Archives for the month of: February, 2018

An abugida is a symbol system for writing a language without using an alphabet. In an abugida each symbol is both a consonant and a vowel; its shape tells which consonant, and the way it’s pointing tells the vowel. Just accept this and watch the video. Or, if you have to delve deeper, Wikipedia gives a mound of information.

This video is another brought to us by David Crotty via The Scholarly Kitchen.

For addicts of this stuff, eager to rush down the rabbit hole, there’s apparently a third system: 1. alphabet, 2. abugida, and 3. abjad. In an abjad no record of vowels is attempted.


Times Roman or Times New Roman? One assumes they are different, but the reason we have these two names is merely the fact that when the face was cut for the Linotype soon after Monotype had introduced it as Times New Roman in 1932, Linotype named their version Times Roman tout court. Perhaps the name change was intended to distinguish it from the Monotype version despite the fact that, to the non-specialist eye, it looked more or less identical. The typeface which The Times (of London) used before that, what we might now call Times Old Roman, was in fact Monotype Modern, cut in 1908.

Times New Roman

The distinction in nomenclature survives the passing of hot metal typesetting: both appear as options on the Mac — Times Roman coming from the Linotype Corporation and Times New Roman from Monotype. There are differences between the two faces, but they are slight. Here from TypeTalk at CreativePro is an illustration showing some of the differences — Times Roman at the top; Times New Roman below. Basically you can see that the counter of the cap P differs, and Times Roman has pointy bits at the top of the shafts of letters, while they have been leveled off in Times New Roman on the lower line.

The creation of Times New Roman came about as the result of an insult. Allegedly when the Monotype Company was invited in 1929 to advertise in The Times’ Printing Supplement, Stanley Morison, who was Monotype’s typographical consultant, replied that he’d rather pay them £1,000 not to set an ad for them as The Times’ typographic standards were so low. Ironically Morison, who had started his working life as a bank clerk, had first become interested in type and printing when reading The Times’ previous Printing Supplement in 1912, and this next supplement got him the job of redesigning The Times, whose management immediately picked up the gauntlet.

Aesthetically not altogether lacking, the face was, it should be remembered made for the functional purpose of jamming as much text into as small a space as possible, and in this it succeeded. Morison made drawings which he then gave to Victor Lardent of The Times who translated them to reproduction standard. Morison used a design by Christophe Plantin (1520-89) as his inspiration, though there are elements of Perpetua and Baskerville in its make up. It took till 1932 for the work to be completed.

Don’t bother checking. The Times no longer uses Times New Roman. According to Wikipedia they stopped using in 1972 and replaced it with Times Europa, then Times Roman took over in 1982, Times Millennium in 1991, Times Classic in 2001, and Times Modern in 2006. Times Roman, older or newer is of course still widely used.

“People think because a novel’s invented, it isn’t true. Exactly the reverse is the case. Because a novel’s invented, it is true. Biography and memoirs can never be wholly true, since they can’t include every conceivable circumstance of what happened. The novel can do that. The novelist himself lays it down. His decision is binding. The biographer, even at his highest and best, can be only tentative, empirical. The autobiographer, for his part, is imprisoned in his own egotism. He must always be suspect. In contrast with the other two, the novelist is a god, creating his man, making him breathe and walk. The man, created in his own image, provides information about the god. In a sense you know more about Balzac and Dickens from their novels, than Rousseau and Casanova from their Confessions.”

X. Trapnel* would delight in holding forth in The Hero of Acre or another of the pubs he would frequent, and the above is a sample of what you’d get back if your bought him a drink.

Is there really no fully honest autobiographer? Jean-Jacques Rousseau is notorious for his self-revelation, but it is a revelation of which he was in control all the time. He didn’t just blab into a tape recorder and publish whatever came out of his mouth — not of course that even that method would necessarily lead to total honesty. He obviously puts in what he wants to put in — sometimes no doubt to make himself look good, but also sometimes to make himself look honest — the reader will then think “If he can say that he must be telling the truth”. Is Karl Ove Knausgaard’s stream of consciousness completely and exhaustively honest? Maybe, maybe not; probably not I suspect, because I don’t really think any such thing is possible. He says we look for truth in writing, but of course one man’s truth may be another’s bloody lie. Clearly however he’s aiming at some kind of total self-revelation by writing without intermediation. I just suspect that, if only subconsciously, it’s not possible to be totally frank.

