Rule or Law

enne_son's picture

That's the title of a “sharply critical” Gerrit Noordzij essay Robin Kinross has recently put up on his Hyphen Press site to accompany its recent realease of the Christopher Burke book on Jan Tschichold. You can find the essay here

As Kinross says, it “tells a large truth about how teaching can happen, and how learning can happen.” It probably also has something important to say about what typophiles might strive for.

Peter Enneson

eliason's picture

"Fractions" in Fraktur - could that be a pun?!

dezcom's picture

Any way you cut it, fractions could be a pun :-)


dezcom's picture

"like calypso"

'My Ding-a-Ling' :-)


Giampa's picture

William: "It reminds of a concert I saw with the great rock guitarist Chuck Berry. That time he played a lot of guitar, and played different kinds of music, like calypso, show tunes, etc. I don’t remember what the different songs were. But what was striking is that they all sounded like Chuck Berry. He has such a strong and individual style, it just stamps everything he touches."

A valuable comparison to the "sound" of Caslon's work.

Caslon did not cut punches from patterns. Patterns were used in the much later mechanical punch cutting innovations, not by hand punch cutters. Drawings were, "but not always" used by punch cutters. Let me compare my own approach to typographical design to that of Jim Rimmer's. Jim would draw his page with the very spirit and feeling of his finished product. I never used drawings (layouts) I designed in the type stick, or with fleurons on a galley. If I do say myself, and I do, typographical compositions found in my stick were "not too shabby"

It is unknown, some even have doubts, including myself, that Caslon began with drawings. In fact the Caslon Foundry, or Foundery, if you prefer, which I do, survived into the twentieth century with punches and matrices intact. But no sign of drawings to my knowledge, and I asked the Caslon Foundery. They offered this very theory.

That is important hear-say evidence drawing me towards significant doubt that Caslon worked from master drawings.

Also, Caslon was not so much cutting a "type face" as he was a "type size". Caslon had a very natural gift for intuitive optical scaling. Some characters, Italic "&" show great departures. One may also note the upper-case "A" changing in design in the original Caslon. Then start looking closely at the other characters.

However all sizes, represent the work of Caslon. All have the same sound, but no two sizes are identical.

By the way, I believe Baskervilled was greatly influenced by Caslon. However the reasons for "non slavish imitation" has yet to be discussed.

In 1723 Baskervill taught writing and became a skilled engraver of tombstones. Caslon was a gun lock engraver, and importantly a bookbinding tool stamping engraver. In other words Caslon was a skilled punchcutter before beginning his business endeavor. Although Baskerville and Caslon were engaged in remotely similar industries they possessed very different disciplines. So one should anticipate notable differences in spite of Baskerville's stated emulation.

Which brings me to the word "emulate" mentioned previously, the one that both John and William have sparred with.

One of the early definitions of emulation is to: (Oxford) "Try to equal or excel; rival;".

A further consideration is the two distinctly different personalities,

Baskerville: "He invented his own lustrous, uniquely black, opaque ink; he was the first to exploit commercially James Whatman’s invention of wove paper, which was much smoother than the traditional laid paper; and he modified the printing process by using heated copper cylinders to dry the ink before it had time to soak too far into the paper. All of these innovations enabled Baskerville to produce printed work of an elegance, crispness and clarity never seen before."

Baskerville was a very inventive book printer not so much a type founder. Baskerville did not emulated Caslon's business model. While Baskerville's workmanship was excellent "the trade not so excellent", or should I say "fussy". The trade had "work to do" and whiskey to drink.

Caslon was a type founder selling to the trade, and sell he did. His foundery produced Caslon Old Face for well over two hundred years. I sold and set tons of Caslon Oldstyle over the years, not a pound or a setting of Baskerville although I offered both.

Baskerville I find more of a curio typeface and compare it with my interest with souvenir spoons. I hate souvenir spoons.

Nick Shinn's picture

Now that you mention it Gerald, I haven't worked from or with drawings since I got the hang of working directly in Fontographer in 1995.
The only time I have recently put pen to paper for a type design was to write the "script" version of Panoptica.
Nonetheless, I have produced 5" high pen and ink finished art for types, in the 1980s.
I surmise that Caslon et al would have had an idea of what they wanted to do, made that idea a reality in metal, and checked it out in a "smoke" proof. Does that seem reasonable?
If one has drawn or written letterforms at some point, I suspect that is an action which is remembered, and informs subsequent work.

Giampa's picture

Firstly hello Nick.

Nick: “The only time I have recently put pen to paper for a type design was to write the “script” version of Panoptica.

Nonetheless, I have produced 5” high pen and ink finished art for types, in the 1980s."

That comment is interesting. I would bet Jim Rimmer still draws his type face first. You don’t want to bet do you? So there seems to be an agreement that there are "several approaches to the same problem". The results one would expect to be influenced by the methods used. My rule is to work in methods that give comfort. I think we all try to do that. I wonder how many digital type designers draw first?

Nick: "I surmise that Caslon et al would have had an idea of what they wanted to do, made that idea a reality in metal, and checked it out in a “smoke” proof. Does that seem reasonable?”

That is what the Caslon Foundery expressed.

Also “Smoke proofs were instant and clean”. Smoke proofs were an established function of the punch cutting industry by the time Caslon began his work. Even the Lanston Monotype Machine Company of Philadelphia used smoke proofs in the initial punch cutting process.

Nick Shinn's picture

Hello Gerald!

I wonder how many digital type designers draw first?

In 2006 I saw Luc de Groot (Graphika) and Cyrus Highsmith (TypeCon) give presentations in which they showed pages from their sketchbooks -- with both an almost diary-like habit -- which included cartoons, writing, and sketches for typeface ideas.

I suspect that a lot of typed designers today do rough sketches, but I wouldn't like to bet.
I also don't believe that the absence of extant rough sketches by Caslon, Baskerville et al is any proof that they didn't do them.
I'm afraid I missed Jim Rimmer's talk at the Type Club of Toronto -- I was out of the country at the time -- perhaps he revealed his working methods then. Maybe Richard Kegler knows.

