Morris Fuller Benton and "Yankee eclecticism"

ebensorkin's picture

I was emailing Juliet Shen today about what she calls the "Yankee eclecticism" of Morris Fuller Benton and I thought I would open up my questions to the good folk of Typophile. I am interested MFB it because in him I think I see an especially good - maybe textbook example of solid typographic innovation and improvement occurring in a nearly pure typographic context as opposed to chiorographic/scribal/Noordzij-centric context. I am interested to know if you think this formulation or way of thinking is 'right on' or bunk and why you think that. I am also interested to know what your favorite MFB contribution to type might be.

paul d hunt's picture

I am interested MFB it because in him I think I see an especially good...

do you mind rewording this?

paul d hunt's picture

I am also interested to know what your favorite MFB contribution to type might be.

the concept of typeface system - Clearface. i'm thinking this was the first example of a serif and a sans conceived to work together from the start, but i could be wrong. somebody correct me if i am.

dan_reynolds's picture

There may have been German examples of a Fraktur and Antiqua designed to work together, perhaps for bureaucratic reasons? I know that there was an "Amts-Antiqua" and an "Amts-Fraktur"… whether this constitutes a system would need more searching on my part.

Alessandro Segalini's picture

Hello Eben, you also might try to contact Mr Paul Shaw, if I'm correct he won a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship to study the type designs of Morris Fuller Benton.

kentlew's picture

Funny, I know Paul more as a Dwiggins guy. But I'm sure he would have definite opinions (and insight) about your query, Eben. Paul is also a letterer and calligrapher, as well as a historian, so he would have a unique perspective. Drop me a line privately if you want me to put you in touch with him.

-- K.

dberlow's picture

"...she calls the “Yankee eclecticism” of Morris Fuller Benton"

where does she call what aspect of Morris Fuller Benton Yankee eclecticism?


paul_romaine's picture

Paul Shaw is a good resource. I think his Benton work was about 15+ years ago.

FYI (and especially for the lurkers), there was an article in APHA's journal, Printing History, "Linn Boyd Benton, Morris Fuller Benton,
and Typemaking at ATF," by Patricia Cost, which is more biographical and is online here (PDF).

(among other things, APHA VP for Programs)

ebensorkin's picture

Thanks for all the responses!

do you mind rewording this

Sure. It was a bit of a funny/odd phrasing. Sorry. I am just saying that his type designs ( based on admittedly my still too superficial knowledge ) leave a reliance on the automatic logic of chrirographically derived forms. Juliet feels that this is because his approach was that of an engineer which seems reasonable to me.


Thanks Paul. I will have to have a look at that. Is there a specific feature/s within the face that you would suggest I pay attention to?

where does she call what aspect of Morris Fuller Benton Yankee eclecticism?

She used that phrase at Typecon while speaking and also with me by email. She coined the term I think to illustrate a contrast she saw in his work vs 'consistent' pen derived forms. The reason I think this is interesting is that there are advantages and to be had with either approach. So recognizing the power to be derived from a more purely Typographic set of solutions is interesting both because they work, and because they have been distinctively ( typographically/optically ) derived.

And in terms of the 'what', eg the evidence for this idea - that's what I want to assemble.

Paul Romaine, Thanks!

Kent, I have contact info for Paul. I will contact him. Thanks!

Dan, was your post meant for a different thread? I am not following your thinking yet.

paul d hunt's picture

Is there a specific feature/s within the face that you would suggest I pay attention to?

just what i noted above: that it was conceived as a sans/serif system to work together & may have been one of the first developed in this way. dan was responding to my claim that it was THE first.

jshen's picture

I used the phrase "Yankee eclecticism" during talks at TypeCon and ATypI this year to describe the design approach used by MFB in Clearface. I was referring to the mixing of features from different historical periods, such as unbracketed slab serifs with a venetion e and obliquely stressed c. My impression is that some early 20th c. American metal typefaces freely adopt design details from the historical legacy without regard to maintaining the underlying logic of a particular tool or "stroke". The ATypI talk was recorded by TVU:

Nick Shinn's picture

It's the marketplace which determines the amount of eclecticism afforded to type designers.
Most type designers will work in a variety of genres if given the opportunity.
However, if certain genres, such as script and distressed in the retail market, and traditional news faces in the periodical market, are particularly in demand, designers will gravitate to those genres.
So MFB's eclecticism is to be expected, as the chief designer of a large foundry.

