Wait a minute, maybe I shouldn't have plead guilty, I mean pleaded wrong in response to Peter's argument.
I just read that the pointed nib pen came into use in the 17th century. But both punch cutting and engraving came into use at the end of the 15 and into the 16th century. And in both of these you can get the extreme thicks and thins. So you already have a 'contrast manipulation paradigm' in these. So why do you need the pen to start thinking of letters with more extreme thicks and thin? Maybe the pointed pen came into use to imitate printing and engraving, not the other way round. Its widespread use is evidently later. Were there high contrast engraved letters before the pointed nib pen? Did any of them have vertical stress?
There have been brushes in use for thousands of years, notably in China. Varied pressure and speed of movement causes thick and this lines. Also, the Trajan column letters and other Roman inscriptions were layed out using brush lettering long before the 17th century. The broadnib pen you speak of was the slotted version. Reed pens were in use in ancient Greece. They were not as efficient t holding ink though so you got dry spots at the end of strokes.
Bill, it's not that there are extremes of thick and thin, it where on the stroke the thicks and thins occur. Baskerville didn't deal in extremes, while Bodoni did, yet the ‘contrast template’ is the same.
The problem is that the contrast template was already there, from the broad-nibbed pen and modifications by type designers. Having vertical stress and greater contrast didn't change the basic rules--rules like thick verticals and thin horizontals, alternating thick thin on the W, or the tapering of strokes at joins of curve to straight.
I can see the influence of the pointed nib on loopy scripts like Bickham, but not on romans.
And with sans, later, you have a *reduction* in contrast, even when the pointed steel pen is most flourishing.
The 'contrast template' of the pointed Chinese brush is, in comparison, radically different. Put any two characters from Griffo and from Bodoni side by side. Then put both beside a brushed Chinese character.
Contrast existed, and the translation contrast template was there from the start, not the expansion contrast template.
Is there an 'expansion contrast template'?
People were not only writing, but also painting and drawing and carving and engraving letters, and cutting punches--in all of which they had the freedom to alter contrast, and did. For example Caslon did high contrast faces for large sizes, lower for small sizes.
To be sure, different designers handle the thick to thin curves differently, but isn't that a design decision rather than any 'template' dictated by the pen?
Bill, I really think you are arguing against yourself. As you say, punchcutting and engraving technically permit high contrast, fine hairlines, etc. And yet the normative model of typographic letterforms from the 15th to the mid-18th century remained based on the translation contrast pattern of the broad-nib pen. It was not until after the development of the split-nib pen and its associated writing styles, based on an expansion contrast pattern, that type founders began to make types that were modeled on that pattern. The fact that it would have been technically possible to cut such types at an earlier date is notable precisely because no one chose to do so: the technology precedes the writing, but the writing precedes the application of the technology to those forms.
It is also interesting to note that between the translation model of the renaissance broad nib and the flourishing of the expansion model of the split nib in the 18th century, one finds the rotation model of the mannerist and early baroque writing masters. And yet one sees almost no influence of this different technique and, hence, different contrast pattern, in the roman text types of this period, which stick pretty doggedly to the translation model. The obvious explanation for this is that the mannerist writing masters did not provide a model for such types: they did not apply the new writing techniques to those kinds of letters. You do find some evidence of rotation in italics, though, and in the civilité types which were modeled on the popular writing style of the time. In the 18th century, by contrast, we have writing masters such as Shelley explicitly providing models for typographic roman letterforms produced with the preferred tool of the day according to the preferred techniques of the day.
So not only do we have the evidence of type founders creating types that follow trends and models set by writing masters, we also don't see them creating types based on other potential models when these are not provided by the writing masters, despite the technical ability to make any shape that the cutting, punching and casting processes would permit. Overall, typography prior to the 20th century comes across as a very conservative field, following behind the much more dynamic development of new formal writing styles. There are good economic reasons for this: making type was a costly and time consuming business, while a writing master needed only a pen, some ink and some paper to develop and practice a new style.
I can see the influence of the pointed nib on loopy scripts like Bickham, but not on romans.
Then you're blind. Sorry, but there's no polite way to put it. From Baskerville to Didot to Bodoni the expansion contrast pattern is the defining basis of the new styles (much more than axis, by the way, which actually varied a lot more than the popular revivals indicate). Not only is it possible to emulate all these styles of types using a split nib pen, it is impossible to emulate them with any other kind of pen (presuming one is writing the strokes and not drawing the letter).
The lower contrast, sans serif letters were based on a different but still contemporary style of drawn lettering (see James' The Nymph and the Grot. No one is claiming that the split nib was the only tool used during this period, or that the styles of writing associated with it were the only styles of lettering either popular or invented during the period. But it was the only tool used for the principle styles of formal writing, and evidence of the broad nib is only found in the gothick.
Bill: To be sure, different designers handle the thick to thin curves differently, but isn’t that a design decision rather than any ’template’ dictated by the pen?
Who are these 'designers'? What was their process of design?
I'm not sure who the first person was to describe himself as a 'type designer' or when, but I suspect it was quite late, and reflects a process of design within an industrial type manufacturing setting. As I wrote earlier, I'm pretty sure that Baskerville's design process consisted of sitting down and writing the style of letters that he wanted, and John Handy translated the written forms into type.
We know that, earlier, renaissance printers hired writing masters to produce models for italic types and or modeled their types on the writing of specific scribes, whose names are known to us.
And I wonder what Griffo's design process was for the Aldine roman types? Obviously there is an evaluation of Jenson's types involved, but how did he -- and many future generations of 'designers' -- actually visualise the letters to be cut in the end of the bits of metal? It is very unlikely that he worked directly in the metal without a model -- the fact that Rudolf Koch did this was notably unconventional --, so what did the model look like, and how did he create it? I think we can be reasonably sure that he did not produce draughtsman's englarged drawings of a kind that only became necessary with the introduction of mechanism punchcutting. I think it is overwhelmingly likely that he used a broad nib pen and carefully wrote the forms he intended to translate into type, because of course he was not only a punchcutter, he was also a writer, just like every other literate person of his time. He may not have been a great calligrapher or a professional writing master, but he knew how to handle a pen just as he knew, as a punchcutter, how to translate those written models into metal and what adjustments to make for scale and technical limitations.
Interestingly, Arrighi's italic types seem to have required fewer ligatures than Griffo's, suggesting that the professional writing master had better insights into how to adapt letters to the technology, while Griffo tried to follow a particular written model that obliged him to use more ligatures.
