Bible Centaur

raph's picture

Hi Centaur fans,

I just got my copy of "An Account of the Making of the Oxford Lectern Bible", and am very much enjoying it.

Some questions:

1. Does anyone still own the copyright on this pamphlet, or has it passed into the public domain? If the latter, I'm very willing to make scans available.

2. Even if I don't post full scans, do people want to see details? I can also post a scan of the Oxford Lectern Bible page reproduced in Stanley Morison's The Typographic Book.

3. The font used to set the Oxford Lectern Bible is in fact 18-point "Bible Centaur". This font is an adaptation of the original Centaur, with some modifications: ascenders and descenders are shortened; thirteen lowercase letters are redrawn, mostly to make them more condensed (Rogers doesn't give the full list, but he identifies bdfgkljonpqu and maybe y, to which I'd add e and t, which is of course 14 or 15); and the Centaur numbers are replaced with Plantin Light OSF. The quirkiness factor has definitely gone down; in addition to the numbers, the tail of the 'j' is now solidly in the classical Aldine tradition.

4. If I'm going to work on this font, my goal would probably be an optically scaled series containing both Centaur and Bible Centaur, as well as the large chapter initial caps. How much interest do Typophiles think there would be in such a thing?

5. I'm also trying to understand the ethics of releasing and naming revivals, and want to make sure to do everything right. My gut feeling is that the name "Bible Centaur", while very appealing for its historical accuracy, cuts too close to Agfa Monotype's valid trademark. Other choices include "Rogers" (by which name a version of Centaur was briefly sold by Commercial Controls for use on the Justowriter), or "Oxford Lectern Bible". Of course, for the last, I'd definitely want to work with the people at Oxford University Press.

6. Does anyone know of a library or other collection that has the Oxford Lectern Bible and would be open to high-resolution scanning? I see the Donohue Rare Book Room at University of San Francisco has a copy, and they're reasonably close by.

This font has captured my heart in a way that few others have. Originally, I was planning on working on ATF Cloister, but now after some study I feel that Centaur (upon which Cloister was based after Rogers rebuffed ATF's effort to buy rights) is superior in every respect.

hrant's picture

> How much interest do Typophiles think there would be in such a thing?

A good optically-scaled Centaur? Are you kidding?!
Not even Monotype did a really great job scaling it - I think they only had four masters.

But if it'll be your first type design project, good effin' luck doing it justice! :-)

> open to high-resolution scanning?

You'll have a hard time finding a rare book collection that allows such a thing - UCLA for example gives great "hands-on" access to everything they have, but totally refuse any scanning suggestions (at least to regular people). Your best bet might be an eloquent, passionate personal letter to a private owner. Or maybe Octavo?

hhp

William Berkson's picture

Reinterpreting Centaur at different sizes I think is basically redoing Jenson, because Centaur is an interpretation of Jenson.

Since Abobe Jenson Pro of Robert Slimbach is a very impressive optically scaled version of Jenson, if I were you I would want to have at least one very strong idea on what I want to do differently from Slimbach before starting. Incidentally, Jenson Pro includes a 'light' version, optically scaled, which is closer to Centaur than the regular version.

xensen's picture

This was published around 1935 or 1936, right? That puts it -- in the U.S. -- in the period where if the copyright was not renewed it's in the public domain. If the copyright was renewed then it passes into the public domain 95 years after the publication date. For advice on checking on copyright renewal, go here. Be aware that length of copyright may be different in other countries.

hrant's picture

Raph, what's your best source for Centaur samples? Do you have the specimen printer by Rogers? I have the fascimile, so it's not as good, but you might be able to find the original. What about access to the actual metal type? You could make letterpress prints and work from those. The advantage is you could under-ink and under-impress it to get closer to the actual "outlines". You could even place the sorts face down on a scanner! I've done that with great success, actually.

William, Adobe's Jenson is not Centaur in two ways:
1) It's had that Northern California fatal cuteness applied to it.
2) The optical scaling is too mild.

hhp

William Berkson's picture

>William, Adobe's Jenson is not Centaur in two ways:
1) It's had that Northern California fatal cuteness applied to it.
2) The optical scaling is too mild.

Well that's your take on it. If you translate those general comments into specific differences in glyphs, then you would have a starting point for a different Jenson.

I don't know what Raph's is, but all I'm saying is that you are going to have to do some variation to take into account digital & offset printing vs metal and letter press. And that means you are going to have to change things.

If you change things, then I think it is wise to look at all the other important interpretations of Jenson, including Slimbach's, and be very clear about what you want to do differently before you start. I am not saying that a person has to stick to his original idea. But if a person starts a reinterpretation without as clear idea, I think the chances of coming up with something fresh and good are greatly diminished.

hrant's picture

> specific differences in glyphs

http://www.myfonts.com/fonts/linotype/centaur/mt/win-t1/114846/character/0067/CP2/1/
http://store.adobe.com/type/browser/F/JENA/F_JENA-10005010.jhtml

Look at the "g". The first one is a woman pressing Chianti with her feet. The second one is a girl driving a convertible with her fake nose in the air.

