Type specimen books simultaneously recorded the typographic history that pre-dated them and the spirit of their own moment in time. Classic faces always appeared in a foundry’s more complete specimen books, because printers always needed to be able to examine and order workaday fonts of type. (Imagine reading Moby Dick in the typeface featured above; the though is dizzying.) But innovative and ephemerally fashionable typefaces and ornaments could figure largely into specimens, too. This 1902 specimen by the Stempel foundry in Germany (catalog record here) is a beautiful example of the Jugendstil aesthetic. It features page after page of sinuous plants, flowing-haired maidens, and organic letterforms, all hallmarks of Germany’s version of Art Nouveau.
The Printed Cat
Type specimen books provided printers not only with letters, but also with images. Ornaments (often called flowers even when they weren’t actually flowers), borders, and advertising cuts (the forerunners of clip art) were essential to a well-stocked printing office. Especially as the nineteenth century progressed, foundries sometimes devoted half to three quarters of a specimen book to non-alphabetic material. This cat stalking a parrot (because every printer is going to have lots of clients who need that image?) comes from the 1895 Les Nouvelles Creations of Deberny & Cie, an important French foundry.
Omit the Useless
In 1873, the Chicago type foundry Barnhart Brothers & Spindler published their Specimen Book and Price List of the Great Western Type Foundry (see it in the RIT catalog here). In an introductory note, the typefounders write that “We have endeavored to show, in a concise and convenient form, the most useful and popular styles of letter, omitting such faces as serve neither the purpose of utility nor beauty.” But take a look at the upper-case O in the double-pica grotesque above, seen in the word fashion. Is this an o? A p? A j-o ligature? Even in 1873, surely the typeface designer would have had a difficult time defending the usefulness and beauty of this particular face. Regardless, this specimen page is a fascinating window into the culture of typographic excess that was flourishing in the late nineteenth century.
The Good Compositer
In 1683, in the first printer’s manual to be published in English, Joseph Moxon wrote that “A good Compositer is ambitious as well to make the meaning of his Author intelligent to the Reader.” In other words, the typographer serves the text, and the author. For modern (and Modernist) readers, this idea is most famously expressed in Beatrice Warde’s 1955 essay, “The Crystal Goblet: Or, Printing Should Be Invisible.” It’s an essay I read as a beginning typography student with hardly any skepticism at all, and one I sometimes assign to my own type students—though with an eye toward deconstructing it, and with plenty of skepticism on everyone’s part. Imagine my delight at encountering this maxim in a seventeenth century text, complete with long-s characters and quaint spellings, to say nothing of a generous approach toward capitalization. (Notice the long-s characters in the words compositer and pleasant—no, the typographer didn’t just run out of s’s and replace them with f’s.) This is one of the reasons I love research: learning unexpected things is fun.
Archival adventures continue in RIT’s Cary Collection. Johann Ernesti’s 1721 printer’s manual (catalog record here) included 44 pages of typographic specimens, including alphabets in Hebrew, Greek, and Arabic. This Imperial-sized* German blackletter with its decorative capital seemed worthy of a close-up.
* As my fellow type nerds already know, the point system that we use to measure type today hadn’t been established in 1721; French typographer Fournier would introduce the idea about forty years later, and Didot would modify and codify it about twenty years after that.
I’ve just embarked on a month-long research fellowship in the wonderful Cary Collection at the Rochester Institute of Technology, where I’m exploring the history of the type specimen: broadsides and books made to show off the different faces produced by type foundries. This detail of a specimen signature from Christian Friedrich Gessner’s 1740 handbook on the “necessary and useful art of printing” (catalog record here) is a beautiful introduction to my forthcoming series of images documenting what’s sure to be a rich and exciting month of archival research. This specimen signature is one of three that folds out of the first volume of Gessner’s two-volume handbook for printers. Unfolding the page is like opening a present.
Published by the University of Arizona Press in 2013 (purchase here), Mapping Wonderlands explores popular, illustrated sight-seeing maps of Arizona during the first half-century of statehood. Chosen as a Southwest Book of the Year (see the review here), Mapping Wonderlands investigates how imaginary geographies influence our experience of tourism destinations. The book is extensively illustrated with vintage maps and, though it is a work of carefully researched scholarship, is also accessible to a wide readership.