I’m pretty sure that Baskerville’s design process consisted of sitting down and writing the style of letters that he wanted, and John Handy translated the written forms into type.
Surely his roman capitals are too carefully constructed for that.
He must have drawn, constructing them in the manner of the large letters in the George Shelley specimen.
After all, he started out doing gravestones, and would have drawn those outlines before he started chiselling.
He was a precocious letterer and no doubt a multiple threat, like many a talented letter designer.
As a writing master early in his career, I suspect he would have used a fine nib to draw large exemplary letters, filling in the thick strokes.
Look at the line weight of the flourishes in the Shelley specimen -- would not Shelley have used the same pen to outline the large letters?
Was Baskerville also an artist/illustrator? Did he design the images for his Japanning business? It's a very graphic medium.
I recall reading that he also had flash livery on his coach, which one would assume he also designed.
Why would he limit himself to writing the models for Handy, and not sketch?
we also don’t see them creating types based on other potential models when these are not provided by the writing masters
Would they have been familiar with the geometrically constructed forms of the Roman du Roi?
I wonder if I can offer my own view of some of these topics without disrupting the thread (as sometimes seems to happen).
A long time ago I put together an argument and some images under the title ‘English vernacular', and I returned to the theme this year in Forum, the journal of Letter Exchange, and in papers at Bologna and at ATypI in Brighton.
The title is ironic, since ‘English' refers to the round hand script of 1700 and after that was called English in France and other countries (l'écriture anglaise), but derives from French, Dutch and, above all, Italian models. My hero then, as now, is the calligrapher Giovan Francesco Cresci, who introduced flowing writing using the flexible pointed pen in about 1560, and changed the shape of Western writing and typography.
The common charge against the new calligraphy is that it was not only unnatural (since Nature had ordained the broad pen) but that it was a perverse attempt to copy the brilliant work of copper plate engravers. That is only to say that the new generation of Italian (then Dutch and French) copy books was indeed engraved on copper and that the style was increasingly used in the lettering of maps and prints. I think stylish and brilliant copperplate models are to some extent responsible for the increasing contrast between thick and thin that appears in the bigger types of the 17th century (these have been noted in this thread), and I would add to this the tendency of their serifs to become thinner, the appearance of ‘fish hook' serifs in the C, G and S of Dutch types like Van Dijck's (and their adoption in England) and the appearance of the calligraphic double-curve to the tail of capital R that can be seen in several 17th-century English types.
If the 18th-century ‘English' style became a force to be reckoned with in the history of writing and type generally it was because of the increasing strength of British industrial power at home and the creation of a new maritime empire, based on trade, and held together with a web of paper documents, bills of lading, letters of credit, and so on, that needed to be clearly, accurately and impressively written. Hence the rise of the English writing masters, and sooner or later, their power to influence print. It is symbolic that this was achieved by a writing master who became a successful self-made industrialist in the boom town of Birmingham, miles from the tightly-knit, conservative book trade of London. Caslon, a Midlander like Baskerville, chose to join this conservative world and did very well for himself by catering for it competently, whereas Baskerville was notoriously seen by many Londoners as a strange being from outer space.
Incidentally, Nick, the notion of British ‘perpetual copyright' was not so much changed by law in 1774 as be discovered to be non-existent – but you are right in pointing to the legal case of this year as a key event which decided the matter. It generated a boom in competing editions of the same text for which new types and new wove paper were used as promotional features. And this opening up of the market for books, which fed off the rise of a new rich middle class, generated a demand for the new, distinctive, ‘modern cut', types of the 1780s and after.
If I can marshal these arguments effectively, I shall do my best to use them in a new text of ‘English vernacular'. And I shall be delighted to go on reading debates like this one that will help me to get things right.
John, don't you think that Mannerist and Baroques romans — a better set of names for the romans traditionally dubbed transitional — or what Robert Bringhurst also dubs the proto-Baroque letters of the later sixteent century begining with the mature work of Robert Granjon and passing through the garamonds and on into Caslon, do show the influence or awareness of rotation? All these letters show a variable stroke axis as the illustration from Robert Bringhurst “fuelleton in honour of John Dreyfus” Shovels, Shoes and the Slow Rotation of Letters makes plain. And the axis of the 'o' becomes typically vertical as if to anticipate what becomes formalized across the board in the Didonis on the basis of expansion.
This movement of the stress axis of the ‘o’ to vertical might also further explicate Baskerville's ‘debt’ to Caslon.
[almost forgot to say this]
It's my impression that the tensive effects on form of rotation made visual wordform resolutional affordances even more robust.
Thanks for that Peter, the ascent/descent of type. To the point of how much more objective we can be about the history of our craft than the "average" historian, I think it goes on and on until we test the flexibility of the exact kinds of tines they made to be sure of 90% of what we think we know.
I also like James' introduction of the relationship between the text type they were setting and the display type they were drawing or engraving to accompany it. I am comfortable setting or recommending the setting of text (8-10.99 pt) in oldstyle even if a transitional or a modern is set above it in the display size. Starting at 11 or 12 pt. a mix such as this becomes dicey. But I am very uncomfortable setting or recommending an oldstyle above a modern at any size.
So I'm assuming these effects on form in visual wordform resolutional include our desire to see things more handwritten the smaller they are, (probably to a point) in the same way we are more comfortable with wood upon stone rather than the opposite, which gives me the creeps, worse even than oldstyle display above modern text.
>disrupting the thread
Are you kidding? I would much rather read your knowledgeable analysis than my guessing.
I have made no pretense of knowing the history of writing here. What I did react against was what seemed to me an exaggerated claim of Noordzij, that later type designers disregarded what earlier type designers did, and only looked to writing. Having spent recently a lot of time designing letters, I just don't find that plausible. I may have misinterpreted Noordzij, but my impression from reading both Letter Letter and The Stroke (translated by Peter) is that he has brilliant new insights on the development of letters, but that he at times claims they are the whole story rather than part of the story.
>you are arguing against yourself.
Well, yes, after Peter's argument I said I thought I was wrong, but then had second--or third--thoughts about that as I looked a little more into the history. Now that James confirms my guess that there was an influence of engraving on the adoption of the pointed, flexible pen, I am thinking now that the story is one of interaction between the crafting of letters in different media.
>Then you’re blind. Sorry, but there’s no polite way to put it.
