With the project funded twice my original goal, I’ll be able to enhance the printing beyond my original plans. If you missed the campaign, use the link above to place a pre-order.
London calls, London kerns
I’m traveling to London at the end of November to interview people and visit exhibitions, museums, and the streets to capture a snapshot of type design and typography in that teeming metropolis. I’m making a short book about who I meet and what I learn, and need your help to pull it all together.
An extraordinary exhibit of the life and work of type and book cover designer Berthold Wolpe is taking place in London through December 4 at the Type Archive (tickets here). I’m coupling attending this potentially once-in-a-lifetime exhibition with meeting several type designers and letterpress printers, and visiting studios and collections. The result will be a short book, in the 30-page range (but knowing me, possibly longer), that combines interviews, research, and photography. The book will be available both as an ebook and as a physical item: digitally printed and bound with a soft cover.
As a freelancer, it’s hard to make these kinds of trips and projects work, which is why I’m turning to you for help. The campaign lets me cover the expenses of the trip and the cost of printing copies for backers, and then have another work I can sell going forward, and expand over time with more research, interviews, and trips.
I’ve made rewards simple: an ebook and a print book. You can get just the ebook, an ebook/print book bundle, a “three pack” of both, and a special “pond kicker” option to help kick me over the pond (the Atlantic): I’ll thank you in the project and in the book and you’ll receive five signed print books and a license for 25 ebooks to give them out to others.
London has long been a place where type design and graphic design coalesced, and where the machinery of making fonts and the people with an eye to create them intermingled. I want to capture a slice of both the contemporary part of it and its history. (See further down for who I am and why I’m qualified to write this.)
Who is Berthold Wolpe?
You’ve seen his type designs all your life, but only type nerds would likely recognize them. He created several faces in the 1930s and 1940s that had such resonance that they were used worldwide on signage, in television programs, in logos and advertising campaigns, and on book covers.
Albertus is the most notable. It’s his first well-known face, made in the mid-1930s, and was derived from metal engravings Wolpe carved earlier in his career. You can see it in the original The Prisoner TV series with Patrick McGoohan (in the titles and throughout the show’s sets). It’s also the typeface of the City of London, the business district of the city—I mimicked those City signs in the image that promotes this campaign.
Wolpe also designed the typefaces Pegasus, Hyperion, Fanfare, Tempest, and Sachsenwald, which have received less attention, but still were widely featured on book covers, in advertising, and in some unique books. Wolpe also designed over 1,500 book covers for the publisher Faber & Faber. (Here’s my article about the revived faces, including an interview with the designer who headed the project, Toshi Omagari, who I describe in greater detail below.)
This exhibition of his papers and work at the Type Archive in London is underwritten by Monotype, which recently invested a vast amount of time and effort in reviving and expanding five of his faces (all but Hyperion, owned by a different type foundry). His typefaces were available only in limited editions in digital or not at all. The revivals are remarkable.
Other designers and projects
Tentative meetings are set with a number of people, and I’m working out visiting shops and collections. On this trip, some of the people I plan to talk with include the following.
Toshi Omagari. Omagari created the revivals of Wolpe’s five faces for Monotype, and consulted Wolpe’s original drawings and other materials to create faithful adaptations and expansions that are true to Wolpe’s intent. I’ll be talking to him about his path to becoming a type designer and his original work.
Richard Ardagh. He’s part of the New North Press, a collective of printers who teach letterpress and have created new approaches to wood and 3D-printed type that mix with traditional type.
Robert Green. Green helped recover the legendary Doves Press type from the depths of the Thames. This beautiful face was dumped in the river in 1917 after a long-running business dispute, and thought lost forever. Green began a re-creation from printed sources of a digital version, then, in 2014, worked with divers to extract the original type, which led to further refinements in the digital rendition.
Keith Houston. An accidental historian of typographic marks and the making of books, Houston finds the rich, invisible roots that stitch together books and explain the shape and names of mundane punctuation. He’s the author of Shady Characters and The Book.
The St Bride Foundation. A thoroughly remarkable and unique institution that has over 100,000 books and other items in its archives relating to printing and type, as well as a letterpress teaching studio, bookbinding courses, a theater, and lectures in a historically significant building.
Letterpress studios. I’ve contacted several, and should be able to visit The Counter Press, New North Press (noted above), and Hand & Eye, among others.
Collections, the streets of London, and museums. London is rife with legendary examples of type, and I’ll be visiting design and type museums and libraries and finding art on the streets in signs, sculptures, and monuments.
(This is an independent journalism project. Neither Monotype nor any of the organizations or people I note are endorsing or underwriting this work.)
While I plan to create the printed version of the book through digital printing, with enough support I’ll upgrade to offset or another method that will allow more expressive renditions of photographs.
Who is Glenn?
I’m a veteran technology reporter who was trained as a typesetter and then graphic designer in the 1980s, and have written about type, typography, and printing across 30 years.
I write for Wired, Fast Company, Medium, the Economist, and many other publications. I’ve been writing and producing books for decades as well. Just this year, I wrote about font detectives who testify in court cases about forgeries, a six-part history of printing and type revolutions, and the future of letterpress through digitally assisted 2D cutting and 3D printing.
My interest in Berthold Wolpe dates to college in late 1980s, when two mentors encouraged me to study his work and produce a digital rendition of Albertus as my senior project in 1990, the year after his death. I’ve loved his type and been interested in his work ever since.
Risks and challenges
While I’ve set up meetings with various people noted in the body of the project, it’s possible their schedules will change and I won’t be able to meet them on the trip. I’ll substitute in others as available, and conduct follow-up interviews remotely if I’m unable to meet them on site.
Because of the narrow window of opportunity for this trip due to a current exhibition, if for unforeseen circumstances I can’t get to London or if I arrive and am unable to carry out visits and interviews, I’ll refund contributions.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (15 days)