Sunday, 14 February 2010

A refuge in typography

When the words on the page are sad beyond reasoning, and the tragedy, injustice, and violence overwhelm the mind’s capacity to answer, and no certainty or security can be arrived at in thought, the typophile stops looking at the meanings contained in the words, and instead looks at the shapes.

Shapes of letters, of punctuation marks, arranged in neat rows. It’s like looking at a full bookshelf with the eyes of a bookbinder. Relieve yourself of the burden of content, and take pleasure in the æsthetics of abstract forms.

These headlines are taken from recent issues of the International Herald Tribune, which since its takeover by The New York Times has switched to using a Cheltenham typeface for headlines, sub-heads, and section titles.

The original Cheltenham was designed at the start of the 20th Century by American architect Bertram Goodhue, and combines qualities of sturdy engineering and decorativeness characteristic of that era’s pre-modernist modernity.

bertram grosvener goodhue cheltenham

A detailed history of Cheltenham (and several other significant typefaces) can be found in the excellent book, Anatomy of a Typeface by Alexander Lawson. Above, illustrations from that book: original sketches of Cheltenham by Bertram Grosvener Goodhue, and first showing of Cheltenham by American Type Founders Co., 1903.

cheltenham oldstyle

cheltenham italic

Many varieties of Cheltenham were produced, by a number of different foundries. The above specimens of Cheltenham Oldstyle and Cheltenham Italic come from the 1941 edition of The Book of American Types, ATF’s specimen book. The book also contains specimens of Cheltenham Medium, Cheltenham Medium Italic, Cheltenham Bold, Cheltenham Bold Italic, Cheltenham Bold Condensed, Cheltenham Bold Extra Condensed, Cheltenham Bold Extended, and Cheltenham Wide. This does not exhaust the list of Cheltenhams once available in metal. Here for example is a comparison of swash Cheltenham characters by ATF and Ludlow.

The most unusual letter in Cheltenham is the angular lower case ‘g’. There was however a version of the typeface which used a very different ‘g’, seen below in a specimen book, Linotype Faces and Hand Set Type, from the Peterson Linotype Company, 87-91 Plymouth Place, Chicago, 1907. (Elsewhere the book includes the standard Cheltenham ‘g’.)

While the ‘g’ in these Peterson samples is untypical, the curious ‘r’ comes from Bertram Grosvener Goodhue’s original design. Both the Oldstyle and Medium varieties of Cheltenham in ATF’s 1941 sample book include the alternate tall form of ‘r’.

Here’s a closer view of the complete character set of ATF’s Cheltenham Oldstyle. As far as I know, that tall ‘r’ is not to be found in any of the currently available digitisations of the font, nor do any of them include the ‘ff’, ‘ffi’, ‘ffl’, ‘Qu’ and ‘st’ ligatures.

The New York Times/International Herald Tribune digitisation is not commercially available. It’s the work of veteran type designer Matthew Carter, and includes a beautiful light version of the type for magazine use.


Oscar Grillo said...

So true, K!!!

kellie said...

Perhaps this is the ultimate hideaway from content, a specimen book for typefaces in a language I can't even sound out, never mind read and comprehend.