You are, um, jumping to conclusions. My guess, which may well be wrong, is that the letters such as the Shelly letters James showed us are constructed, not written. By that I mean that they look carefully built up of many strokes, not truly 'written', with a continuously moving front. I see that Nick also has the same feeling. And if I read him rightly, David also sees them this way. Can you tell us more about how these letters were made, James?
Reading the Wikipedia article about the pointed nib, I see that you can't do a thick upstroke with the pointed nib, but have great control on the down strokes. I think I can see affects of that in the cursive styles, which are more written, but the Roman look to me constructed, and keeping largely to the earlier rules of where contrast should fall--but just made more vertical.
Peter wrote that there was an 'expansion contrast template'. Thinking about it further, I do see that the vertical stress would be more natural with the pointed nib, as you could bear down on the vertical down strokes, and in that sense he is right. However, you also have the tradition of 'constructed' letters, from the 15th century on. I see an example of a vertical stress letter from the Romain du Roi, and I am wondering how early vertical stress 'constructed' letters exist--do they exist before the pointed pen?
So I would concede to Peter and you at this point that the vertical stress seems more natural with the pointed pen. But I am wondering whether the point pen is following design ideas from earlier, with constructed letters, and letters created in other media: punch-cut, painted, stone carved, engraved.
>I’m not sure who the first person was to describe himself as a ’type designer’ or when, but I suspect it was quite late
I know that applying the term 'type designer' to Jenson is anachronistic, but I don't think it is misleading. As Harry Carter pointed out in the passage I quoted above, the earlier creators of printers type such as Jenson and Griffo were not simply copying writing, but were cutting their punches to conform to models that were in their heads. In that sense they were designers, whatever medium they used to create letters.
I suspect that the 'rotation of the pen' in Dutch typefaces is an example of such interaction. You can get the vertical stress of the 'o' by changing the pen angle from the 'e'. But the question is, why would you bother to do this, which takes extra trouble in writing? It seems to me you would do this if you wanted to conform to a different design idea that you were trying to produce on paper.
And just for the record, when I write for publication, I thoroughly study the history of what I am writing about, unlike my guessing and rambling here on Typophile.
[Bill] “[…] cutting their punches to conform to models that were in their heads […].
When you adjust the contrast or the weight of storkes in the letters you design, do you do it because of a model in your head or because something is wrong in optical-grammatical terms and / or “gestural-atmospheric force” terms? I believe Jenson and Griffo’s innovations were the result of the characteristic featural play or exploration afforded by cutting punches. The ‘end’ of this is not evident at the start. The formalized result of exploration articulates a model only after play has resulted in something worth keeping.
To answer my own first question on this thread, perhaps when the changes are the result of the characteristic featural play or exploration afforded by cutting punches, writing becomes more typographic. But what keeps writing writing is writing.
[Bill] “[…] vertical stress seems more natural with the pointed pen.”
The only tool that an expansion consistently perpendicular to the direction of the stroke and symmetrical relative to the “heartline” (Gerrit Noordzij) is native to is the pointed flexible pen.
Or to say it in a less contorted way: The only tool that western expansion is native to is the pointed flexible pen. By ‘western‘ expansion I mean: an expansion consistently perpendicular to the direction of the stroke and symmetrical relative to the “heartline” (Gerrit Noordzij)
>The ‘end’ of this is not evident at the start.
Yes, that seems more plausible. They had a goal of more readable, attractive text, but had to discover what how to get closer to that goal by trial and error. Some of that trial and error may have been with drawn letters on paper, though, before or during the punch cutting.
I would guess that because they were adjusting weights in a way that didn't conform to letters written with a broad nib, they would also have tried such variations out on paper.
Of course it's all constructed. It's just what contrast template is the — ummmm — model, and what tool that template is native too. The rest is feature manipulation upon or away from the implied template.
Bill: My guess, which may well be wrong, is that the letters such as the Shelly letters James showed us are constructed, not written. By that I mean that they look carefully built up of many strokes, not truly ’written’, with a continuously moving front.
But what you said was that you didn't see the influence of the split nib in the neo-classical roman types. The point that both Peter and I have made is that the influence is in the distinctive stroke contrast pattern. The fact that Shelley likely drew his c. 48pt letters (split nibs are notoriously difficult to use to write letters this large), or that Baskerville might have drawn rather than written his models for John Handy or used some mix of writing and drawing, doesn't alter the fact that what is employed in the shapes is a contrast pattern that is distinctive and based on that of the split nib pen. And for obvious reasons: the goal was to make harmonious letters at a range of sizes, all in keeping with the dominant text aesthetic (the social and economic background of which James has nicely encapsulated). So Shelley and other writing masters write at the sizes at which they can write, and draw at the sizes at which they can't write, but maintaining a harmony of style that is based on the characteristic contrast template -- to use Peter's term -- of the writing that is, after all, the more common.
Peter, there are two kinds of rotation:
Rotation between strokes, in which the angle of the hand is changed while the pen is lifted from the page.
Rotation within strokes, in which the angle of the hand is changed while the pen is moving in contact with the page.
One finds the first kind of rotation in all kinds of scripts, styles and periods, and this is what produces letters with variable axes. It is, for example, an essential component of the Byzantine cursive Greek miniscule, which always displays some variation in ductus.
Rotation within stroke is much less common, but this is the characteristic of mannerist writing with a broad nib that Noordzij has analysed so well in the work of Jan van den Velde. It is a virtuoso method: very difficult to learn but stunning when done well. So far as I can tell, it was not applied to 'roman' letterforms, though, and it's influence in type, beyond civilité, seems minimal and limited to some features in italics.
The kind of rotation you point to in Bringhurst's illustration is the first kind: rotation between strokes creating letters with varying ductus. But the ductus within the individual letters does not vary significantly. I suppose the implied slight rotation in the exit stroke of the e in some styles might be significant, but it could just as easily be a paratypographic feature of 'type design'.
David: I also like James’ introduction of the relationship between the text type they were setting and the display type they were drawing or engraving to accompany it. I am comfortable setting or recommending the setting of text (8-10.99 pt) in oldstyle even if a transitional or a modern is set above it in the display size. Starting at 11 or 12 pt. a mix such as this becomes dicey.
It's worth noting that Baskerville's types are all pretty large by modern text standards. The neo-classical English book tends towards the monumental in its layout, which is why stylistic harmony between the different sizes of type was important.