> do differently

I think that's good advice if your main goal is to sell the results. But in terms of developmental "purity" it can thrown you off - it can prevent you from repeating good things.

hhp

William Berkson's picture

If you compare Centaur with Adobe Jenson's light display version you will get a better comparison.

Digital Centaur is little used because it is too light at small sizes. If you try to correct this, then you are going to face the same decisions as Slimbach and others have faced. If I were going to try myself (which I'm not) I would certainly want to look at the original Jenson itself for guidance. That is the main point I was trying to make.

John Hudson's picture

As Hrant notes, few libraries are likely to let you scan such a valuable book, also I think you may be underestimating just how large it is. I'm not even sure how one would go about scanning it.

My recommendation is macro photography, which is what I use for this sort of thing. You can get excellent detail with some of the recent digital cameras. I use a little Pentax Optio 555, which has a fast enough shutter reaction to use even without a table mount. The g below is 18pt, if I recall correctly, taken in natural light, holding the camera in one hand while holding the page flat with the other. On the right, I've done a quick and dirty job getting rid of the paper and beefing up the contrast simply by adjusting curves in Photoshop.

g

[Anyone want to play Guess-the-typeface?]

Unfortunately, a lot of libraries are no more happy to have you photographing their books than to be scanning them. Many will offer a photography service, but you should ask to see samples of their photos and, if you can, try to talk to the person who will actually take the photos and explain what you need in detail.

If you are up for a visit to London, you'll find that the St Bride Printing Library is much more accomodating than most. Their Oxford Lectern Bible has a weak binding*, which adds to the difficulty of photographing it because it has to rest in a large foam cradle and cannot be lain flat, but you can have fairly liberal access to it.

*It is the copy Beatrice Warde used to drag around the country to impress Monotype customers at sales meetings.

raph's picture

H

hrant's picture

Raph, Zara: thanks!

Here's something I once did (in fact almost exactly a year ago):
http://www.themicrofoundry.com/other/MonoCentaur.gif
It's a collage of all 17 sizes shown in my fascimile of Roger's specimen booklet.

Some quick measurements seem to indicate that they used seven masters - which is pretty impressive. I think Monotype usually used only four, but maybe they made an exception for Centaur.

hhp

raph's picture

Hrant wrote:

But if it'll be your first type design project, good effin' luck doing it justice! :-)

Amen. But it won't be my first type design project. I expect to lavish care on it over a period of probably years. Meanwhile, my Century Catalogue is nearing completion - I have all the letters and numbers, and a bunch of punctuation and auxiliaries, but there rather are a lot of fiddly shapes that need to be drawn to fill out an AdobeStandard encoding.

William Berkson wrote:

Reinterpreting Centaur at different sizes I think is basically redoing Jenson, because Centaur is an interpretation of Jenson.

Since Abobe Jenson Pro of Robert Slimbach is a very impressive optically scaled version of Jenson, if I were you I would want to have at least one very strong idea on what I want to do differently from Slimbach before starting. Incidentally, Jenson Pro includes a 'light' version, optically scaled, which is closer to Centaur than the regular version.

I agree that Adobe Jenson is now the standard by which the quality of revivals should be compared. It's historically accurate, has good optical scaling, lots of alternate glyphs and other goodies, and is overall very useful.

That said, Centaur and Jenson are by no means the same font. I'll let Bruce Rogers speak to that, starting with his reaction to seeing the type in Jenson's 1470 Eusebius:

This time I had fugitive [underdeveloped] prints enlarged to about five times original size [and] was at once struck by the pen-like characteristics of the lower-case letters; so with a flat pen cut to the width of the heavier lines, I wrote over the photographic print as rapidly as I could, thus preserving the proportions, at least, of Jenson's own characters. ... and these, with capitals drawn with a pointed pen over photographs of the original, served as models for the first cutting of the Centaur type. -- American Proprietary Typefaces, p. 50

And, to me, that is the essence of the difference between Jenson and Centaur. The letters of the latter are, at heart, drawn by pen. It is the stroke, not the outline, which defines the shape of the letter. To me, the capitals of the 60pt metal Centaur possess a calligraphic refinement more akin to Michelangelo or Trajan than any of the other Jenson revivals.

Of course I have several reproductions of Jenson's work, and may well do a pilgrimage to a museum to view an original.

John wrote:

As Hrant notes, few libraries are likely to let you scan such a valuable book, also I think you may be underestimating just how large it is. I'm not even sure how one would go about scanning it.