I do believe that hiding behind a fictional character can afford you cover for some revelations which you’d be unwilling to make of your self without the cover that fiction provides. It’s that fictional character who did it, not me — though clearly I know about it and can portray it convincingly enough to make it real. I’ve noticed a willingness to say things in a foreign language which I’d monitor into silence in English. It’s almost as if a different person, a German avatar, was blabbing.

One should of course not overlook the possibility of novelists distorting the truth to make their lives look more admirable. If the narrator is the most likely authorial avatar, that doesn’t have to mean that a potentially embarrassing revelation of some conduct of the author’s, can’t be laid on a minor character. If we have to write what we know (which shouldn’t be brushed off as if that meant something like knowing how a handloom works — it’s more about knowing the murderous thoughts coursing through the weaver’s mind) then in order to write about it we have to know it. In crude terms an autobiographer will tend to suppress ignoble thoughts; a biographer won’t know about them; a novelist is free to expose them in the shape of another person, a character in the novel, “Heaven forfend, not me of course”.


* Fictional author in Anthony Powell’s A dance to the music of time. His girlfriend left him, throwing the only copy of the manuscript of his magnum opus, the novel Profiles in String, into the Grand Union Canal. He was modeled after Julian Maclaren-Ross, who, according to Wikipedia, was also the model for Prince Yakimov in Olivia Manning’s Balkan Trilogy.

Not a bad literary afterlife. Authors would no doubt prefer that their own works should be remembered, but living on as a character in novels still being read is better than obscurity.

At the end of last year, before the Cenveo bankruptcy became public, Julie Greenbaum reported in Printing Impressions (link via Book Business Insight) on optimism in the book manufacturing industry.

She gets comments (which can be seen at the Book Business link) from a couple of the top-5 companies shown in this table, which conspicuously omits R. R. Donnelley who have split into three parts, but didn’t give Printing Impressions the segment breakdown figures they needed. The RRD book division, now trading as LSC Communications (LKSD* on the New York Stock Exchange) reported sales for 2016 as $3.65 billion down a bit from the previous year.

No doubt they too are cautiously optimistic. Consistent with what I have said before, the printers who responded to Ms Greenbaum talk about investment in ink-jet and digital media, not offset.

It probably says something about the consolidation, closures, and general transformation that’s been under way for the last few years that this top 5 (or 6 counting LSC) is rather different from any such list compiled even five years ago. The list is really now a list of the big 2 and the next largest 4.


* Are the NYSE initials an echo of Lakeside Press in Chicago, the old home of R. R. Donnelley’s operations from which the expansion grew?


Brooke Warner at Huffington Post rather sensationalistically accuses us (book publishers) of discrimination. I’ve no doubt we could do better in our hiring practices, but that’s not what HuffPost is on about. The discrimination here appears to be against self-published authors.

It’s a bit tough to be clobbered because people who refused to solicit your services end up turning out what some observers adjudge a sub-standard product.* Several large publishing companies offer services to independent authors. If they had asked us, we’d have done the job for them; but no, they decided to do things on their own. And now we get blamed for the allegedly bad outcome!

Lots of indie authors choose the self-publishing route for positive, independence-based or money-making reasons. Of course some self-published authors are going down this road because they have not managed to get a traditional publisher to take on their book. There are all too many indie authors who protest vociferously against traditional publishers whom they see as restricting the public’s access to reading material by refusing to accept their books and books by their self-publishing colleagues for publication. There’s an obvious illogicality to this — if the book is available from an indie publisher, in what way is the public’s appetite not being fed? In one sense their complaint may actually be justified: what they are effectively saying is that they are being disadvantaged in market access. Access to bookstores does tend to favor traditional publishers: the book retail business model has after all been built up over a couple of hundred years of business partnership in a form which suits its main participants. The business is based upon established routines of information exchange and broadly standardized methods ordering, invoicing and supply. It’s very hard for an individual author to get anywhere near duplicating this service, but that’s because it’s hard, not because there’s any plot to exclude the individual author/publisher. Just like librarians, booksellers cannot be talking to a sales rep, even if that rep is the author, 24 hours a day.

Random House and its fellow Big Fivers cannot publish every book ever written, though god knows with all this consolidation it looks a bit like they might want to. Any publisher has to discriminate between this book and that book — oops, there’s that word discrimination, but used here in its value-judgement-free sense of choosing between one thing and another. We have to be discriminating about what we publish: capital is not endless; money has to be made off any publication (or at least there has to be a good chance that money will be made) — publishing isn’t a literary charity after all.

