Drop initials always look nice. Well, I like the look at least. Magazine Designing tells us “Drop caps and initials are an effective way of grabbing readers attention because they add personality and visual strength to the page.” To me, they have a sort of old fashioned, quality appearance. We can see an origin in those illuminated and historiated initials in manuscripts.

The Missal of Cardinal Angelo Acciaiuoli. Fitzwilliam Museum


Magazine Designing also tells us that drops dropped out of favor in the early 20th century under the influence of Bauhaus typographical rigor. That may have had something to do with it, but I’d bet that the main reason was economics. Drop initials add cost, and as labor costs went up publishers found themselves less and less willing to pay for “frills” like decent paper, generous margins, good book cloth, footnotes, drop initials etc.. Therefore if you are going to pay for drop initials you probably ought to do them right. Here’s The New Yorker doing it wrong:

Took me a moment or two to figure out that “live” isn’t being used here as an adjective. Here’s Hart’s Rules showing us how it ought to be done.

As you may see, Hart (the Bible of Oxford bookmaking) also disagrees with The New Yorker‘s handling of the open quotation mark.

I would also argue that good book composition manners demand that the rest of the word be set in letterspaced small caps or at least caps. That alone would have helped a little in the “live” confusion.

Adding negative space in hot metal days used to involve getting a saw and cutting out part of the type to allow the rest of the word to tuck in next to the top of the “A”. In modern computer setting it’s much easier — you just have to have your system programmed to apply a rule which you need to define in code. But “Hey — it’s not worth the (tiny) hassle — nobody’ll notice.”