An Encyclopedic Survey of Type Design and Techniques Throughout History
Friedrich Friedl, Nicolaus Ott
and Bernard Stein
Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers
New York, 1998
This has got to be the typographic bargain of the year! This massive book-nearly 600 pages, over 2,000 illustrations in a 9.5" x 12" format-costs only $39.95.
This is not a typography textbook. It is the beginning of a reference work which demonstrates the interaction between craft and technology, theory and practice, between functional and experimental ideas. Friedrich Friedl, Nicolaus Ott and Bernard Stein have not delivered the ultimate book on typography (despite the implications of their subtitle), but it is a book full of engrossing information.
Friedl, Ott and Stein consider typography as a key component of culture and have divided Typography into the chronology, the persons and the institutions, the tools, and typefaces. the chronology, is a 66-page breeze through the history of writing from Raygun to the Assyrians. The chronology actually goes backward from the present. It is very disconcerting since it breaks the usual threads of influence. Fortunately, the illustrations are excellent and the summary descriptions of each "movement" are succinct and often sharply observed.
the persons and the institutions is a conventionally alphabetical (from A to Z) survey of important individuals, institutions and companies in typographic history. It is filled with people familiar and unfamiliar. Each entry is accompanied by several full-color examples of work at a reduced size typical of a small paperback. Why such relatively small illustrations in such a large format book? Because Typography is written in German, French and English. The ingenious design has the German text running across the top of each spread, the English text running along the bottom and the French text split between the left and right sides-the images are gathered in the well created in the middle. The texts are short, thumbnail summaries of each individual's career or each institution's history. Information prevails over opinion. The authors deliberately chose to avoid "biased" copy and the result is a dry recitation of fact. Despite the lack of gossip or personal tidbits, Typography is an excellent resource.
I was surprised to see Erich Meyer and Max Bittrof, designers of so-called Schaftstiefelgrotesk or "Nazi" typefaces; pleased to see many German and East European figures barely known in the United States (such as Werner Schneider, Xanti Schawinsky, Ernst Hiestand and Carl Keidel). Calligraphers are given their fair place alongside the latest typographic rock stars. For instance, one spread has an amusing mix of philosopher Jacques Lacan, type designer Gunther Gerhard Lange and calligrapher/ letter designer Jean Larcher. Of course, there are many deserving people missing and, not surprisingly-given the background of the authors, many are American. Among the missing are George Salter, Otto Storch, Art Chantry, Joseph Phinney, Arthur Baker, Richard Eckersley, Arnold Bank, Binney & Ronaldson, and D.B. Updike. (Nicolete Gray is also a casualty). This is not meant as serious kvetching because any undertaking of this nature will run into problems of omission due to space or time. However, there are numerous individuals included who are more famous for their graphic design work or illustration rather than their typography per se. Yet, in the final analysis, any book that includes the diversity of Barbara Kruger, Max Kisman, Amphiareo Vespasiano and Rudolf Hell must be recommended highly.
The tools section is disappointing. It runs from the hand-axe to the computer and includes some surprising "tools," such as fishbone and light, but there are no illustrations.
The list of typefaces-set very tiny so that the pages look like a telephone directory-is actually an index to typefaces mentioned in the main section on people and institutions. Designers are mentioned, but nothing more since foundry and date are presumably in the designer's entry.
One of the unfortunate consequences of the small images is that typefaces that are not shown as historical artifacts (as pages from specimen books or in text showings) tend to be too small to really appreciate their nuances.
The high quality of the illustrations, coupled with such a strong emphasis on graphic design, will make this book a useful resource for teachers of design history as well as those interested in typography and printing history. Since the authors indicate another edition is being contemplated, we should not only thank them for their enormous efforts, but point out their shortcomings. Typography unfortunately has a truly depressing cover design. This is definitely one time when you shouldn't judge a book by its cover.