Where there is some innate predisposition to design certain kinds of faces, I suspect it is more determined by ability than preference. For instance, some are more comfortable doing revivals than original work, and some are more adept at producing subtle shapes than novel forms. But there is plenty of room for eclecticism at both ends of the revival-experimental spectrum.

Edit: this post doesn't address Juliet's specific use of the term "Yankee Eclecticism", due to a crossed post.

ebensorkin's picture

Re Crossed post. Just for clarity, Juliet; correct me if I am wrong but you are not referring in this case to the myriad styles in which he worked ( which he did indeed ), but to typographic details within a single face. eg you might get a c that doesn't fit a consistent logic exhibited in the rest of the face - hence it's 'eclectic'- but which nevertheless 'works'.

In terms of contemporary fonts - I think Amalia is like that.

ebensorkin's picture

Juliet Thanks for the link. How exciting!

William Berkson's picture

Thanks for the link, which I just greatly enjoyed viewing.

Juliet, I really appreciate your insights, which are revealing and on target.

I would somewhat take issue, though, with the idea that Benton violated the pen more than Europeans. When I look at your slide of older sans faces that Benton was reacting to, I don't see them as particularly showing the pen hand more than Benton. I haven't made a study of it, but my impression is that Victorian type was already willing to go to all kinds of shapes that had to do more with decorative effect, rather than the broad pen, or even the pointed pen.

It is true, as you point out, that Benton had the American willingness to mix styles without regard to historical period--but that is a different matter than the influence of the pen in hand. Also I would note that Caslon and I believe Dutch before him already had old style strokes on most of the round letters, but not on the O,o, which had vertical stress.

Finally, while it is true that Benton hasn't had the press of other designers, I think the appreciation of his types both by connoisseurs and the general public has been always strong. Today on typophile everyone writes of the ATF cataloges with admiration and awe. And today the cataloges of Font Bureau and of Hoefler & Frere-Jones show a huge influence of Benton.

I'm trying to remember where I read it, but I think someone said that MF Benton was the first type designer in the modern sense. Because of the pantographic punch cutter that his father invented, he was able to draw type, and mechanize production. So he could do a huge variety of designs, as you point out.

As you also point out, he wasn't the greatest in producing elegant designs. But he was the greatest craftsman of his time, and one of the best ever. All his designs have superb consistency and even color, and in different optical sizes, as you point out. And they haven't gone away, but are still a big part of the public face of America.

jshen's picture

For Eben, yes I was referring to eclecticism within a single typeface design, not over an entire career.

In response to William, thanks for pointing out the precedent set by Victorian decorative types. I think what distinguished Benton was his use of the mechanical equipment to create families with a larger range of legibility, rather than more variety or more ornamentation. It's true that there is today a contemporary appreciation of Benton, but if you read the type histories covering the period of his career, he receives very little mention.

ebensorkin's picture

his use of the mechanical equipment to create families with a larger range of legibility


To help keep the thread going I will try to post example details that we can discuss. If anybody else wants to do this as well it would be most welcome.

Nick Shinn's picture

his use of the mechanical equipment to create families with a larger range of legibility, rather than more variety or more ornamentation.

But surely, foundries had produced size-specific fonts--from Elephant to Diamond--in the early 19th century, with people punch-cutters.

It was primarily the division of labour in a large factory which enabled MFB to design so many fonts, and ATF didn't invent division of labour. It could be said that the pantograph's requirement of engineering drawings led to the large drawing offices of ATF and Linotype, with many draftsmen/-women, institutionalizing the process of design direction to a greater degree than when punches were cut by hand.

One would imagine that slightly earlier, MacKellar, Smiths & Jordan, Philadelphia, 1875, for instance, drawings were made at a large type size--two or four-line pica perhaps--and approved before metalwork began. But the size-specific scaling for smaller sizes would have been left to the experienced discretion of cutters working on a particular size, rather than being capable of calculation and inspection beforehand.

Wood type had been made from large drawings, with a pantograph, from the 1830s, but the same "legibility" inference can't be made as for MFB and the pantograph.

Was one master drawing used for all sizes of an ATF type, mechanically modified in the "output" -- or were separate drawings done for each size?