This is sort of anti-publishing rant is of these classic ploys of setting up a straw man and then pouring ink all over him to “correct” a non-existent problem. For example “If traditional publishing were holding up a high standard with every book published, I might tone down my firm accusations of wrongdoing here, but instead they’re publishing so many books whose literary merit is questionable at best.” Come on Brooke Warner, if publishers were in business to publish only books of literary merit, things would of course be different. It’s not that we are incompetent, and think that Your Big Book of Dogs has the same amount of literary merit as War and Peace. We are in business to make money, and as long as there are people out there who’ll fork over money for schlock, we’ll be happy to provide it. But we can’t manage all the schlock, just as we can’t manage all the romance, mystery, sci-fi etc.

“The industry is promoting a singular message, and they’re banded together in their efforts to keep an entire group of authors out, based on a singular criteria” [if it’s singular, it’s criterion, Brooke] — “They’re united around the belief that if a publisher at a major house does not deem your work worthy that you are not worthy of receiving a fair review, of entering your work into a contest to be judged (fairly, ostensibly on the merit of the work), or of being a member of an association that touts itself as promoting writers’ interests.” Whoever “they” are and that sinister “industry” in which they are co-conspiritors, they are of course not really banding together to exclude anyone. They are all individuals and individual companies, making their own judgements and discriminations. How are readers meant to discriminate between good books and bad ones? If some of them come up with a quick-and-dirty conclusion that life is too short to look at every book, and the simplest way to cut is to disregard books from publishers whose name you don’t recognize, does that really amount to a plot? If you’ve written a self-published book of course you’d wish that The New York Times would give it a review. I’ve no doubt that 99% of the authors of Random House books might join you in that same wish. The fact is that very few books ever make it into the review media. There’s just too little space and too many titles.

The long and the short of it is that there’s absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t have self publishers and traditional publishers. They effectively represent different markets. For one segment to hurl insults at the other is a bit like people who prefer to fly from New York to Washington characterizing those who go by train as idiots.


* Let it not be assumed that I believe self-published books to be axiomatically sub-standard. Many of them are first-rate and any publisher would leap at the chance of publishing them — as is clearly illustrated by the many instances in which exactly this has happened after the book’s initial success as a self-published book. However, understandably perhaps, given a universe into which anyone can publish anything, an assumption has grown that many self-published books are not of the first rank of quality. Winnowing this immense output in order to find the ones you might be able to sell in your bookstore is a task which would take more time than anyone has available.

At his blog The Future of Publishing, Thad McIlroy gives a thorough examination of this large print bankruptcy. (Link via The Digital Reader.)

He points to two forces at work in Cenveo’s financial troubles. Declining demand for print, and excessive executive remuneration. Cenveo’s core business is envelope printing (and the stuff that goes in those envelopes for mass mailings) but they have an array of assets, including some book manufacturing capacity.


The evidence for declining print sales is clear and obvious — and of course what we’d all expect to be the case given the increasing importance of digital commerce. The book manufacturing segment of the print industry has responded by a flurry of consolidation and capacity reduction. I guess it’s hard to stop any family-controlled business from making dangerously large payments to its top management kin. We rely on the honor of ownership and boards: so much so that no legislation could be imagined that would restrict their freedom. Shareholders have a theoretical role, but it’s hard to organize and seems rarely to be given effect. For fans of freedom this is all great; for the workers, less so.

Consolidation combined with cost containment and capacity reduction is of course the correct response to market declines. Things used to be great. Now it’s a lot harder. But scaling your operations to match the new smaller market can lead to an acceptable future: maybe not such a big one as you once enjoyed. A business can perhaps power through a temporary decline in demand by aggressive acquisition and price discounting, but with a long-term trend such a ploy is surely suicidal. Restructuring, more or less drastic, will eventually be necessary.

Relax, though: the world as we know it is not coming to an end. Mr McIlroy suggests restraint on such apocalyptical impulses by reminding us “There’s no particular reason to think that print will disappear in our lifetimes. On the other hand, as the printing industry’s most notable economist ‘Dr. Joe’ Webb puts it, ‘Not dead’ is not the same as being ‘alive’.” I assume that this “alive” means more or less excitingly profitable, but there’s a vast distance between such levels of excitement and death. The printing industry is not noted for any reluctance to develop new and more efficient ways of doing things. Tightening margins tend to encourage such invention. It may not make sense to seek the big bucks in this business in the future, but plenty of printing will be done, and not at negative margins.

