American Type Design & Designers
By David Consuegra, Allworth Press, New York, 2004
Review by Brian Allen
This is an ambitious new book that, while not wholly successful, has done the type community a fine service.
The main section gives us brief biographies of 62 type designers, directors of type manufacture, or designers with type, with examples of their work. We learn, for instance, that the self-taught Thomas Cleland (Della Robbia, 1902) “was a poor student, and spent more time in a popular vaudeville theater across the street than he did in classes” at the New York Artist Artisan Institute. A little of Jonathan Hoefler’s design and production process is shared in his biography. That type can make for a nomadic or difficult life is apparent in reading about Henry Lewis Bullen, Frederic Warde, and Emil Klumpp (designer of a quintessential 1950s script typeface – Murray Hill). In fact, we learn that many who have worked with type over the years have suffered for their art, craft, and business. There are also glimpses of the work of less well remembered people like Sol Hess (Spire), Warren Chappell (Trajanus, Lydian), and Robert Middleton (Stellar).
The cumulative effect of these portraits is to humanize practitioners of the “invisible” art and craft of type. One may hope this information brings greater appreciation of the effort exerted to do good work, and greater willingness to protect the designs and reward their creators.
Most of the 62 subjects are from the 19th to mid-20th centuries. Two thirds of them are dead, just a few are under 50 years old, and only three are women. Therein lies a weakness – the choice of people shows more about where American type and typography has been, but little about contemporary trends.
Other sections of the book include an introduction dense with ideas; two chronologies with parallel American/European events and designs; descriptions of eight current or defunct American type foundries (metal, photo, and digital); and a glossary of typographical terms.
Clearly this book has been a labor of love by a very knowledgeable author who is passionate about his subject. It is regrettable, however, that the book seems not to have had the benefit of the strong hand of an editor, nor sufficient publishing resources to give it good form. The introduction might also have been better developed as a larger section or a separate book. The glossary is too broad with non-typographical terms and does not support the main purpose of the book. The chronologies cry out for an explanation of their format. In short, the book is trying to do too many things.
The decision not to identify the source of the font samples is also problematic. The book is less useful without this information. Most biographies are typeset in a typeface designed by the subject (unfortunately, also unidentified); however, some unflattering choices have been made: Rea Irwin’s biography is in the New Yorker type and Gerry Powell’s is in Stencil!
In a book about type, it is curious that ligatures were not used. There are bad rags in the flush-left copy and copyediting issues throughout. The publisher selected a thin, paper that has cheapened the book. There is no color and some of the information is dated.
In spite of these problems, however, the collection of biographical information and design samples makes this book a worthwhile – if not valuable – addition to a designer’s or design school’s library.
Editor’s note: The reviewer, Brian Allen, is employed at Monotype Imaging in Redwood City, Calif. In addition to working in font production, he is also a letterpress printer and calligrapher, and a member of the Board of Directors of the Pacific Center for the Book Arts.