Eric Gill - decency in modern day type usage

onemandub's picture

Assuming that the expert typophiles here have already discussed this matter, i apologise in advance for what i have no doubt will upset more than one of the visitors to this forum.

i was recently asked to rework an outside designers input for promotional material prior to the receipt of final titles when i noticed that a bold Gill had been used (and pathetically stretched) in their "signed off" logo design. This work was for a family show across Scotland and as a borderline autistic typeface geek i rapidly recalled the somewhat shocking revelations of Gills life throughout the early to mid 90's where his extreme sexual misbehaviour was detailed. Not only was he prone to extra marital affairs (hardly unique) but also child abuse (his 2 daughters) incest (his sister) and most worryingly of all, **** (the family dog).

I chose to avoid using Gill thereafter. Am i alone in this decision?

Jonathan S.

Information taken from;

Eric Gill by Fiona MacCarthy, Faber & Faber 1989.

PublishingMojo's picture

it’s over 25 years since i’ve poured over Penthouse

Speaking of deviance, could you identify the fluid that you poured over Penthouse? Or is "pore" (to examine closely) one of those words that has a u in the UK but not in the US?

onemandub's picture

A multitude of things. Initially alarm and panic - rapidly followed by hours of study...

When you're sat in front of 3 screens at once - 2 laptops and one tower, running Cinema 4D Office/Firefox and Ilustrator/Photoshop through 17 hours that were meant to be a holiday - well anything's possible. Even crude humour.

Apologies for the "poured/pore" one Victor.

1985's picture

I used Gill Sans today for the first time in ages because of this post.

Nick Shinn's picture

Jonathan, your obsession with the sex life of Eric Gill could be construed as somewhat prurient.

You should be careful your clients don't find out about this personality trait of yours, or they may decide that doing business with you exceeds the bounds of decency.

onemandub's picture

I'd check what i actually wrote and responded with before making such statements like that.

Jens Kutilek's picture

I learned yesterday that the Obama 08 campaign changed Gill Sans and Perpetua for Gotham and Requiem for the same reasons mentioned by »New Order«. Well, not exactly the same reasons, but because somebody might use Gill’s story to discredit the presidential candidate.

dberlow's picture

>Hopefully David this draws a close to a conversation that lost its way far too quickly...

Apparently not.

>i’ll be sticking to the decision to avoid any Gill typefaces unless they’re completely necessary...

So you will compromise your principles to support parental abuse by their children?

>When you’re sat in front of 3 screens at once... well anything’s possible.

You think you have tough work!? LOL.
I wonder what effect the war had on Gill.
You might have to think hard, so be careful.


mehallo's picture

It it means anything, after taking my history class, one of my students now refers to Gill as

Puppyfuck Sans

I think if it's just labeled like that on the font menu, this may solve a lot of moral dilemmas when picking type.

Just sayin.

steve mehallo

William Berkson's picture

On the ethical issue, I do think it makes a difference whether the author of a work is dead. If alive and reprehensible, then it it makes sense to boycott his or her work. If dead, especially long dead, I don't think there is the same imperative.

Nick Shinn's picture

I’d check what i actually wrote and responded with before making such statements like that.

I did, but I'm afraid you missed the irony.
Let me spell it out:
You started this thread, and admitted, "I rapidly recalled the somewhat shocking revelations..."
Don't you think that kinky tabloid muck-raking is a mite unprofessional?
You're reworking another's design, and casting aspersions on his/her type choice with the Old Puppyfucker gambit.
And you have the nerve to talk about decency?
So my advice is, don't raise this issue with your client as it might reflect poorly on you.
There are other reasons not to use Gill Sans, if you want to rationalize your type preference.

David Rault's picture

David Bowie once said that he believed in Fascism and that Adolf Hitler was the first Rock star.
Eric Clapton said they should send all black people away from UK before it becomes a black colony.
Rob Lowe had trouble with justice for having (videotaped) sex with a 16 year old.
Woody Allen left his wife in order to live with their adopted daughter.
Roman Polanski... Well you know the story (who doesn't).
John Wayne was one of the most black people hater ever.
Mel Gibson said all the wars in the world had to be blamed on jewish people.
Salvador Dali was a passionate admirer of Fascism.
Herge (the creator of Tintin) was a little too close to the nazis during the war.
etc etc etc.

