Dissertation reading list help (Hand Lettering)

Godal's picture

Hi guys,

I'm just about to start doing research for my BA Graphic Design dissertation/thesis at Central St Martins in London. My topic as of now is "The Evolution of American Hand Lettering In the 20th Century" - this will probably change as I go along. It's an incredibly broad topic, and I want to narrow it down at some point, but I would like to determine my direction according to my research. As a starting point, I have picked out the following books and essays:

American Type Design and Designers
by David Consuegra

Handwriting in America: A Cultural History
by Tamara Plakins Thornton

Script and Scribble: The Rise and Fall of Handwriting
by Kitty Burns Florey

An Elegant Hand: The Golden Age of American Penmanship and Calligraphy
by William E. Henning

Handwritten: Expressive Lettering in the Digital Age
by Steven Heller

Edward Fella: Letters on America
by Lewis Blackwel

House Industries
by House Industries

American Modernism: Graphic Design, 1920-1960
by R. Roger Remington

The Evolution of American Typography (Design Quarterly 148)
by Mildred Friedman

The Education of a Typographer
by Steven Heller

The Golden Age of Hand Lettering In American Advertinsing
by Nick Shinn

American Graphic Design Expression: The Evolution of American Typography"
by Katherine McCoy

Now, I haven't bought any of these books yet, as I am unsure if they all "fit" with the topic, and therefore worth spending money on. I am wondering if you guys have any thoughts on the list so far, anything that should be added or subtracted? Is this an OK starting point?

Thanks!

Anders

typerror's picture

In toto these are a very limited overview of hand lettering.

I would search out Paul Shaw's chronology that he did for the Washington Calligraphers Guild (Scripsit). It is, without a doubt, the most incisive look at both lettering and calligraphy... two very different things. And it is the least agenda driven retrospective.

It will give you more names than you can search in a lifetime.

Michael

typerror's picture

Winter 2001 Vol. 26, No. 2 Chronology Illustrated

Friends of Calligraphy, San Francisco

Probably a better chance of getting it from this group!

Michael

Reed Reibstein's picture

I've heard that Mortimer Leach's Lettering for Advertising is a fantastic work of hand lettering.

Godal's picture

Thank you so much, the both of you, this looks very promising and very interesting!

.00's picture

I would suggest you get in touch with Doyald Young, Gerard Huerta, Michael Doret, and Daniel Pelavin. Great American hand-letters all. And they all have websites and phone numbers.

typerror's picture

Don't forget Tony and Tom, James! Sites available I believe.

Michael

typerror's picture

Woops

Di Spigna and Carnase respectively... and respectfully!

Michael

Quincunx's picture

I would probably include Doyald Young's books, like Dangerous Curves (more books of him here).

Nick Shinn's picture

There's very little in your list on commercial lettering, which comes into focus in the Leach book. And commercial lettering was at the centre of the profession, as most large text was hand lettered for the first half of the century at least. That's an awful lot of work in posters, advertising, brochures and packaging, not to mention one-offs such as tickets and show cards. Don't forget greetings cards.

FeeltheKern's picture

I would suggest "Lines," a book by Tim Ingold. This book is not written for a design audience -- it's geared towards anthropologists, but is written for a general audience. This will give you zero specific information about handlettering in 20th century America, but it will give you a broader picture of how the living gesture of the human hand has been replaced with a static and unmoving "concept holder" in modern typography.

The other book I would recommend is "The Stroke," by Gerrit Noordzij. Again, this has nothing to do with commercial handlettering in 20th century America, but provides a good base for understanding the relationship of lettering and type.

Justin_Ch's picture

Not academic works on the subject but these are just a few of the instructional manuals I've got. It is mainly sign painting, posters and showcards so might not be as refined as what you are interested in. The Atkinson 75 Alphabets is one of the oldest, from about 1914 but I've got books like this going up the '80s. Also a lot of British ones, such as Cecil Wade, for comparison. PM me if you're interested in having a look. I'm in Harrow in NW London.

Godal's picture

Wow, I am astounded by the feedback I've received on this thread so far, thank you very much guys! I've just ordered a few books off Amazon, amongst those "The Stroke" and "Lines", which both looks really interesting. I am planning on getting Dangerous Curves when I get back to London (in Norway for the next 3 weeks) - looks amazing by the way. I have also contacted The Calligraphers Guild, to see if I can get hold of a few of their previous issues of Scripsit. The only problem is that they only seem to accept checks, which are hardly in use over here anymore.

