. They are hard to analyze and collect. For example, in China, not like in English, it only need 26 letters. If people want to have just a single font with all characters in Chinese. It will need over 80,000 unique types, even if people only need the most commonly used characters, people will still need 3500 types. Those will still be very huge collections. Also, there will have at least 8 commonly font in Chinese. Just according to this, Chinese movable types will be have to survive from the modern life, As the video shows, the ways to create the wooden movable types are very complex that makes young people very hard to learn from the elders.
Some Same Facts with English Movable Type
Not only the Asian movable type suffering the similar problem with Chinese, English movable type also have the same trouble. Such as more and more letterpress companies closed because the hi-tech products. Digital prints are much faster than letterpress, online newspaper are much easier to carry than paper-based news,
Here is the video about Helvetica. Hope this will bring you some more interests about letterpress.
Asia for Educators. “The Song Dynasty in China.” Columbia University. 2008. Web. Accessed 23 July 2012.
Christensen, Thomas. “Gutenberg and the Koreans: Did East Asian Printing Traditions Influence the European Renaissance?” 2006. Web. Accessed 23 July 2012.
Steins, John. “Wood Block Printing.” John Steins Printmaking Journal. 19 Jan 2010. Web. Accessed 23 July 2012.
Elation Press Co. "Short History of Asia’s Influence on Type and Printing".
HISTORY OF LETTERPRESS PRINTING. "What is letterpress printing?".
Wai Che Printing Company
One of the Last Remaining Letterpress Shop in Hong Kong
By Jessica Chhou
As trends tend to resurface ever so few years, it appears letterpress printing has made its comeback within the art and design community. While the Western letterpress printing has made a revival, what was once considered one of the Four Great Inventions of Ancient China is no longer a sustainable practice.
Although many are unaware, the earliest origins of letterpress were actually conducted in the land of the Far East. During the Song Dynasty (960-1279), Bi Sheng invented the Movable Type. He carved individual characters on identical pieces of fine clay that would eventually be fired to be durable for printing. This concept of mass-producing literature developed very quickly. The introduction of printing in China dramatically lowered the price of books, thus aiding the spread of literacy. It also gave a boost to the development of drama and other forms of popular culture as the scripts became inexpensive to produce. Eventually, the art became popular, and advancements lead movable type to being composed from wood, lead, tin, and copper. From copper type, became a very influencing concept to the great Johannes Gutenberg..
As Movable Type was one of the greatest technological advances defining typography, it is upsetting to see Wai Che Printing Company being the last remaining letterpress shop in Hong Kong in 2012. From Central to Sheung Wan, the streets used to be filled with printers, print shops, and other paper-related storefronts. The shop’s 81-year old owner Lee Chak Yu has preserved its bilingual lead type collection and original Heidelberg Cylinder machine for over 50 years.
Upon entering the Chinese letterpress shop, there are rows of shelves of type. Instead of using a type drawer, the Chinese characters were typically stored in cube shelving with the type stacked into a column. They face outward for easy identification and access. However, with the vast language, it became very difficult to create a system to categorize the type. They had no alphabet, and with new words evolving, there were endless Chinese characters. In practice, it would be difficult to work with more than 45,000 unique characters. Typesetting in Chinese was a challenge and the accuracy needed was on a whole different level especially when the characters were made of many radicals and ideograms. Running a Chinese letterpress shop would require an enormous storage space and at least 4,000 commonly used characters. Many businesses were affected when they were unable to source new characters when needed. Little by little, the print shops in Hong Kong shut down, including the last one standing, Wai Che Printing Company.
The space where Wai Che lies was under high demand due to development and gentrification. Similar to the shops around, the government wanted to take over to use it for redevelopment. However, the owner wanted to turn his shop into a museum. Lee Chak Yu wanted to spread the knowledge of movable type and engage the visitors into hands-on activities of letterpress. He wanted to show the visitors the history of the neighborhood of Sheung Wan and educate the ways things were before the digital age.
Sadly, his idea did not catch on and on one winter day, the shop was all packed up and moved to a different location. It appears Lee Chak Yu would not have his shop as a historic museum. He left with optimism as one day he can share his stories of the past.
By Meaghan Socaciu
Over time, many things see change, and typography is no exception. For my research project, I decided to look at the history of type. During my research, I found that there were eras of type that had evolved from the beginning of the written language.
The first styles of movable types were called Blackletter, also known as Old English to many. Blackletter is easily distinguishable by it’s heavy, dark, and old appearance, made to simulate the handwriting of the time.
In the 1500’s, a more legible type style called Humanist was developed. Humanist type was much lighter in appearance, and generally and a lower contrast between thick and thin strokes. Most type designed in this style was to mimic handwriting of early Italian scholars and scribes. A popular typeface in the Humanist style that we use today is Centaur.
After Humanist type, Old Style type was developed. In Old Style type, due to the improving skills of punch cutters, we start to see a greater refinement in letterforms, and consequently more thick and thin strokes. Old Style type generally looks neater, and is more upright than the Humanist type. During 1501, the first italic typeface was developed as well. Some popular Old Style faces include Garamond, Goudy Old Style, and Palatino.
The Transitional Era followed the Old Style Era. During the 18th century, type made an even further departure from the appearance of handwritten type. The contrast between thick and thin strokes became even greater, head serifs became more horizontal, and the axis of circular forms moved to a 12 o’clock angle (versus the Humanist 11 o’clock angle). Possibly one of the most famous Transitional style typefaces is Baskerville, but there are many others such as Bookman, Clearface, and Slimbach.
Next up is the Modern Era of Type. These typefaces have increased contrast from the thick and thin strokes of the Transitional Era, unbracketed serifs, a vertical axis, and a small aperture. The forms of the Modern Era are sharp, clean, and possess a great amount of contrast. Examples of this style of type are Bodoni, Caledonia, and Didot.
In the 1800’s the slab serif was born. Also called Egyptian due to the popularization of Egypt during this time period, this type style was inspired by a new wave of advertising during Industrialization, and could be seen on advertisements and posters everywhere. These slab serif faces had very thick serifs, and most had an abrupt serif (meaning it meets the stem at a 90 degree angle), although some had bracketed serifs as well. Some popular faces from the Slab Serif Era include Clarendon, Normande, and Bodoni Extra Bold. With Industrialization also came the ability to distribute many new typefaces. Type foundries were formed, and type was manufactured more easily than in previous years.
In the late 19th century, type designers decided to create type without serifs. This style of type varies greatly in boldness, but most sans-serifs are very balanced, do not vary in thickness within the actual forms, and stand upright. These faces were used purely as titles up until WWII, when they became used as body text. Sans—serif type can very greatly from type based on classical proportions to Modernist and Avant Garde styles. Some famous sans-serif faces include Akzidenz-Grotesk and Gill Sans (Classical), as well as Futura and universal (Modernist/Avant Garde).
It’s interesting to see how type has developed over time, and how much things have changed since the birth of type. I wonder what type will continue to evolve into in the future. Will it continue to change into simpler forms? Or will we see a resurgence of the beautiful and complicated forms of earlier eras? Only time will tell!