THE SPRINT through 24 weekly issues of LA tested everything I knew about type. Which was not that much, since I had only a little experience, and I had never taken a design course. I ended up with a theory, or a style, that I am still exploring 50 years later.
Six years before I had come into contact with a treasure of typographical knowledge, Robert Dothard. I interned for him the summer before college, 1966. In the course of three months he told me what seemed like everything he knew, showing his first design work for Edwin Rudge, the third in a line of fine printers. He said this put him in direct line with Bruce Rogers, who designed many books for Rudge’s father. Dothard had copies of some of these books, and many he designed himself, including a racy Limited Editions Club version of The Satyricon by Petronius.
He thought Rogers was the best book designer of the 20th century, and he held up Rogers’ typeface, Centaur, as the greatest revival of the first Roman typeface (cut by Nicolas Jenson in 1470). It was the ground zero of Dothard’s design style, because it contained the basic code of the Latin alphabet. Its capitals had the proportions of the finest Roman stone inscriptions, like the Trajan Column (118 AD).
The lowercase was derived from the 8th-century Carolingian minuscule and the calligraphy of Jenson’s contemporaries in the Italian Renaissance. In the print shop in Guilford, Vermont, Dothard had some loose Centaur type, cast on a Monotype machine. I set the address for the letterhead I made that summer, for a film group that I was involved with in prep school, Nebuchadnezzar Films. The key was to print it in letterpress so that the letterforms spread as they pushed into the paper. (Almost all the type Dothard used was set in letterpress and proofed on clay-coated repro paper.) Phototype and digital versions of Centaur look a little spindly, since no one has tried to add the ink squash that the original was design for.
The capitals were originally produced by American Type Founders for the Metropolitan Museum. ATF followed with the lowercase for Rogers’ Oxford Lectern Bible (1935). I got to read aloud from that bible on Christmas Day 1962 at the Service of Lessons and Carols at Saint Thomas Church. The “lesson” was an excerpt from Genesis. They opened the big bible for me, and chose to read directly from the 16-point Centaur. Now, that was reading.
After my apprenticeship, I was an devout convert to Dothard’s belief that Centaur was the best Roman typeface.
Stanley Morison brought it to the British Monotype company as part of his program of classic revivals. Monotype’s Bembo, Poliphilus, Garamond, Baskerville, and Bell filled out Dothard’s book work.
But there were others, from other sources. He loved Bulmer, the 1928 ATF revival of a William Martin design cut in 1792 for an English publisher, William Bulmer. Dothard used the font for the Deerfield Alumni Journal, which I helped lay out the summer of 1966.
And in the printing shop in the barn behind the farmhouse that housed his studio, there was a collection of wood type, brought from a big printing company he had sold in the early 1950s when he became a freelance designer. These were complete fonts in cases labeled with the styles and sizes. They were big, and easy to set and to proof—compared with the tiny lead type. My favorite was “12-line Broadgauge,” a 144-point slab serif that Dothard explained was a “pointed Tuscan” design. I set “Nebuchadnezzar” in Broadgauge and sent it off to the stat house in Brattleboro—sized to same width as the Centaur address line.
I pasted up a mechanical for the letterhead and showed it to Dothard, and he was taken aback. “My God! You can’t combine Centaur with a Tuscan!” He suggested that a Modern, like Bodoni, or an Ionic would go better. “Or even a Transitional,” he said. But I liked the combination, and let it stand.
Nothing became of the film company, but the eclectic, almost bipolar type pairing at Dothard’s studio has stayed in my mind. There was a lot of energy in the conflict between these styles.
Fonts: A small-size Centaur is available from Monotype. My preference for display would be Canto, by Richard Lipton, which has a number of delightful display styles. For text, there is Hightower, by Tobias Frere-Jones. And while a weak digitization of Linotype Garamond can be found on the Monotype retail sites, the ATF Collection has a faithful version of ATF Garamond, available in three sizes: Subhead, Text, and Micro.
An eclectic type library
In my first design effort after college, Amerika, a prototype of a magazine for students, I used Aldine Roman for text, a Bembo-like face on the IBM Selectric Composer, a typewriter that had been souped up to set type—“strike-on.” The headlines were a variety of styles from 19th century slab serifs to the classic revivals I had learned at Dothard’s.