An oddity, shown by David Crotty at The Scholarly Kitchen: Merriam-Webster’s backward index card file. We tend to forget that things which are easy-peasy with computers once upon a time required a bit of ingenuity.

There are other videos at Merriam-Webster’s YouTube Channel.

Everybody knows, don’t they, that Times New Roman was designed by Stanley Morison? Surprise, surprise, the typeface design was for The Times newspaper, and was part of a comprehensive face-lift that took several years to implement fully.

Morison was, beyond that, a remarkable man. He was born in 1889 and brought up in north London, a city he always expressed himself reluctant to leave. He didn’t attend university but managed to become formidably learned. He was described as the most intelligent man in Europe by his friend R. M. Barrington-Ward, editor of The Times. Typographical consultant to The Times, he was at one point almost dragooned into becoming its editor. He did serve as editor of The Times Literary Supplement from 1945 to 1948. He was a consultant to the Monotype Corporation where he helped usher in many classic typefaces, refusing ever to compromise quality.  He was also a consultant to Cambridge University Press, joining there with Walter Lewis, the University Printer, to launch and consolidate the mid-century revolution in the design and printing of books.

Morison, who converted to Roman Catholicism at the age of nineteen, always wore black suits which he’d obtain from an ecclesiastical outfitter. Lord Beaverbrook, a friend, alleged that the black hat he always wore was one size too small for his head. Morison was a life-long Marxist, and was a conscientious objector in World War I, spending time in jail in consequence. In the Second World War his Regent’s Park flat was bombed out with the loss of immense amounts of early print and manuscript evidence, but he couldn’t get there for hours as he was on the roof of Barrington-Ward’s house a few doors down putting out fires from another bomb. On more than one occasion he declined to be knighted.

He promoted a clean, uncluttered design scheme. His First Principles of Typography amounts to a manual for creating a book layout using one typeface. “The primary claim of printing is not to be an art, but to be the most responsible of our social, industrial and intellectual mechanisms; it must, like a transport system, be most disciplined, most rational.” The transport simile is characteristic: Morison was a wild fan of railway trains, and once rode to Edinburgh on the footplate of “The Flying Scotsman”. Perhaps more clearly he writes in First Principles “Typography is the efficient means to an essentially utilitarian and only accidentally aesthetic end, for enjoyment of patterns is rarely the reader’s chief aim . . . Even dullness and monotony in the typesetting are far less vicious to a reader than typographical eccentricity or pleasantry.” Many today would benefit from this advice.

As well as his work on book design and the history and design of typefaces, Morison was expert in the history of letter forms, manuscript hands, and ecclesiastical printing. He edited and wrote much of the four-volume History of The Times (1935-52). Towards the end of his life he was a member of the board of editors of Encyclopedia Britannica.

In his biography Stanley Morison Nicolas Barker writes “Morison found typography without organized history or principles: he left it with both, and in addition a substantial body of work exemplifying them. The future is unlikely to dispute the size of this achievement.” He was direct, and often outspoken. Barker compares him in this to Samuel Johnson. Johnson I fear is the English author I’d come closest to wanting to punch on the nose — so portentously opinionated; so irritatingly often correct.* However, I started working at Cambridge University Press a couple of years before Morison’s death in 1967 so naturally grew up uttering his name with awed respect.


* D. H. Lawrence runs him a close second. Might there be a lit. crit. genre abirthing here? Authors one feels violent toward?

Here, via the SHARP listserv, is an account of some of the props used in making this film. The information is provided by Dan Franklin of The Two Sisters Press in Belleville Illinois.

Davin Kuntze of the Woodside Press in Brooklyn had this to say on the Letpress list in November 2017:

Earlier this year, I was approached to create a couple props for an upcoming major motion picture. The item in question was a front-page lockup of the Washington Post from 1971 just how they would have created it back then. With a lot of help and advice from a few experts (namely, Frank Romano at the Museum of Printing and John Christensen from Firefly Press), I pretty much managed to it pull it off with as much authenticity as I was able. I cut a few corners, mainly with the banner information, but everything else was done with a sharp eye to making it as true to an original as possible.
The creation of these props led to a three-day shoot here in our shop where we were decked out to look like an early seventies composing room at a major newspaper, smoking pipes and high-waisted pants included. They shot the up-close and personal operation of our Blue Streak Comet and Model 31 as beautifully as I’ve had the pleasure of seeing on film (and they were shooting onto actual film).
While I’m not allowed to share photos of the two front-page lockups I created just yet, the trailer just landed yesterday and, much to my surprise and enjoyment, a number of the inserts from our shop were used. Starting at about the 2-minute mark, you can catch brief glimpses of my hands, John Christensen’s hands, some mats spelling out a dramatic phrase and the distribution mechanism.


