An Essay on Typography Paperback – 1 Jan 1993
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Top customer reviews
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
I read this the first time about 20 years ago, and then gave it away, and recently purchased another copy. I have frequently remembered what I took from Eric Gill: the idea of doing everything with the intent of doing it well, and that the frame of the picture (or the typeface of the document, or a careful paint job in a room) --the shape of the communication -- can be as important as the communication itself.
As the title suggests, "An Essay on Typography" (first published in 1931) discusses typography. Gill's credentials as a type-designer include the still-popular Gill Sans and Perpetua typefaces. The book itself is set in his Joanna face. I found it quite enjoyable to read. The pages are typeset according to his suggestions (in the chapters "The Procrustean Bed" and "The Book") for page layout: even spacing between words, 10-12 words per line, sufficient line space. The bottom margin is larger than the others, as he recommends, for ease of holding the book. Unfortunately I never hold a book at the bottom (when using one hand I hold it at the top; with two, at the sides). For the most part his notions of good type design and page layout are the same as you hear web designers periodically proclaiming today.
There is a chapter on lettering, giving a very brief history of the roman alphabet. And the next chapter is on the three alphabets in use by printers: uppercase, lowercase, and italics.
I would argue that the main theme of the book is not typography, however, but rather on the conflict between assembly-line style industrialism and the art of handicrafts at the beginning of the 20th century. Gill tries to make the case that industrial manufacturing methods and the methods of the craftsman fulfill completely different roles in society, and so are not actually in conflict. Both have their place.
He is concerned, however, that each method should stick to its own proper idea of aesthetics. Industry is good at mass producing things inexpensively using machines (and humans who are treated like machines). These mass produced goods should not try to imitate handicrafts, because mass-produced fanciful flourishes end up looking and feeling fake. Commercial posters attempting to shout each other down have turned to heavier (bolder) fonts, and have ruined legibility. Likewise with flyers using a jumble of typefaces to attract attention.
He is finally able to clearly express his concept of the complete separation between industrialism and handicrafts by the later chapters. For example from the chapter on "The Instrument":
"The time has come when the handicraftsman should cease altogether either to rail at him [the industrialist] or envy him. Let each go his own road."
And the roles of each:
"The industrialist makes no claim to produce works of art; he does so nevertheless -- when he is not imitating the art works of the past. The artist makes no claim to serve his fellow men; nevertheless he does so -- when he is not wholly led astray by the notion that art is self-expression of the expression of emotion."
Also in the chapter on "The Book," after discussing some economic considerations of publishing, Gill concludes:
"Whether, as seems probable, industrialism win a complete victory, or human nature so far reassert itself as to overthrow industrialism, is not here our concern. For the present we hold simply to the conviction that the two principles and the two worlds can exist side by side [...]"
As a stenography enthusiast the last chapter, "But Why Lettering?", was a very pleasant surprise. Gill points out the lack of consistency between the sounds of spoken English and the roman letters used to represent them. As a solution he advocates the roman alphabet be replaced by a phonographic alphabet like those used in shorthand systems! He devotes several pages to anticipating the charge that shorthand is ugly. This leads me to believe he was only familiar with the Pittman system and had not seen the cursive Gregg system which was dominant in America at the time. He rightly points out that current shorthand systems sacrifice legibility for speed, whereas a system designed to replace the alphabet for everyday writing would have to be completely unambiguous (everyday writing doesn't require real time transcription, anyway).
The last chapter also has a cute bit where he uses Adam Smith's example of the specialization required to manufacture a pin to conclude that capitalism is the most cooperative system ever developed.
Look for similar items by category
- Books > Art, Architecture & Photography > Graphic Arts > Typography
- Books > Art, Architecture & Photography > History of Art & Architecture
- Books > Art, Architecture & Photography > Print & Decorative Arts > Prints
- Books > Scientific, Technical & Medical > Engineering > Industrial Chemistry & Manufacturing Technologies