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Old 04-30-2006, 12:12 PM   #1
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Default Book on American type designers

Another interesting and useful book: American Type Design & Designers, by David Consuegra (ISBN 1-58115-320-1).

This appears to be a brain dump from someone who has loved and studied type for many decades. The author shows font examples, but also includes information about the people who make and use type. It is “essentially a book on people, an account of a great deal of work done silently,” as the author explains it. He also says it is not comprehensive and hopes “this research may attract many other people … to complement my achievements.”

The book is huge (320 9 X 11-inch pages), printed in News Gothic Light at 9 point. It contains enough information — and ranges through enough topics — for three or four books.

The 7-page introduction is a thumbnail history of type; it could easily be expanded into a book of its own.

This is followed by an annotated chronological listing of type-related events (24 pages) and a comparison of American and European font releases (4 pages). After that is a two-page alphabetical table of contents listing all the typefaces covered in the main body of the book, designer name, and page number.

The main section is alphabetical by designer. Each of these includes a snapshot of the designer (if none, then a grey rectangle), and a biography. These are printed in one of the designer’s typefaces, if available — sometimes disastrously: Garrett Boge’s write-up was in Spring, a pretty script never intended for long text; Rea Irvin’s in Irvin, The New Yorker signature display face; Richard Isbell’s in his unreadable Americana; Gerry Powell in Stencil; and several others in scripts that should not have been used). This is followed by several pages (usually) with type specimens and/or examples of the type in use, all annotated.

This section is, of course, the meat and potatoes of the book. It has a few curious lapses. For example, Sumner Stone is represented only by his original Stone family, none of his even more interesting fonts (including the ITC Bodoni family and the Cycles, Arepo, Stone Print, and SFPL collection). Omitting Matthew Carter’s Miller collection as well as his screen font work for Microsoft (Tahoma, Verdana, and Georgia). And there are way too many examples of 19th-century woodtype font makers.

That section is rounded off with one-page “biographies” of eight major font manufacturers. The end of the book has a glossary (quite a hodge-podge of terms, too), a bibliography, and a detailed index. Whew.

A few disappointments

This book could use a serious fact-checking and proofreading. It contains typos, but worse, there are real errors: Conflating the IBM Selectric with its typesetter, the Selectric Composer; confusing the the Apple II with the Macintosh (describing the former as having pull-down menus and a mouse); and confusing the title of Marshall McLuhan’s second book, The Medium Is the Massage with the famous punchline of his first, “the medium is the message,” to mention a few that hit my eye. A knowledgeable copy editor would have caught those and other errors.

It is hard to read — the large format, thin paper, and tiny, light, sans serif type all contributing to that.

Bottom line

Despite its problems, American Type Design & Designers really ought to be in the library of anyone who uses or loves type. It complements other must-haves, including McGrew’s American Metal Typefaces of the Twentieth Century and the Encyclopedia of Type Faces.

And, as the author suggests, it offers a roadmap for others who may want to continue to document the great saga of type.

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