For Whom the Bell Tolls

Byron the Continent, The Carl H. Pforzheimer Library

I spend too much time asking someone what typeface they used on a project. I thought I was losing my knack for identifying fonts due to dementia. I'll look closely at the page, and desperately try to find the element that will help me identify the typeface as Caslon, Baskerville, Bembo, or any of the classical serifs I know. After I give up I ask, "Ok, what is that typeface? There's something wrong with it." The answer is typically, "Oh, that's Gobbledygook (insert strange band name here)." They're odd faces found online free. That's not good. You wouldn't wear ugly clothes found online free, why would you use the sad free type?


Monotype Bell, the way it should look

I have a book with the longest colophon ever made. If you've wondered if it's ok to list a typeface on the book credits, check this out. It's a thorough history of Bell (the serif one, not Matthew Carter's magnificent Bell Centennial). I even love the low-fi binding with stitching and a dust jacket glued to the cover.

Herbert Johnson designed this edition, Byron on the Continent for the Carl H. Pfrorzheimer Foundation and The New York Public Library. It's set in metal in the most beautiful cut of Monotype Bell on Mohawk Superfine. The detail to typography is incredible. It reminds me of the rules I learned when I started out as a designer at The New York Public Library:

true small caps (not just smaller capitals)

slightly spaced small caps to aid in reading

italics 1/2 point size larger to read optically the same as roman text

aligning figures with capital letters

old style figures with upper and lower case text

perfectly kerned initial caps

the most elegant brackets around the folios

acorns to separate content

and especially wonderful, the small cap Scilicet ( SC 561) to designate the numbers in another edition)

Don't try these without parental supervision.

Cover: Byron the Continent, The Carl H. Pforzheimer Library

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Chair of the undergraduate and graduate Graphic Design Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for LinkedIn Learning/ He is the only two term AIGA national president in AIGA’s 100 year history. In 2014, Adams was awarded the AIGA Medal, the highest honor in the profession. He is an AIGA Fellow, and Aspen Design Fellow. He has been recognized by every major competition and publication including; How, Print, Step, Communication Arts, Graphis, AIGA, The Type Directors Club, The British Art Director’s Club, and the Art Director’s Club. Adams has been exhibited often, including a solo exhibition at The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Adams is an author of multiple magazine columns, and several best-selling books. He has been cited as one of the forty most important people shaping design internationally, and one of the top ten influential designers in the United States. Previously, Adams was a founding partner at AdamsMorioka, whose clients included The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Disney, Mohawk Fine Papers, The Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, Richard Meier & Partners, Sundance, and the University of Southern California.

Forbidden Love

Call me out of touch, but I love books. I recall being told in college to "spend money on books, not pot." Unfortunately, I was spending money on Top Ramen, not books nor pot. I'm not a book snob. I'm thrilled to find a copy of Tidewater Virginia as well as a first edition of To Kill a Mockingbird. While I spend many hours showing Paul Rand and Alvin Lustig jackets, I have a secret love for the jackets of the unknown. With titles such as Saphira and the Slave Girl, which sounds faintly lesbian-esque, how can you go wrong?

The New York Public Library has a remarkable digital collection of book jackets from 1926-1947. These aren't chosen by a select group of designers for high design aesthetic value. Research Libraries typically remove dust jackets and discard them before shelving the books. From 1926-1947 anonymous librarians collected and saved jackets they found interesting. They range from unbelievably wonderful, Greatest Show on Earth, to the odd, Less Eminent Victorians. As a collection, the design trends and resources become clear. The lack of color during the World War II period is obvious. The minimal usage of photography shows, not a preference for illustration, but the issues with printing technologies at the time. As it was common for an illustrator to be hired to draw the cover jacket, much of the typography is hand-lettered in wonderful ways.

The books here have a subtext of personal care. Someone handled this artifact, chose the cover, and carefully stored it in a scrapbook. Perhaps it's because my grandfather had a wonderful library, and my grandmother was never without a book, but these books all seem to have been loved.

Shown here is the first of a series on this subject. The book jackets images include the spine.