Historical Types from Gutenberg to Ashendene

kentlew's picture

I’m curious: Has anyone had the opportunity to review an advance copy of the forthcoming book Historical Types from Gutenberg to Ashendene by Stan Knight, to be published by Oak Knoll soon?

The book looks interesting from the promotion. I’d welcome any observations about the quality and breadth of the examples and illustrations from someone who’s seen them.

hrant's picture

{To Follow}

Sharon Ellis's picture

This is a companion volume to his 'Historical scripts: from Classical times to the Renaissance' which is viewed as a definitive visual anthology. I have not seen the text for the new book and don't think it will try to add anything to the scholarship of the subject (though I'm sure it will be well researched and written) but that is not the point. The point is the illustrations and I have seen some of these. They are a revelation and will make this a very important and exciting book. Stan has carefully overseen the enormous task of rephotographing every example illustrated and, most importantly, controlled the lighting so that the crucial three dimensionality and tactile qualities of the originals are revealed with the subtleties of paper texture, bite and ink squash. Suddenly the usual two dimensional reproductions look hopelessly superficial, inadequate to understanding and lifeless. A huge contribution and absolutely stunning!

kentlew's picture

Sharon, thanks for your appraisal. I’d read the description of the distinctive approach to the illustrations. While I love seeing the tactility as much as the next typophile, I’ve been wondering if the raked lighting might not exaggerate the impression of the typefaces as much as illuminate.

I suppose, in the end, I may have to pony up and judge for myself.

hrant's picture

Maybe the exaggerated lighting is to the physical book what Dwiggins's M-formula is to seeing a glyph at the intended size.

hhp

Nick Shinn's picture

Great idea.
I hope the pictures are size as.
I wonder how they are printed.
There is a conflict between resolution and showing tonality, but nonetheless it will be interesting to see.
Ideally, I would print the type as line art from super high resolution bitmap files, and the tonal information as a tritone halftone.

Sharon Ellis's picture

I hadn't read Oak Knoll's blurb and can see it might make one think that the lighting has been used for ravishing but gimmicky typographic sensationalism. From what I have seen it is sensitively done to inform but you have made me think that there is no such thing as an objective reproduction - and, from the Dwiggins analogy, that the brain is inextricably involved in what and how we see. More decision making and bias pitfalls in Stan's approach than simply flattening everything out in two dimensions - but realise how crass and distorting that is too! There is no neutral. Clearly we need both approaches yet Stan's also get's closer to pointing to the truth that there is no substitute for perception that comes from encountering real thing - ideally handling it too. I have only seen some glossy prints so it remains to be seen how the reproductions survive the production standards of the book. I'll certainly buy a copy!

hrant's picture

In fact even a physical book will look/feel different depending on lighting!

hhp

5star's picture

Sounds awesome! It would be awesomer if those illustrations were tipped in.

n.

Nick Shinn's picture

Even awesomer, make blocks and print in relief.

kentlew's picture

Clearly we need both approaches

I was thinking something similar, Sharon. Even if the lighting does exaggerate a certain aspect of perception, these reproductions should offset the “flattened” perception of any other reproductions and provide another, important reference point for evaluation. Sounds like this is probably as good as it gets, short of seeing the originals for oneself.

dan_reynolds's picture

Even awesomer, make blocks and print in relief.

I’m very interested to see how this book’s photos will compare with books that make use of block-printed reproductions. I have seen a few dozen German books made between about 1900 and 1950 that reproduce historical books pages this way (well, primarily via etchings), and most of those are sub-par, from a type design analysis point of view. The type is usually made far too heavy in these reproductions. Sort the “dipping letters into chocolate” effect. These reproductions were made with the highest quality methods possible at the time, too; the publishers weren’t skimming on the printing or paper costs.

I saw a book printed in the UK earlier this year that reproduced things in a similar style (E.R. Weiss – Typography of an Artist). I think that it used multiple polymer plates – one for each color – made from high-res scans. This worked pretty well, especially because the paper it was printed on.

John Hudson's picture

Some of the best reproductions of historical printing that I have seen were in the original British Library / OUP edition of Scholderer's Greek Printing Types (1927). The reproductions were printed collotype, which gives an excellent impression of the stroke density of the originals without the ink gain problem of block printing that Dan describes.

Is anyone aware of any books that use stochastic screening in reproductions of historical printing?

kentlew's picture

I think collotype or stochastic would be an excellent approach (the latter probably more feasible these days).

You find stochastic screening in high-end museum book reproductions of paintings and such; but no, I’m not personally aware of any reproductions of historical printing that have made use of the technique.

John Hudson's picture

We used stochastic screening for the Microsoft Mathematical Typesetting book, initially because we used different colours to differentiate text elements in illustrations and couldn't afford spot colours. I was really happy with the result, although if there is even a slightly imperfect registration there will be a light haze around the coloured letters, betraying that it isn't a spot colour. I particularly encourage anyone who has a copy of the book to take a look at the ClearType screenshot on page 38 through a loop: being able to see the colours of the individual pixels of 12pt type on 145 ppi at actual size in print was only possible with stochastic screening.

Jackson's picture

There were sample images in the latest Oak Knoll catalog that showed some very dramatically lit images. They looked good, but it all depends on the actual book printing. Oak Knoll books can be hit or miss in image quality and judging from the pdf (http://oakknoll.com/resources/bookexcerpts/105522.pdf) this might be another coarse K-only job.

hrant's picture

Have you guys seen the images in Philip Gaskell's "Photographic Enlargements of Type Forms" in issue #7 (1971) of the Journal of the Printing Historical Society? Amazing stuff, with some nice analysis to boot. Although I guess those don't count as facsimiles.

John, I've been a big fan of stochastic printing ever since the early 90s when I was selling AGFA pre-press equipment on commission. That was one of the very few good things about that job...

hhp

Nick Shinn's picture

I found that a high-res grayscale scan converted to bitmap at 2400 pixels/inch, at the 50% Threshold setting, produces a close facsimile of letterpress type—without any 3-D information of course.

I used this method for an article I wrote and designed for Druk magazine in 2000; it was printed on uncoated stock and the examples were reproduced size-as.

I doubt the type in this new book will be as sharp as this bitmap method, but I could be wrong.

**

From a post-modern perspective, it’s a question of authenticity: should a reproduction be “warts and all” (which would include paper color), or should it be optimized and updated to remove reproduction of the original paper color, allowing the fibre of the reproduction’s paper to substitute for the original? I’ll be interested to see what approach this new book takes.

Patina is an issue: Vesalius’ (16th century) medical illustrations were reprinted in 1934 from the original blocks. People have commented on how puzzling the effect is, caused largely by the pure white paper.

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