Stanley Morison, Typography’s Most Remarkable Man

Stanley MorisonWere printers in every part of the globe to be asked, “Who is the foremost living typographic scholar?” there is no doubt that the name of an austere, 70-year-old Englishman, Stanley Morison, would be most often mentioned.

Here in the United States printers accept the late Daniel B. Updike as the great typographic historian, along with his predecessor, Theodore De Vinne. Morison himself would undoubtedly agree with this verdict, but nevertheless his own published work on the whole subject of the graphic arts is a great deal more prolific than that of the two Americans.

Ever since 1913 when the eighth and last number of The Imprint published a paper, “Notes on Some Liturgical Books,” the contribution of Morison to the understanding and appreciation of typography has continued to grow. The list of his published works totals more than 170 items.

Surprisingly enough, Morison’s range of interests is much wider than just that of a typographical recorder. For example, he edited the well-known Penrose Annual for a period of three years, being responsible for broadening its coverage from purely technical matters to include the esthetic aspects of the graphic arts. In addition, Morison edited the final four volumes of The Fleuron, probably the most important typographical journal to be produced in England.

A four-volume work, The History of The Times, was produced under his editorship in the period 1935–52. In 1946 Morison assumed the editorship of The Times Literary Supplement for a period of two years, during which he initiated a number of changes which included enlarged coverage of foreign, particularly American, books.

The purely typographical accomplishments of this prolific man include advisorships to the Monotype Co. of London, Cambridge University, and The London Times, for which he originated a new “dress” and a most important type, Times New Roman, now used and admired by printers everywhere. It was under Morison’s direction during the 1920’s that the English Monotype firm embarked on the important program of type revivals which resulted in production of such faces as Garamond, Bembo, Bell, and other classic designs.

Unfortunately, a great deal of the typographical writing of Stanley Morison has been produced in limited edition. It is to be hoped that a collection of his work will at some time be put together. There has been no great and complete treatise on the history of typography since 1922, when Updike produced his splendid Printing Types. Morison’s acknowledged mastery of the subject deserves the widest recognition possible.

Volume VII of The Fleuron contained what has probably become the most reprinted essay on the subject of typography ever written. Entitled First Principles of Typography, this short essay presents what one critic calls Morison’s “uncompromising, rationalistic philosophy.” The late Bruce Rogers called it “the clearest and most closely-reasoned exposition of the subject that I know.” Such a recommendation from the foremost American typographer is an impressive tribute.

This article first appeared in the April 1961 issue of PRINTER and LITHOGRAPHER. Although uncredited, it is most likely written by Alexander S. Lawson.


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