Electra Special Characters

urtd's picture

hello, i am reviving electra and writing short essay about it for a school project. i noticed how completely different the formal appearance of the special characters is. i discussed this with a colleague and one opinion is that it was a usual practice to just use some default matrices to complete the linotype machine character set. i guess this is the right reason, but it would be great if you could help me with this and make it clearer.

in case the reason is really as stated, was that only linotype thing or was it monotype and letterpress practice as well?

thank you for your replies. ondrej

kentlew's picture

Ondrej --

Linotype offered several of the special characters as generic matrices, and these were intended for when a font did not contain the character in question. Not every font had some of the characters you're asking about specially drawn. But many did.

In the case of Electra, I know that Dwiggins did in fact draw these characters. I have copies of some of his sketches, including alternates that did not get chosen for production. When I have a chance later today or this weekend, I'll scan some samples to post.

((BTW, I assume that this revival is just for an academic exercise and that you don't intend to release anything without permission. Linotype still owns the intellectual property and the trademarks for Electra. Are you in the same class as Abi?))

-- Kent.

pvanderlaan's picture

Dear Kent,

It it truly gratious of yours to help in this way, as you already did with Abi.

I can assure you that Ondrej's project is indeed a purely academic exercise for my class at the KABK Type & Media course.

Thanks!

-Paul van der Laan

urtd's picture

thank you Kent, thank you Paul! i'd love to see the drawings by Dwiggins, i am very curious how he translated the unique Electra shapes into those characters. and no worries about Linotype's intellectual property, i am aware of that and i respect it completely.

ondrej

Nick Shinn's picture

That's not a bad pound--for an American :-)
I wonder what his Euro would have looked like.

kentlew's picture

> i’d love to see the drawings by Dwiggins, i am very curious how he translated the unique Electra shapes into those characters.

Well, Ondrej, those characters in the font *are* the way he chose to harmonize with the Electra shapes. For whatever reason, in the end, all of those were the shapes that he chose (perhaps with CHG's influence). Remember, you don't want the special characters to distract too much in text.

Here are images of some of Dwiggins's sketches for a few of those special characters. I apologize for the quality, as these are scanned from photocopies. The originals are in the CH Griffith Archives at the University of Kentucky, Lexington.

At this point, Dwiggins is working in ink at 10 x 12 pt size (he didn't begin working in the larger, pencil outlines until Caledonia). These scans are actual size at 100ppi. Sorry for the scrolling on the last one.

 

The note at the bottom of card [E138] says "Hard to make a § that fits the Electra snap. Try again after you see this lot."

The note at the bottom of card [E141], under the ampersand, says "Attempt to get a flourished 'and' in the Electra feeling."

Unfortunately, I don't have dates for these. WAD wasn't as diligent about dating things at this stage as he was later. The card numbers are Griffith's cataloging. They may or may not indicate any chronology.

-- Kent.

kentlew's picture

Paul -- Glad to be of assistance.

-- K.

dberlow's picture

"I wonder what his Euro would have looked like."

I'm guessing "perfect", unless of course some Canadian wandered in and spilled maple syrup on it.

Whatever you do when following WAD or LinoWAD drawings, do not follow them exactly and expect to reach the type they had in mind. You can see this here, in the difference between drawn and printed brackets. And assuming those are Griffith's notes (?), WAD won one. :)

Cheers!

kentlew's picture

DB -- Those are all WAD's notations. Only possible exception is the "Line with Cap H" on [E47]; that could be Griff.

-- K.

dberlow's picture

"Those are all WAD’s notations."

Who's he talking too?

And, the dif. between drawing and printing is still a important comparison for any revivialist.