Did Benton do the engineering drawings used by the pantograph, or something smaller? Goudy mentions, in Goudy's Type Designs that his drawings for Kennerley (1911) were one inch high--so it would appear that a lot was left to the drawing office, and its design director(s), as the engineering drawings for the pantograph were much larger (13"?), which meant that a process of interpretation would have occurred in scaling up Goudy's drawings, no matter how exquisite they were, or how much larger than the final type.

Whatever, as the chief designer of a large type factory, MFB would have had a greater control of the fine details of all sizes of type than almost any other type designer of his era and earlier--anyone, in fact, who did not cut his own punches.

Koppa's picture

> I am interested to know if you think this formulation or way of thinking is ’right on’ or bunk and why you think that.

I think you're right on. Based on Patricia Cost's bio of the Bentons (cited and linked above), I *think* MFB was a reticent typographer. He was many other things other than a type designer. To him, it was a job...a good paying job given to him by his father (that's conjecture). For this reason, and taking into consideration the factory setting and the pantograph, what you get from Benton is a tendency towards more practical type, without all of the fluff and whimsy that comes from a more obsessive typophile. It is my guess that if Morris Benton were alive today, he would not be a contributor to Typophile. He'd rather be taking photographs or walking in the woods.

I am also interested to know what your favorite MFB contribution to type might be.

I admire the entire Century and News Gothic families, and think they complement each other nicely. I am happy to have a lot of it in metal, and would be even more happy to have more of it in metal, if anyone's got it and wants to see it put to good use!

Bert Vanderveen's picture

It is my guess that if Morris Benton were alive today, he would not be a contributor to Typophile. He’d rather be taking photographs or walking in the woods.

Who wouldn't? : )

. . .
Bert Vanderveen BNO

William Berkson's picture

>without all of the fluff and whimsy that comes from a more obsessive typophile.

I've got one word for you: Hobo.

I don't know about obsessive, but I think you have to love your work to work with the care and creativity that Juliet analyses in the case of Franklin Gothic. I agree that Benton wouldn't be posting on Typophile, as he evidently hated putting forward a public face. But I think he had to have been as much a fan of great type as the rest of us.

Koppa's picture

> I’ve got one word for you: Hobo.

LOL! Hey...everybody needs to let it all hang out once in a while! And for the record, Hobo could kick Comic Sans' ass any day!

> But I think he had to have been as much a fan of great type as the rest of us.

A lot of this is conjecture. Maybe he was. I get the impression that he was the type of guy who would look at one of those great type faces, go, "M-hmmm...That's very nice. I like it," and never look at it again. There is something to be said for absorbing something, storing it, and getting on with your work, letting the subconscious do its job. I like to think Morris Benton was that sort of a bored genius. Maybe one part arrogant, two-parts shy, and a dash of inferiority complex. I mean, imagine what it would be like if your dad was Linn Benton in 1905.

crossgrove's picture

I don't have anything to support this, but I have the feeling Clearface was originally just a serif design, and that Clearface Gothic is a 1970s addition. Has anyone got material showing that Benton designed the 2 families as a superfamily? What is the earliest instance of such a superfamily, if not Clearface?

jshen's picture

Clearface Gothic first appears in the 1912 ATF specimen book, contiguous with Clearface. There can be no doubt that they were designed as a family at first. In the 1923 catalog, they were split and shown in separate sections of the book. I don't believe an earlier instance can be found in America. I can't speak for the German legacy, though, and would love to hear if it was done there earlier. I doubt it only because of the relatively brief time that gothics or grotesques were really in vogue before Clearface was drawn. One might issue a new grotesque design, yes, but why go the further step of harmonizing the design with a serif design, a very difficult task, when there was no market for such a pairing of fonts?

will powers's picture

I had the same thought as Carl had about Clearface Gothic being from the 70s.

BUT THEN . . . . here's what Linotype says on its web site:

"Clearface Gothic appeared in 1910 and was designed by Morris F. Benton, a world-famous and prolific typeface artist. In addition to Clearface Gothic, Benton also designed classics like Franklin Gothic, Century, and many others. Clearface Gothic is a sans serif typeface with light forms which display the Zeitgeist of the turn of the 20th century. Distinguishing characteristics are the open forms of the a and c, the arched k, and the upward-tilting horizontal stroke of the e. The relatively narrow typeface with its open inner white spaces is extremely legible even in small point sizes. There is no accompanying italic. (Victor Caruso later designed the ITC Clearface and an italic based on the forms of Clearface.) The space-saving Clearface Gothic is good for both headlines and text."