The magazines that inspired me in the 1960s (Rolling Stone, the original Monocle) used an eclectic range of display typefaces. Sam Antupit (Esquire) said that he chose a headline type to match the feeling of each story. Other well-designed magazines stuck to a smaller group of fonts, either because the designers (Henry Wolf in the case of Show) liked only a few fonts, or (Walter Bernard, in the case of New York) they wanted to keep it simple, that is stick to a limited number of fonts, like a newspaper. This is the rule most publications have adopted in the 21st century: Use one main font to help push the visual brand. As the media environment became more cluttered, this made a certain amount of sense. A media brand struggles to stand out today, so an eclectic type selection may confuse the visual brand. Or so they say.
In 1972 it was simpler, and I was able to use a wide span of type styles. Most were from the 19th century and early 20th: English and American transitionals, moderns, and slab serifs.
Fifty fonts were included in our order for the headline typesetter, the VGC Phototypositor. I picked out the classics that I saw in these magazines, and others that I’d seen in the catalogues of New York typesetting shops, and a wonderful pamphlet from Amsterdam Continental, which sold foundry fonts from European type founders, including Stempel, Berthold, and Stephenson Blake.
My thought was that I wanted an array of typefaces for the headlines of feature stories. Despite my religious feeling about Centaur and the core Latin code, I didn’t see how I could make a Jensonian Old Style fit in, but I included it in the VGC order, thinking I might want to veer off the base and make a layout stand out.
For example, the headline for a story about art deco architecture was set in Futura Black. And for a profile of the great Christopher Isherwood, I had to use . . . Centaur.
There were three groups of styles styles that the art department combined for headlines—and set on the Phototypositor: The Moderns, the Slabs, and the Sans. Each designers would choose a font and then set their own headlines, with a little consultation. Here’s what it looked like.
Transitional and Modern: Bulmer, Bodoni
I’ll start with the Moderns, the style that represented the first big change in letterform design since Jenson. Right at the beginning of the 19th century fonts with much more contrast between thick and thin strokes, led by the brilliant printers Giambattista Bodoni in Parma and Pierre Didot in Paris. With classical calligraphy, the angle of the weight of the pen was 30° or 45°, which became the stress of the first “old style” printing fonts. As the use of quill pens, where weight was determined by pressure, the angle was in the mind of the person with the pen. With neoclassical formality, the angle was horizontal. With hard-surfaced paper, the contrast between thins and thicks was more extreme.
Type design had moved toward the Modern a few decades earlier, with what we now call Transitionals. John Baskerville’s 1750s typeface is the usual example. It had more contrast than the old styles, and the angle of stress was getting more horizontal. I wanted to use Bulmer, one of Dothard’s favorites. And I remembered his admonition that Moderns and Transitionals would pair better with the big Slabs.
Today we think that the contrast makes Modern type rather spindly and hard to read. But 200 ago, the ink squash in printing made the thins heavier, and the soft paper spread some of the ink. The result was less contrast and more legibility. The Moderns took over publishing, and most books and all newspapers used them for text and headlines.
Publishers are a conservative lot, and when I started reading them in 1960s, newspapers were still using moderns. Two of the best papers used Bodoni for headlines: New York Herald Tribune and Washington Post. For LA, I wanted to ride this tradition, and so Bodoni became the default headline type for news stories and departments. We hand-set Bauer Bodoni Bold and Bold Italic on the Typositor, and used Bauer Bodoni Titling for some feature heads. The default fonts for headlines in the front-of-the-book departments and the back-of-the-book reviews was Bodoni. When there were too many to set by hand, we specked them in Linotype Bodoni and they were set with the text.
And despite Dothard, I still ordered a number of Old Styles, including Centaur and Caslon!
Fonts: Bauer Bodoni is also at Monotype, but, like Centaur, it is one-size-fits-all, using what look like 12-point masters. For display today, I would go with David Berlow’s Moderno—which is a display font with 32 style in different weights and widths. If you like the Washington Post headlines, there is Matthew Carter’s Stilson. And if your opinion page is farther to the right, you can use Escrow, the Wall Street Journal font, designed by Dyana Weissman, Richard Lipton, and Cyrus Highsmith. This is available in Banner, Display―and also Text, and RE (Micro).
