Older Faces Hold Their Own In One Current Mag’s Ads

When looking over one of those fat pre-Christmas issues of The New Yorker, I was reminded of the stent I used to do a couple of dozen years ago, listing the types being used in the full-page ads of that publication along with several others. The idea was to keep current with the type styles being used in national advertising.

This time around I was actually looking for the new types which have been issuing with more or less regularity from the manufacturers of the numerous typesetting machines currently on the market. It quickly became obvious that I was going to have to mount a search party to discover where these types were, because they most certainly weren’t turning up in the consumer advertising that poured out—mostly in gorgeous full-color—from the pages of The New Yorker.

Out of some 79 full-page ads, a half-dozen were composed in types so current that I didn’t know what they were, not having all of the manufacturer’s specimen books handy. Three other types of fairly recent vintage were noted, Benguiat being selected for seven ads, with Friz Quadrata and Quorum for one each. All the rest were set in well-established faces, most of which might qualify for the golden oldies category. Here’s the list, along with the number of ads in which each appeared:

Goudy Old Style5
Franklin Gothic3
Cloister Old Style2
Trump Medieval1
Times Roman1
Caslon Old Style3
Weiss Roman2
News Gothic1
Cooper Old Style1

The boys on Madison Avenue seemed to be nothing if not conservative when it comes to selecting types for national advertising. Many of the ads of course also run in a number of other consumer magazines. So The New Yorker, despite the sophistication of its Eustice Tilley, who appears on the cover each year in the anniversary issue, does not cater to a particular style and must take the copy as it comes in the front door area.

Of the above list, just six types may be considered post-World War II: Palatino, Helvetica, Optima, Trump Medieval, Americana and Univers. Seven additional types stem from the between-the-wars period (1918–1940): Stymie, Hadriano, Futura, Times Roman, Weiss Roman, Kabel and Cooper (the normal weight of the well-known Cooper Black series.)

Then there were six faces which might be termed pre-World War I designs: Goudy Old Style, Cloister Old Style, Century, Windsor, Franklin Gothic and News Gothic. These last two, even with all the “revived” gothic and sans serifs of the Twenties and Fifties, seemed to retain their usefulness and popularity. Windsor, a Stephenson & Blake (England) design of about 1905, staged a comeback as a metal type in the Twenties, and has since survived into the photo-type era.

Tiffany, in name only a type of the 1970s, is in reality a pick-up (1884) from Ronaldson, of that great American boundary, MacKellar, Smiths & Jordan. Under the benevolent guidance of the American Type Founders Co. shortly after the turn of the century, Windsor was one of the early faces to be contorted into the typographic family concept, being marketed under such designations as Lining Ronaldson Extended No. 2, Lining Ronaldson Condensed No. 2, and Lining Ronaldson Title Slope No. 2.

By 1912, the display versions had apparently run their course and ATF offered the design only as a type for continuous reading. Thus the name of poor old James Ronaldson—who combined with his fellow Scotsman Archibald Binny in the establishment of the first successful American typefoundery—passed into typographic oblivion.

Finally the list contains just those classic romans of the 18th century, Caslon and Baskerville, along with that of the estimable 16th-century punch-cutter, Claude Garamond. Whatever happened to Bodoni in this issue of The New Yorker?

Those traditionalists who hopefully back the roman horse against its sans serif rival may take considerable comfort in the statistical evidence that their nag came in two-to-one in that continuous rivalry which had its serious beginnings in the 1930s following the Bauhaus apostasy that threatened the conventional typography of the period. Those purists who castigated the gothic barbarism need not have been concerned.

For a comparison of the December 1981 figures with an earlier period, I dug up a similar survey of the same periodical, dated March 1964. A comparison of the statistics indicates that, for the same number of ads, the results were almost identical. For example, the 1964 data shows 40 ads set in 20 different roman types, along with 29 sans serif faces. This compares with 17 romans in 40 ads in 1981, with nine sans serif types used in 26 ads.

Here the same number of sans serif types were used, it is interesting to note that only three did not repeat: Alternate Gothic, Standard and Venus. Old-timers will recall with some nostalgia the bitter debate of the 1950s that raged concerning the efficacy of Standard in comparison with Venus. This was of course prior to a similar polemic concerning the virtues or lack of them of Univers and Helvetica just a decade later.

It is evident, if we can accept as fact any statistics obtained without a prolonged debate by committee, that not much has changed during the last two decades in the selection of typefaces for use in national advertising. I suppose it would be valid to enquire just where the types of the Seventies are being used. There is of course no doubt that they are doing the job somewhere, since all machines currently in use come to the typesetter practically programmed for the most up-to-date type styles.

Those of us who are inundated with direct mail advertising, I am sure have already discovered that nearly every typesetter in the nation must have every face offered. But it would seem that the more cautious entrepreneurs with the healthiest budgets for manipulating the public pocketbook continue to play it safe by adhering to traditional typography.

This article first appeared in the “Typographically Speaking” column of the October 1982 issue of Printing Impressions.

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