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Letters of Credit: A View of Type Design [Hardcover]

Walter Tracy

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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential Reading for Typeface Designers 1 Oct 2004
By Shannon - Published on Amazon.com
We are in a golden age of typeface design. Modern software and the world wide web have made it easier than ever to design and distribute new and original typefaces at a rate that could not have been dreamed of in days previous. As Tracy notes in his final comments for the book, what should have been beneficial for the art of typeface design has instead brought on a glut of poorly designed and soporific typefaces. Little thought is given to good design or to obtaining the knowledge that is needed to produce such design. Though Tracy's book is dated (nearly 20 years old) it is as important now, perhaps even more so now, than it was when it was first written.

Letters of Credit is at once a history of modern typeface design and an introduction to the principles of good design. The book centers primarily on what is called the "body typeface," i.e. typefaces used for book/newspaper/magazine printing. As with any art, the student needs to learn the rules before he or she goes about breaking them. Conscious breaking of the rules is a sign of mastery, while breaking them out of ignorance is the sign of a poor artist.

Tracy takes us through what makes up a good typeface. The text is never so technical that the beginning student becomes lost. What makes up a good italic? What about numbers? What makes a good letter S? Which bar should be longer in the letter E? It is all here. The book is well illustrated with many black and white illustrations of the many typefaces he critiques. Tracy not only gives us what makes up a good typeface but shows us the pitfalls that can drag a good typeface down to a mediocre one. One of the most interesting aspects of the first half of the book is a system of letter fitting that Tracy devised in order to find the proper fitting for each glyph of the font that the designer is working on. For that alone, the book is well worth the price.

The second part of the book is a survey of some of the great names in modern typeface design and a critique of some of their greatest creations. Such typographic luminaries as Jan van Krimpen, Fredric Goudy, Rudolf Koch, W. A. Dwiggins and Stanley Morrison are included. Tracy speaks with the authority that only experience brings as he talks about these great typographers and their creations. His critiques in this section of the book are an education unto themselves on what makes up good typeface design. Bottom line, if you are interested in typeface design, even if your interest lies more in display typefaces, this book belongs on your shelf. You cannot help but come away from this book without taking with you a better idea of what makes up good typeface design.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Another piece of typographic history 24 Jun 2004
By wiredweird - Published on Amazon.com
Walter Tracy was successor to Stanley Morison, at least in advising the London Times and in opinionated personality. In this volume, he bridges much of the gap from Morison's writings on typography up to today's practice.
There's a lot of good technical content here, almost all of it regarding nuances of letterforms and design of type faces. He offers some interesting history, as well, from the turn of the century up to about the 1950s.
Among other type designers, he describes Rudolf Koch, best known for Kabel. As presented here, Koch was the first type designer to bridge the gap between the blackletter German alphabets and the Latin letters used elsewhere in Europe, to the advantage of both traditions. Tracy also spends a fair bit of time on Frederick Goudy. Goudy is certainly worth study, for both his succcesses and his less graceful work. Tracy seems to focus on the latter - his description of Goudy reads like a left-handed compliment in essay form.
Tracy was active from the hot-lead days, through photo typesetting, and into the early electronic era. He notes the advantages and weaknesses in each technology, as of when the book was written. Digital technology has progressed since then. Scanning has almost granted his wish that ".. vectorising is an automatic process ... [so] designers' work can be reproduced directly and with complete fidelity." Electronic design has also somewhat invalidated his claim that "the method of manufacture has [little] influence on the design of type." Frere-Jones' Reactor font is one among those that could never have appeared in metal. Also, the punchcutter's craft acted as an engraved metal barrier to entry into type design. With that barrier gone, amateur type design has come into its own (for better or worse).
The personality, the history, and the commentary on type design all make this a worthwhile book. It won't help the beginner much, and deals only with typographic issues at the level of letterforms and letter spacing. Still, it's a view worth seeing.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic book on letterform construction 16 Mar 2003
By Thomas W. Phinney - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Walter Tracy's "Letters of Credit" is a classic book on the construction of letterforms and typefaces. It includes historical information on each of the type families and designers it examines. The chapter that discusses the correct spacing of letters is a classic. Highly recommended to anyone with a strong interest in typeface design (along with Alexander Lawson's "Anatomy of a Typeface").
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Traces the movement from hot metal production to computers 7 Mar 2005
By Midwest Book Review - Published on Amazon.com
Typesetting has evolved from a hands-on metalworking skill to one generated by photos and computers - and the changing methods shows no signs of stability. Walter Tracy's Letters Of Credit: A View Of Type Design traces the movement from hot metal production to computers, arguing the letter forms themselves are always in a state of flux, no matter what their delivery system. Tracy has fifty years of professional experience as head of type design: his analysis criticizes type-design aesthetics and identifies common elements of hype and misinformation in the industry.
5.0 out of 5 stars Still the best 5 Nov 2012
By George Horton - Published on Amazon.com
This book's only serious fault is that it isn't ten times as long. It is the best introduction to type design available.
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