Should we stop listening to their records, admiring their paintings, watching their movies, reading their books? Or should we judge their works for what they are, and not for who their authors were?

You tell me.


1985's picture

Men, relax!

David R - strange that you include Mel Gibson, his crimes are not paired with artistic offerings!

David Rault's picture

1985: I do like Mel Gibson the actor and director, but you have the right not to.

In fact, I do like all the people I mentionned in my post. And I like a lot Eric Gill's typefaces and engravings (some of which I own). I recently published a book in France about typography, one chapter is dedicated to Gill Sans and contains a biography of Gill, in which I state very clearly his sexual misconduct. Though, I also say that his typefaces are very beautiful.


William Berkson's picture

David R, I don't think we should say the person's conduct is always irrelevant, or always relevant.

As I said, whether the person is dead or living makes a difference, and also the extent to which his or her art is tainted by their reprehensible conduct.

Also some of your 'facts' are not correct. Woody Allen--whose movies I refuse to see--was never married to Mia Farrow. John Wayne, whom I never liked as an actor, was not the "biggest black people hater ever." In a Playboy interview of 1971 he made some stupid and wrong comments expressing annoyance with black activists, but they are hardly the stuff of virulent racism.

Jan's picture

Woody Allen—whose movies I refuse to see ... because he constantly uses Windsor Elongated for his titles, I suppose.

1985's picture

New Order, are you aware how many negative connotations are thrown up by your own account name?
I assume you are referring to the band?

New Order, Wikipedia:

Rob Gretton, the band's manager for over twenty years, is credited for having found the name "New Order" in an article in The Guardian entitled "The People's New Order of Kampuchea".[citation needed] The band adopted this name, despite its previous use for ex-Stooge Ron Asheton's band The New Order. As the term "New Order" was featured in Hitler's Mein Kampf as "the new order of the Third Reich" and the name Joy Division originated from the prostitution wing of a Nazi concentration camp mentioned in the 1955 novel The House of Dolls, critics attempted to cite fascist undertones.

1985's picture

PS William, you avoid Woody but can recall a Playboy article from 1971!

(Come on Dez, get involved!)

William Berkson's picture

>can recall a Playboy article from 1971!

That's my know-it-all friend Mr. Google. All the stuff on the internet attacking John Wayne refer to it, and some quote it.

eliason's picture

You use Google?! Are you aware of the smut they index?

onemandub's picture

New Order as in the band. Yes. Who I've followed - literally - for 25 years. Including a Stateside tour in 1989 where i saw kids of all colours enjoy themselves. The group did left wing miners strike & AIDS benefits during the 80's. Zero level of fascism i can assure you. As for Wikipedia. I'd trust that level of information as far as i could throw it. The accusation of the bands "fascist" leanings stemmed from a UK music journalist called Steven Wells a very long time ago..incorrectly. Rob Gretton spotted the newspaper headline AFTER Bernard Sumner had proposed the bands new name. Right wing assholes were thrown out of several Joy Division concerts in "79 & '80. No citation needed.

As for "kinky tabloid muck-raking". I didn't quote Gill's own words on the subject but i'm sure i could if i genuinely wanted to. They are available.

1985's picture

Thanks for addressing my question.

I'm a New Order and Joy Division fan too so you needn't convince me.
(Don't tell me I'm too young!)

My point was not that either band was/is fascist but that they were comfortable enough to use names that were dubious in origin.
You are comfortable with that too it seems, so why not use Gill?

Wikipedia pulls through on the basics!

Pablo R's picture

So to have artistic merit one has to fall short of a saint?

Please, can the last one out turn off the light?

onemandub's picture

1985 - i'm delighted to hear that you're a New Order/Joy Division fan. I kind of assumed there was something there based on your post relating to my fad choice of monicker. Truth is that the majority of my early interest in design came from Factory Records. There were multiple blacks and jews involved in Factory so any notion that Joy division or New Order had right wing thoughts was unlikely. Having said that - Bernard Sumner's own cover illustration for Joy Division's first single "An Ideal For Living" was a poor choice by any standards. If i had ever thought they were a set of fascist idiots then i wouldn't have gone to see them 50+ times since '84.