John, clearly you're right.
But in the typographical instatiations of the carolinian minuscule isn't the emulation of between-stroke rotation by the mannerists an innovation beyond their typographical predecessors?
Peter: But in the typographical instatiations of the carolinian minuscule isn’t the emulation of between-stroke rotation by the mannerists an innovation beyond their typographical predecessors?
I'm going to say yes, so long as one is only considering the instantiations of the caroline miniscule by those typographical predecessors. Obviously, if one also consider their instantiations of the Byzantine cursive miniscule, there is typographical precedence for the idea of between-stroke rotation. But the fact that this rotation only gets applied to roman letters at the time when rotation, both between-stroke and in-stroke, has become a feature of Latin script writing seems significant.
John: Rotation within stroke is much less common,
But very common for finishing strokes. If you wish to create a terminal at a different angle to the angle of stress, you must rotate as you finish the stroke.
With a broad pen, if you incorporate removing one side of the pen before the other into the motion, you can create a perpendicular serif. But that is easier than rotating while holding the nib flat to the paper, because the rotation serves to lift one side of the nib off the paper. Dragging the dry corner of the nib, the build up of ink behind the nib is eased and tails off as it clings after the diminishing area of contact.
So that is how the top serif in this letter is formed, as the pen moves from right to left, rotates counter-clockwise, and the right side of the nib lifts off the paper, while the left corner eventually drags down vertically.
Yes. Lifting one side of the broad nib and writing with the corner is another virtuoso technique. As you note, Nick, in Latin script it is primarily used for certain kinds of terminals. In the nasta'liq style of Arabic it is the cornerstone of the whole style.
John, "The scribes weren’t imitating type, the type was imitating the scribes."
In fact, scribes did imitate type. (Trittenheim)
Noordzij vs Harry Carter, the sequel.
So as I was saying, scripts like Bickham show the influence of the flexible pointed pen in a way that Baskerville does not. What do I mean by that?
Here are a few characters from Bickham pro, but I suspect they are pretty true to the 'ductus' of the flexible pen:
I see here several things different form the broad pen type of writing, beyond greater contast. First, in the O we see that the pointed, flexible pen is able to get strokes in the same direction and same angle of different thicknesses. These are cleverly used a 'echo' shapes of different weights. Second, instead of the 'twisted ribbon' look of a broad pen changing direction, we have a gradual, sweeping swelling and diminishing of the stroke, and an ability to change angle without changing width (the left stroke of the N). .
By contrast, if we look at the typographic letters of Shelly, above, or at Baskerville, see more vertical stress, and greater contrast, but not the kinds violation of the broad pen as in the pointed pen script. Here is Baskerville:
What is going on here? Is there another influence, not from the flexible pointed pen?
Stay tuned for our next exciting adventure...
Was there any influence on Baskerville other than the pointed flexible pen, and the new things that were possible with it, and that it was conducive to?
Peter writes above that the pointed flexible nib created a "contrast manipulation paradigm that is fundamentally different in kind to that which came before."
And John argues "What you said was that you didn’t see the influence of the split nib in the neo-classical roman types. The point that both Peter and I have made is that the influence is in the distinctive stroke contrast pattern."
But does the 'distinctive stroke contrast pattern' in Baskerville actually come from the flexible pointed nib, or are other sources equally or more important?
As Harry Carter argues in the earlier passage I quoted, the effort to find a geometrical 'true' paradigm for the letters freed punch cutters to change their types from what the scribes had done.
Is that kind of following a certain aesthetic ideal an important driving influence? Well the evidence? As James alludes to above the Romain du Roi type fifty years earlier already had some of the characteristics of Baskerville. And it was allegedly worked out using geometric models, as we can see here (image from Types of Typefaces):
However, the pointed flexible nib had been introduced [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nib_(pen)#Pointed_Nib|in the 17 century]], so perhaps this typeface was also just following the pointed nib pen, and the geometrical exercises were mere window dressing.
The problem with this theory can be seen in some of Albrecht Dürer's drawings of letters:
Here Dürer does both vertically stressed characters and 'old style'. And he is quite conscious that the first, vertical stress letters violate the models of the broad pen. He writes in the description of the second 'C', "and, as though made with a pen, let the descending stroke be heavier than the ascending."
Note that the serifs are also more pointed than in any pen script, and they are also, in the H, I, etc, symmetrical.
Now Dürer did these engravings in 1525, so that is long before the flexible pointed nib was generally used. My own conclusion is that Harry Carter is right about there being a freedom to pursue new ideals not derived from writing. And those explorations eventually to the Romain du Roi and to Baskerville's work.
As a coda to this, let me return to the typographic engravings of Bickham. The fact that these drawings do not display very prominently some of the characteristic uses of the flexible pointed nib shown in the cursive writing indicates to me that these drawings are heavily influenced by type. Nevertheless, the p in the top picture, for example, shows the presence of the flexible pointed pen in the fairly uniform, fine line arching into the stem above and below. However, in Baskerville, (at least in modern interpretations, and I think I see the same in the small sample above) there is more tapering, characteristic of earlier type, including Caslon, rather than writing.
These engravings of pen made roman letters are not so much writing as careful drawings that show the marked influence of type, and which try to work out ideas that go back to Dürer, and probably earlier. This is not to deny that pointed nib makes a contribution by facilitating the exploration, but there is a lot besides writing going on.
Bill, the fact that Baskerville's types display only some of the contrast patterns that may be produced with the split nib is not an indication that the split nib, via the lettering of the contemporary writing masters -- including Baskerville himself! -- is not the primary influence. One also doesn't see the kind of parallel strokes of different contrast in the formal roman letters written by those writing masters, as seen in the illustrations I provided above, only in their cursive 'script' styles. The reason you don't see it in the roman letters is that such parallel strokes are not a part of the letterform.
The fact remains that you can't produce Baserville's letters using any other writing implement but a split nib. The fact remains that Baskerville was a master of writing with the split nib. The fact remains that English writing masters were producing roman letters in his style several decades before his first types were cut. The fact remains, that other than blackletter, all the styles produced by these writing masters were based on the dynamics of the split nib.
By the way, the example of large letters produced by George Shelley, presented by Beatrice Warde in her Monotype Recorder article on Baskerville and reproduced by James above, is dated 1715. Today I found an example of much smaller roman letters written by Shelley (about the size of the main body type of Baskerville's Milton) in 1709. If you didn't realise it was written and not type, and someone asked you to name the typeface, you would say Baskerville. I'll post a photo shortly.