For Bulmer, there is good cut with a small-size master done by Bitstream, available at the Monotype sites. For display, I would go with Matthew Carter’s Big Moore, a 1762 typeface from the Fry foundry. For text alternative, there is Carter’s Miller Text.
Slabs: Egiziano, Ionic, Clarendon
Starting with the logo, the type of LA revolved around the slab serif font, Egiziano from the foundry Nebiolo in Turin. In Italian this means Egyptian, the 19th century type category that we now call slab serif. The excitement around Moderns resulted in more innovations, spurred on by the new commercial market (advertising).
There are a number of stories explaining how the name Egyptian came to be attached, including my favorite, that French sailors used big cards with giant slab-serif letters on them to signal other boats during Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt. But wouldn’t they have used flags? Or lamps? In any case, as type forms began to change in the 19th century, styles were given tags suggesting they looked foreign or strange. San serifs, for example, were called Gothic or Grotesque. Another word for Egyptian was Antique. Fonts with chiseled or triangular serifs were called Latin. Those with inverted weighting—thick horizontals and thin verticals—were called Italian. (Not to be confused with Italic.)
Whatever the name, you can imagine how Slabs might have been adapted from the Moderns: Just increase the weight of the thins, while keeping the vertical stress. Et voilà, vous tenez un Égyptien.
I had first seen Egiziano in the logo of the New York Review of Books, in 1963. It was specified by the Sam Antupit in 36 pt. When I moved to New York, I saw that the Metro type shop had a number of sizes of Egiziano. I learned that Philip Gips, the noted designer of corporate logos and movie posters, had ordered the fonts.
Egiziano appeared as a phototype in Chicago in 1970. David Travis, a partner on the Amerika project, saw it on a flyer from the big type shop, Ryder. They had made their own two-inch film font for the Typositor and were setting type at $2 a word. I ordered it for Gulf State Advertising in ’71, and when I was getting my own machine, I asked if them if get a film font. They did, but said, “Don’t make a habit of this.”
Later, VGC brought out another Egiziano which had higher contrast. I wrote to the company asking, nicely, what is this? They replied saying they had a license from Nebiolo and the font was made from “inkless impressions,” whatever those are. When I later looked in the Metro book, I saw that the VGC must be using the 24 point, and what I liked was the 36. When doing a redesign, the New York Review changed to the 24 point. (Sigh.)
For the LA logo I took an L and an A from this Egiziano, and had PMTs made about ten inches high. I wanted to work big, since I had so little drawing experience, never mind lettering. Working on a light table, I put a sheet of Bristol paper over the stat and made an outline, then shifted the original 45 degrees a couple of inches at a 45 degree angle. Then I sent this artwork off the stat house and ordered a same size neg and a contact print on Velox paper. I pasted that down the Velox on illustration board with two coats of rubber cement, since I wanted it to last, and then filled in the shadow with a sheet of red Zip-A-Tone, which photographs as black. I cut right down the middle of the outlines, and I had the logo.
People often ask me about my favorite typeface, and my stock answer is “Egiziano.” In fact I’ve followed another Dothard precept that both headline and text type should be selected for the content. At LA, Egiziano was used for the top headline on the front page of issue No. 1, and I understood, like caller on the telephone, that it was the brand font. We used it for section and department headings, but not for headlines.
There was an occasional use of Whiten Black and Whiten Black Condensed, which are now almost forgotten, were among the last new typefaces produced in metal by ATF in 1963. We sometimes mixed Whiten with Stymie Bold, another ATF typeface, and one that is often confused with Rockwell (Monotype), Memphis (Stempel, Linotype) and Karnak (Ludlow)—all mid-20th century slab serifs.
We deployed a number of Slabs that had bracketed serifs, that is with a little curve on the inside corners. They are often called Clarendons. The text face I wanted [see Part 1] was Ionic No. 5, a 1921 Linotype face that I still think is the ur-newspaper font. Of course Chauncey Griffith, the typographic development director of Linotype in its heyday, thought so too. He based on Ionic the Linotype Legibility series for newspapers.
LA used Egyptienne (which was called Egyptian Bold Condensed in the VGC catalog). It came the Amsterdam type foundry, and was in the Amsterdam Continental book, where I expect Walter Bernard found it for New York magazine.
