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Stephen J. Eskilson, Graphic Design: A New History (New Haven: Yale UP, 2nd Ed., 2013). Old Edition works too!

Stephen J. Eskilson, Graphic Design: A New History (New Haven: Yale UP, 2nd Ed., 2013). Old
Edition works too!
This book emerged in the context of the radical changes that
have revolutionized graphic design over the last few years. Digital
technology, which had already substantially influenced the
field for two decades, has transformed the way in which many
designers conceive of and execute their work. Newly established
branches of graphic design such as motion graphics and the
demand for highly interactive web-based media have spurred
a reevaluation of aesthetic principles that had previously gone
unquestioned. At the same time, designers have had to cope
with an almost constant state of flux in the advertising industry,
while at times balancing their commercial work with a broader
commitment to shape society in a positive way. These significant
developments are discussed at length in Chapter 10.
Each year, more scholars of the history of art and design
devote themselves to interpreting and evaluating the myriad
social and aesthetic implications of graphic design. This greater
awareness has spawned numerous books grappling with key
figures and defining moments in design history. Considering
these developments along with the recent transformation in
studio practice, it seemed that the time was ripe for a book that
would attempt an overall assessment of the history of graphic
design, taking into account this significant new scholarship. It is
my hope that this book will provide a sounding board for scholars
and students of graphic design who are as devoted to this subject
as I am.
It is my belief that graphic design history has too often
been presented through a parade of styles and individual
achievements devoid of significant social context, and that this
tendency has obscured much of the richness and complexity of
its development. In contrast, this book is predicated on the idea
that graphic design and typography are the most communal of art
forms, and I strive to show how deeply they are embedded in the
fabric of society in every era. The impact of political movements,
economics, military history, nationalism, colonialism, and gender,
as well as other germane topics, are treated continually across
the breadth of the book. Another important focus of the book is
upon the changing roles of graphic designers, an eclectic group
of artists whose exact professional status has often been fluid and
indeterminate, a situation that persists to this day. A consistent
theme in this book is the aesthetic commonality of graphic design
with architecture and other design practices, a factor that arose
as part of the late nineteenth-century quest for a unified style, in
both a visual and an ideological sense.
The introduction and ten chapters are organized in a
chronological fashion, although there is some overlap with
certain topics spanning more than one chapter. For example,
several (Chapters 4, 5, 6, and 7) must be read together to achieve
a thorough understanding of graphic design in the seminal
period of development between the First and Second World
Wars. Also, certain influential movements such as Dadaism are
threaded throughout multiple chapters (Chapters 3, 5, and 6) in
an attempt to clarify the web of connections between its many
disparate manifestations. The minor difficulties in navigating
these disjunctions should be outweighed by the benefits of greater
depth in the narrative.
New to this Edition
This second edition represents much more than the sum of
cosmetic changes and factual corrections (crucial as those are).
Rather, the publishers generously allowed me to revisit the
image selections and include upwards of 75 new works. New
images allowed me, in turn, to restructure and expand key parts
of the text; for example, there is now a stand-alone chapter on
nineteenth-century design, and considerably expanded treatment
of the Swiss Style, Postmodernism and contemporary.
Chapter Summaries
The introduction traces the history of classical typography from
the time of the Renaissance, introducing some key concepts
about type along the way. Chapter 1, new for this second
edition, examines how nineteenth-century industrialization and
the concomitant role of mass communication transformed the
visual culture of Europe and the United States. Chapter 2 traces
the revolt against Victorian aesthetics initiated by the Arts and
Crafts movement in the late nineteenth century, and tracks the
flowering of Art Nouveau in France, the United Kingdom,
the United States, Austria, and Germany. Chapter 3 recounts
the decline of Art Nouveau in the face of the pioneering
Sachplakat style that arose in Germany before the First World
War, and then shifts gears, tracking two important trends closely
tied to that war: propaganda posters and Dada experiments of
the 1910s.
In Chapter 4 the focus shifts to the links that were generated
between graphic design and emerging modernist art movements,
especially Cubism, Futurism, Vorticism, and Purism. The
chapter concludes with a thorough consideration of how these
influences coalesced to help form the commercial design style
now known as Art Deco. Chapter 5 traces the pivotal role that
artists of Dutch De Stijl and Russian Constructivism played
in formulating a geometric abstract style that would have
longstanding and unforeseen consequences for the history of
graphic design. In Chapter 6 we consider the complicated origins
of the Bauhaus and the New Typography in Germany during
the 1920s, which set the stage for Constructivist precepts to
subsequently spread across the rest of Europe. Chapter 7 shifts
the focus back to the United States, investigating the gradual
adoption of Art Deco and Constructivist techniques, the latter
promoted in the 1930s mainly by the Museum of Modern Art
in New York City. This chapter also delves into the reemergence
of strident propaganda in Germany under the National Socialist
regime, concluding with propaganda produced by the adversaries
in the Second World War.
