Heraldic Devices and Funky Type and History

nancy sharon collins's picture

Periodically I am called upon to identify and re-use some family artifact that has lost its meaning. Usually this is a sweet, endearing gesture on the part of a family member to rekindle family ties or pride.

I do not do a lot of this type of work, primarily I deal directly with type. But, my clients are smart, articulate and inquisitive people so their wishes usually interest me.

This crest is from a client planning her wedding. It is the icon for women in her family—"loosely the meaning is [that] Kelly females [are like] busy bees [we] make [the] best honey...

...Or, Irish women pick the best men, do the best work, and raise the best children. or something like that."

The crest and heraldic "thing" is not my bailiwick, but I do get a kick out of working with some arcane piece of iconography. To my surprise, we Americans have gone in for this sort of thing for a long time, making-up crests and heraldic devices for our own mongrel, North American clans. (My client has no clue what the initials underneath the behive mean, if anyone knows the knowledge would be much appreciated!)

This is a copy of my client's aunt's wedding invitation, the family crest is blind embossed on it.

The invitation is french-folded and the text commercially engravied. This means that the letters were drawn by hand onto an engraving plate or die, the drawing being mediated by a pantograph machine. Frederick Goudy, great American typographer, believed in the good virtues of the pantograph. But many typographers think it sounded the death-nell for type. It is interesting to note that this is also true for the popularization of the pantograph machine in stationery. In the stationer trade, it is said that the "Masterplate" system, manufactured and marketed by the Cronite company, single handedly destroyed the hand engraved social stationery industry.

The pantograph style of this invitation is Lucerne. In the trade we refer to it as Gothic. Nomenclature for lettering styles in the stationery trade is not the same as typography or other industries where lettering is used. In commercial American engraving, Lucerne is an "in-line" example, which refers to the many strokes (or cross-hatchings) that make up the shading of the letters. For the gun trade, this articulation of tone is called "shaded" as in the Shaded Roman style so popular on "London Best Guns".

This is a close-up of the Lucerne style from this invitation. Such fancy types are generally used for formal occasions and announcements, like weddings. When reviewing any type, it is important to remember that pre-fabricated letterforms of any kind were originally made to look like the hand drawn originals laboriously created by scribes prior to the invention of moveable type. So, it is quite natural that many lettering styles, especially the formal, fancy ones would replicate the intricate, ornate decoration of Fraktur or Black Letter from around the same time as Gutenberg's invention (moveable type).

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