John Hudson's picture

Nick: I also don’t believe that the absence of extant rough sketches by Caslon, Baskerville et al is any proof that they didn’t do them.

More to the point, in the case of Baskerville would we be able to distinguish such 'rough sketches' from any number of other sheets of neo-classical formal lettering? We should also bear in mind that, unlike Caslon, and despite his experience as an engraver, Baskerville did not cut his own punches. So he must have provided John Handy with some kind of model to follow.

dezcom's picture

Hey Giampa! Good to see you about once more! Hope all is well with you.


John Hudson's picture

Gerald: Baskerville I find more of a curio typeface...

I don't think Baskerville's types are at all curios in the context of English neo-classical book design; indeed, it is hard to imagine such design without them, and all the other types of the style -- Bell and Bulmer, for instance -- are heavily indebted to Baskerville even if they are, in many respects, more useful typefaces.

I think 'Baskerville', as a revival, becomes a curio, or worse, when taken out of that design context. I'm almost always disappointed when I pick up a book to read and discover that it is set in ITC New Baskerville, because it is usually about 11pt, on a fairly wide measure, with tight linespacing. In other words, generic modern book production, into which Baskerville has been inserted without any regards for the particular character of the typeface: typography as random font selection.

I wonder, Gerald, if a customer had come to you asking for something to be set in Baskerville, how would you have approached the design? It seems to me that you had a real mastery with Caslon, and given your interests in pattern and ornament I suspect your tastes and methods tend naturally toward the baroque. How do you think using Baskerville might have affected your approach to the design? There is, I think, enough of the oldstyle in Caslon to be married convincingly with Granjon's fleurons, for example, but I doubt if that style of ornamentation would work at all well alongside Baskerville, because they belong to entirely different aesthetics.

Giampa's picture


"I don’t think Baskerville’s types are at all curios in the context of English neo-classical book design; indeed, it is hard to imagine such design without them, and all the other types of the style — Bell and Bulmer, for instance — are heavily indebted to Baskerville even if they are, in many respects, more useful typefaces."

"English neo-classical book design;"––pseudoclassical/neo-classical, I consider that movement "faux", don't you?

"it is hard to imagine such design without them,"––That would have been a good thing.

Look–I have used Bodoni which is even more extreme, but in my opinion, a far superior work to the others. Fleurons were not employed, rules were, printed on Carlyle Japan a bright white paper. The second colour after black was out–of–the–ink–pot warm red.

I was out of my elements other than craftsmanship and a vague idea about design. I was not embarrassed by the design but was not encouraged by the type face enough to chew cud. Although I am responsible for Bodoni 26.

What faces do I lean toward? Well I don't mind Pastonchi, Cochin, Garamond and many Goudy faces. I was known as the typographer that made Goudy look good. I thought Goudy made me look good. In my hot metal days I would have happily employed some of Jim Rimmer's faces. But the most beautiful face, in my opinion, is Centaur.

Bruce Rogers, come to think of it, was pretty handy with fleurons in his own book designs. Did I mention–Caslon cut ornaments for book binders before he became a typefounder.

Your observations on my work has made me ponder. There was harmony in my work, however somewhat accidental if taste is not counted. I was using Caslon long before I discovered fleurons. I easily recognized my gift with ornaments, possibly a genetic one from my great–grandfather who was the King's weaver. I don't care about Kings, but appreciate excellent weaving.

I think Baskerville would have kept me awake at night wondering what to use in the way of fleurons, but call me crazy, I think Bodoni would work with art-deco ornaments. Perhaps I should give it a try.

Sorry that I don't like what I don't like.

Chris, hello to you. I think of you every time I cook saganaki.

Nick Shinn's picture

One of the most noteworthy uses of Baskerville that I've come across is in Fortune magazine from the 1930s. It's the only typeface used-- display, text, sidebars and captions; most of the editorial content is printed on thick rag paper with lots of gain, but some is on coated gloss, the same spec but a greatly different effect.

William Berkson's picture

Popper's 'Conjectures and Refutations' (his best book) is in Monotype Baskerville, I think. It is a somewhat larger format book, and the width of the Baskerville helps with the wider measure. I always thought it looked quite nice.

I try to separate personal taste from what is better and worse design. Personally, I don't particularly like modernist taste, but I recognize that there are good modernist designs and bad. Same with Victorian.

With neoclassical, Baskerville is one of the good ones if you ask me. It is really beautifully thought through and executed. I do think it's a tiny bit wider than ideal as far as readability, but that may be just prejudice on my part.

Giampa's picture

I suppose Baskerville is not all bad.

William Berkson's picture

Gerrit Noordzij was kind enough to e-mail me scans of a piece of hand written calligraphy from 1605 and an engraving of the same piece. [I have reduced their size to fit in the Typophile window.]

Here is the original handwriting of Jan van den Velde,

and the here is an engraving of it by Frysius.

As is obvious, these are extremely close.

He also refers me to his last chapters in Letterletter, where he discusses Mannerist writers and the engraving of their writing. Both he and scholar Amy N. Worthen, whom he quotes at length, argue, convincingly, that engraving did not influence writing, but the other way around.

The question of whether changes in aesthetic ideals were driving changes in writing and writing instruments is still an open one, at least for me.

As to the specific issue of the influence of the flexible, pointed pen on Baskerville, as I have said, I am now convinced my initial idea about Baskerville in this thread was wrong. Furthermore, Gerald Giampa makes a good point that Baskerville may have meant by 'emulate' that he was trying to equal or excel Caslon, not that he was imitating him.

As to the influence of the typographic ideal on Baskerville, I do think that this is still sound. I don't think that the typographic writing of Shelley and Bickham posted by John could have ever been done had not Jenson and Griffo earlier established a specifically typographic look for roman type. This includes the uprightness, regularity of design, and violation of broad pen rules for the sake of greater evenness of color.

