Archives for category: Typesetting

I find this one a bit shocking actually.

If you are taking care of an architectural masterpiece, visited by thousands every hour as it seems, don’t you think you’d want to be careful with your renovations. Clearly the doors of the Duomo in Florence were rebuilt not that long ago. They called on some letter-carver to include on the lintels the “captions” for the art high above. Thereupon the clerk of works stopped paying attention. I can’t imagine how they allowed this mess to appear. “Behold the handmaiden of the Lord”. Better; keep your eyes closed.

It’s almost as if the guy was told he had eight feet at his disposal and off he went, only to realize as he got got towards the end that he was running out of room. No problem thinks he, I’ll just scrunch up the last few letters and Roberto’s your uncle.

The inscription starts off quite nicely. ECCE is fine, though I might prefer a tiny bit less space between the second C and the E. We are already floundering a bit in ANCILLA where the C badly needs separating from the N. The I to L transition is clearly far too close especially if you’re going to allow extra space between the Ls and before that A which really looks like it’s an indefinite article — oops, but no, we’re not in English, this is Latin whence we came all our knowledge of the proper spacing of inscriptions, so maybe it looks more like a preposition. Our carver, obviously influenced by the luxurious spacing between that A and the L before it, starts DOMINI with similarly generous spacing between the D and the O. It’s at this point that he actually steps back and looks at what he’s doing and realizes he’s running out of room. MINI lives up to its name in terms of spacing, though our artist puts an extra twist on it with a flourish of even smaller space between the N and its neighbors that he allows after the M.

The little crosses are nice.

This door is the south door on the front of the church, facing the Baptistry. All the people who are going into the Duomo enter this way (those paying to go up the tower or into the dome enter elsewhere). We queued for an hour and chatted with a couple of students from Texas Tech who were in town doing their foreign study. They were business majors and had had half a dozen lectures on commercial law (American) while in town, though they appeared to have made side trips to rather more cities than that. Sending your students to Florence seems quite a common trick. We saw evidence of students from New York University, Kent State, and Pepperdine. And why not? Everyone wins; even the parents who pay, who can rest assured that someone over there is looking after their little treasure. Our Texan friend said she was sorry to be leaving town on the morrow. I suggested she could come back some time, but she allowed as how this would be the last time she could do so on her parents’ dime.

The word ligature comes to us straight from Latin where it lives as the verb “to bind/tie together”. The most common context for the word is medical, though let’s hope we are all more familiar with the musical usage, a joining together of two notes, rather than the surgical one of joining together two sides of a wound. To the book-making-fixated the first meaning of ligature to spring to mind is that of two (or on glorious occasions more than two) type characters joined together as one. Try to fit together an f followed by an i and you find the dot on the i getting in the way of the top of the f. Solution: out, out damned spot — cast both letters on one piece of metal tucking a dotless i under the loop, as in this example from Wikipedia.

This example is even more interesting to the maniacal typophile, in that it’s actually a ligature not of fi, but of long s and i.

The typographical ligature most familiar to us is probably the ae combination, most commonly found in “mediæval”, the Oxford spelling for what we in Cambridge think of as medieval. The ligatured version just seems so much less serious: it’s so “romantic” and picturesque. Ye Olde Tea Shoppe is surely a very mediæval usage. Æsop’s Fables provides another common locus. Oe is another fairly familiar ligature: I guess œnophile may be the place we are most likely to meet it. These two, plus fi and fl are available via Apple keyboard shortcuts (see Glyphs. But fi and fl are not supported in this font).

These all started out as short cuts devised by scribes who no doubt were subject to production quotas just like any other manual worker. This had the effect that these scribal time- and space-saving dodges became part of the time-honored tradition early typesetters struggled to preserve. Printers of the first books would strive to have their pages look as much like handwritten ones as was compatible with using metal type. Many ligatures are of course undeniably more aesthetically pleasing than their alternatives, and up until recently (during my working life) aesthetics were a constant matter of concern to most printers involved in book work.