* * *
If you are going to introduce the Roman du Roi, then I would say that we have to start paying attention to French writing masters as well as English ones. Just as you can't ignore what English writing masters were producing in the decades before Baskerville's types, you can't triumphantly point to the precedence of the Roman du Roi without taking into account what French writing masters were producing in the decades before it was devised. Thankfully, we happen to have one of the the foremost authorities on the Roman du Roi reading this discussion. Thankfully, also, I happen to have his book. Page 32 shows 'Devises pour les tapisseries du Roi, 1668.... la calligraphie est vraisemblablement de Jarry'. Do I need to say that it shows essentially the style of the Roman du Roi type, written with a split nib pen, thirty years before the cutting of the typeface?
Pace Harry Carter, Dürer's constructed letters, like the numerous other renaissance exercises in attempting to devise or prove a geometric basis for roman capitals, exist entirely outside the mainstream of text production. They have nothing to do with the making of text, either in manuscript or in type.
As Harry Carter argues in the earlier passage I quoted, the effort to find a geometrical ’true’ paradigm for the letters freed punch cutters to change their types from what the scribes had done.
It's a nice idea, but I don't think there is visual evidence to back it up. Punchcutters are providing types to produce text, within text cultures. The theoretical and conceptual exercises of artists, accountants, and varied other people who dabbled in the geometric construction of letters seems to me to have had remarkably little influence on the development of typographic letters. This isn't surprising, because such exercises had remarkably little impact on the contemporary text culture.
What Dürer and other letter-constructors were trying to do was to establish a geometric basis for the classical roman capitals. That is, they were taking something that already existed, and trying to map it to various kinds of geometries to see how well it fit and to iron out suspected non-rational inconsistencies. I think the committee and draughtmen responsible for the famous engraved Roman du Roi plates were engaged in the same kind of exercise: taking the kind of letters being written by master scribes like Nicolas Jarry -- employed in the service of the same king as the makers of the Roman du Roi --, fitting them within a grid, and imposing geometries on the construction of details. In the process, they rationalised many aspects of the construction. What is interesting, of course, and oft remarked on, is that Grandjean's actual type does not follow these engraved plates. It is, in fact, very close to Jarry's 'calligraphie'. Why? Because that's the contemporary text culture.
Gerald: In fact, scribes did imitate type. (Trittenheim)
There are certainly individual examples of scribes directly copying type, as there are of scribes attempting, painstakingly, to emulate the regularity of type. But these examples are notable precisely because they were not the norm, and because in text cultures in which manuscript and typography exist side-by-side the writing has the advantages of immediacy and economy in the innovation of new styles. [Which is not to say that writing-centric text cultures are necessarily innovative: The naskh style of Arabic script has remained the basic book hand for more than five hundred years.]
The conclusion of my version of the story is that printers type is both derivative of writing, and a deliberate departure from writing in an effort to increase readability.
The movement away from what is natural in writing starts even with scribes. When people write naturally, they write in more cursive, flowing styles, with slant. Scribes were producing text for reading, and made hands that are more unnatural to write--being more upright for example--but easier to read.
The creators of the printer's type that became dominant in latin script--Jenson and Griffo--took this process a step further. They not only made the letters more upright and more symmetrical, but were willing to violate the rules of the broad pen, and change relative weights and the nature of joins to get more even color and higher readability.
In the case of Baskerville, we see a strong tendency to more simple geometrical shapes. He is not just increasing contrast, but having more circular arches in the mn, for example. That these are more circular reflects the neo-Classical arch--as Bringhurst notes--and not only writing influences. It may well reflect also a search from before the time of Dürer for 'ideal' shapes and proportions. Since Baskerville says specifically that his goal is "true proportions"--a phrase reminiscent of Dürer's "just shaping of letters"--I also think it likely that his shapes are influenced by this concept of a certain ideal, not derived from writing, but to which writing can aspire, and type more successfully achieve.
If we look at the C from Bickham (taken from above), Baskerville (from the Prayer book image) and Caslon (scanned from Caslon's Great Primer), we have some of the story:
What I see here is Baskerville being influenced by both: following the greater contrast from the writing (actually engraving), but also following the geometrically more simple, rigid and symmetrical form taken from type, and specifically Caslon. (Had I scanned a larger size of Caslon, you would see more higher contrast and closer resemblance to Baskerville.) We also see a formal balance that seems to owe a lot to pushing toward an imagined ideal architype of letters, and not one that simply follows and regularizes writing--even the most typographic of writing.
>The fact remains that you can’t produce Baskerville’s letters using any other writing implement but a split nib.
You can't produce them by the pointed nib either, and can only come close laboriously. You can produce them by drawing, or by cutting them in punches, which is how they were in fact produced. The question is whether the inspiration was simply writing, or also type and ideal shapes.
John: "There are certainly individual examples of scribes directly copying type, as there are of scribes attempting, painstakingly, to emulate the regularity of type. But these examples are notable precisely because they were not the norm, and because in text cultures in which manuscript and typography exist side-by-side the writing has the advantages of immediacy and economy in the innovation of new styles."
In spite of what you say "of the advantages of immediacy and economy in the innovation of new styles." the influence of typography on the work of scribes is greater than you may think.
Scribes became very competitive before the demise of their industry. Competing technologies often inspire better work, and often imitative work, as you could observe when letterpress competed with litho.
Printers influence generated a "general improvement" on the craftsmanship of scribes.
Also Printers abandoned lavish imitation of scribes work including many aspects of page design, there are examples of scribes imitating printers typographical design sensibilities.
On the other hand printers departured from tradition by adding features such as the mathematical combinations of fleurons.
That said it would be foolish to pretend printers did not owe great debt to the work of scribes.
Bill: The movement away from what is natural in writing starts even with scribes. When people write naturally, they write in more cursive, flowing styles, with slant. Scribes were producing text for reading, and made hands that are more unnatural to write—being more upright for example—but easier to read.
Natural? You seem to assume that writing that is cursive, attached, with slant is somehow more 'natural' than writing that is formal, unconnected and upright. This has nothing to do with one form being more 'natural' than the other: it is simply a question of speed. Almost all mature manuscript text cultures produce two main styles of lettering: a formal book hand that is written slowly, often employing a greater number of strokes to form each letter, and a faster cursive hand in which the pen is lifted less often; slant and horizontal compression are results of increased speed. To my knowledge, the more slowly written formal book hand always precedes the cursive hand chronologically. If you study palaeography, this is one of the first things you notice, and you see it repeated again and again in different cultures and scripts. Speed, far from being more natural, only comes with experience.