I'm sure Wikipedia DOES pull through now and again.

paragraph's picture

Jonathan, to someone of my age and background, the ‘New Order’ nickname with its Nazi connotations is more offensive than the facts of Gill's private life. What some people here are pointing out is that while you show sensitivity about the use of Gill, your choice of a ‘in your face’ moniker does not show same. It is incongruous and invites a suspicion that you might just want to stir the pot.

onemandub's picture

New Order is the name of a band. Eric Gill was a self professed, incestuous child abuser. A wee bit of a difference that one. As for your suggestion that i'm some form of troll - forget it. If however, the name i have lifted from that band offends anyone here i shall happily change it.

charles ellertson's picture

The keystone of religious truths is that they are revealed, rather than observed (empirical), or tautologous (philosophical). Since they are revealed, they brook no counterargument. I'd say that's about where you seem to be; allowing no counterargument essentially ends a discussion.

1985's picture

@New Order

Remarkable that you have seen Joy Division (and or New Order) perform that many times. I might be jealous, but then, perhaps it is fitting enough not to have seen them and felt connected anyway. Don't change your name, balance the argument by using Gill!

No, I jest, I respect your decision. I was just trying to point out that you will always be drawn into some kind of scandal by the very things that surround you, your shoes, your car, etc.

PS You can't troll your own post I don't think, it breaks the internet.


Re the name New Order:
The difference between connotation and denotation.
It's about the free-play of signs and signifiers!
(Isn't that what Steve Coogan shouts?)

onemandub's picture

I wish i'd seen Joy Division - only New Order

"...signs & signifiers..."

Coogan to Rob Brydon playing an ill advised Sounds/NME journalist (of whom there were plenty)

If the use of the name bothers anyone i'll sort it.

David Rault's picture

OK then, don't use Gill Sans, don't buy Benetton clothes, don't watch BBC, don't buy Penguin books, don't use the subway when you go to London, honestly, who cares :-)

As of John Wayne, yes, I am talking about the Playboy Interview. Here is the exact extract I was referring to:

"I believe in white supremacy until blacks are educated to a point of responsibility. I don't believe in giving authority and positions of leadership and judgment to irresponsible people.... The academic community has developed certain tests that determine whether the blacks are sufficiently equipped scholastically.... I don't feel guilty about the fact that five or ten generations ago these people were slaves. Now I'm not condoning slavery. It's just a fact of life, like the kid who gets infantile paralysis and can't play football like the rest of us."

You might want to call that "stupid and wrong comments". It's up to you. Let's say, I disagree. These words could very well come as well from the mouth of any educated neo-nazi or member of the KKK. Still, I like to watch movies with the Dude. And I also enjoy watching movies with Charlton Heston. And so on. And, oh yes, Woody Allen wasn't married to Mia Farrow, but he lived with her for 12 years - I guess that counts.


1985's picture

Why not use the Tube?

David Rault's picture

Oh by the way, check this one, you'll love it:


will powers's picture


I'm curious about your statement "If [I corrected this] it means anything, after taking my history class, one of my students now refers to Gill as Puppyfuck Sans."

How much "pushing" did you do that might have lead students to discover these aspects of Gill's life? Did you assign the McCarthy bio and let it go at that? Or did you mention that there may be some seamy parts?


William Berkson's picture

David R.:

I'm not against using Gill's typefaces. He's long dead, and the typefaces are outstanding and historically important. For must uses, I wouldn't see any ethical problem, though for some it might be insensitive.

As I said, for me, it's a difficult issue, and sometimes I would boycott an artist's work on those grounds, and other times not.