Reading Maps, Writing Landscapes
COVER + INTERIOR SPREAD FROM READING MAPS, WRITING LANDSCAPES
In April 2010, I defended Reading Maps, Writing Landscapes: Cartographic Illustration in Arizona, 1912-1962 – my doctoral dissertation in design history – at Arizona State University. In fall 2012, a book of the same title will be published by the University of Arizona Press. The text documents and investigates cartographic illustrations of Arizona during the first half-century of statehood.
DESIGNWRITING PORTFOLIO SAMPLES
During my doctoral coursework, I wrote about a variety of subjects related to Arizona tourism and print ephemera: illustrations of the Kino missions, Tumacacori and San Xavier; maps as illustrations in Arizona Highways magazine; representation and identity in the American West; archival sources for illustrated maps; practicing tourism as a scholar and scholarship as a tourist. All of this written work is design work, too. During my first semester at ASU, I designed a document template with space for images and captions down the left-hand side of the page, and body text with footnotes down the right. Brenda Laurel (now at California College for the Arts) calls this designwriting, a term I have adopted to describe my own work.
PHOTOGRAPHS OF ARIZONA EPHEMERA (COLLECTION OF AUTHOR)
Souvenir publications capture the desired public identity of tourism places. Arizona’s tourism landscapes often feature desert scenery and colonial Spanish history. The souvenirs of places like Jerome, the Grand Canyon, Tumacacori Mission, and the Apache Trail highlight selective elements in the story of Arizona’s past. Like all places, Arizona’s tourist landscapes are constructed. Imaginary identities, idealized images, experiential evidence, and historical narrative all contribute to the place-images we associate with Arizona as a tourism destination.
Maps and People
(L) TEN, COLLABORATION WITH DOUG BARRETT AND (R) LIBRARY MAP
These projects explore the relationship between individuals, personal narratives, and attachments to place. Ten tells the story of an entomologist who specializes in honeybee genetics. It traces his fascination with bees from the swarm he witnessed as a child to his pioneering work fighting honeybee blight. The ten-frame, book-like form is the result of a collaborative research and production process with colleague Doug Barrett. The Library Map documents a personal experience of libraries, eschewing traditional modes of categorization (Dewey decimals, the Library of Congress system) in favor of a swarm of words. Both projects emerged from a graduate seminar on mapping and place, developed and taught by Katerie Gladdys at the University of Florida.
Near Here: St. Augustine’s Tourist Landscapes
PHOTOS FROM THE ARTIST’S BOOK, NEAR HERE
As an MFA student at the University of Florida, I studied graphic design in the context of tourism, visual culture, and place-based art. In March 2006, I exhibited an artist’s book (pictured above) in a small gallery installation design to facilitate reading. Read the Book, said large letters on a wall, and below the inscription stood a cafe table with tall chairs. Visitors to the show did read the book, browsing its 300 pages of interviews, personal narratives, photo montages, typographic samples, and critical analysis.
St. Augustine, Florida, the site where I spent several months touring, photographing, and collecting data, bills itself as the oldest city in the United States. Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon landed “near here” – as signs in the area often say – in 1513. Ostensibly, he and his crew were in search of the quasi-mythical Fountain of Youth. The city’s tourist industry pays homage to its Spanish legacy in a variety of ways, many of which are visible on the contemporary landscape. Architecture, monuments, city planning, and commercial structures and signage all point to the city’s Spanish past. Near Here: Locating History in St. Augustine’s Tourist Landscapes represents the culmination of my M.F.A. research, exploring multi-vocal narratives and their role in visual mythologies of place.
Iteration and Series
PHOTOS FROM THE ARTIST’S BOOK PLAYA
In Doing Visual Ethnography (London: Sage, 2001), Sarah Pink argues that images must be considered in context, and in relationship to one another, in order for researchers to understand their anthropological significance. Single images, in other words, don’t tell the whole story. Playa features four series of photographs taken on the beach in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Each series observes the process of a single quotidian activity: raking trash from the sand, setting up beach chairs in anticipation of off-loading cruise ships, gutting a fish, closing up a street shop. The book’s text is printed on translucent paper that overlays each image series, and incorporates a variety of voices: the autobiographical, quotations from interviews, references to ethnographic theory. The texts explore the relationship between tourists and locals, vacation and labor, resort and workplace – all in the context of spring break week in a Mexican resort town.