Quoted in a piece from The Collation about ligatures in Aldine type, “Glaister’s Encyclopedia of the Book defines ligature as ‘two or more letters joined together and often cast on one body’ while M.B. Parkes defines the terms more extensively: ‘there are two categories: (a) when two adjacent letter forms have been disarticulated, and their elements reassembled to create a single form: for example, e and t to produce the form &; (b) when two adjacent letters have been linked, and one has been modified in the process, whilst retaining its recognizable basic shape, for example in the ligatures ct and st.'” The use of ligatures tends to lend an old-fashioned artsy-crafts look to a page of type which can be useful in certain contexts but would look ridiculous in say a book about computer programming. Thus you should not be surprised to meet them in Elizabeth Eisenstein’s The Printing Press as an Agent of Change, whereas most modern books will eschew them just allowing the dot on the i to crash with the loop on the f. Hey, nobody’ll notice!

The ampersand started life as a scribal ligature but is now considered a logogram. The same is doubtless true of @. The German double s symbol, ß, a combo of long s and short s, is another of these.

Well, I don’t know about Your Thos, but My Thos is in need of some help.

You can see what’s gone wrong: the amount of space between the Y and the T is exactly the same as the space between the T and the H. This is unfortunate after the designer decided to tuck the spreading M under the top left arm of the Y. From the detail picture you can see this: a transparent ruler confirms that the end of the lavish serif at the bottom on the M’s right leg is actually about 1/32″ to the right of the similarly extravagant serif on the Y’s left arm.

This tucking in of the M sets up a conflict along the line,  exaggerating the appearance of space between T and H and especially of course between Y and T. What needs to be done to make the whole line one word again is to move the M back to the left, add a little bit of space between H and O, and maybe the tiniest amount between O and S. The rest should be OK as is I think.

Pity really because at Michael Joseph (now part of Penguin Random House) they obviously went whole hog on this cover: the title on the front and that sort of line of cloud above it have been embossed* while title and author on front and spine have been foil stamped. I don’t especially like the design but that’s no problem; in matters aesthetic opinions are bound to differ. Blame the Greeks: it’s probably the fault of Apollo, Hermes, and Euterpe. I expect Epimetheus, Titan of afterthought and the father of excuses, gets a toe in too. No designer is credited — the only credit is “Cover Illustration © Sarah Young”, which please note.

As may be seen, our copy is signed by the author. We bought it at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake last year when Stephen Fry was performing/reading bits of the book on stage. The book is written in a chatty style and doubtless took minimal editing for performance. He covers the ground in an engaging and untaxing manner. The slightly jokey, knowing style ends up being a little hard to take, but whatever Stephen Fry does will forever be OK in my book as a result of this wonderful interview with a really gob-smacked interviewer from Irish television.

If you see no video here, please click on the title of this post in order to view it in your browser.


* Embossing a cover or jacket involves making a metal die — in this case in the shape of the word MYTHOS together with that grey contrail above it, and, after the covers have been printed, putting them through a stamping machine, thus recessing the paper in the area hit. This is really clear when you look at the back of the paper where the reversed image appears as a raised bump. This hit can be made as a blind hit (i.e. with no foil) or with some foil between the die and the image, as is the case in this instance with the word MYTHOS where a patterned gold foil has been added to the brown tints printed onto the cover.

All this requires quite careful make-ready, which makes it quite an expensive way to obtain an extra bit of texture and contrast.

Matthew Butterick’s Practical Typography does a review of campaign websites for Democrats vying for their party’s nomination as Presidential candidate in 2020. Though he doesn’t beat you over the head with it, letterspacing is part of the discussion: particularly in the problem name (typographically problematical) SWALWELL. Those two Ws call for some spacing judgement — which they actually manage to get here. Is it surprising that almost all of these candidates opts to have their name in all caps except for Bernie Sanders? Amy Klobuchar uses Cap and lc in her 3-letter “word mark” — which seems to be the word for that label which appears everywhere in campaigns.

As an ostensibly well-informed political observer I am struck by the number of these names I didn’t actually recognize at first sight! And there are already three more than appear on Mr Butterick’s list: Mike Gravel, Seth Moulton and Michael Bennet are in too. Yes, yes, that makes 22, but Marianne Williamson is still at the exploratory committee stage though Practical Typography went ahead and reviewed her (rather wimpy) website. Our Mayor deBlasio is rumored to be about to announce his entry: The Daily Beast tells us he unites the nation — no-one wants him to run! And what about Elizabeth McCord? I know she already declared — but no, wait a minute, that’s a television show, Madam Secretary.

