Revivals Follow Revivals in Type

Of the revival of old types there is no end.

Maybe that’s just as well, too. It is a game that anyone can play, provided that a couple of older specimen books are at hand. Of course, typographical designers can participate in the sport without any qualms about where the types are coming from. But the poor printer has to go back to sources, as most of his old types have probably long since been consigned to hell-box, a limiting factor in his full appreciation of the game.

The contemporary types in high favor are primarily the gothics, which runs to series challenging the fecundity of Cheltenham. The resulting space problem assures that something has to go, but the big decision is, what? No matter how carefully the typesetter watches the trends, he just cannot divine what the next typographic fad maybe.

Foundries Don’t Always Know

Even the typefounder can be out-guessed, as was Bauer Type Foundry. Last spring this firm inserted an announcement into its specimen book, stating that Futura Black had been taken out of circulation. Apparently gremlins were at work while the announcement was being printed, for Futura Black suddenly achieved a vogue. Naturally, the founder was happy to retrieve the matrices from the vault to supply the demand for the type.

The capriciousness of passing fancy in display typefaces is usually the result of random selection by the designer rather than upon the typefounder’s attempts to move dust-covered fonts from his inventory. From time to time, a founder may attempt to promote a revival on his own, but such speculation is rarely successful. Its lack of spontaneity is probably suspect. Like the printer, the founder can only hope that one of his types will be selected for new mode rather than one of his competitor’s.

Most Faces Are Revivals

In a sense, most of the current types using national advertising are revivals. Such types as the gothic and the Clarendons stem from the last century. Of course all of the classic romans, Garamond, Caslon, Bodoni, etc., are based on historical forms. Many designs, however, fit the dernier cir, attaining a great success of short duration.

Within fairly recent memory, such type as Dom Casual was a runaway bestseller in the early Fifties. However it is now gathering dust in most composing rooms. It may be a fitting candidate for a revival in another few years.

A great comeback was achieved a year or so ago by Cooper Black, although it is now on the wane. Something exciting about the jazz-age types seems to attract modern designers. Other styles of that. Have been brought back during the last few years, in addition to Cooper. Broadway and the aforementioned Futura Black are two of these.

None of these revivals has promoted a trend, however. Mainly, they represent isolated selections by designers who have become jaded with the overlong diet of the gothic. These types have been going strong for the past 15 years and do not exhibit a tendency to be replaced.

Occasionally a well-designed roman type will enjoy a few minutes in the sun. Then the more traditional typographers will hopefully predict that the turn-around has finally arrived.

The vast success of the foundry version of Baskerville a few years ago seemed to augur a return to classic proportions of letterforms. Its revival, too, was short-lived, although the continuing popularity of such types as Melior, Palatino and Optima indicates the need for diversification. Without doubt, the awakening interest in Goudy Bold has been stimulated by the same desire.

Return of a Whole Period

The restoration encompassing an entire period is that of the types and the lettering of the turn of the century. An example of this trend is the present esteem enjoyed by the English type, Windsor, circa 1903, of the Stephenson Blake Foundry. The so-called rugged types seem to meet the need of the times, when the purer letters are in disrepute.

Perhaps they represent the attempt of the younger graphic artists to simulate printers’ types, an undertaking which so often results in badly proportioned letters. The art schools certainly do not spend much time acquainting students with fundamental disciplines which formerly were part of a designer’s training.

Many of these types represent a formlessness which was the result of a breakdown in typographic tradition. The demand was for novelty. Every typefounder, at least from the evidence of the specimen books, was hell-bent to outdo the competition. Such was the situation when William Morris, the medium of the Kelmscott Press, bravely intervened to restore once again the aspect of art and craft to the production of printing.

Revival of Novelty Faces

Part of the present problem in type selection, as recognized by typographic critics, is the ready availability of photographic and process lettering for the reproduction of the novelty typefaces. The unfortunate result of this rivalry may be that in the desire to meet the demands of a fad, the foundries spend too little time in the planning of better types with which to meet the challenge.

Unfortunately, the economics of type manufacturing compared to process lettering tends to dictate the continuing trend of the more esoteric revivals. Too many typographic designers have a habit of reaching for novelty type to solve a design problem which might otherwise call upon resources beyond his capability.

We can expect that the present formlessness will continue, and that no “school” will emerge as representative of the times. But it is fortunate that the lack of coherence in the selection of type styles has not interfered with rational design concepts and that there has been no return to such examples of the “new” typography as represented by the Dada movement.In view of this, some hope remains for a revival of the best letterforms rather than the most tasteless.

This article first appeared in the “Typographically Speaking” column of the January 1967 issue of Printing Impressions.

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