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Typologia, Part I

I’ve just started reading Goudy's Typologia and before he even begins discussing type design itself, I’m enamored of how he develops his points. (Hopefully, of course, he'll write this well throughout the book.)

After a brief introduction in chapter I, he gets cooking in chapter II, "Books Before Printing." Instead of tracing the leap from scripts to movable type in stylistic terms, he describes the inevitability of movable type in economic and social terms — first came the monasteries with their scriptoria, then the nobility that cultivated their own libraries (along with an interest in keeping the lower classes in check by keeping them away form literacy and learning), then the need for more and more books to be used by the clergy, then the introduction of woodcut illustrations, then the development of cheap wood-cut pages of text, and finally the great leap to movable type, and with it the hope that it mass production could eventually be not only feasible, but cheaper than copying books by hand.

He does, though, assume the reader has a certain familiarity with the big names of type history. Although he briefly introduces a few keyhistoric figures — Richard du Bury, Alcuin of York, Aelius DonatusJohann Gutenberg is just "Gutenberg." I didn't notice the assumption at work until he tosses off a key reference to Closter, with whom I wasn't familiar, right at the end, prompting me to go back and see if I’d missed something. (It also didn't help that the name is spelled "Koster" right in the next sentence.)

The book is set in the face now available from Lanston (now an arm of P22) as Californian, and it has an amazingly pleasant, warm feeling to it. The italic used for the whole of the preface is especially striking. I hope it's not something that was lost in the transition to a digital version, but there's a slight unevenness to the texture that enhances the cursive shapes of the type, and makes it all seem very calligraphic.

The setting has cured me of any fascination with the use of an "st" ligature in text, though. He uses one throughout (and a "ct" ligature, as well), and even though it looks very lovely and swashy as a freestanding letterform, it really distracts from the overall flow of the text. The swash of the ligature jumps right out of the bouma, and disrupts the reading of the words in which it appears, every time.

Still, it's pretty.

Goudy, Frederic W, Typologia: Studies in Type Design and Type Making. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1977

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