April 5

Oswald Cooper

Upon this day in the happy extrovertish year of 1926 Oswald Bruce Cooper, a Chicago typographer and type designer, wrote a letter in which he predicted that Chicago would become the typefounding center of the country. “In case we fail,” he said, “we may be able to touch off a right smart red fire, anyway.” Cooper was discussing his relationship with the typefoundry, Barnhart Brothers & Spindler, which was then joyfully producing Cooper-designed types by the ton.

In a fond chapter of the still fonder The Book of Oz Cooper, written and printed by Cooper’s friends in 1949, the late Richard N. McArthur, former advertising manager of the foundry, detailed the avoirdupois of the matter. “Already Cooper Black was the world’s biggest seller in a single type face. If one considers that a 120-point capital M weighs 12 ounces, a capital W tilts a scant pound, the font 81.7 pounds, it can be understood how the tonnage mounted while the orders poured in from all over the roman type-using world and the matrices of the fifteen sizes of this great advertising type were kept hot on the casting machines.”

Alas, Chicago did not attain its capital status, and BB&S succumbed in 1929 to the pressure of what was thirty-five years earlier call the Type Trust, the firm of American Type Founders. With the acquisition of the old Chicago letter foundry, ATF then became the undisputed producer of founder’s type in the United States. By 1930 the Cooper design had run its course as the darling of the advertiser. Interest had shifted to the revival of the sans serif form as interpreted by the Bauhaus movement in Germany, and its imitators.

The Twenties, though, represented a glorious period for foundry types, perhaps the last that may be recorded. There was no competition from that thorn-in-the-side of the present typefounders, the photo-lettering industry. In 1923 ATF produced its splendid specimen book, containing 1148 pages, in an edition of sixty thousand copies.

The types of this period were wonderfully exotic, and are today even more nostalgic than those produced during the last century. Broadway, Modernique, Gallia, Nubian, Chic, Novel Gothic, and the rest are all long gone, but they did help keep things stirred up and exciting to printers who loved metal types. In the mid-sixties, the typefounders can’t afford to be such entrepreneurs. It costs too much to take a flyer on a new design, and even when it is done, the wolf pack of photographic competitors will just copy it under the anonymity of a number, with a small footnote in the specimen book to tell the customer the type to which it is “similar.”

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