Textbook fonts?

whatbettertime's picture

Hello type lovers,
A basic question for you all. What would have been some standard fonts used in textbooks in the 1950s? Was there geographical differentiation?


sevag's picture

Hi Troy & welcome to Typophile? Could you be more descriptive — which country are you talking about? Meanwhile have a look at Century Schoolbook.

bojev's picture

In the States it would be " Look, Look Spot, the font is Century Schoolbook" :)

PublishingMojo's picture

In the 1950s in the US, there were well-established textbook publishers that published for a national market, so there probably few differences between one part of the US and another. If you're interested in geographical variations between the US and other countries, I'm afraid I'm not familiar with what textbooks outside the US looked like.

Did Canada have its own home-grown textbook industry at that time? If not, was Canada importing textbooks from the UK? Most US book typesetting in the 1950s was done on the Linotype, but in the UK, Monotype was the standard.

The US textbook publisher Ginn and Co. (long since absorbed by Pearson Education) commissioned Morris Fuller Benton to design Century Schoolbook. American Type Founders released it in 1919 and later licensed it to other major manufacturers of typesetting machines, including Linotype. It was widely used in the US for textbooks for kindergarten through Grade 8.

It's possible that you're asking about secondary textbooks (Grades 9-12 in the US) or college textbooks. In the 1950s, these looked very different from elementary (Grades K-8) textbooks. They used fewer illustrations and little or no color. They looked more like the trade books of the era, and would have used the same Linotype faces commonly used for trade books at the time, such as W.A. Dwiggins' Caledonia.

Linotype casts a whole line of type on one metal slug, but Monotype casts each character as a separate piece. This makes Monotype much better for complex equations, fractions, and tabular matter, so even in the US, mathematics texts were often set on the Monotype.

whatbettertime's picture

Thanks all!

I think Canada would have had its own textbook industry, as cross border trade was much less then. Also, the influence of the UK was still quite strong, especially culturally. As textbook design is both industrial and cultural, with the former influence by the US and the latter by the UK, it really is an interesting question.

I was thinking more about university level texts, specifically economics textbooks. I believe that in Canada these would have been more likely to be US American. I remember looking at some old textbooks and their design was very different compared to the design of contemporary textbooks. I'm delivering a lecture on economics and have to design some PP slides of it. I thought I'd try to replicate the design feel of those old textbooks, hence my question.

Thanks again for this and any additional info you can offer.

charles ellertson's picture

Here's something else to factor in. In the 1950s, a full set of Linotype matrices suitable for the demands of textbooks (roman, italic, bold, and in 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12 point) cost around 2 thousand dollars (in 1950 dollars).

In other words, about the same cost as a new car.

The result was most printers didn't have that many *text* fonts. Secondly, the more complex the material (in terms of fonts required), the more magazines needed, and more expensive the Linotype machine. You could use a typical machine & change magazines, but that cost, too.

Also, printing more than about 5,000 copies meant using stereo plates and the presses needed to run them. The cast type wouldn't hold up for more than about 5,000 impressions. (Monotype was harder, but was still limited to about 7,000 impressions.)

So, the types used were in some measure limited by what was available from your favorite long-run printer. They weren't going to add a font family to satisfy some designer's whim.

As I remember, favorite typefaces of that day for adult reading were versions of Janson, Baskerville, Garamond, Caledomia (or an equivalent Monotype Scotch), Times Roman, etc. Some modern fonts like Bodoni were making inroads, but not, probably, in many textbooks.

quadibloc's picture

One thing is that after Century Schoolbook, some textbook publishers would have specified Caslon, because that typeface was, to some extent, felt to embody the canonical form, the abstract ideal, of the Latin script - at least in some quarters.

Caslon... and nondescript Scotch Roman faces... were, at least, what one would see in nineteenth-century textbooks.

Sadly, my copy of Smith, Muzzey. and Lloyd isn't immediately at hand.

altsan's picture

The textbooks used for introductory English at my schools in Japan are interesting. They use a large neo-grotesque type (very similar to Helvetica but with a single-story 'a') for the first 1/3 or so of the first year text. Then they abruptly change over to using Century Schoolbook, in gradually decreasing point size, through to the end of the third and final year.

Syndicate content Syndicate content