Do you think that it is a simple issue: the creator's morals are always irrelevant to how we should treat his or her work?

aaronbell's picture

It is a difficult issue. For the vast majority of the audience, no one will care who Gill was or what he did, they only really consider the typeface. At the same time, if a company spent a great deal of money on a new identity that included one of his faces, only to find out later more about him, I could potentially see an issue arising. So, for folks who don't want to have the possibility of that association or feel other typefaces are more appropriate / stronger choices, there are plenty of others available and well done alternatives (that has been discussed elsewhere on typophile) that can be used instead.

Also, @New Order: "As a skilled mason, it is unlikely that Gill joined up during the 1st World War. Engineers and technically skilled workers regularly avoided the army as they were so important to the home war effort."

I just finished the chapter on Gill in The Secret History of Type and he did indeed end up in the army (he had to have his beloved beard shaved off) but he wasn't sent to war because it ended while he was still in boot camp, so he lost his symbol of masculinity for nothing.

David Rault's picture

Well, I still consider that avoiding using a typeface because its creator was a wacko is stupid. This being said, if true, I totally understand that Obama's advisors decided not to use Gill Sans because of the potential risk of being attacked on theses issues by the republican: this is USA. Enough said.


nina's picture

"if true, I totally understand that Obama’s advisors decided not to use Gill Sans because of the potential risk of being attacked on theses issues by the republican"
I assume that it is true; at least that's how Sol Sender, the creator of Obama's campaign logo, told the story at TYPO Berlin. I was rather surprised that he was so frank about this being the reason; one could certainly have made a quite convincing point for the replacement of Gill Sans with Gotham via the English<>American heritage/culture argument, without having to discuss sexual practices involving dogs.

Bert Vanderveen's picture

one could certainly have made a quite convincing point for the replacement of Gill Sans with Gotham via the English<>American heritage/culture argument, without having to discuss sexual practices involving dogs.

Yeah, but what about the personal lives of H&J... We don’t have enough info regarding Jonathan and Tobias to compute a moral judgement. And is living in NYC a plus or a minus (it must be the latter for designers living in the Midwest, right?)?

I am SO confused about this that the only typeface I dare to use now is the one based on the handwriting of my youngest kid, whose morals are beyond questioning of course (... or DID he cheat in kindergarten as his mother told me when the alimony was outstanding...?).

. . .
Bert Vanderveen BNO

William Berkson's picture

>this is USA. Enough said.

Oh those Americans! The French are so much better. No right wing there, and not an ounce of prejudice.

And the Americans were so stupid to overwhelmingly elect Obama, what a bunch of cretins.

onemandub's picture

Regarding Gill's involvement or lack thereof in WWI. "Bootcamp" for a British "Tommy" waa a very short experience before heading to war so assuming Gill's work on Stations of the Cross at Westminster ended in 1918 as documented with the war itself ending on the 11th of November 1918 (at 11a.m. that morning) he must have arrived in the army very late that year to have missed the war entirely. Was he a conscript or a volunteer? As for "I wonder what effect the war had on Gill." - Answer: he had a shave.

aaronbell's picture

I'm sure the shave was very traumatic for him. And wearing pants too. Poor guy. Enduring so much.

onemandub's picture


I hadn't considered the "pants" issue at all. Must have been a nightmare.

Thank you Mr Bell.

ben_archer's picture

I bet this really irks you too...

David Rault's picture

"Yeah, but what about the personal lives of H&J... We don’t have enough info regarding Jonathan and Tobias to compute a moral judgement" > very well put indeed.

William: I lived 10 years in NYC. It's still my favorite city in the world, and I am going there at least once a year. I am taking care of the american film festival of Deauville since 10 years. most of my best friends and memories are american. as of france, I left it a long time ago, I lived in Tokyo and now in Istanbul, since 5 years. I despise Sarkozy, and most of the french politicians altogether, as well as their pathetically poor social handling. the american overwhelmingly elected Obama, yes... after electing GWB *twice*, in case you forgot. in USA, republican (and democrat, actually) are very fond of digging some really old dirty crap in order to bury a candidate for presidency, and this is a fact you can't ignore as well.

don't come and judge me on 3 sentences in a forum, you don't know me, and I guess you will never do.


CameronWilliams's picture

Gill was, to say the least, a conflicted man, as are we all.