& the Precision Type "Font Reference Guide" says 1908, by Benton.

My confusion may stem from Caruso's work on ITC Clearface. That would have been 1970s, right?

For what it is worth.

Clearface Gothic is a marvelous American display face. I brought it into use for the logo when we launched our Borealis Books trade imprint.


jshen's picture

Along with Nick, I would like to know more about the exact methods used by Benton to create the patterns for various sizes of a font. Theo Rehak, in his book "The Fall of ATF", mentions having Benton's algorithms for casting type in different sizes. I wrote him to see if he still had those formulas, but he had sold them and did not know their current whereabouts. Does anyone know where they are, or who owns Benton's "work diaries" that I've heard mentioned somewhere else?

kentlew's picture

Juliet, I recall a conversation with Mike Parker (I think it was), who had spent some time looking at ATF drawings in the Smithsonian. What I remember him saying is that for some characters there would be no more than a single drawing and that optical adaptations would be done in the course of the pantograph work (presumably according to the kinds of formulae referred to by Rehak).

But, for other characters -- Mike gave the 's' as an example -- there might be several drawings for different sizes.

I recall Mike explaining that, in the right hands, the pantograph could be "played like a violin" and a lot of subtle adaptations made on the fly, that the operator was not necessarily strictly bound to a linear, mechanical reproduction of the master.

You might also try contacting Tobias Frere-Jones about MFB drawings, as I believe he spent some time researching various MFB gothics while developing Font Bureau's Benton Sans.

-- K.

malcolm's picture

Whilst investigating MFB for a type development project last year, I got the feel that MFB was driven more by the technology he was developing than the art and design of what his technology was creating. That doesn't mean to say that he didn't care about the design - on the contrary the quality of the finished art was the proof of his developments.

ebensorkin's picture

Malcom, would you expand on what you are saying? I would be interested in specific examples.

Kent, thanks for your recollections. Perhaps I can invite those folks to comment or to email back on this topic.

blank's picture

There are ATF drawings in the Smithsonian? That’s a ten-minute train ride away. My Christmas break has a purpose now!

ebensorkin's picture

Just be sure to arrange it all well before hand! And take photos for your fellow typo-nerds!

kentlew's picture

James --

They may or may not be there any longer. I seem to recall some hullabaloo a couple years ago about Smithsonian and whether they could justify maintaining a proper archive for the paper, and if not, they were going to find a different home for them. But I could have that all wrong. Fuzzy memory.

Bottom line: contact someone in advance so as not to be disappointed.

-- K.

William Berkson's picture

James Mosley, writing in 2006 says that the Smithsonian has many of the matrices for ATF's types, and a few drawings, but that much was also lost in 1993.

Here Raph Levien describes the math of how they did the optical scaling at ATF, based on printed samples.

blank's picture

Inaccessible due to asbestos…as if the outdoor air in this city is any better!

crossgrove's picture

Hating to be a piss ant while at the same time defending truth and justice, ;)

I actually think that Clearface preceded Clearface Gothic by a few years, and that they were not actually conceived as parts of a larger type system. Mac McGrew has the Bold serif appearing in 1905, with several other weights and italics following. He says the Gothic was designed in 1908, and cut in 1910. He seems to think it was a lone experiment, since there was only 1 weight cut with limited characters. Does anyone show more than the one weight in the earliest showings (1910)? McGrew could be basing his info only on the metal he had access to.

I guess it's a semantic thing I'm arguing, since it was such a short time between the release of the serif and sans versions, and they were indeed based on the same skeleton, by the same designer, and given the same name. It might be better to characterize this as the birth of the superfamily; such a thing, while not intended initially for Clearface, grew out of further development of the serif by ITC and sans by Linotype, leading to other efforts more clearly intended to be coordinated from the beginning. Since the Bold serif appeared first, I don't think we can even say Benton intended the serif family as a large range from the beginning. The Heavy Italic is a slightly different animal, harking back to the loosely-associated groups like AG and Cushing, rather than looking forward to type systems like Franklin Gothic or Century.

Without notes from MFB describing his intentions, or other correspondence indicating the foundry's program for Clearface, I suppose this is all esoteric flapping anyway. But I did want to be clear about what was intended then, versus what we perceive now, with dozens of superfamilies as examples.

ebensorkin's picture

Re: The Smithsonian: It is very possible that the drawings are here

I know they have Linotype Drawings. I never asked about ATF. What do you think Lew?