Baskerville does use the pointed pen line in his arches and round to stem joins, but he introduces these changes in line with restraint, and in the service of a very rigid, upright design that breathes the spirit of past roman type. John and James may not like the term 'transitional', and it is in a way unfair to Baskerville as he was not fumbling toward a different solution, but realizing his own coherent ideas. Nevertheless, compared to Didot and Bodoni, the use of the pointed pen line--changes in expansion largely independent from direction--Baskerville is a lot more restrained and limited. In that sense it seem to me fair to say that Baskerville is a transition to those who used the expansion-contraction line more fully in their types.

dberlow's picture

"Here is the original handwriting of Jan van den Velde,"
I have trouble calling this "handwriting". Is it really?

William Berkson's picture

>Is it really?

Noordzij calls it handwriting. In the context of his book, I think this means that the letters are not built up, but written with a moving pen making the whole line. The mannerists, he says, twisted the pen, which I guess is responsible for the different angles of the ends of the flourishes. Whether he had to lift the pen off the paper and join a new line with old ones to make those extended loops, I don't know.

Nick Shinn's picture

I wonder if he (the calligrapher) used a light box for tracing roughs.
Certainly, he would have had to plan the whole thing out in advance, building up the design.
I've done this kind of thing, and it's very difficult to leave exactly the right amount of space between flourishes to accomodate future passes of the pen.
Probably used an erasable medium, like graphite. What kind of eraser?

And how would the engraver have transferred the image to plate, before engraving?
One way would be to draw on the back with graphite, and then rub that onto the plate.
So a light box (or window) would come in handy.
You couldn't just lay a "carbon black" sheet between the drawing and the plate, and go over the writing with a hard implement, because the image needs to be reversed onto the plate.

Nick Shinn's picture

This "which came first?" argument is so chicken/egg.

Different forms of letter are easier to execute in different media.
Sure, writing masters and engravers could do stiff, discrete, regular lettering that looked like type, and dress it up with fine details that typographers had difficulty matching. But it was a laborious and awkward process to make it look slick.

And sure, type founders could incorporate the graceful finesse of lettering and engraving into their work, and add a cool mechanical gloss (Baskerville's innovations with paper and ink technology certainly helped) that calligraphers had difficulty matching, but it was a laborious and awkward process to make it look slick.

Each medium provided a challenge and a stimulus to the virtuosos of the other, and it was only natural that those accomplished at both should, at the conceptual level of design, elide distinctions—if they wanted to; it seems a bit derogatory to assume that those excellent artisans and creative geniuses weren't aware of and actively engaged with the issues involving the various media of their day, and only worked intuitively in a state of subject technological determinism.

William Berkson's picture

>a bit derogatory to assume that those excellent artisans and creative geniuses weren’t aware of and actively engaged with the issues involving the various media of their day, and only worked intuitively in a state of subject technological determinism.

Thanks, Nick, well put! That's what I've been uneasy with in Gerrit Noordzij's account of the development of writing and type. His analysis of the influence of writing sheds wonderful light on the history. But there were a lot of other influences and creative response to them was going on as well, and these drive the development as well.

enne_son's picture

Nick, it's not which came first, it's what sets the pattern.

But yes, each medium does provide a challenge and a stimulus to the virtuosos of the other, and it's only natural that those accomplished at both should, at the conceptual level of design, elide contrast schemes, and play with intensification and reduction of contrast amount. The type-involved are creatively engaged with issues involving the various media of the day, and work intuitively in a state of subject-technological co-determination or exchange.

Bill, lots of things influenced the development of writing and type, but not all of them effected fundamental differences in the basic shape-logic of the strokes.

William Berkson's picture

>not all of them effected fundamental differences in the basic shape-logic of the strokes.

Yes, but what drove that change? In the discussion of Mannerist writing Gerrit Noordzij says in Letterletter that the mannerist pen was broad, but flexible. I'm guessing that this was a step to the pointed, flexible pen. From what I read, it seems one could make all of these--broad, mannerist and pointed--from a goose feather and a pen knife. So there wasn't any technical limitation as to why people didn't create and use this kind of pen earlier. Did they modify the pens because they wanted a more florid, dramatic style? Was this related to changes in the decorative arts generally? I would guess 'yes'.

And if the pen is driving everything, why was there was a reaction against the high-contrast vertical stress types toward the end of the nineteenth century? It is said that the publication of Lady Willoughby's Diary, the first revival of Caslon, and of any type, was a sensation in 1844. Many people found it more readable than the high contrast types that had come to dominate printing. and by the end of the century in English speaking countries there was a tide of 'old styles' that continued into the 1930s.

And you had Edward Johnston taking up the broad pen in England, IIRC, and doing old, pre-flexible pen writing. And you had Morris reviving Jenson, or trying to. Was everyone suddenly forced to write with a broad pen and then designers helplessly followed? No. But society was changing--first the industrial revolution, and then reaction to its bad side.

The pen was an important part of the story, but was type design a prisoner of the history of the pen? I really don't think that's tenable, because writing is part of a broader culture--visual, technological, social, and the change in writing instruments are themselves part of that.

For example, one of the technical changes was Baskerville's improvements of inks and printing methods. Again, I don't know, but I would guess that this did help inspire Bodoni and Didot to do what they did *in type*. For the pen's ductus didn't change between Baskerville and Bodoni, so far as I have heard--and I'm sure John will correct me if I'm wrong!

enne_son's picture

Bill, I don't see why my or Gerrit Noordzij’s saying thst the contrast native to the flexible-nibbed pointed pen set the pattern and was responsible for fundamental change, should be taken as suggesting the pen is driving everything, or that the type designer is a prisoner of the history of the pen or that nothing else matters.