LATER: It turns out that the McCord campaign already has a word mark:

Fans can also buy a T shirt at Etsy. I don’t think CBS has set up a site requesting campaign donations just yet.

My Modern Met shows us a typewriter which could type music for you. (Link via Shelf Awareness for Readers.) It looks horrendously intimidating.

The Keaton Music Typewriter was first patented in 1936 with a 14 key-arrangement, which was raised to 33 with a new 1953 patent. There were two keyboards: one a rotating keyboard with notes, and another, which didn’t move, with symbols like bar lines whose vertical alignment was constant. The fixed keyboard consists of the nine keys at the right hand end of the ring. The curved bar at the side enabled you to move up and down to place your note at the right height on the staff lines. Each notch on the bar moves the print head 1/24″ — the system requires you to have preprinted paper with the staff lines 1/12″ apart. A needle arrangement enables you to see where the next note is going to be typed.

Here’s a one-minute video showing the machine in (tentative) operation.

If you do not see a video here, please click on the title of this post in order to view it in your browser.

It is assumed that most of these machines would have been used by music publishers and printers rather than composers, who would surely have found it much easier to write their music out by hand.

Music Printing History is a trove of information about the different techniques which have been used in reproducing music over the last 1,000 years.

See also my earlier posts Music engraving, and Typewriter music.

A fleuron is an ornament on a printed page in the shape of a small flower or leaf. It is sometimes called a printer’s flower or floret. It can also be found in discussions among aesthetic architects and numismatists. The Oxford English Dictionary even shows us a quotation referring to pastry flourishes. It is also used to refer to a bookbinder’s tool, carrying such an ornament for stamping on a case cover.

The most common fleuron is perhaps this one, derived from an ivy leaf, and apparently sometimes called a hedera, the botanical name of ivy. These flourishes were often brought together to form borders and rules, though modern taste has moved away from the clutter this often produces.

Here are a few examples from my Linotype Collection book published by the Mergenthaler Type Corporation. On the right hand page you can see how these ornaments could be combined in bravura arrangements. In the hot metal world these fleurons would be available in various sizes — digital or film setting enables you of course to output various sizes from a single “master”, which is why the Linotype book only shows one size. They refer to them as flowers, the least flowery of the possible appellations.

Stanley Morison, a strong advocate for clutter-free typography, was involved in the setting up of the typographical journal The Fleuron; indeed it was he who proposed the name in a letter to Oliver Simon in October 1922. “I should like you to consider re-naming our Typographical Annual. The name I recommend is The Fleuron. This would be an advantage I suggest. In the first place the title ‘Typography’ is very stiff and not absolutely free in the public mind from technical connections. The Fleuron possesses just that note of historical & romantic feeling which we need to express.” Volumes 5, 6 and 7 were edited by Morison (Simon edited the first four) and Morison’s volumes were typeset and printed in Cambridge at the University Press, where as Typographical Advisor to the Press he could supervise the entire process of production. Only these seven volumes were published. The publication was losing money, as anything as lavish almost must, and the demands on Morison’s time became too much to be manageable. Plus, to a large extent, the intention of the journal, to raise standards of British printing, had been achieved after the seven years of The Fleuron‘s life.

The combination of type ornament elements on the title page is obviously an appropriate use of fleurons.

According to The Bookman’s Glossary (R. R. Bowker, 4th edition 1961) Lettre de forme, lettre de somme, lettre de bâtarde are “the three general classifications of Gothic type forms as found in the 15th century. The first is the Pointed and most formal; the second is the Round and less formal; the third is a Cursive form. They correspond to similar classifications of lettering used in the manuscripts that preceded printing.” Nomenclature is of course confusing with something as old as this: lots of people referred to the same thing by different names, and some minority usages still survive in unexpected corners. Just choosing to privilege the French terminology represents a choice of road taken.

In the examples below “Pointed” is referred to as Textura.

From The Dawn of Western Printing at Incunabula.

Here, from Incunabula, is a full discussion of the three forms. It tells us that Gutenberg’s type was based on the script textura quadrata, commonly used for bibles and derived from the “protogothic” script which developed in northern France around the eleventh century. A more rounded script, called rotunda, evolved in Bologna in the 12th century. Lettre bâtarde derived from less formal writing and tended to be used for documents in the vernacular, not in Latin.