What Ralf Levien is saying about the engraver & the followers on the pantograph makes sense to me having now used one. However what he is talking about definitely doesn't cover the majority of what I hope Benton might have been up to in terms of optical compensation.

I promised to post some examples of what I was guessing were a-chirographic/typo-centric features in MFB designs. So to begin,

- What about the extra white space around stroke junctures? See Juliet's video at about 16:20 or the letters themselves? Agree Disagree? Why?

William Berkson's picture

>a-chirographic/typo-centric features in MFB designs

Eben, I don't think whether features conform or don't conform to the pen is a particularly relevant issue to understanding Morris Fuller Benton. First, as I pointed out in the 'rule or law' thread, punch cutters were modifying the pen-drawn line from Jenson on. Second, the demand for advertising faces in the 19th century led to types like the fat faces, slab serifs, and sans serifs and other bold types that I believe are more influenced by sign painting and other built-up lettering than the movement of the pen.

So I think the departures from the pen are old news by the end of the 19th century, and Benton is generally not concerned with violating or not violating the pen, but is working within the vernacular of his day, of Victorian, Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles.

It strikes me that he is innovating in two ways. First Benton draws the model letters so that they will scale well. In other words, at small sizes counters will not close up, joins not clot up etc. This I learned from Juliet's presentation, and I think she put her finger on one of MFB's real innovations. He takes advantage of the fact that he for the first time can scale type mechanically, and he approaches a set of sizes of a design as a single problem: create a 'master' for a whole range of sizes. This thinking about a whole family strikes me as something new. I'm sure others will know more about this history, and hopefully enlighten us.

The other innovation is in his greater control over coherence of design and evenness color in any kind of style. In the Linn Boyd Benton essay quoted in the Cost article, he mentions these qualities as goals in type, and I'm sure his son Morris Fuller held the same view. I suspect that his ability to draw at big sizes and scale down to tiny ones gave him more control than a punch cutter looking through magnification. And he exploited this control to the maximum. You could complain that his type is too smooth and polished, and loses some life. But you can't complain that it is rough or sloppily drawn. And it is calculated to have even color. For example the fat terminal on the top of the c and C in Franklin Gothic gives them more strength and more color as a serifed C would have, and so it could be argued balances better with the other letters. At least I think that was in MFB's mind. The variation in form to achieve even color is not an innovation for text faces, but perhaps doing it in such a thorough-going way for display faces is. At any rate, it set a standard.

Of course, taking advantage of the pantographic punch cutter, the Linotype and Monotype drawing offices were turning out very polished type also. But my impression is that Benton was a leader in the early years of the century. Is that right? It seems like by the 20's, when I guess the competitor of the Ludlow came in, ATF lost its lead, and started to decline.

Nick Shinn's picture

he approaches a set of sizes of a design as a single problem...This thinking about a whole family strikes me as something new.

Surely type designers had always considered size a single problem, and sought to balance consistency between sizes with the specific requirements of each size.

James Mosley's picture

From what I can gather about his mode of work, I doubt if one should call M. F. Benton a type designer. Did he ever lift a pencil, seriously? There were dozens of keen and skilled young draftsmen to do drawings for him. What he and his fellow directors at ATF did was to dump most of the types they had inherited and somehow bring into being a range of reliable new faces that appealed to the customer base, and keep innovations coming, unfailingly and regularly.

It meant fighting back against the Linotype, which had grabbed the market for bulk sales of text sizes, with completely new concepts, like the ‘type families’: printers who bought Cheltenham could be persuaded that they just had to add Cheltenham Bold, and Cheltenham Condensed and so on, all of them made in the big sizes with which the Linotype could never compete, and sold by means of brilliant copywriting and relentlessly repeated direct-mail shots. It was presumably Benton who directed the simplifying of the original fussy artwork for Cheltenham to get a basic design on which to build the variations. Overall it was a high-risk strategy, given the quantity of heavy engineering that was needed to launch even one face successfully in all sizes – but he pulled it off.

In other words, he is the first and probably the greatest of the 20th-century ‘type directors’, among whom one can name Griffiths at Mergenthaler Linotype, and maybe the Connecticut Yankee Pierpont (along with Morison, and the company secretary Burch – but that’s a more complicated situation) at British Monotype. These were people who could ‘manage design’ successfully in a manner that one recognizes in some other 20th-century industrial contexts.