Ultimately we don't know what drove the change besides an understanding of the logic and a proliferation of things that expressed this logic, either artificially or by the choice of tool. All we know for sure is that fundamental — epochal — change happened and in what direction. And that it became a basis for more dramatic modulation in the direction of the change, some if it pushing toward a stall- or breaking-point. And that there is a kind of fit with other elements inside the culture whose character it co-defined amd whose strictures ultimately became oppressive. And that there is a fit between how far intensification of contrast was pushed, and what it became possible to hold in print.

enne_son's picture


Getting a handle on the nature of the change — epecially when it is fundamental — doesn't knock out relevant factors, it just falls them into place.

John Hudson's picture

Bill, as Peter says, no one is claiming that the pen, per se, drives everything. But in the area of text creation, within cultures in which large amounts of documents were being written rather than typeset, writing tended to set the aesthetic agenda for text because it has the advantages of speed and economy, i.e. writing could respond to and express changes in fashion and cultural tastes more quickly than typography. I think James' point about the importance of manuscript document production to the imperial project of 18th Century England creating a situation in which the writing masters could directly influence the direction of the typographic culture is well made. [How's that for an unpunctuated sentence!]

It is quite typical for aesthetic movements to become increasingly virtuoso and extreme in their expressions, eventually prompting reaction and either revolutionary developments or revivals of previous aesthetic. Both revolution and revival happened in response to the decline of neo-classicism into the hackneyed art of the academy and the decreasing quality of industrial production. In painting, for example, the reaction was largely revolutionary -- impressionism, pos-impressionism, cubism --, excepting the Preraphaelites (who were, of course, associated with William Morris); in the text culture the reaction was revivalist and, as you note yourself, it involved equivalent revivals in both writing and typography, as both returned to renaissance models.

The Caslon revival of the mid-19th Century is a kind of odd blip: a sign of dissatisfaction with what was happening in the increasingly high-contrast types, but not a wholesale programme of reform of the text culture as undertaken at the end of the century by Johnston, Morris, Cobden Sanderson, et al (which also, of course, had equivalents in other countries around the same time, indicating a much broader cultural shift than printing some books in Caslon). Much Victorian typography continued to be bad after 1844, and the so-called Caslon revival doesn't seem to me to have been particularly broad. I recently read a novel published in the 1870s with two narrow columns of justified 9pt scotch roman on each page.

Speaking of the Caslon revival, which was begun by Charles Whittingham's Chiswick Press, you should try to find something printed in Caslon by the Chiswick Press from the first few years of the 20th century. The type is a large Caslon heavily overinked and sunk deeply into thick rag paper in emulation of the new styles made popular by the Kelmscott and Ashendene presses.

By the way, yes you can cut the shape of a pointed split nib in a feather quill, but it won't last very long. The fibres of the feather are nicely flexible, but they don't rebound well and the finer they are cut the weaker they become: the two sides of the split will splay and the pen will be useless. Steel provides the ideal combination of flexibility, strength and durability.

William Berkson's picture

John, you write "no one is claiming that the pen, per se, drives everything."

That may be an exaggeration of Gerrit Noordzij's view, but is only a slight exaggeration. His view is clearest in a summary article, "The Shape of the Stroke", which Peter was kind enough to send me some time ago. It contains information also in Noordzij's book "The Stroke", which as you know Peter translated--thanks Peter! It is particularly concise in expressing Noordzij's views. Here is the abstract:

1. Design Shapes Human Life.
2. A civilization is a mode of design.
3. The primitive artifact (the 'DNA' of a civilization) is the single stroke of writing.
4. The stroke is a shape.
5. It is defined by a description of its two dimensions.

The first sentence of the first section:

"Western civilization is the cultural society which is communicating in Western writing." (Italics are Noordzij's.) And then at the end of that paragraph he repeats: "Writing is the cultural paradigm." And note that writing and print are not the same thing for Noordzij.

My reading of this, which I think is a reasonable interpretation, is that western civilization hangs on the stroke of the pen. This is reinforced by Noordzij's dark forebodings that Western civilization is threatened by not teaching children handwriting.

This is what I am objecting to as exaggerated. I think that since the introduction of printing, and the achievements of Jenson and Griffo in readability of type, changes in handwriting have been stylistic changes that have reflected, rather than fundamentally changed the culture. Printing has been central to Western culture since then, and writing important, but increasingly less so since the introduction of the typewriter. Notice "type" writer.

To take the analogy of the dog wagging the tail, not the other way around: Changes in writing have been the tail of the dog of larger cultural changes. The tail of writing styles have not been wagging the dog of culture. This is not true of printing: printing was and is the dog, changing civilization. And now printing (not writing!) on the screen is a new cultural force.

So John, do you think I am misreading Noordzij? Do you agree with everything he writes above as not exaggerating the importance of hand writing?

enne_son's picture

Bill, I will acknowledge that Gerrit Noordzij likes to make stark, compact, unqualified, arresting, and superficially outlandish, often playful but serious-at-the-same-time statements.

In the section that you quote, Noordzij also says “there is much more to say about Western Civilization,” adding “but nothing could be more precise and concise than the simple statement of the first sentence; writing is the cultural paradigm.”

To get part of what this means, let’s emphasize is and the. Writing is the cultural paradigm. Isn't the core of what this says that what happens in writing — that is, to the stroke — is pre-eminantly representative of what happens in a culture?

For example, isn't romanticism an intensification of the polarities existing in Neoclassicism, exactly like Bodoni represents an intensification of the contrast of Baskerville, while retaining the model it is based on?

This reading is supported by Noordzij saying in the second to last sentence, “Here again the paradigm of writing offers a suitable model for social processes, the development of science included…” He says this after suggesting ‘increased articulation’ “represents the trend to formalized establishment,” and this process “provokes the informal reactions which want to be formalized again in a new establishment."

Do you think Noordzij’s making the stroke of writing paradigmatic represents an intention to ask us to see it as causatively originary across each and every board?