In the case of Baskerville, we see a strong tendency to more simple geometrical shapes. He is not just increasing contrast, but having more circular arches in the mn, for example. That these are more circular reflects the neo-Classical arch—as Bringhurst notes—and not only writing influences.
But the round arch and the more circular forms of e.g. Shelley's capitals are part of the same neo-classical moment. There is a whole intellectual and artistic culture converging in ideas about classical proportion and beauty, and this is shaping the particular text culture and creating the need for neo-classical types. What is interesting is that this need is first met by the writing masters, who are essentially 'writing typefaces' up to four decades before Baskerville is having them cut in metal. Why are they doing this? Because the typeface for the emerging text culture does not exist yet, so they have to write it.
I don't think there can, in fact, be any question that Baskerville's inspiration was the kind of formal letter being written by his fellow writing masters. Indeed, these letters are basically the spec for his types. The interesting question is not whether Baskerville looked to Caslon, but what typefaces someone like George Shelley was looking at, since Caslon had not made his types when Shelley was writing the shapes that Baskerville would translate into metal. One can assume that Shelley and other writing masters were familiar with the imported types that inspired Caslon, but it seems to me that they're not so much responding to specific typefaces as they are to an idea of typographical letterforms -- formal, regular, adaptable to a range of sizes -- and then creating what they think the neo-classical form of those letters should look like. I don't think it would have made much difference to the result if they had looked at Griffo's types, Garamond's or de Walpergen's, because the same basic qualities of 'typeness' can be derived from any of them: what matters is how to embody those qualities in letters that reflect the neo-classical text culture. This is what George Shelley does as early as 1709, and by the time John Handy cuts Baskerville's types at mid-century, the style has become part of the standard repertoire of the English scribe.
It may well reflect also a search from before the time of Dürer for ’ideal’ shapes and proportions. Since Baskerville says specifically that his goal is “true proportions”—a phrase reminiscent of Dürer’s “just shaping of letters”—I also think it likely that his shapes are influenced by this concept of a certain ideal, not derived from writing, but to which writing can aspire, and type more successfully achieve.
Again, this is part-and-parcel of the neo-classical moment.
Gerald: Printers influence generated a “general improvement” on the craftsmanship of scribes.
As I wrote near the beginning of this discussion: there was a flowering of renaissance manuscript production after the introduction of printing. But this is characterised by a conscious effort to improve quality and beauty: the form of the letters used is the same humanist formal book hand on which the Jenson and Griffo types were based. Competition from print inspired the scribes to do better work, to write more carefully and to show off just how legible and regular their letters could be, but the form of those letters was still the same lettera antica that they had been writing for half a century before the invention of type casting and which had shaped the contemporary Italian text culture. The early printers stepped into that text culture, and their presence changed it in numerous ways, but their influence on letter shapes seems the most minimal.
>There is a whole intellectual and artistic culture converging in ideas about classical proportion and beauty, and this is shaping the particular text culture and creating the need for neo-classical types. What is interesting is that this need is first met by the writing masters, who are essentially ’writing typefaces’ up to four decades before Baskerville is having them cut in metal.
It seems to me here you are agreeing that ideas about proportion and the previous model of roman typefaces and their readability principles, are among the prime drivers of the process leading to Baskerville. It wasn't not simply writing or even other hand lettering. That has been my main point all along.
Given the evidence from Dürer, I think it is clear that these ideals existed well before the pointed pen, and were driving these efforts. Is it possible that even the adoption of pointed flexible nib was to emulate the more dramatic thick-thin contrast that already existed in engraving?
I didn't know how much the neo-Classical forms had been developed before Baskerville; so thanks for explaining that and posting the examples. And thanks to James for his explanations and examples as well.
Bill: It seems to me here you are agreeing that ideas about proportion and the previous model of roman typefaces and their readability principles, are among the prime drivers of the process leading to Baskerville. It wasn’t not simply writing or even other hand lettering. That has been my main point all along.
But it was the translation of those ideas into written forms that provides the very obvious model for Baskerville's types. That is 'the process leading to Baskerville'. And that translation involves devising ways to create formal roman letters with the primary writing tool of the day such as will harmonise with the other script styles in contemporary use. That it took the better part of half a century for those letters to find their way in to type is testimony to the relative conservatism of the printing and typography trades. You can make a case that Caslon was also exploring these ideas of neo-classical proportion, but it seems to me very difficult to separate out such a notion from the basic inheritance of his Dutch models and from the many inconsistencies of his types. Writing masters like Shelley did a much more convincing job of giving form to these ideas, and that surely consistutes the 'room for improvement' that Baskerville saw.
And I'm not agreeing about 'readability principles' because I'm not convinced that there is a significant difference in readability between type and a carefully written formal book hand -- including those many models of formal book hand in various scripts that were not adapted to typography -- that is ascribable to anything other than regularity. The adaptations and modifications found in typographic letterforms are explainable relative to scale and the physics of impression. It is easier to make small text with type than with a pen, and hence more economical in material terms (it uses less paper), and these letters benefit from modications to proportions and details that make them legible at these small sizes. So you can say that small type is easier to read than an equivalent size of written text, but can you say the same thing about type that is the same size as typical manuscript text? There doesn't seem to be evidence that small text is easier to read than larger text. Baskerville's text, of course, tends to be quite large and I'd much rather read his Milton than any number of typical modern editions.
Between Dürer and neo-classicism is the wide expanse of the mannerist, baroque and rococo periods. The obsession with proportion in the neo-classical movement was not a direct continuation of the renaissance investigations of people like Dürer, but a starting again.
There is no “process leading to Baskerville”. Baskerville, like anyone else, is an intersection or meeting place of many things. When I did my work on Henk Krijger’s Raffia Initials, I needed seven ‘referential frames' to say what needed saying about them. Some of them related to construction, some to curve structure, some to contrast, some to organic form.
Some of the things that Baskerville is a meeting place for are:
1) awareness of the contrast type native to writing with the flexible-nibbed pointed pen;
2) awareness of how the contrast type native to the broad-nibbed pen was formalized in the first roman types
3) awareness of what was done with traditional contrast by the mannersists and proto-baroque;
4) a preference for 'classical' or ‘just’ proportions.