Then, Davin posted this terrific story on Jan. 16:

Marc, a good friend of mine who plays one of the Linotype operators in the film, is set up in front of the Comet on the second day so I wasn’t in the background again and to give the illusion of a much larger composing department than we actually have. An hour or two into the shoot, and he’s plonking away like he knows what he’s doing, but we had the sword in the magazine and the plunger disconnected so there wouldn’t be any malfunctions during an otherwise good take.

They set up the next shot, and from the back I hear “Ok. Now we need to have the Linotypes casting for the next scene.”
Marc looks over at me, wide-eyed.
Now, Marc has been around the shop for years and seen the machines in operation, but has never actually RUN a Linotype. I walk over and give him a two-minute crash course. Then I get off screen and give him the thumbs up. So Marc has to run a Linotype for the very first time with Steven Spielberg watching closely on the monitors and Meryl Streep standing behind him with her hand on his shoulder talking to Tom Hanks about newspapers and making history and stuff. He totally pulled it off, much to everyone’s relief. While cleaning up a couple days later, we find line after identical line, like Jack Torrance (from The Shining) had been running one of the machines. I guess Marc just found something he could touch type quickly and stuck to that.
Other people you might catch in the Linotype scenes who some of you may know are John Kristensen (from Firefly Press) and Andy Birsh (the owner of Woodside Press). Behind the scenes, we had Rich Hopkins, who cast the large Bodoni we used as as a stand-in for the handset “Post-doni” headline type. Finally, Frank Romano provided invaluable historical information as well as the two large chases for the front pages, the turtles and some other odds and ends that ended up as set dressing. It probably wouldn’t have happened without Frank’s input and assistance or Rich Hopkin’s beautiful type.

The July 2, 1978 issue of the NYT was the last set on Linotypes.

In 2016, there was a delightful story in the NYT about Rudolph Stocker, who worked at the NYT for 50 years:

Farmers’ Almanacs still survive. Indeed they thrive. As this fascinating piece from Topic tells us The Old Farmer’s Almanac has an annual sale of about 3,000,000! The Old Farmer’s Almanac was first published in 1792, while The Farmers’ Almanac only began as recently as 1818. This upstart manages an annual print run of 2,000,000. And we though farmers had all been replaced by machines! The editor of The Old Farmer’s Almanac tells us that it is “’a calendar of the heavens’, in other words, a listing of astronomical events for the year, sunrise and sunset times, dates of the solstices and equinoxes, mixed with civic and religious holidays, proverbs, poems, and bits of trivia. The Almanac is a lot more than that, though: it’s also filled with advice on gardening, recipes, home remedies, astrology, and feature stories on everything from groundhogs to body odor.”

One might have thought that the material distributed in an almanac would now be freely accessed on the internet. There can’t be two or three (or do I mean five) million people who lack internet connection and thus need a printed almanac to know who was the president before Polk, what’s the capital of Wyoming, Saskatchewan, and Moldova, or what weather to expect in spring. And of course there aren’t. Technophobia has nothing to do with it: both publications enjoy sizable social media followings. The Old Farmer’s Almanac has nearly 1.5 million on-line followers while Farmers’ has almost 1.2 million. Their websites appear to contain everything you could look for in the printed book. For instance, The Old Farmer’s Almanac site tells us that today is especially auspicious if you are planning any of the following activities, to “quit smoking, begin diet to lose weight, plant belowground crops, can, pickle, or make sauerkraut, breed animals, wean animals or children, slaughter livestock”. These directions all come with links telling you why for instance the moon’s phases make this a good day to start weaning. Farmers’ Almanac has a similar website.

As the Topic article tells us, almanacs have a long history. Poor Richard’s Almanac, started by Benjamin Franklin in 1732, is not America’s oldest — that almanac dates from 1639 — but is certainly a name which stick in the popular American mind, as well, obviously as Farmers’ and Old Farmer’s. The size of their market is impressive. Clearly a need is being met.

On a negative note, one British almanac has just announced its end. Pears Cyclopedia has just issued it’s last volume.