I‘ll ask if I'm allowed to post my pdf of the paper.

John Hudson's picture

Bill: Nevertheless, compared to Didot and Bodoni, the use of the pointed pen line—changes in expansion largely independent from direction—Baskerville is a lot more restrained and limited. In that sense it seem to me fair to say that Baskerville is a transition to those who used the expansion-contraction line more fully in their types.

But what you are describing here is the relationship of neo-classicism to romanticism, which was paralleled in pretty much every area of western culture as the 18th Century gave way to the 19th. Yes, one can in retrospect consider Mozart's music as a transition to Beethoven, but is that fair to Mozart? It certainly doesn't tell you anything about what motivated Mozart or about the musical context in which he created his compositions. The typographic category 'transitional' marginalises neo-classicism.

John Hudson's picture

Bill, as I wrote earlier, I'd rather have an argument or discussion between you and me than have you arguing with Noordzij through me. When I wrote 'no one is making the claim...' I meant no one actively participating in this discussion.

I'm going to step aside from the recent topics of discussion here and talk about something that I think might put Noordzij's typically provocative comments into a proper perspective. Ironically, this takes us right back to the original topic of this thread, because, in his critique of Tschichold, Noordzij comes straight out and describes his pedagogical method: which is to present seemingly absolute statements (laws) as a starting point for exploration and discussion. The aside I want to make is to drag in Plato, Popper and Gadamer. Popper considers Plato one of the primary enemies of the open society, because he reads The Republic, as many others have done, as a sociopolitical programme. That is, he reads it as a philosophical treatise on government, akin to many subsequent treatises in the history of western political thought. Gadamer, though, teaching classical philology during the Nazi period because it was safer than philosophy, comes to the realisation that the Platonic dialogues have to be seen in the context of the Platonic academy, i.e. not as treatises but as teaching aids, as works that were composed as a basis for discussion. Plato isn't laying out a programme of ideal government, he's teaching, by example of dialogue, how to talk about government. Similarly, I don't think Noordzij's writings should be separated from Noordzij's teaching, and should also be seen in the context of his pedagogical method. I have little doubt that Noordzij considers teaching more important that writing (in the authorial sense), and the books and essays only exist as teaching aids.

William Berkson's picture

Peter, I take Gerrit Noordzij here as using the word 'paradigm' in the sense introduced by Thomas Kuhn, a sense which is now very widespread. A 'paradigm' in this Kuhn's sense is a model that is applied to many other situations, and hence help to generate new results. It is a causative factor, not simply a representative.

I think the fact that Noordzij starts this abstract by saying that "design *shapes* life" indicates that he sees writing and writing styles as driving forces in civilization.

enne_son's picture

Bill how I interpret Noordzij reflects what I take from what he says. I do not know how to take some of what he says. My interpretive strategy is to suspend my disbelief, and ask: in what sense can what is said be true? You ask: in what sense is it false? Noordzij, meanwhile is interested in finding out how far his a priori can take him.

William Berkson's picture

>I’d rather have an argument or discussion between you and me than have you arguing with Noordzij through me. When I wrote ’no one is making the claim...’ I meant no one actively participating in this discussion.

John, when you wrote 'no one is claiming', for you to exclude Noordzij is very odd, since you are referring to my words, in which I was clearly and explicitly discussing his views, which are the topic of this thread.

As to the question of how to take Noordzij's strong claims, I think he is pretty clear in this essay on his intentions, both as a scholar and teacher. He puts these theories forward seriously--as claims to the truth--but not dogmatically. That is a wonderful spirit, and it is not simply as an 'exercise' to stimulate student's brains, but an effort to advance closer to the truth. I think he, like Popper, wants us to take seriously his views as attempts at true description, and to criticize and improve them if possible. Fortunately, unlike Popper, he seems to be also personally happy with that critical discussion of the views he has advanced.

Plato was serious--contra Gadamer--and dogmatic. But that is a topic really too far afield to get into it.

enne_son's picture

Bill, because I don't know how to take the sentence in the abstract that you quote from, I've re-read the essay you refer to.

To find out what Noordzij means when he says “design shapes human life,” or “a civiliztion is a mode of design” you have to look at what he does.

What Noordzij does is define civiliztions, the cultures that exist within them, their beginings and endings, by attending to what happens in it's writing, that is, what happens to the stroke. So for instance ‘his’ “Middle Ages” “begin in the 7th century when an Irish scribe invented the word,” and he defines the Middle Ages as the period of increasing contrast.

According to Noordzij, “the new unit of writing could be strengthened by reducing the white shapes between the letters which demanded a corresponding reduction of the white shapes within the letters. During the Middle Ages the size of the letters in respect to the width of the pen was gradually reduced.” He continues: “I have never found something like a mediaeval mood which fosters this process. It is more sensible to understand Middle Ages as the name of this process.

Noordzij does the same kind of thing for other epochs as well, up until the 20th century. And he begins to show that what happened with contrast through the space of the period is representative of what happened, or paradigmatic.

Middle Ages as the name of this process. That is all that is claimed. And that is all design ‘shaping’ human life should be taken to mean, or so, at least I think.

The statements are all about identity, definition and paradigmaticity; his Middle Ages, Mannerism, Classicism. Baroque. There is nothing about causation, or a driving force. And his may not correspond exactly to yours or that of the others.

enne_son's picture

Here with Gerrit Noordzij’s permission is a downloadable version my pdf of the paper Bill refers to and he and I have been arguing about. It comes from Robert A. Morris and Jacques André (ed.), Raster imaging and digital typography 2: papers from the second RIDT meeting, held in Boston, October 14-16, 1991 New York, 1991.

Noordzij informs me that the essential part is the part about the picture of his father, and that Maxim Zukov showed him that he made mistakes in the lay-out of the squares.

William Berkson's picture

The analogy to the picture does help. The idea he explains there is that the picture of his father is more representative than his interests and books.