But the point is, or so it seems to me, that the foundational ‘norm-violation” of the baskerville, fournier, didot and bodoni types is the reliance of their contrast styling on a new and fundamentally different contrast scheme. That contrast scheme is characterized by expansion, and it is native to writing with the flexible-nibbed pointed pen, whatever the actual historical details of it's transition or fine tuning in roman letters. And the contrast is in a way, written over the older contrast type. (Foundational, in this context means: what makes these types genotypically distinct. These types were ‘strong departures’ from what came before.)
Also, how Baskerville came to his application of the contrast scheme (that he came to know from the inside out, through writing) to the latin roman, might have been mediated by engravings in the model books (which might also have a complicated relation to actual writing).
I don't think Noordzij’s bald statement is intended to obliterate these complexities.
And, finally, I wonder if you mean to suggest that Baskerville worked from ‘readability principles,‘ that is, from a set of tacit rules (in the Noordzijian sense)?
>There is no “process leading to Baskerville”
I don't understand what you are objecting to here. I only meant to refer to a sequence of events and a variety of influences on Baskerville, such as you list.
>written over the older contrast type.
I like this description, because I think it captures something I was trying to say above--that Caslon was a starting point, and even though there was a lot of change, you can still see the 'memory' of it in some ways.
>native to writing with the flexible-nibbed pointed pen
Well this is true, but I can't totally buy the flexible pen as having a dominant influence on the the shapes, as they do in the cursive. Here, for example, is a comparison of Caslon and Baskerville. The top are scans from Caslon's larger sizes--from James Mosley's facsimile edition and commentary on the 1766 specimen booklet. Below is ITC New Caslon.
As to the difference between the two C's I really don't see that Baskerville is that different, particularly as far as how the curves are handled. The arches on the m are to me the decisive difference, but here it seems that the desire for high contrast and the circular arches (inside and out) may be as much an influence as the ductus of the pointed pen. If you tried to draw this letter with a broad pen held vertically, you could pretty much get it, I am guessing, except for the left part of the arch. But these tapers in joins are in any case generally handled in type differently than the broad pen, including in Caslon. And even Baskerville's m has a gradual taper, which is more traditional than the long fairly uniform curvy thin strokes, as in the Bickham N above.
So did having the pointed pen to work out the shape help it? Yes. But the neo-classic aesthetic taste and keeping close to 'typographic' rules for the roman seem to be just as important influences.
>And, finally, I wonder if you mean to suggest that Baskerville worked from ‘readability principles,‘ that is, from a set of tacit rules (in the Noordzijian sense)?
I suspect Baskerville was was mainly driven by aesthetics. I think he wanted it to look like type, and part of roman type is that it is highly readable, so there might have been a tacit influence there. But mainly he was striving for a much cleaner, more elegant look than Caslon. As you know, he was an innovator in inks, paper and printing in an effort to get the cleaner look. The type face was only part of the story.
Bill, does it help for me to say that what is at issue is not of the order of phenotypical similarity, but of genotypical change?
Mimicry of the pen, or making letters that look like pen-formed letters is not at issue, but the contrast type the flexible-nibbed pointed pen teaches is. With this lesson in hand, and looking back to Caslon one see a kind of proto-expension in some of the forms, which Baskerville perhaps realized. What is incidental, piecemeal and approximate in Caslon in phenotypical terms — and due to a kind of rotation — becomes, through knowledge of expansion, genotypical, fully realized across the letter set, and a ‘logic’ in Neoclassical and Romantic type.
As well, the counter in the ‘n’ of the top example is more regular in geometric terms than that of the lower specimen.
Bill: I like this description, because I think it captures something I was trying to say above—that Caslon was a starting point, and even though there was a lot of change, you can still see the ’memory’ of it in some ways.
It's with the notion of Caslon as 'a starting point' that I have most trouble with your position. I see Caslon's types as a kind of mid-way and perpendicular development to the thread that connects Baskerville's types so clearly to the letters derived by people like George Shelley earlier in the century. Earlier, that is, than both Baskerville and Caslon. What I now see in Caslon is an attempt to merge two sets of influences: the imported Dutch models that provided the specific context of typography in England, and the general context provided by neo-classicism, particularly as explored and expressed in the work of the writing masters. To visualise this, you need to put alongside your big C and m images from Caslon and Baskerville the same letters from Shelley's 'French Cannon' of 1715. Baskerville's types are, of course, much closer overall to Shelley's forms than Caslon's, but I think the comparison suggests that Caslon was trying to introduce elements of the new neo-classical letterforms into his types while still staying true to his Dutch models. Indeed, I suspect that this observation might explain many of the apparent inconsistencies in Caslon's types. Again referring back to Baskerville's comments re. Caslon, one might define the 'room for improvement' as all the remaining traces of the Dutch oldstyle in Caslon's types. That he didn't dismiss Caslon's types completely indicates that he recognised the interposed neo-classical features among the oldstyle; but he surely also recognised where those neo-classical features came from: George Shelley and the other early century writing masters.
[By the way, I don't think ITC New Baskerville is a good basis for making observations about Baskerville's types.]
Bill: So did having the pointed pen to work out the shape help it? Yes. But the neo-classic aesthetic taste and keeping close to ’typographic’ rules for the roman seem to be just as important influences.
You still seem to be looking at the type and ignoring the fact that those neo-classical aesthetics and conformance to 'typographic' rules for the roman were worked out first with the pointed pen, which was the primary lettershaping tool of the neo-classical text culture. We don't know what neo-classical letters might have looked like if the pointed pen had not existed: you don't get very far trying to write letters with a vertical axis with a broad nib pen. What we do know is that the text culture would have looked very different, and so would the typefaces that came, belatedly, to form part of that culture. What I'm pretty sure would not have happened is the development of Baskerville's types, or even the neo-classical elements lurking in Caslon's types, without the specific models that the contemporary writing masters produced with those pointed pens. There are concepts of proportion that one might derive from neo-classical treatises on art and architecture, but those don't lead you to the specific forms of Baskerville's types.
>does it help for me to say that what is at issue is not of the order of phenotypical similarity, but of genotypical change?
