Type Specimen Book Will Help Printer’s Customers

  • Pressure to keep specimen book current varies with kind of work produced
  • Printers sell books, then refund when customers send in business
  • Single-line specimen books or lists of faces will satisfy some customers

A recurring headache to printers is the production of type specimen books. The printer has always been reluctant to take time out from profitable operations to set up and print a listing of types available in his plant. In these days of high hour-costs and labor shortages, the temptation is great to turn a deaf ear to customers’ demands for up-to-date type showings.

The pressure to keep a specimen book current varies with the kind of work being produced. Naturally, the advertising typographer and the trait composition plant have the most difficult time of it. They must stop a good percentage of all the new types produced so rapidly by type foundries and composing machine manufacturers. Many commercial printers do not even try to stop current types, simply relying upon the trade composition firms to supply the new designs in the form of repro proofs, electrodes, or hand-set or machine-set display lines.

The present high cost of producing a specimen book has prompted many attempts to “get out from under” as cheaply as possible. Because the press run is usually quite short, unit cost of the specimen book is relatively high. In fact, very few books are produced for less than $20 a copy, and some volumes cost more than twice this amount. Many printers consider this cost prohibitive. There constantly investigating more economical ways of rendering the service to customers.

Some firms which offer extensive type showings have adopted the policy of selling the books and in returning the purchase price if the customer purchases a certain amount of business during a specified period of time.

A relatively simple device is a condensation of the showing into a booklet which can be enclosed in No. 10 envelope. Either single line of type is shown in one size, or merely the name of the type along with the name of the manufacturer and the range of sizes available in the shop.

While this is a satisfactory arrangement for many customers, it does not please the type specimen book collectors, a race of men who, just as soon as they have business letterheads, write to every printer within 1000 miles. These people are not deterred by the fact that most printers have similar or identical showings–they just want bulk on typographic shelf. Because all of them appeared to be potential customers, the printer generally obliges.

Artists and layout men are not satisfied with the one-line specimen; they want complete alphabets in every size stopped by the printer.

However, even the firms which produced full-size folks have adopted the one-line showing as a means of attracting business. Buyers of printing received several copies of the small booklet, which they can distribute to personnel responsible for typography, thereby saving wear and tear on the large volume which then remains under control of the art director for production manager. While no printer cares to underwrite the supply of specimens for college courses in advertising and commercial art, the one-line book makes a satisfactory and much more economical substitute.

Most printers are individualists, but the cost factor in printing a specimen book levels conflicting interest to a remarkable degree. In many localities, trade associations have issued a jointly. Even competitors within a limited area have discussed the production combined specimen book.

In New York City, the Typographers Association, a group of truth in advertising composition plants, produces a joint listing shows one line of each phase owned by members, along with sizes carried. This book has been successful over a period of years. This helped to increase business in any of the firms listed, because the book received wide circulation in the area served.

Another group, the Advertising Typographers Association, issues a set of cards containing alphabets of all types in general use. These cards are printed as new types appear. They’re available in volume for imprinting by association members.

While the group effort produces excellent results, and has not been fully accepted. Many printers, having developed their own ideas about the format of specimen books, refused to accept the form which might run counter to the thoughts on the subject.

Again, it is felt that type founders and suppliers should produce specimens adapted to the printer’s needs. However, investigations along this line show little progress. In fact, many printers argue that the tight founder is only interested in contacting the printer’s customers with a splashy showing of a new design, thereby applying some pressure upon the printer to stock the face.

American Type Founders, Inc., has been of some help, though, and offering a set of alphabet cards in a file cabinet, at a reasonable cost, to students studying graphic arts. In England, the Monotype Company has successfully sold specimen sheets for a number of years, relieving the individual printing firm of this responsibility. However, the problem of obtaining standardized showings from all foundries and manufacturers is difficult to overcome.

With the influx of foreign types assuming landslide proportions, and with casting machine companies by no means backward and introducing new faces an additional weights and sizes of existing designs, any existing specimen books are now almost hopelessly out of date. Many commercial firms are faced with the need for a volume to satisfy customers educated to a higher standard of excellence then in the prewar period.

The printer, then, must gauge this demand in terms of the types offered for display and a method of displaying them. There is no place today for the static appearance of many of the specimen books produced 20 or more years ago. These books contain page after page of type, sometimes enclosed in a stilted and crowded border, with no attempt to instill variety and movement into the pages.

Today, the layout of the specimen book should be indicative of the approach to the problems of typographic design which will be given to the customer’s own jobs. In addition, the proponents of the modern specimen book think that it should offer much more than type showings. It should contain such information as hints on markup, copyfitting, and style.

Next month I will discuss some of the conditions which govern the format of the current model specimen book, and the manner of solving a few of the problems encountered.

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

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