On the positive side are his typeface designs, and, so far unmentioned here, the reforms embodied by Vatican II; reforms that were in large part shaped by Gill's writings (though advocates of the Tridentine mass would place this on the negative side).

So, to use Gill's faces or not? It depends upon the text and the format only, not on Gill's life and acts. Should we eschew the use of all typefaces, serif and sans, used by the Nazis because of the enormity of their crimes?

William Berkson's picture

>don’t come and judge me

I was judging not you, but what you wrote. You dismissed a whole people with contempt. Yes, the US reelected George W. Bush--whether they elected him the first time is debatable--and they also elected Barak Obama. To focus only on one side is to miss the complexity and reality of America for the sake of a cheap shot.

What I object to in both your and Jonathan S's comments on Gill is that they are simplistic on an issue that is complex and serious. And the issue here is not simple "whackiness", but systematically vicious and harmful actions, and bad moral character.

I think that if we are to be responsible moral actors, we should not be be indifferent to the morals of those producing and selling us products. Now the world is full of villains and heroes, and both are involved in producing many products. So most of the time we don't know enough to make any judgment, and even if we did know enough we probably couldn't resolve the issue clearly. The many industrial products produced in bad labor conditions in poor countries is one example of such a very entangled issue. But when it comes to cultural products that are mainly the creation of one person, we sometimes do know more. And I think we have a responsibility to act on that knowledge.

The difficult case is when the artist is great, and the sin is also great. This is the case with Gill, and also the most widely discussed example, that of Richard Wagner. Here there is no doubt that he was a virulent anti-Semite who influenced Hitler and Nazism. But it is also true that he was an artist of great talent. How much his evil side spoils his artistic creations continues to be hotly debated. Daniel Berenboim caused a row in Israel when he broke the 50 year informal boycott of Wagner's music.

The complexity of the issue is shown by the fact that even Barenboim, who has championed performing Wagner's works, does not think it appropriate to perform them in every venue and occasion.

I don't pretended to have any simple guidelines on this, but I think the idea that in some situations a work might be appropriate, and others not is a pretty good concept. And I do think Gotham was a lot better choice for Obama's campaign than Gill, for more than one reason, including both the all-American look of Gotham and Gill's personal failings.

dezcom's picture

Gotham was the better choice whatever is thought of Gill. It is more reflective of our time, an American designed face and a damn good one. I also feel it works better as a system with weights that fit better as a family.
The Republican ooze slingers (who swim with the feces) would surely have attacked Obama using the "Gill card". Mainstream Republicans would have not been so tasteless though.


paragraph's picture

Chris, you just missed a chance to use æ :)

David Rault's picture

I won't go deeper into the fuss, but I wanted to say that I also think Gotham is a perfect choice for Obama.

William, when you say "I wasn't judging you", I guess you were referring to "the french are so much better"? That was classy.

Oh and before I forget, the french magazine "Le Monde Diplomatique" is using Joanna as its main type, both for titles and text, and it's gorgeous. This typeface is really beautiful.


mehallo's picture


I've actually set up my history class to be two-fold: I present the work and then present as much as I can dig up about the person, humanizing what they've done as best I can.

I typically present the Gill info - as I do Griffo, and even the legend of Gutenberg being shut out of his shop - as 'here's what I know, you draw your own conclusions.' (and frankly, I think Gutenberg should be played by Donald Sutherland in the movie - so that is bias on my part)

I also like to say the past is the past, history is the written account of it. And by that, there's no way to really know what REALLY happened. All we have is what's been written down. Good or bad, true or not.

Gill is interesting because I showcase his work, and then after, I talk about what is known about him as a person; mentioning his dedication to his religion and various other activities; it's all designed to let the students draw their own conclusions.

Some love his types, some are appalled, and some actually think it's cool there's a real freak out there. (!)

But one can't forget, behind every single typeface or design piece there is a person (or persons) - flawed or otherwise - that have done something that resonates with us today.

Which is why this page is so full of posts.

steve mehallo

dezcom's picture

"you just missed a chance to use æ :)"

Sorry, Jan,

I guess I was trying to be serious for a change:-)


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