That clarifies in what sense Noordzij thing that "writing is the cultural paradigm." It is a representative, and reveals essential characteristics of a culture--rather than creating them.

That may be true, but I still have a problem with writing being "the" cultural paradigm. Confucius said something like: "Show me the dance and music of a culture, and I will tell you its character." And he was right.

The larger point is that the current cultural products of a society at any given time to a remarkable extent share the same 'DNA'. In the visual arts, for example, you see a resonance between architecture and letters.

It is true that some cultural products are most characteristic of a culture at a given time. In this respect, if you wanted to have a graphic representative of Europe in 1500, I think it would not be scribal hand writing, but a printed page of Aldus. And the departures of type from hand writing would be a small but not insignificant part of that paradigm.

eliason's picture

Confucius said something like: “Show me the dance and music of a culture, and I will tell you its character.” And he was right.

"There is no doubt that this urge towards generalization gave the art history confined within this scheme grandiose perspectives. Wölfflin brought this out graphically when he declared that one can as easily gain an impression of the specific form of the Gothic style from a pointed shoe as from a cathedral. However, the more critics learnt in this way to see in a pointed shoe what they were accustomed to seeing in a cathedral, or to see in a cathedral what a shoe could perhaps have told them, the more they lost sight of the elementary fact that a shoe is something slips on to go outside, whereas a cathedral is a place one goes into to pray. And who would deny that this, so to speak, pre-artistic functional differentiation constituting the essential different between two objects, arising from man's use of different tools for distinct purposes, is a factor which plays a decisive part in their artistic formation, giving rise to aesthetic differences in formal content in relation to the observer?"

- Edgar Wind, 1930

William Berkson's picture

>man’s use of different tools for distinct purposes is a factor which plays a decisive part in their artistic formation

Yes of course. It isn't a question of either-or, but both-and. Both the functionality of what is being designed and the aesthetic biases of the day play a role in the final product.

My point was a different one: that written letter forms are only one indication of a culture. Noordzij has given us valuable insights into pen strokes as cultural indicators. These are, however, not the only ones, nor necessarily the most indicative or influential ones.

enne_son's picture

Bill, regarding Aldus’s part of Europe in 1500, I think the point is, what happens to the stroke of the scribal hand in the printed printed page of Aldus is paradigmatic. And thus puts you in touch with fundamental aspects of the culture.

William Berkson's picture

>the point is

But *my* point is that Aldus's page shifted the paradigm, as Harry Carter, Morrison and others have said. And it was shifted away from the stroke of the scribal hand, as it violated the rules of that hand--if as I suspect the type resembles latter type in the tricks to get more even rhythm and color.

Gerrit Noordzij in Letterletter does acknowledge some change in Jenson from the scribal hand. However, he ascribes this to what is cut "more easily" in a punch (p. 96). Here is the nub of my disagreement. I suspect that was was going on, at least by the time of Griffo, is deliberate changes to achieve a purpose of higher readability than what the scribes achieved. Furthermore, this movement away from writing continued, I suspect, up to at least Garamond.

In order to make this case I will have to get high resolution scans, which I don't have time to do now. However, that movement away from the scribal hand is where I suspect Noordzij's story--and John Hudson's has an important missing theme.

By the way, I broke down and picked up a pointed, flexible steel pen and dipped it in ink and tried to draw an approximation of a Baskerville 'n'. I was taken aback that the pen did drew pretty much exactly Baskerville's line.

The source of my blunder on this is that I was thinking of the pointed pen as the 'generalized pen' that Noordzij describes, with translation, rotation and expansion in any direction. But the pointed pen is more restricted in how it draws on up strokes and side strokes. So it has a characteristic stroke that I wasn't aware of. Or as John Hudson put it--rather ungenerously--that I was 'blind' to. Thus Baskerville didn't just violate the broad pen, he violated it in a way that is characteristic of the pointed, flexible pen.

enne_son's picture

Bill, did Griffo have a problem with the readability of what the scribes achieved?

I prefer to think of what was going on as formalization — or re-formaliztation, if he didn't like how his contemporaries were going about it — and the introduction of critical norm violations to make the new technology with it's new constraints as workable a technology of text transmition (in text presentational terms) as what preceded it, and it was starting to replace.

What prevents your claim about Griffo’s motives from being anachronistic? How do we know for instance, that our assessments of greater readability in Griffo aren't reflective of our preferences and conditioning, rather than of real affordances?

“Thus Baskerville didn’t just violate the broad pen, he violated it in a way that is characteristic of the pointed, flexible pen.”


William Berkson's picture

Peter, at the moment I only have Harry Carter's book, which doesn't have large pictures of Jenson and Griffo's type. However, he does have a big picture of Garamond's type, which I think will suffice to make my point. Here it is, a fresh printing type made from Garamond's original matrices of the Gros Canon size:

What we can see here is the kind of optical correction that is documented here by Briem. The O overshoots compared to the H. That might have been done by scribes, but not the increase in the weight of the vertical curve of the D compared to the stem of the D. If it were drawn by a pen of fixed width, the horizontal width of the D curve would be the same as the stem.

Also the diagonals don't follow 'pen' rules. If the pen were held at a fixed angle, corresponding to the slope of the head serifs, then the diagonals would be thicker. But the fat diagonal on the x is about the same as the vertical of the h, not thicker. (That's not documented by Briem, but is common in type.) And the Z and z have the stress reversed from what a written Z would have with the pen held at a constant angle--a thick, not a thin. The bottom curve on the c and c look thicker than the horizontal at mid-height, but it they are actually the same, not thicker. They rely on optical illusion to get the appearance of thickness.

Furthermore, the small, delicate the serifs also may not follow what can be done with the pen, but are rescaled because of the designer's ideas, not the pen.

Also Noordzij himself notes that Garamond may have occasionally curved his outside corners in larger sizes, and that may have been "intended to look like enlargings of the printed small sizes." (Noordzij's emphasis)

Garamond may have been influenced by the rising mannerist tide, though Bringhurst, at least, categorizes him as "high Renaissance," not mannerist.

