An Essay on Typography Paperback – 1993
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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.
Gill uses typography and printing as the vehicle for his social thoughts, and offers a good bit of advice on typography throughout. He discusses letter forms as ethetic, practical, and historical objects - especially interesting from a man who made so much typographic history himself.
I never did quite work my way through all of his social arguments, however. He seems to hold "engineers" as the opponents of art and perhaps creativity. I known that many engineers then and now lack training in esthetics and visual presentation. Anyone who's seen the Brooklyn Bridge or Eiffel Tower knows, however, that engineering is also a creative act. Gill ridiculed the practice of one worker designing a font, a second preparing it for transfer to metal, another cutting the master tools for each letter, and so on. I have to agree, the assembly line mentality is not suited to all tasks, especially when each product is as unique as a letter form. Still, among all arts, printing is perhaps the one most typified by team effort and division of labor. It would be a very rare individual who could create a text worth reading, create the font in which it is presented, set the type and run the press, and carry out all the other tasks needed to create a bound book. The question is not whether parts of a job should be handed to different specialists, but which jobs should be subdivided - a question I never saw answered.
This is a wonderful work by a man whose livelihood, art, and spiritual life all worked closely together. I recommend it to anyone who works in the arts, not just those with an interest in type.