Of course the result had its downside. Benton’s Bodoni repackaged the (relatively) human original as a wholly mechanical face, ironing out all the personal quirks of the original, such as they were (and which the Bauer version kept). But in many ways that made it all the more usable and universal. Personally I dislike the way in which the banal regularity of Cloister Black drains the type of all the liveliness of its historical model. But there is something deeply reassuring about the sheer self-confident competence of all the ATF faces.

The answers to some of our practical questions are probably still buried in the ATF type drawings, most of which are indeed in one of the outlying stores of the Smithsonian that are not too accessible right now. They could show us who drew what and when, and what modifications were made for different sizes. I remember looking for the drawings for Cloister Black to see how that awful cap A, with the misplaced left-hand stroke, ever happened. You can just see from the drawing (an image made in minimal light and not good, I’m afraid) that first they drew it right. Then they changed the drawing in order to make it wrong.

But the design sold and sold. And not just in ATF’s version.

kentlew's picture

Eben -- I don't think the Museum of Printing has any ATF materials, but you'd have to ask Gardner. I think some ATF material may have wound up in the Cary collection at RIT. If so, you might be able to get over there next summer around TypeCon. (Tamye is trying hard to arrange some sort of field trip in conjunction with TC08 in Buffalo).

James Mosley mentions some minor ATF material at the Cary in the blog link that Bill posted above, but I keep thinking there might be something else. On the other hand, I could just as easily be confusing this with some MLCo stuff instead. This all traces back to several long conversations that I had with Mike (which, as you may know, can be quite rambling).

-- K.

blank's picture

From what I can gather about his mode of work, I doubt if one should call M. F. Benton a type designer.

Wow. Not many people can make a statement like that and be able to back it. We’re lucky to have you around, James.

I’ll try poking around the Smithsonian later this month just to see what the status of the asbestos removal is. Given the state of things at the Smithsonian right now, including the renovation of the Museum of American History, I expect that the answer will furrow my brow.

dberlow's picture

Juliet: "I used the phrase... to describe the design approach used by MFB in Clearface" ...ahh. I agree. He had so a wide range, I was momentarily estunned.

"My impression is that some early 20th c. American metal typefaces freely adopt design details from the historical legacy without regard to maintaining the underlying logic of a particular tool"
I was at the talk and enjoyed the research and presentation very much. It's always nice to have more faces attached to an occasional ghost. ;)

All labels aside, I think MFB was coming to grips with a typographic engineering problem that is sometimes helped by contrast with FWG's grip, and not to turn this from a post to a timber frame — both of these excellent designers had the problem of designing typefaces that could scale. Generally, scaling is imagined as ideal outlines getting bigger or smaller, when in fact it was (and still is), a series of letters in a series of sizes made from rather ugly particle placements trying to represent ideal relationships between fonts.

MFB's solution path, which you see taken in many modern designs, was to find the most economical solution, the one least likely to allow a particle placement failure to interrupt the form at any size within a range of slightly non-linear scalings. MFB's economy of shape, as is rightly pointed out, came at the expense of evidence-of-hand, but brought economy when the sizes were produced, and he loved it, I'm sure. Goudy, on the other hand, and though pressed to provide a certain economy, could only be sized for considerably more, and he loved it, I'm sure. ;)


dberlow's picture

"...that awful cap A, with the misplaced left-hand stroke"

What misplaced stroke!?
What size is that drawing!?
Is there anything on the back?
What's it say?


ebensorkin's picture

Bill, I certainly understand that you may view my dichotomy of typo & chiro as a foolishly warmed over chestnut from the Typophile of yore. But I think you may be misunderstanding my intent. I am not interested in MFB as some kind of anti-chiro banner carrier. Not at all. Or as an originator non-chirographic design. I am just interested in the characterizing the improvements he offers us. I think they are easy to characterize in general as outside of of chirographic logic. I think you agree with that. Maybe you don't think it's interesting; but as far as I can tell you don't disagree. Irrespective of any of this it is the innovations themselves and the way they work in the type systems to create greater coherence despite of or maybe *because* of their often eclectic nature.

Is that observation of the C yours or Juliet's? It's a nice one in any event.


