I had never seen this before. Why was it done? Colophons

James Deux's picture

The most peculiar thing happened to me this past May.

I was reading Brad Land's Goat: a memoir, an autobiographical entry about Mr. Land's experience with the Kappa Alpha fraternity at Clemson University. Interesting and engaging. Unique style of writing as well.

But what was the most interesting part of the book was when after I turned the final page, to my surprise I found a page that discussed and explained the choice of type! The choice was Sabon, and it was a tiny little paragraph explaining the type, as well the reason it was used. For the highly curious: I have the book. I can scan in the spread if you desire.

Can anyone here fathom why this was done? I'd actually like to see it more often, as I found it interesting, and a great way to expose the layperson to type. But it's the first—and only time—I've seen such attention given to the choice of typeface.

kentlew's picture

> I’d always believed a colophon was the page at the front of the book

"Colophon" derives from the Greek, meaning "finishing touch." So it typically refers to a statement at the very end of a book which gives information about its production.

"A Note about the Type" was a typical heading used by A. A. Knopf, which was/is probably the most prominent publisher to regularly include a colophon in trade editions (as opposed to fine print editions, where the practice is practically de rigueur). Even so, Knopf would usually include information about the design, composition, printing, and binding in the statement also.

Knopf has continued to include Type Notes, but pretty much dropped the crediting of other aspects of production in the colophon.

"About the Author" statements are usually considered distinct from a colophon, even though they often appear in a similar position at the end of a book. But sometimes the two types of statements are combined.

DrDoc's picture

This face cannot be classified as either modern or old style. It is not based on any historical model; nor does it echo any particular period or style.

That's quite a weighty claim to make. Is Electra really that unique and/or original?

kentlew's picture

Some aspects of those colophon statements about Electra seem to be paraphrased directly from Mergenthaler's original promotional copy. That's very likely where Knopf's note originated, which was then passed on from title to title through generations of editors, designers & production managers.

From the original Electra specimen:



This pamphlet is the announcement of a new Linotype face to be called “Electra,” cut from designs drawn for The Mergenthaler Linotype Company by W. A. Dwiggins. The face — at this stage completed in twelve point, roman and italic — provides a new type texture for book-page composition. In the larger sizes now in preparation it will furnish the printer with a new note in advertising typography.
     The face, as may be seen from this specimen, falls within the “modern” family of type styles, but is drawn to avoid the extreme contrast between “thick” and “thin” elements that marks most “modern” faces. The design is not based upon any traditional model, and is not an attempt to revive or to reconstruct any historic type. What the letter-draughtsman aimed to do is indirectly developed in the following:


DrDoc's picture

Sorry I didn't close the em properly. Thanks to whomever corrected it.

Bendy's picture

Thanks for the correction, Patty :)

eliason's picture

Remind me to look up how Dwiggins worded his EULA!

Miss Tiffany's picture

Dwiggins never needed to write a EULA because he was on contract with Linotype. ;^)

quadibloc's picture

Well, Electra avoids contrast compared to "most modern typefaces", by which, I presume, Bodoni, Didot, and Scotch Roman are meant.

wlbwlb's picture

What an interesting thread.

Here is my only attempt at devising a colophon, which appeared at the end of Multimedia Language Teaching, Logos international (1996).
I edited and typeset the book as well. Self-glorification, perhaps, but many people commented on it and had never seen a colophon before.

I used Columbus, a font just released by Monotype, at the time still producing high quality fonts, but ultimately doomed to perish in the digital era. Once a great foundry; now just a faint memory for most people.

My use of the font had a purposeful connection with the book, as I explain in the colophon.
Oh, and the little ship is one of the very elegant ornaments included with the typeface.

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