Well, yes. Since the same type of modulation of the stroke is in not only the mnhr but also the bdpq, and it is modulation more independent of change of direction in stroke, the pointed pen is more critical than I have conceded so far. The modulation of stroke in earlier type also violated the rules of the broad pen in its joins, but I admit not in the same way.
John I think a lot of inconsistency in Caslon was, as Baskerville implies, because he was in a rush to get masses of work out the door. Here by 'inconsistency' am referring to things like variation in ascender height and x-height within the same face, and of variation in the relation of characters to one another--some wider or narrower in relation to others in different sizes. However, if Caslon could come on Typophile, I suspect he would defend himself by saying "If it looks right it is right." I think he had a self confidence that even if it was not consistent, if it looked harmonious in his eyes, it was excellent. Now I don't think that is a full justification, as he has characters which are just bad. Still, I find it remarkable that he was able to make quite different characters in different sizes, and somehow they all look Caslon, and are impressive in spite of their inconsistencies. And in may be that inconsistency with harmony that helps give them their warmth and charm--and part of the difficulty in capturing their spirit in revivals.
By the way, another source of inconsistency, including in design, not only execution, may be that he had different models of type as a starting point for his types in different sizes. This James Mosley seems to indicate in his commentary on the specimen book of 1766.
I remain unrepentant that Caslon was an important influence on Baskerville, but it would take a lot of work to try to prove it, scanning and comparing letter forms, and I won't be doing that.
“[…] different models of type as a starting point for his types in different sizes.”
Bill, I assume you mean “different types as models for his types in different sizes.” Forget your idea of starting points. Different specimens, printed matter or actual punches might be reference points, but contrast types, construction schemes or role-architectural templates, weight ranges, ideas about relationships of sizes, height to width ratios are starting points.
John: "The early printers stepped into that text culture, and their presence changed it in numerous ways, but their influence on letter shapes seems the most minimal."
It would surprise me otherwise with the following exceptions.
Printing spread letterforms to "countries unfamiliar". National hands became oppressed.
Also printing exploded the use of letterforms which were economical in space. Paper was very expensive. Mass reproduction by printers put great pressure on papermakers. One copy of a book produced by a scribe was negligible compared the hundreds produced by a printer of the same text. Economical letterforms became very important. In that sense printers influence was not so minimal. Consider that Aldus Manutius was the inventor of the pocket book.
"The Aldine Press revolutionized the production, accessibility, and use of the book. Founded by Aldus Manutius (ca 1452-1515), the press introduced a number of innovations that helped shape the development of the modern book, including italic type and the smaller, pocket-sized volume. By putting the Greek and Latin classics in a form that everyone could afford, it revolutionized scholarship: the uniform Aldine texts made comparison and collation universally available, and they were used in schools."
But yes, as I said, printers owed great debt to the previous work of scribes.
>Forget your idea of starting points
Yes, I mean that he was looking at different types, possibly from different hands, at different sizes. How exactly Caslon went about his work is not that important to me, but if I did want to look into this I don't see why I would want to forget the actual types--in metal or on paper--that Caslon was looking at. It isn't only the general theory or design principle, but actual individual letters that matter. Caslon was a very ad hoc kind of guy, and his different sizes not only have different contrasts, different serifs, and different widths, but are sometimes different in their structure--eg small sizes of the C having no barb on the lower arm, but large sizes having the two barbs. That might have been a concept, but it also might have been just copying other types.
[Bill] “I don’t see why I would want to forget the actual types”
My suggestion was to see them as reference points, not starting points. Caslon's types were reference points for Baskerville, as I suppose were the types of several others.
Expansion was his starting point when it comes to the dimension we call contrast.
Probably Baskerville looked at Caslon’s actual types through expansion-tinted glasses.
Question: if Caslon was an “ad hoc kind of guy,” is the pattern of Caslon that there is no pattern? Or that the copying was indiscriminate?
>Question: if Caslon was an “ad hoc kind of guy,” is the pattern of Caslon that there is no pattern? Or that the copying was indiscriminate?
Caslon is mysterious. To describe his style is a kind of Rorschach test, because there is so much variation. But in spite of copying and varying, it all mysteriously comes out Caslon.
It reminds of a concert I saw with the great rock guitarist Chuck Berry. That time he played a lot of guitar, and played different kinds of music, like calypso, show tunes, etc. I don't remember what the different songs were. But what was striking is that they all sounded like Chuck Berry. He has such a strong and individual style, it just stamps everything he touches.
I don't have time to respond to Gerald's interesting comments right now, nor to Peter and Bill's latest posts. But here are some more images that I 'had in the oven'.
First, here is an example of 'written type' from George Shelleys Natural Writing in all the Hands, with Variety of Ornament of 1709. The titles of these writing manuals, which were really forms of advertising for the services or tuition of the writing master, often give a good indication of how the writers thought of what they produced. Given Bill's comment above about 'natural' writing, Shelley's title is particularly apposite. He is demonstrating his facility with 'all the hands', and clearly he counts the formal, pseudo-typographic letters to be among the contemporary hands that are expected to be written 'naturally' by a man of his profession.
And here is a detail. It is worth relating his back to Shelley's 'French Cannon' (approx. 48pt) as illustrated by James earlier in this thread, about which it was suggested, reasonably, that these were 'built up' or drawn letters, rather than written. In this image you see the same forms as written, at about 15pt I think (I've lost my point rule).
James: If the 18th-century ‘English’ style became a force to be reckoned with in the history of writing and type generally it was because of the increasing strength of British industrial power at home and the creation of a new maritime empire, based on trade, and held together with a web of paper documents, bills of lading, letters of credit, and so on, that needed to be clearly, accurately and impressively written. Hence the rise of the English writing masters, and sooner or later, their power to influence print.
I think this statement should be read and re-read, because it neatly summarises the particular British context of the influence of the writing masters on typography. And here is an image that very nicely illustrates all of the points that James makes. I think one could base an entire lecture around this one image and what it tells us about the place of writing in British imperialism. [Click here for a larger version.]
This is from William Brooks' wonderfully titled A Delightful Recreation for the Industrious -- was there ever a better description of type design? -- of 1717. This, and the images from George Shelley's earlier publication, are reproduced in J.I. Whalley's English Handwriting 1540-1853 (V&A, 1969). Whalley comments on this piece: 'A form of self-promotion: Brooks displays his virtuosity by the variety of hands shown in his advertisement. It also gives an indication of the number of style still current at this period, before the overriding demands of commerce swamped the less practical ones.'