Peter, you may call this "regularization" and may debate whether it was done for aesthetic or readability reasons. My point is that whatever the reason it violates pen rules, and is a critical departure from the pen, in favor of the eye.

Another important factor here is spacing and width of characters. If you look at the example of formal humanist writing that John posted on Sept. 23, above, you will see that the spacing and the width of characters varies continually. If you look at Jenson or Griffo, as well as Garamond, there is a strikingly different rhythm. Part of this was no doubt that they had to decide on one width for all the 'n's, for example. And in general there had to be sufficient space to put one piece of type next to the other, with a wide enough 'beard' to keep the type physically strong. But these physical constraints I think pushed them to creatively think: what are the best proportions and spacing for the lower case? And here they came up with a pattern that was not an imitation of writing but decisively different and more readable.

My overall point here is not that Noordzij is wrong about the huge influence of the pen. I acknowledged his innovative insights at the beginning, and now I see he is even more right than I realized earlier. However, he does neglect another important part of the story, which is specifically typographic, and is different from or actually contradicts the patterns of the pen writing. These I have sketched a little bit of here.

enne_son's picture

“Furthermore, this movement away from writing continued, I suspect, up to at least Garamond.” [Bill]

Is the movement in Griffo away from “translation,” the contrast type charactersistic of the broad-nibbed pen? Are the norm-violations ‘essential,’ and ‘genotypical’? Or do they represent feature-manipulational adjustments upon a translational frame.

So if the translation model for apportioning contrast is retained — and that, I think is the definition of the old characterization Old Style or Ancienne — is it right to speak of a movement away from writing in any essential sense?

I wonder if, in other words, the characterization “away from writing” and “toward readability” is, to use Nick’s term derogatory and probably insensitive to our own conditioning.

William Berkson's picture

>Are the norm-violations ‘essential,’ and ‘genotypical’?

I think 'yes'.

I would have to get a broad pen and try to write over Garamond to test it out properly. But I don't see how you can get a wider vertical arch on the D than the stem of the D by translation, and no rotation or expansion. You will have to do rotation, at the very least, and then the question would be, why are you doing it, when they didn't before? Optically a fatter arch balances better with a vertical stem. Why ignore that as a driving factor? It also ends up with more even color as a result, which, carried through systematically, is better for readability.

But the spacing issues don't have to do with the 'ductus' anyway. The point is, Noordzij's categories of 'ductus' aren't sufficient to capture important features of the development of type design. Visual features concerning optical balance, even color, spacing and rhythm are different variables, and are critical.

Noordzij does have interesting insights into optical effects, but he doesn't integrate these into his history, so far as I remember.

enne_son's picture

Bill, in the Garamond lower case you show above, the pattern of contrast is massively set by the translation paradigm. This does not depend on each and every characteristic of the Garamond type being executable to the finest detail by the tool it's contrast type derives from.

The norm violations are incidental and — I think — progressive, i.e., in the direction of optimizing affordances, not relative — oppositionally — to writing, but inside the domain of the specific letter set they were creating.

Writing set the spacing paradigm of rhythmic coherence between the interior and exterior forms of letters within words, and a break from this in the spaces between the words. Type designers devised their own ways of consolidating this as well.

If the type designers asked themselves anything, it was probably: how can I keep spacing rhythmic in the new environment of rectangular sorts. What do I need to do to proportions and widths, and, with widths also — and in consequence — weights?

enne_son's picture

“Visual features concerning optical balance, even color, spacing and rhythm are different variables, and are critical.” [Bill]

I did say: “critical” norm violations, several posts above.

I could also add “strategic.” Saying that they are non-essential, in that they don't change the paradigm, doesn’t make them not important!

John Hudson's picture

Bill: Thus Baskerville didn’t just violate the broad pen, he violated it in a way that is characteristic of the pointed, flexible pen.

It seems to me that saying that Baskerville 'violated the broad pen' implies a relationship to that implement that is absent not only from Baskerville's own work, as both a writing master and as a typographer/printer, but also absent -- with the exception of blackletter -- from the contemporary text creation culture. It makes almost as little sense as saying that he violated the Chinese brush or the Burmese stylus: the broad nib as a tool for the creation of text was alien to his culture and hadn't been widely used since before Baskerville's birth. And even if you want to say that he violated the latent, inherited translation stroke pattern in typographic letters, that still implies a relationship that I think is contradicted by the evidence.

Now I think we need to look at what happens when a script is reduced to typography. Gerald already commented on some implications of this, including the typical loss of regional scripts (although this had already begun in the manuscript culture as early as Charlemagne's time, and some regional scripts either survived or were later revived, e.g. the Irish insular hand). But there is a more general case to be observed, which is that the norm for typographic letters derives from the canons of the contemporary formal book hand, but in the new medium undergoes a secondary canonisation. That is, the normative manuscript hand of a particular text culture becomes the normative typographic letter of subsequent text cultures. So in renaissance Italy, the humanist formal book hand and later the cursive hand become the normative forms of humanist typography, which eventually becomes the normative typographic form of Latin letters, supplanting previous styles such as the various blackletter and regional hands and admitting new styles derived from contemporary writing, such as Civilité, only as supplementary fashions. So the process of type design becomes the process of creating these normative letterforms in new ways, with different proportions, contrast and detailing, rather than the process of creating new styles of writing. But in the meantime, new styles of writing are being invented by writing masters and professional scribes, who are producing significant quantities of text in various kinds of documents, who are teaching new styles of fashionable handwriting to both children and adults, and who are publishing copy books and exemplars, all in response to broader developments in intellectual and cultural life. Meanwhile, in comparison, the norms of typographic letterforms develop hardly at all: they are locked in their original Italian humanist form. To the type designer and typographic historian, there is a rich development in the treatment of proportions, weights, serif treatment, etc. and the important development of the canon of typographic articulation through supplementary styles, italics, smallcaps, etc. But compared to the range of different writing styles developed during the same period, Latin typography remains largely static and the basic underlying forms of the letters remains frozen and continues to be frozen today. Indeed, we now associate the normative forms not only of our typography but of our alphabet with these particular historical shapes. We admit some variation in the forms of e.g. a and g, but most of the rest of the historical and regional variety of the Latin script is unknown to most people.

