Five Cavafy poems newly translated by David Smulders and illustrated with five new wood engravings by Peter Lazarov.
Shown here are two of Peter Lazarov's wood engravings from the book. Images are copyright Peter Lazarov.
Printer and publisher of limited-edition books. Paul Razzell, Proprietor.
By Sem Hartz
Note: As part of my long-standing interest in the work of Dutch type designer Sem Hartz, I am pleased to reproduce the following essay, which was published in the 1958 Penrose Annual to accompany the first specimen of Hartz's Linotype Juliana. — Paul Razzell
It is somewhat bewildering to the artist in these times of machine perfection to be commissioned to do a job like designing a new type face for a composing machine. This is the more so if he has been accustomed to engraving his own designs, whether they are illustrations or postage stamps, because in such cases the design is merely a rough sketch to be finished during the engraving itself. Making designs for mechanical punchcutting is quite a different proposition. Nothing should be left to the correcting influence of tools or material and to that feeling of fitness-for-purpose which the craftsman applies almost without being it aware that he does so.
When I was commissioned to design the type now before you I had, as I thought, a clear idea of what I wanted to do. My experience of cutting another type, shown in The Penrose Annual some years ago, gave me this feeling that I knew what I was about to do now. It was not at first realized that cutting a type by hand after making sketches on the same size as the actual type is quite different from what I was now going to attempt. A revaluation of what one had accepted as evident was indicated. These notes result from that re-thinking.
There is a widespread misconception that the types we use owe everything to writing and calligraphy. Type is clearly derived from the written letter, but the many attempts to design a type on the basis of the pen-written letter have shown that there is a wide gulf between type design and writing. Many people who have done much to revive the sense of good lettering and to arouse an interest in typography have been archaic and one-sided in their approach to type design. Possessed of a feeling for beauty even the most superficial student of type design cannot be blind to the charm of manuscripts and early printed books. Yet to argue that it is exclusively to these models that we should turn when designing a type face is not wholly valid.
Many students of type, including men who did much to improve our taste in type design, were not aware of the subtle changes that occurred during the conversion of the written letter into type. Some writers believe that early printers and typefounders had the letters of some famous penmen copied by an engraver, and that if this were done faithfully and well it resulted in a beautiful type face. This argument is easy to follow, but on examination proves incorrect.
There is a meretricious charm about old or venerable books. It is therefore salutary to recall the impact of the first printed books on their contemporaries; the Duke of Urbino declared that nothing so inferior as a printed book could find a place in his library. Although we, today, would be only too glad to own one of those rejected books the Duke’s prohibition was not without reason. Early books look beautiful to us because they represent the first step in type design. The engravers who made the punches for those early types were mostly masters of their craft.
Anybody who has tried to cut punches knows that no ordinary jeweller or goldsmith can engrave anything remotely reminiscent of type. The first punches were cut in imitation of written letters, and the only alterations in design came about through the intuitive technique dictated by the tools of the punchcutter. These alterations were indeed very slight, but then the difference between one letter and another is but slight.
To take an example from another craft, in etching the sole aim of the first engravers employing this special technique was to imitate line engraving; the etched line had to be part and parcel of a work executed in another medium. It takes a trained eye to detect the etched parts in early prints where both methods were used. If the etcher was a clever craftsman detection becomes very difficult, the more so when tools were specially adapted to fake an engraved line. Callot is a typical example. One of the characteristics of the engraved line is its thin beginning and ending. By using a needle sharpened in a special way Callot imitated the engraved line so well that almost everybody was deceived.
Such ‘faking’ has been practised even the other way round. Rembrandt made two prints, both of them line-engravings, which give the impression at first sight of being etched. To return to the first method; it took quite a long time before etching became an art of its own with its own characteristics, different from the other intaglio techniques. Compared with engraving it is a thing apart, as far apart even as are writing and printing.
In architecture we notice the same thing. In the first transition from wood to stone the construction and even the outward appearance of wood are imitated, but slowly both the material and the way it is used leave their traces. The stonecutter adds his own as well as the material’s style.
From the written book onwards type has been cut by a punch cutter and it cannot be denied that he has left more of his mark on type than the scribe (and more than many typographers are aware of). It is most interesting to see how type may fail when it springs directly from writing. The early printed books have many of the charms of the written book: line endings, initials, borders, etc. done by hand. The unevenness of the lines, the differences in the distribution of the ink, all tend to give a sense of nearness to the pen-written word. But observe what happens when those influences are not at work.
The first private presses nearly all have a certain contradiction in their mixing of compounds, the type faces bearing some of the characteristics of the written letter (though not too well translated in the reproduction) while the characters stand to attention in their exact justification like gay troubadours drilled by a sergeant-major. We are wearied by the constant repetition of something that would be pleasant when seen only once; and, even worse, often it is not even a translation into another medium, but only the slavish copying of a drawn line in another unsuitable material. These faults are typical of any age in which the sense of material is lost. Type should be a crystallization of the form of a letter and not a copy of the incidental beauty of one letter.
Though a study of calligraphy is a guide towards a better understanding of the derivation and form of letters, type cannot be produced by imitating handwriting. The finest letters and the best types may give the impression of being influenced by calligraphy, but nevertheless typography and calligraphy are worlds apart. It is certain that a new type face possessing the quality of timelessness which every good type face should possess will not spring directly from calligraphy. Some designers of fine types may believe that they started from a study of calligraphy but they have such an inborn, traditional feeling for what type is and should be that they quite unconsciously live up to the demands of type.