Certainly there is ample evidence of this thinking in punchcut and hand made type.

James Mosley's picture

...that awful cap A, with the misplaced left-hand stroke
What misplaced stroke!?

David, here is an 18th-century printing of the Caslon 36pt cap A that I'm pretty sure was the model for Cloister Black (rough presswork and a damaged sort – but a nice lively letter.) I think, but haven't got the reference to hand, that ATF had matrices for a good authentic version of the Caslon Black.

Followed by the A of Cloister Black. And by a slightly better version of my slide of the drawing, which I botched first time. (The letter in the drawing is about 10 inches high, or maybe a bit more.)

Which do you prefer?

Koppa's picture

I'm really loving this thread, and can't help responding to "Which do you prefer?" even though that may have been directed at someone else...and of course, coming from me, this isn't very scientific, and I hope that doesn't bother anyone...

I prefer Benton's because it balances the positive and negative space so's just a magnificent shape that really transcends "letter." Both are very glorious representations of A, depicting a reverence for the alphabet that I can really get into. And I can't figure out what the botched stroke is, either...maybe you're referring to how much more open the Benton A is...I see that as an improvement, although I have to admit it somehow looks much more mechanically derived...which probably has a lot to do with Benton being an engineer.

At the same time that I'm admiring this A, it strikes me that one could say they're both completely ridiculous when it comes to the economy of form ebraced by Gill, Tschichold, and modernity in general. And each has its place in this world. But I realize that's no big revelation.

James Mosley's picture

I can’t figure out what the botched stroke is

In the Caslon A (which is from an early French original) the left-hand and right-hand strokes meet at the apex from which the calligraphic flourish springs, which seems to me to make sense and a beautiful letter too. And that is how the ATF draftsman did it first – but either he changed his mind or perhaps somebody (MFB?) told him to erase it and push the stroke to the left. I think this wrecks the dynamics of the letter, making it plodding and dull – but that's just my opinion. The draftsman didn't quite erase the first stroke (as a protest, maybe?). At any rate MFB showed that he was not going to be dictated to by old Caslon.

dezcom's picture

I can't judge the "A" alone without the rest to see if the more open revision helps or not. The other issue is inkspread. Perhaps the the thinking was that the counter would close too much in printing and needed to be opened?


William Berkson's picture

>Is that observation of the C yours or Juliet’s? It’s a nice one in any event.

That's one of many similar observations in Doyald Young's wonderful book "Fonts and Logos". --I expanded a bit on it.

Young is wonderfully perceptive on how the details of a letter contribute to or detract from how letters work together, and in particular how variation in form can enhance even color. And he shows in re-drawing type for logos how the unity can be enhanced when you have the freedom to alter characters for the best look of a specific word. I have to thank Hrant for singing the praises of this book, as I got it because of that, and it is one of the handful I have learned most from about type.

>From what I can gather about his mode of work, I doubt if one should call M. F. Benton a type designer. Did he ever lift a pencil, seriously?

Oh-oh, you are getting the acidity of a real Typophiler :)

Why can't Benton have been both a type director and a type designer? What exactly about how he worked leads you to think that he never picked up a pencil? I would think if he had a drawing office for new fonts he would draw a few key characters--such as "agone CHORD", and then correct others' drawings as they made the drawings based on these models. If he had an existing design, like Bodoni, then he might just blue pencil the original. But for a new design this wouldn't be enough.

Designs like Clearface and Franklin Gothic I thought were new designs, and in any case these clearly have been carefully thought through down to the smallest detail. Somebody *designed* these faces, and if not Benton--who claims to have designed them in the volume Juliet shows slides of--who did?

Miss Tiffany's picture

Not that MFB is guilty of what I'm about to say ... Although I do prefer the original to the final cap A ...

I think there is a problem today with many (not all) type designers today having an urge to produce such crisp letter forms with such severe lines, corners and serifs, that they lose any warmth or humanity.

Koppa's picture

I can see clearly now that the "botched" stroke is as I suspected. And I couldn't agree more with the inkspread control theory above, playing to the practical nature of the ATF types designed under Benton's direction. I'll admit the Caslon A has more charm, and that "plodding" and "dull" are great adjectives for the Benton A, but somehow it remains my personal preference. This coming from a guy who really likes Century Oldstyle, even after Stan Nelson told him it's "about as exciting as a truck." hmmmm...what does this say about me?

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