What happens in the 18th century is that these typographic norms are re-intepreted in light of the principle tool of contemporary writing and its distinctive stroke pattern. This is done by writing masters first, and only some decades later by a 'type designer'. In stylistic terms, everything Baskerville needed to create his types is already there in Shelley's exemplars of 1709 and 1715. By the 1750s, this kind of 'typographic writing', i.e. the normative typographic letterforms as written with a pen, has become part of the standard repertoire of the writing masters, and taking the next step of making it into a typeface is largely a financial and manufacturing issue. There are particular design considerations relating to the size of individual fonts, but that has been the case in typography since at least Griffo's time: the style of the new types was developed by writing them, as the documentary evidence shows. This may be a unique phenomenon in the history of typography: the development of a significant new style within the overall canon of typographic letterforms, i.e. not a new style of writing but a new way of making typographic shapes in a contemporary way, developed independently of the manufacture of type (something similar is happening in France at around the same time, but can probably be considered part of the same phenomenon, especially if one takes into account Fournier's enthusiasm for Baskerville's types).

William Berkson's picture

The point is, Peter, the violations are systematic, and being pushed by different goals, or a different 'paradigm', if you will. In that sense, yes, they are changing the paradigm in a fundamental and systematic way.

The broad pen remains an "underlying force" (van Krimpen) in Garamond, but is contradicted by another force: the greater freedom of the punch cutter to please the reading eye more than the moving broad pen was able to. I never said the pen wasn't a force, just that there were other forces pushing away from its lines. You say that the changes are "critical", "strategic", but "non-essential". I think you are getting into a distinction without a difference here. If they modify and contradict the rules of the pen in a systematic way, I don't see how they can be anything but an essential change.

Another way you can look at this is that there are two forces or paradigms at work: one the pattern set by the pen, and the other what pleases the reading eye. Noordzij rightly highlights the importance of one, but not the other, in the historical evolution of type design. You need both to get the full picture, I think.

And later on in history you get a desire to meet some aesthetic standards that even make text type less readable. Even there it is those aesthetic ideals, and not the pen alone that is driving the process. Eg making the lower case wider, and the caps more even width, doesn't come from the pen.

John Hudson's picture

Bill: If they modify and contradict the rules of the pen in a systematic way, I don’t see how they can be anything but an essential change.

Because they dont contradict the rules of the stroke? I think Peter, and almost certainly Noordzij, consider the stroke pattern as the essential characteristic, and the various parachirographic tactics that modify weight and otherwise adjust the arrangement and relationship of strokes do not change the paradigm established by the stroke pattern. So, for instance, Garamond's D includes certain adjustments to stroke weight that contradict the rules (characteristics) of the broad nib pen, but the strokes remain describable in terms of translation and rotation (the latter showing the mannerist influence).

William Berkson's picture

>saying that Baskerville ’violated the broad pen’ implies a relationship to that implement that is absent not only from Baskerville’s own work, as both a writing master and as a typographer/printer, bit also absent — with the exception of blackletter — from the contemporary text creation culture.

That is a question-begging argument, as it assumes what is under question. You are assuming that 'text creation culture' excludes printing and printer's types, whose influence is under question. But printing is text creation also. People of the day, including Baskerville, read a lot of text in newspapers and magazines and books--probably a lot more than hand writing--and these printers types followed the old model, influenced by the broad pen. That old model had been fundamentally modified for the eye, as I have been arguing with Peter, but none the less the broad pen was there as an underlying force.

John Hudson's picture

Bill: You are assuming that ’text creation culture’ excludes printing and printer’s types...

No, I'm not assuming that at all. I began my part in this discussion about Baskerville by insisting that printer's types be seen in the larger context of text creation that, in cultures with significant manuscript document production, has certain observable characteristics and influences that argue against the accuracy of any typocentric history. This isn't a statement only about 18th century England, but what happened there is particularly interesting because the model for the new types is so clearly established in a different medium, writing, prior to being implemented in type, and we have such good documentary evidence of this because of the social and economic importance of writing and the production so many copy books and exemplars.

Yes, the broad pen, i.e. the translation stroke pattern, is there in the imported printing types and in Caslon's types (although I think you did an admirable job, earlier in this discussion, of demonstrating influences of neo-classicism in some of Caslon's forms, whether that was your intention or not), but my point made earlier was that this left typography increasingly at odds with and out of step with the aesthetics of the text creation culture dominated by written, engraved and inscribed forms that were based on very different stroke patterns. And the strongest evidence of this domination is that there is, during half a century or more, no counter influence of these old fashioned types on any other area of text creation. That seems to me very significant.

So when you say that Baskerville 'violated the broad pen', i.e. broke with the translation stroke pattern, I think you are still imposing a typocentric view that doesn't fit with the evidence. The evidence suggests that Baskerville spent his whole life writing with a flexible split nib steel pen, that he became a writing master and practitioner of the various styles of writing and lettering associated with that pen, and that he later had two of these styles cut in type by John Handy. In order to 'violate the broad pen' he would have had to have had some engagement with the broad pen, and I just don't see it and I don't count reading books set in Caslon's types to constitute such an engagement.

You could argue reasonably, I think, that the first person or persons to write the normative typographic forms of Latin letters with a split nib 'violated the broad pen'. But that wasn't Baskerville, and you are unjustifiably privileging the act of cutting those letters in metal if you imply that Baskerville or Handy's achievement constitutes such violation but not George Shelley's, four decades earlier.

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