Of course it was all more complicated than this, but we can think of scribes using half uncial, chancery hand, and insular scripts, which began to seem unreadable to many as different regions of Europe favored one version over others. Different scripts would be used for different types of book. Alcuin of York (c.730-804) succeeded in persuading scribes to use the more elegant Carolingian minuscule for most purposes, thus allowing international comprehensibility. While the Pointed, Textura style was the basis for the type used by Gutenberg in his Bible, the Carolingian minuscule, a few years later formed the basis for the types which we recognize today as Roman which were introduced by printers in Italy.

Simplified relationship between various scripts, showing the development of Uncial from Roman and the Greek Uncial. From Wikipedia.


Any account of these matters must inevitable over-simplify. Researchers look back on what was the individual practice of thousands of scribes and printers, and impose a pattern on their myriad activities. Such a pattern does provide a sort of history, but doesn’t of course imply any intentionality on the part of the actors. It’s not like Gutenberg said to himself, let’s copy the pointed script. He just knew that this was how you wrote bibles, so, obviously, that’s how you’d print them too. No doubt Aldus Manutius didn’t sit there musing “Why do we have to copy this barbaric Gothic nonsense? Let’s go back to Alcuin and start anew”. He followed the style of earlier classical and secular works, formalizing things as printed types will inevitably do.

My post on Black letter may have some relevance in this context.

This is so obvious to anyone in the publishing business that we are liable to forget that the word stet may be opaque to some other. It’s Latin for “let it stand” and is used whenever, in checking proof or marking up a manuscript, you change your mind after deleting something before second thoughts tell you it should really remain. Write Stet in the margin and the typesetter knows that they should ignore the deletion and let it stand as previously written. To avoid any ambiguity about exactly what the stet refers to we usually put a series of dots under the words involved. We also tend to put marginal proof marks in a little circle to divide them off from any neighboring clutter.

Illustration from The Chicago Manual of Style. Stet is 7 lines down on right.

Quite what the stet means in this photo of a tattoo from BuzzFeed is a bit opaque to me: sort of like Noli me tangere perhaps. Maybe the nails suggest it’s a message about a decision to stick in a poker hand.

A couple of years ago I posted about rivers, those trails of white which can occasionally be found meandering down a page of type. There must be a name for the opposite — a meandering trail of dark wandering down a page, but I’ve either never heard it or have forgotten the word.

This dark river results from a chance proximity of double “g”s or other ink-heavy letter combinations occurring above and below one another. Get two or three of these together, and the eye picks up the blob and shapes it into a river. A funny effect is how, once you’ve noticed it the effect insists on being seen further up and down the page. In this page, from the excellent Anniversaries I by Uwe Johnson (New York Review Books, 2018*) you first pick it up in the center of the page just below half way down, where we find these words in the middle of the line one above the other, slanting a bit leftwards: right, going, approving, front, office, allowed, expert, through, Berlin. Notice also how entirely innocent words (innocent of any dark type clustering) get dragged in by their position in the line. For instance “going” and “expert”. Our eye just includes them in the row because they are there. And then it begins to extend the line upwards and downwards, implicating “disparagingly”, “locally”, and “though” in the line-up. We are pattern-seeking creatures, and this is what we do.

This doesn’t do any harm, and isn’t a “bad” thing. Probably it’s only maniacs like me who latch onto such quirks of typesetting. It’s an artifact of computer-assisted typesetting — well actually of any typesetting. A Monotype compositor in the old days could have broken up such a river by tightening the word spacing here and loosening it there so that these doubled characters were no longer aligned in such a regular way. Of course many comps wouldn’t have bothered: in such things consisted the difference between a good type shop and an OK one. Desperate hot metal compositors seeking to balance their lines have been known to introduce or delete a little word here or there for the sake of aesthetic balance. Occasionally the author might notice.


* I’m about to start on Volume 2, having just reached 19 April 1968.

This blog format uses a line space to divide paragraphs from one another. In conventional text setting there’s no space between paragraphs and the first word of a paragraph starts indented a little to the right of the lines above and below, often 1-em. A hanging indent is the opposite: the second and subsequent lines start indented to the right of the first one, which sort of makes it look like the copy is hanging from the hook of the first line.

As this slightly crooked photograph of a page from the index from Hugh Williamson’s Methods of Book Design reminds us the hanging indent is often found in plays, short notes, lists and bibliographies. And of course indexes.