By Dori Griffin
256 pages, softcover, $34.95
Published by Bloomsbury
A compelling companion for all those with an interest in typography, this illuminating read explores the topic through the lens of so-called type specimens. These assorted printed ephemera—posters, catalogs, brochures and ads—have been produced by foundries to showcase their wares for centuries and serve as a fascinating jumping-off point for an all-encompassing tour of typographic history.
“I believe we can do a better job of solving today’s design problems and anticipating tomorrow’s if we understand yesterday’s problems and solutions,” says author Dori Griffin, design historian and assistant professor at the University of Florida, in an introduction that outlines her aim to better acquaint readers with communication methods from the past. Her book pulls together 200 print specimens alongside in-depth contextual analysis that Griffin often finds lacking within the graphic design sector.
Thus, readers are led through a fast-paced, revelatory chronology of emerging typefaces and evolving technologies as print gathered pace worldwide, from Erhardt Ratdolt’s first known type specimen in 1486 to the myriad manuals and specimen books produced by Europe and America’s leading foundries. Sensitive to the cultural imperialism often associated with the spread of Western print capitalism, Griffin also examines specimens in Cyrillic, Hebrew and Korean, among other scripts, and introduces a cast of global pioneers, including Mexican printer Ignacio Cumplido, who created his own aesthetic by recontextualizing Western styles, and Motogi Nagahisa, known as the “Japanese Gutenberg.” The result is a coherent, engaging study with sufficient depth and discussion to inspire design practitioners and type aficionados alike. —Ben Olsen