Flatbed scanning might not be all that realistic. I had a wierd idea of placing the scanner face-down on the surface of the book, but on reflection that has at least two serious problems: the weight of the scanner bearing down on the book, and the flatness of the page.

My recommendation is macro photography, which is what I use for this sort of thing. ...

Yes, that's likely what I'll end up doing. I have a very nice 35mm camera and lens for this purpose (55mm Nikon macro 1:1), but not yet a good digital. For capturing individual letters, it's probably almost as good a bet as scanning.

[Anyone want to play Guess-the-typeface?]

Carolingian Miniscule?

If you are up for a visit to London, you'll find that the St Bride Printing Library is much more accomodating than most. Their Oxford Lectern Bible has a weak binding*, which adds to the difficulty of photographing it because it has to rest in a large foam cradle and cannot be lain flat, but you can have fairly liberal access to it.

This is a great tip, thanks. I'll definitely keep that in mind if my travels take me to that part of the world.

Giampa's picture

Ralf,

To me, the capitals of the 60pt metal Centaur possess a calligraphic refinement more akin to Michelangelo or Trajan than any of the other Jenson revivals.

With your admitted 8% error factor are you sure you are looking at 60 pt. It could be 55 pt, or 65 pt. There-a-bouts.

William Berkson's picture

>Centaur possess a calligraphic refinement

I see you do have a clear idea of a new direction. Best of luck on this ambitious project!

hrant's picture

> do a pilgrimage to a museum

Or a really good library, like UCLA's. Next time you make it down to LA, I'll take you to their Special Collections department (and show you the Gill sculpture along the way).

BTW, I don't know how much setting you need, but there's an article that might interest you: it's called "Photographic Enlargements of Type Forms" by Philip Gaskell, in the Journal of the Printing Historical Society, #7, 1971, pp 51-53, with 12 plates. One of the plates is from the De Evangelica of 1470; it shows about 60 letters, at just over 1" em height. Want a scan?

hhp

rs_donsata's picture

Thanks a lot Raph and Zara these are the most gorgeous printed types I have ever seen, i'm really impressed.

raph's picture

Hrant: that sounds very appealing. Yes please.

Thanks to all for the feedback!

hrant's picture

OK, here's the scan:
(1Mb) http://www.themicrofoundry.com/other/Jenson1470.gif
It was scanned in at 600dpi (the max optical of my scanner - hey, it was like $50, but at least it's an Agfa - killer software) but that's a 300dpi version. Since this was scanned from a halftone print (of low contrast to boot) I had to do some processing to make it look nice, but I was careful to maintain letterform fidelity. In order to avoid squishing the binding I didn't scan the 4th line, but the only sorts in that line missing from the first 3 are the colon and double-long-s ligature.

And here's a quarter-size (75dpi), lower-fi version for the bandwidth- and/or patience-deprived:

Jenson1470s
hhp

Zara Evens's picture

I had the pleasure of looking through Roger's Bible at St Bride, here are a couple of photos. I apologize for the quality.

(let's hope these are the right photos, I have hundreds from that day that aren't labelled)

lectern_bible1
lectern_bible2

Stefan Seifert's picture

Hi Centaur Fans!

Is anyone still interested in Centaur faces? I am a new member of typophile. The reason for me to finally enter was the discussion of Centaur typeface. Yet, some time has passed ;-) (it is dated 2004)

Thank you Raph for the impressive good scans of the Bible. How did you get them? Great material!

I wanted to add that a beautiful Centaur (I believe) was done and hopefully still exists during the “Valdonega Aesthetic Line” project brought to live in the 90’s by the Stamperia Valdonega, Verona or better to say Martino Mardersteig son of the great printer Giovanni Mardersteig. We did (I was so happy to join this project those days) a version in several sizes (8, 12, 16) very very close to hotmetal Montotype version. I later on added some characters to achieve the first handprinted version (1913/14). I think the face is still available there if you want to print from it at the Stamperia because the type will not be available on the fontmarket and I think Mardersteig had his good reasons for so much work was needed.

I think he will allow me to show something for I done the digitalisation myself and I am quite proud of it, I have to admit. We used a very special design technique. I added also a text that explained a bit. I was very young yet at those times and I have to excuse for my very bad and somewhat striking English. But maybe it could be interesting to add something to current discussions if there are any now.

Last word to Jenson Adobe. I do believe Centaur in the original version ist more close to Jensons real style than the Adobe font which is to my eyes too round too soft and some letters aren’t very nice especiall ‘g’ and ‘a’. Although I do admire the abstract and nice modern serif treatment in enlargement.

Thanks so far
hope someone will talk to me

PS couldn’t attach the text for he doesn’t allow me pdf. Or is there a way?

Stefan

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