This crime story has all the makings of a wonderful BBC Masterpiece Theatre episode. The real-life tale of passion for typography and revenge began in 1916 when an elderly gentleman walked onto London’s Hammersmith Bridge after midnight and began tossing tiny metal pieces of the font used exclusively by The Doves Press into the Thames River. This destruction of typographic art was perpetrated by printer/bookbinder, T.J. Cobden-Sanderson, to keep the font out of the hands of his former business partner, Emery Walker. Both leaders in the Arts and Crafts Movement, Cobden-Sanderson and Walker co-owned the renowned Doves Press, revered for creating exquisite fine arts books set in Doves type. In the contentious process of dissolving their business partnership in 1909, the two men fought bitterly over the rights to the Doves font. Rather than see Walker gain ownership, Cobden-Sanderson laid a plan to make sure that the font could never be used again. Over a period of about six months, the then 76-year-old Cobden-Sanderson set off each night under the cloak of darkness with bits of Doves font hidden in packets and pockets and surreptitiously sprinkled about a ton of the metal slugs and matrices onto the Thames. In all, he made about 170 trips from his bindery to the bridge to avoid arousing the suspicion of passersby.
In this short film by Tom Beal for BBC News Magazine, type designer Robert Green picks up the story a century later and recounts his obsession with recreating Doves accurately and his heroic effort to rescue the sunken metal type.
Celebrated Dutch book designer Irma Boom continues to push the boundaries of book design by defying the conventional use of publishing materials and printing. Boom’s special edition for Chanel No. 5 is loaded with images and text and uses absolutely no ink. The sheets are completely white and blind embossed throughout. The result is sensual, intriguing, ethereal and haunting, like the best fragrances. Boom’s approach to book design is that of a fine artist. In fact, of the more than 250 books she has designed, more than 50 are in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Boom created this limited edition book for the No. 5 Culture Chanel exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris.
The opening of a new location in Osaka, Japan, was occasion for luxury retailer Louis Vuitton to ask Italian design studio Happycentro to produce an appropriately elegant invitation card.The result was a printing and folding tour de force involving offset printing, transparent, silver mat, pearl and rainbow foils, dry embossing, silkscreen and die-cuts. As if that wasn’t complicated enough, the square sheet was precisely folded by hand origami-style 34 ways. One has to believe that the designer Federico Galvani has a fiendishly clever mind to devise something that tested the skills of printers and origami artists alike, but the team pulled it off and the result is lovely and unique.
When you are given an assignment to demonstrate the awesome special effects possible on paper, you need subject matter worthy of such dazzling printing feats. Superheroes. Pirates. Bigfoot. Weird larger-than-life creatures. Spies. It didn’t take long to figure out where to find all of them in one place – at 826 National, a nonprofit network of tutoring, writing and publishing centers for kids, ages 6 to 18. The 826 centers are “disguised” as retail stores, selling gear for “real” working pirates, superheroes, time travelers, bigfoot researchers, robots and so on.
This stop-motion video by Lynn Kiang isn’t so much about letterpress printing as it is about where typesetting terminology came from. To understand the nomenclature, it helps to see how type used to be made out of wood or metal. Terms like “upper case” and “lower case” harken back to the days of handset type when capital letters were stored in the upper section of the typecase and small letters in the lower case. Around 1886, the invention of the Linotype speeded up typesetting, letting typesetters keyboard in the text, which was cast out of molten metal one line of type at a time. Depending on the design, these hot-metal “slugs” would either be “leaded out” by placing thin sheets of metal between the lines or closed up by “taking the lead out.” When all the type was set in layout form within a metal frame (“chase”), the printer “locked it up” and “put the job to bed” on the bed of the letterpress. These terms have become industry jargon, but in the age of digital typography, their origin has become lost. This video, set to the soundtrack from “West Side Story,” is a great little primer. Lynn Kiang, an M.F.A. student in graphic design at the Rhode Island School of Design, named her video “Type High,” which means the height of the type from the face to the foot.
These posters won both the Grand Prix for Design in Cannes and the A&AD design awards in 2009. Asked by Nike to create a call-for-entry poster for the Nike Basketball League Competition, Hong Kong’s most prestigious basketball league, McCann Worldgroup turned the poster itself into a spirited competition. McCann selected images of the top 10 players in action to create printing templates and then invited the players to a silkscreen shop in Hong Kong to print their own image randomly on top of one another. The process of overprinting became a battlefield in itself, and the 350 posters made by the team players became one of the hottest Nike collectibles around.
A project by Happiness Brussels designed by Anthony Burrill in London, this limited edition poster was made to benefit the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana. The poster’s message is simple and direct, but it takes on an emotional resonance when viewers learn that it was silk-screened using oil collected off of Louisiana beaches after the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Over the years some artists and artisans have let the choice of material imbue their creation with symbolic significance – e.g., guns melted down to make a peace sculpture; pottery made from the volcanic ash of the Mount St. Helens eruption; objects that incorporate pieces of the Berlin Wall, etc. It adds another dimension of meaning to the object and makes you think.
Laser printers can work on virtually any substrate these days, including stenciling a design onto the foam of your latte. Even though the technology has been around for a few years now, probably it hasn’t become widespread for two reasons. One, the process is relatively slow, which wouldn’t work in a high-volume coffee house. Two, professional baristas who take pride in drawing leaf patterns, swans, smiley faces and swirls on the foam would probably take offense if an automated machine one-upped them by drawing Mocha Lisas and Macchiato Mondrians. The relentless march of technology, however, says that barista artistry may someday be replaced by a robotic arm. The way it works is that precise dots of caramel food coloring are dropped onto the foam dot-by-dot to draw logos, brand taglines, web addresses, holiday greetings, and even very detailed pictures. This doesn’t require unique talent, just a latte art machine. The thought of seeing a marketing pitch imprinted on my latte isn’t very appealing. Still, when placing your latte order, prepare to someday specify caf, decaf; foam, low foam; printed or unprinted.
In the state of Washington, type designer Juliet Shen has been working with a Native American tribe, called Tulalip, to create a font for the Lushootseed language. At the time, the Lushootseed was near extinction. Only five tribal elders were known to be fluent in the language. This was largely because the U.S. government launched an ill-guided program in 1912 to “assimilate” indigenous people into American society by sending their children away to boarding schools where they were forced to adopt European ways. Under threat of punishment, the children were forbidden to speak their own native language. Since Lushootseed had no written tradition, the history of the culture had all but vanished by the 1960s.
It wasn’t until Thom Hess, a University of Washington linguistics graduate student, started recording the stories told by elders in 1967 that an effort was made to devise a written language for Lushootseed. His field work led him to a Tulalip woman named Vi Hilbert, who embraced his interest in preserving the stories of the indigenous people who lived around Washington’s Puget Sound. Using a variation of the International Phonetic Alphabet, a system of symbols used to record every sound the human voice can make, Hess taught Hilbert to phonetically write out the Lushootseed words. Together, the two produced two Lushootseed dictionaries and worked tirelessly to write down cultural lore told by the elders.