Type Specimen Book Should Meet Customers’ Needs

  • Organization of specimen book depends upon printer’s knowledge of type
  • Alphabetical arrangement has one advantage but mixes up similar types
  • Grouping by type styles seems to offer readily organized method for book

The primary purpose of the printer’s type specimen book is to sell printing. All other considerations are secondary. Although it is true that some specimen showings are examples of the printer’s art, while others are merely listings of available types, the printing firm which issues the specimen book must engage the contents and the arrangement of types to meet its customers’ needs. Any other approach is unsound and uneconomical. It is unsound from the standpoint of salesmanship, uneconomical in production.

If we examine the layout and contents of many specimen books, we find it difficult to understand their reasons for existence. Typographic design is frequently uninspired, and the contents completely unorganized. If the printing is also shoddy, it seems purposeless to produce a book at all. The proper organization of the specimen book depends a great deal upon the printer’s knowledge of types and typographic history. Is frequently surprising to learn how little many printers know about their basic tool, type. Many of us have apparently lost the ability to appreciate the beauty inherent in the proper use of type. The current interest in technology, a good thing in itself, tends to discourage a sympathetic approach to typography. The solution is problematical, but I believe that an understanding of typographic history is essential to the proper organization of the specimen book.

Choose Compiler With Care

The person who is to compile the book should be chosen with this thought in mind. If a proper selling job is to be done, the contents must not “just grow” during a series of slack moments in a busy production schedule, even though this approach might appear to be feasible from a short-sighted viewpoint.

For example: In what order are the types to be placed in the book? Alphabetically? By whether they are machine-set or foundry types? By style?

An alphabetical arrangement offers one major advantage. It makes it comparatively easy to find a type once its name has been determined. However, alphabetizing would mix up similar types and create difficulties for customers who were not familiar with the appearance of types.

A machine-or-foundry listing would make it necessary to repeat a number of faces when the printer has, for example, Linotype Garamond in small sizes, and foundry or Monotype Garamond in display. This is a frequent occurrence. Also, the customer often may know the type style he wants but may not know the form in which it is available.

The style of a type offers a more readily organized method of compiling a specimen book. A printer, this technical knowledge of letter forms, may organize his types into natural groupings, in which type faces which look alike are placed together. This feature is most easily understood when such groups as sans serif, square serif, and scripts and cursives are mentioned.

The difference between historical groups of roman types is more subtle, but aside from a few honest differences of opinion among printers, romans can be classified quite easily.

To begin, there are eight general classifications under which almost every type face in existence will find a niche. Each group is a natural division of letter form and development. Classifications are: black letter, old style, transitional, modern, sans serif, square serif, script-cursive, and decorative.

This listing requires little explanation to printers familiar with printing history. Black letter is a rather small listing of types based upon the designs of Gutenberg and fifteenth century manuscript hands. Old-style types cover the period from the first roman types of the Venetian period (1470–1500) to the French sixteenth and Dutch seventeenth centuries, attaining full development with the eighteenth century English types of Caslon.

The transitional types begin with Baskerville, 1757, and continue through those of Martin, through the Scottish modern romans in the middle nineteenth century to Scotch Roman in the present century. Also listed as transitional types are the so-called legibility faces.

The moderns are mainly the Bodonis and their derivatives, with but few additions. The listings of sans serif and square serif are self-explanatory. Scripts maybe characterized as those types with joining letters, while cursives have non-joining letters. Last of all, the decorative class is the hell box where we list those types which in structure are simply unclassifiable or outside the broad limits of all other categories.

Printer Must Educate Clients

It may be argued that customers would not understand such typographic relationships, but it is to the printer’s interest to educate his clients to recognize and appreciate the subtle characteristics of various types.

Such a listing would keep all versions of a particular type in one section, making comparisons simple. A short introduction could outline the form of the presentation. Either sketches or actual types could be used as illustrations. Introduction would be practical and, in addition, would stimulate the client’s desire to learn more about type recognition. In all cases, the index of the book would be a further aid in finding the type listing.

The “cast of characters in the order of their appearance” having been satisfactorily arranged, there are still numerous problems to be solved. Not the least of them is the method by which the types are to be shown—by alphabet in only one size or all sizes, by an alphabetical sentence, in whole or in part. These procedures will be discussed next month.

This article first appeared in “The Composing Room” column of the August 1955 issue of The Inland Printer.

Leave a Reply