I believe that Centaur was designed by writing rapidly over enlarged photographs of Jenson’s type. Corrections and small alterations were made afterwards. I do not know what transitional processes the designs went through before Monotype cut the punches but the result was type with perhaps a strong period flavour. Centaur and the Treyford type are two examples of designers having written out a type face, but the results are different. Centaur is a clear, crisp type face. Treyford appears as a complex of pot hooks which could be wearisome. Nevertheless the designer of the Treyford type was a very able penman who chose a model which is of some calligraphic merit.
The crux of the matter is that type is not pen-written characters, but sharply-cut letters. The most able designers have undoubtedly such feeling for tradition and material that they give their types the finish which stamps the work of a master craftsman. Type cut by hand, whether by the designer alone or by designer and punchcutter in close collaboration, may well have qualities lacking in a mechanically-cut type. Nevertheless there are many examples of mechanically-cut type designed by a master which surpass in quality many so-called types that are merely written or drawn letters imitated in steel or some other material.
Edward Johnson, the man whose calligraphy and scholarship have exerted an influence the extent of which cannot easily be measured, never directly fathered a good type face. Curiously enough his influence found even better response in Germany than in the rest of the continent. In Germany, where the tradition of black-letter survived, we find almost no true roman type, and there is no other country where so many type faces have been cut with so little likelihood of surviving the test of time. The leading German type designers are very careful to preserve their ductus as they call it, meaning the very personal style or hand of the designer. If we see lettering cut in wood by a German master craftsman letter-designer (smacking strongly of the penstroke and with an intentional unevenness that would be charming in the drawing of a child) there is so much insincerity and arty craftiness that the eye can only be soothed by lettering done without frills and in all simplicity. Here the old and new bread-and-butter types score. To repeat what was written almost forty years ago on this subject by one of the ablest continental designers: ‘Because of its technical and aesthetic evolution, a letter, to become type, cannot and must not keep its pen-written character’.
One almost hears the question at this point: ‘What about italic? Surely there is an undeniable affinity with the pen-written character.’ At first sight there seems to be such an affinity. But if one looks closely it is rather the slope and narrowness of italic that give the impression of a pen-written character. This has been done often enough and with dire results. There are several instances of modern writing copied faithfully in metal. The defenders of these letters say: ‘The old successful types were copies of the best hands written at the time. They are of enduring beauty. As each period has its contemporary handwriting we can legitimately achieve the same result if we copy in metal the handwriting of the present time.’
At first this seems quite rational; but when one probes deeper the weakness of this reasoning becomes evident. In the first place we have no contemporary handwriting. There certainly is a revival of calligraphy based mostly on fine fifteenth and sixteenth-century hands. The influence of this revival may be the basis on which a real contemporary handwriting will rise. At present most of this writing smacks rather strongly of pastiche. But it certainly has the merit of being clear, legible, and uncomplicated.
But what is one to think of a recent venture in typefounding where contemporary handwriting, with all its imperfections and even the effect of the grain of the paper, is faithfully copied in metal? This type face is so illegible that it bears a little letter on the shoulder of each type to indicate what character it represents. Even the producers of this type will not, I am sure, advocate the setting of matter of any length in it; but what then is the use of cutting it laboriously in metal and casting it? Any lettering artist can produce something to the same effect that could be made into a good line block at short notice.
Advertising probably needs a great variety of type and the brush-written character (pinselschrift as the Germans call it) may be very useful; but it should not be hailed as the contemporary type. It is not based on present-day handwriting because there does not seem to be such a thing, as yet.
Tradition has given us the ‘arbitrary signs of the alphabet’, as Frederic Warde calls them, and the only valid reason for designing a new type nowadays seems to be a type with some specific purpose, without bothering about writing or whether it is contemporary or not. Beauty and contemporariness are not things that can be designed into a type; they can come only of their own accord. The Juliana design now before the reader is simply an attempt to make a rather narrow and space-saving type, as legible as possible.
There are few things we enjoy more than an engrossing book about Dutch type design. By the same token, there are few things more frustrating than not being able to find books published in English that deal with the work of a favourite Dutch designer. Such is the case with Sem Hartz, a gifted engraver and designer who lived—and died—under the shadow of his colleague, Jan van Krimpen. Perhaps for this reason, Hartz did not receive the critical and biographical attention one would expect of such an accomplished figure.
Frustrated by the dearth of information about Hartz in English, Inferno Press commissioned Mathieu Lommen, a curator at the Special Collections Department at the Amsterdam University Library and friend of Hartz, to write the story of the design of Linotype Juliana. Sem Hartz and the Making of Linotype Juliana is the first publication in the English language dealing exclusively with the making of this face. It is the kind of book Inferno Press was created to publish.
Lommen's text has been laser-printed on archival paper using a newly digitized version of Juliana. In fact, this is the inaugural appearance of this font, which is now commercially available from the Font Bureau. Photographic reproductions of Hartz's early drawings for Juliana are tipped in. The cover is letterpress-printed on a Nepalese Lotka paper (various colours) or on an orange Zerkall Ingres. 8 ¼ by 5 inches. 15 pages. 100 numbered copies. Stitched into soft covers. Out of print. Copies may still be available from the dealers listed at the right.
Reviewed by Dave Farey in Parenthesis 14, February 2008:
'For those interested in type design, and particularly those interested in the gestation of a typeface through to its commercial availability, this little vignette — just eight pages of text with three tip-in illustrations — in a format slightly larger than a paperback, provides a snapshot of the creative and mechanical processes of typefounding, that was literally in its dying days during the 1950s. This is essentially the story of Juliana, the only accomplished typeface designed by Sem Hartz, the trials and tribulations of bringing it to market, where the incredibly slow pace of seven and a half years was extreme, judged even by the archaic methods of type production just some fifty years ago. . . .'