For feature headlines, there was Haas Clarendon, which I knew from Letraset, an updated Clarendon that had some of the feeling of Helvetica. Mergenthaler Linotype acquired the Haas foundry, and made their Clarendon on the VIP. We used it sometimes for subheads, set with the text.
Fonts: For Egiziano, Monotype has digitized the 24-point drawing from unknown artwork. MyFonts offers a 36-point version by Dennis Ortiz Lopez, who worked at Rolling Stone after my time, and evidently used their copy of the Ryder font for reference. The real digital heir to Egiziano is David Berlow’s Giza, which comes in 16 weights.
Haas Clarendon and Stymie are available from the Monotype retail sites, but Whiten is gone. My favorite Clarendon is Egizio (from Nebiolo), and the most complete digital version was one of the first custom fonts made at Font Bureau, Belizio. Filling in for Whiten Black could be an earlier ATF slab, Egyptian Antique, a 1910 design that foretells these mid-century slabs. It was originally released by the Inland Type Foundry and was digitized by Mark Van Bronkhorst.
Sans: Sans Serifs Condensed, Franklin Gothic
The next step in the rapid evolution of commercial type design in the early 19th century was sans. While Caslon had put out a Sans Serif typeface in 1816 called Caslons Egyptian, the idea only caught on a century later.
This seems counterintuitive today, since on the web the simplest Sans faces are the most popular. Why wouldn’t the simplest forms come first? Well, they may have. There are “Sans” stone carvings of letterforms in Crete from the 7nd century BC. Archeological findings in the 18th century AD inspired London architects to put Sans inscriptions with classical Roman proportions on their neo-classical buildings. And these buildings inspired William Caslon for his annoyingly named “Egyptian.”
While the design world was getting caught up in Helvetica, I kept looking for types that were stronger, and funkier. Condensed Sans Serifs No. 1, an early 19th century design from Stephenson Blake, made me happy. A titling font (caps only), it found its way into the first issue of LA. VGC had a film font from 36-point proofs, the heaviest size. It was accompanied by its sister Sans Serifs Shaded, which I loved.
Fonts: There is one fugitive digital copy of Condensed Sans Serif No. 1, done by the notorious Cascraft some time ago, but I wouldn’t use it. Instead, there are the later. numbered grotesques from Stephenson Blake, which have been made into the stalwart 27-style Bureau Grot family by David Berlow. Or, there Alternate Gothic Condensed Black (and 39 other weights) from ATF. Or the old standby, ATF Railroad Gothic Medium, and four other weights. Thank you, again, Mark Van Bronkhorst. Thank you, again, David Berlow.
Looking back at LA, I am enjoying the combination of 19th century fonts. There are two that really make the visual brand: Egiziano and Condensed Sans Serifs No. 1. I wish that we had the Ionic No. 5 for text throughout; it would have tied everything together. The Moderns are even closer to this landmark fonts, even if the Bauer Bodoni looking too stylish for the “formatted” departments. It was calmer when we used the Linotype Bodoni there.
The Clarendon and Egyptienne fit nicely. Franklin, too, even if more 20th century than the other faces. (See the “My God” headline in Part 2.)
The experiments (Centaur or Futura Black) add energy, but I’m glad they were the exceptions. The wide mix of fonts was energetic enough.
After working on Rolling Stone, New York, and Esquire, myself, where the palettes were quite eclectic, I turned to smaller font libraries. Today the brand police would say One family!” But consulting for dozens of magazines and newspapers and websites over 30 years, I would usually pair two families, sometimes three to provide tonal range. (Viz: Los Angeles Times.) My reasoning was that you want the typography to be quickly recognizable, and not monotonous. In the boom years of publications, there was so much competition, you wanted a clear type brand. But today you can’t tell an opinion piece from a hard news story. Hell, sometimes you can’t tell the ads from the edit.
Today the playful eclecticism of LA looks fun. Maybe it is because the hundreds of web sites we see—each with just a few fonts—look too much alike. Too boring. Maybe it’s time to bring back all the type cases. And let the readers enjoy the typography!
A note from the writer: This is the final of four excerpts from a chapter about LA newspaper (1972) in my memoirs-in-progress, Lay It Out. I would be happy to hear your comments, corrections, and suggestions. Just click the Contact@ link at the foot of this page.
Part 1: A publication designer
Part 2: No. 1
Part 3: Living in LA