Nick: I know there's little in my list on commercial lettering, which was what I initially wanted to write about, but I haven't found that much info on it. I know that my college library has a copy of Leach's book, so I will look into that when I get back. Also, my tutor recommended "America" by Baudrillard, since it touches on commercial and consumer society in America (not from a typographic point of view though).

Justin: Those books looks amazing! I will definitely be interested in having a look, I'll PM you as soon as I get back.

Again, thank you so much for the information you've provided me with so far guys!!

Anders

typerror's picture

You may wish to check out the Society of Scribes and Illuminators. They have a collection I believe. Sorry I did not think of that yesterday.

Michael

Godal's picture

Thanks a lot Michael!

.00's picture

The Stroke, will be of no use to you if you are exploring American hand-lettering in the 20th century. Save your money.

.00's picture

The Stroke, will be of no use to you if you are exploring American hand-lettering in the 20th century. Save your money.

Godal's picture

All right, thanks terminaldesign, I cancelled it.

Diner's picture

Oscar Ogg and Rand Holub wrote some very good books on the subject complete with very insightful forwards that speak to the 'state of the industry' ala 1950 . . .

Stuart :D

Quincunx's picture

While The Stroke isn't of very much use for American lettering, I thought it was an interesting read anyway. And it's just a small booklet which doesn't cost very much.
If you are interested in writing and a theory behind it, you should look into it regardless of your research subject. :)

.00's picture

I put The Stroke in the same category as Elements of Typographic Style. I call the category The Over-Hyped and Semi-Useless.

Quincunx's picture

Ok. I don't.

Godal's picture

Wow, that book is beautiful Nick. I found it at Abe Books, I might have to go over my student budget a little and buy it :) "Scripts (Script Lettering)" by Rand Holub sounds nice Stuart, as does "Lettering as a Book Art" by Oscar Ogg - definitely getting those at some point!

Diner's picture

I think your primary challenge will be bridging the content from the early part of the century via printed matter through the online stuff from the 1990s . . .

You may also consider looking through the Taschen book series of All-American Ads from 1900 through 1980 to observe the 'aesthetic' evolution of hand lettering and its use in commercial advertising as well as its non-printed advertising use . . .

Your thesis will likely find correlations between era related design trends and the use of hand lettering but while advertisements aren't the end all be all of your thesis, it's likely the best documented . . . You cannot ignore non-advertising sources of hand lettering from showcards through pinstriping through painted billboards and signage and non-commercial lettering such as the evolution of modern calligraphy and the height of lettering at the end of the Century revealed itself in millions of 'scrappers' who took the baton of hand lettering and evolved a new interest and awareness in hand lettering . . .

You're correct in your initial post that this is a broad topic but nobody has really addressed any lettering that occurred after 1970 so far in the thread specifically and there were a TON of changes just in the last 30 years of the century . . .

Stuart :D

nancy sharon collins's picture

hi,

i would recommend also looking at traditional engraving styles, initially these were all hand cut, just copied. later this process was mediated by a machine (pantograph, as it is still today) and then digital. but the styles were developed over time through the act of engraving.

look at bergling's books still available through gem city press. i've always wondered where the originals for this wacky, huge body of work came from. all i could ever find out was that, according to his obit, he migrated to chicago at the turn of the last century then out to CA for a bit but, supposedly, returned for the white fair, worlds expo in the windy city. but i am not sure this is accurate.

anyway, the books are fun and cheap.

also, there's an illustrator's blog with loads of lettering people on it. if i can find it i will let you know.

FeeltheKern's picture

@terminaldesign: I'm curious to know why you think "The Stroke" and "The Elements of Typographic Style" are useless. I suppose if I put these on a continuum with something like "The Logo, Font & Lettering Bible," one end would be the extreme of theory, and the other end the extreme of practicality. But I think for a research project, just looking at examples of 20th century American type isn't going to lead to any meaningful idea unless there's a lens to view it through.

.00's picture

I've discussed by opinion of "Elements" at length on Typophile, that thread is probably around somewhere. My opinion of the Stroke is that it is an over-intellectualized analysis. As someone who has learned by doing, at a time when there was no internet and very few resources on type design, I had to come to my own conclusions about things. I just don't find the book useful to me, that's all. Perhaps you find it enlightening.

blank's picture

I found The Stroke quite useful, but I had to learn about type design on my own in a city where nobody else was doing it. I can see how it isn’t much use to someone with years of experience, but for a designer working on his first font it’s great to have someone explain exactly why all those intuitive aspects of drawing with a pen can be used to develop, examine, and critique a type design. But James is right—it’s not relevant to this research, at least not enough to justify reading it over something else. A BA thesis just doesn’t offer enough time to read everything—trust me, I went way overboard on the research and everything else I did suffered.

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