Cheers!

urtd's picture

thank you kent for your quick responses, the scans are really interesting! i was almost 100% sure the asterisk and daggers are those added characters, so i am quite surprised now to see that WAD actually designed them. i especially like how nicely the asterisk is marked to be "good" :)
after seeing these drawings i feel a bit sorry for not looking for the complete set earlier. i chose rather experimental approach for my revival exercise – it is based almost entirely on a 50's dutch book set in 12pt, the Emblems booklet and a quick overview of WAD's work and design methods. i am quite satisfied with the result, but now i see it wouldn't be bad to incorporate more of those nice subtle details into it.

ondrej

kentlew's picture

> Who’s he talking too?

Generally WAD's annotations were directed at Griff.

I'm not sure about this comment on card [E138]: "Not for use. But the . [period] as furnished seems light to me, and I am not quite sure about Griff's apostrophes, commas, etc., but let ’em ride for present?"

You'll notice that the final comma is nothing like what WAD drew here.

The period and comma would have likely been put in by drawing office initially, probably pulled from some standard. Because WAD mentions Griffith in the third person here, I'm not sure who he would have been addressing with this comment. If this were Metro, I would say he might have been talking to Gage, who remained involved in some of the process throughout.

More likely in this case he's talking to Larson, head of the drawing office. But, I'm not sure his sketches would have gone straight to Larson without first passing through CHG, so this particular comment is curious.

-- K.

kentlew's picture

DB: > Whatever you do when following WAD or LinoWAD drawings, do not follow them exactly and expect to reach the type they had in mind.

Yes, words to the wise.

> it is based almost entirely on a 50’s dutch book set in 12pt, the Emblems booklet and a quick overview of WAD’s work and design methods.

Not an unreasonable approach. WAD would have overseen and approved the Emblems specimen. An Alfred A Knopf book designed and overseen by WAD himself (like Not Under Forty by Willa Cather, or The Borzoi Reader edited by Carl van Doren -- both 1936, right after Electra's release) might have made for a more authentic exemplar than a ’50s Dutch book, but that's a small matter.

Original sketches might give additional insight, but they cannot be followed slavishly (as DB points out so succinctly), since they were a means to an end -- that end being the printed type in everyday use. What Dwiggins and his peers knew as Electra is what we can all see in the books they made, not the drawings that started the process.

-- K.

urtd's picture

thank you Kent. i am really glad to hear that my approach is not all wrong. later i will post a pdf with the revival result so you can judge how accurate my method was. i just need to finish kerning and do some adjustments to the outlines.

ondrej

kentlew's picture

"Accurate" is a very relative term -- accurate to what? ;-)

This is an important issue to address in the brief of any revival endeavor.

For instance, if you're kerning the font, then it isn't "accurate" to the original (in one sense), because metal Linotype casting had no kerning.

(. . . unless, perhaps, you limit yourself to only recreating the effect of the handful of two-letter logotypes that were produced for Electra -- which most comps, however, probably didn't take the time to insert.)

-- K.

urtd's picture

oh sorry, this is probably a problem with english, because it's not my first language. by saying accurate i meant simply "how succesful the revival was".
i made two versions, for the first one i redrew what i saw on the pages of the dutch book, trying to make the digital printout as similar to the original as possible, but keeping the outlines clean, sharp and rational, not blobby as automatic tracing would produce.
for the second version, i compared the first one with Emblems and now i am doing some editing to harmonize the appearance of the text. that is also reason why i decided to kern the second version, with capitals that wide the kerning is really necessary.
i guess the main purpose of our revival exercise was to learn the rules and principles of type design by learning from the masters and i really did learn a lot, although my revival may not be perfect. anyways, i am happy i chose Electra.

o

kentlew's picture

No worries. I wasn't trying to give you a hard time, specifically, Ondrej.

I was just pointing out, in general, that "accuracy" or even "success" in a revival is not a single objective measure. For instance, just look at all the incessant debate about which is the most "successful" or "accurate" or "authentic" revival of a Garamond. ;-)

If you gained insight into some of the subtleties of type design and learned some important principles from a master through your exercise, and if this has made you a better designer, then your revival was successful!

-- K.

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