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Chapter 8, now expanded, traces the triumph of the
International Style through which European and American
graphic design was swept up in a newly reinterpreted version
of Constructivist aesthetics. In Chapter 9 we explore the first
wave of resistance to the International Style that developed in
the 1960s, which eventually coalesced into the group of styles
and ideologies that formed Postmodernism. In this second
edition, Chapter 9 now gives a more complete accounting of the
theoretical and ideological underpinnings of Postmodernism.
Chapter 10, the last and longest chapter, examines contemporary
developments in graphic design and typography, finding much
both to celebrate and to question in recent years. With the
addition of over thirty new images, Chapter 10 closes with
a completely up-to-date survey of the wealth of aesthetic,
conceptual, and technical developments—from motion graphics
to the citizen designer—of the past several years.
by reviewers. In the UK: Charlotte Gould, The University of
Salford; Paul Linnell, De Montfort University; and Graham
Twemlow (thanks again). In the US: John T. Drew, California
State University, Fullerton; Samantha Lawrie, Auburn University,
College of Architecture, Design, and Construction; Scott Boylson,
Savannah College of Art and Design. Close to home, Arlene
Eskilson has read through each successive draft of the manuscript
and made many valuable observations.
This book would never have been completed without the
joy created at home by my three sons David, Gavin, and Jack,
who brighten every day, and without the assistance of their
two grandmothers, Arlene Eskilson and Gail Friedman. My
wife Jordi is the underlying inspiration for all my hopes and
Stephen J. Eskilson
At Brown University, Kermit Champa and Dietrich Neumann
served as my scholarly role models. At Eastern Illinois University,
Art Department Chair Glenn Hild has been supportive, while
my colleague Robert Petersen was always on hand with learned
advice. This book was originally accepted by former Publishing
Director Lee Ripley at Laurence King Publishing, who kept it on
track throughout the writing of the first edition. My thanks also
go to picture researchers Emma Brown and Amanda Russell, and
the Picture Manager Sue Bolsom. Richard Hollis, Elaine Lustig
Cohen, and Emma Gee all graciously helped fill in the gaps. At
Yale University Press, Art and Architecture Publisher Patricia
Fidler and Senior Editor Michelle Komie have been tremendously
For this second edition, Editorial Manager Kara HattersleySmith has deftly guided me and the book. Project Manager
Johanna Stephenson assisted me this past year through the pitfalls
of textual revisions and page proofs. Likewise, Amanda Russell
has worked assiduously on the images for the second edition. The
designer Grita Rose-Innes had an especially delicate assignment
in creating the look for a text on the history of graphic design,
and she has continually impressed me with her striking graphic
During the writing process I received indispensable help
from the reviewers who helped me to shape the structure of
the final text. In the United States these include Carolina de
Bartolo of Academy Art University, San Francisco; Rhonda
Levy of the School of Visual Arts, New York; and Nancy StockAllen of Moore College of Art and Design, Philadelphia. In the
United Kingdom Graham Twemlow of the London College of
Communication and the Surrey Institute of Art and Design,
and Ian Waites of the University of Lincoln, both provided
astute comments for which I am grateful. Additionally, the
second edition was greatly improved by the insights provided
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was 104%
now 98%
was 35.5%
now 30%
1 Johann Gutenberg, Gutenberg Bible, Mainz, Germany, 1455. The British Library, London.
2 Johann Fust and Peter Schöffer, Mainz Psalter, 1457.
The British Library, London.
any centuries before graphic design was established as a professional
practice during the late nineteenth century, typography played a vital
role in the culture of Europe. It was the development of movable
type during the fifteenth century that allowed the widespread printing of works in
the Latin alphabet during the time of the Renaissance in Europe. The name most
commonly associated with the invention of mechanically assisted printing is that of
Johann Gutenberg (c. 1398–1468), an entrepreneurial-minded man from Mainz,
Germany, who had trained as a goldsmith. Although Gutenberg did not himself
invent the printing press, oil-based inks, or cast metal type, he seems to have been
the first person in Europe to combine these tools successfully in order to publish
books. This new technology allowed for the mass production of printed material
on a heretofore unheard-of scale, and quickly replaced the agonizingly slow block
printing and hand copying that were predominant at the time.
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From Gutenberg to Bodoni
Around 1455, Gutenberg published his famous Bible, commonly
known as the Gutenberg Bible (fig. 1). A huge two-volume
work comprising 1,282 folio pages of 42 lines, it had been in
production in his workshop for almost two years. Gutenberg
printed fewer than two hundred copies of the Bible, which,
though produced on a modified wine press using movable type,
were subsequently rubricated by hand, greatly increasing the
amount of time needed to complete each volume. (Rubrication
refers to the process whereby words and phrases are highlighted
with different colored inks that either underline the text or are
used for the letters themselves.) In later years, the invention of
two-color printing would accelerate the printing process because
it completely eliminated the need for manual additions to a given
book. Eventually, the use of italics and small capitals would
replace the use of color as a way of showing emphasis.
Gutenberg’s Bible was set in a typeset variant of gothic script
called Textura, a name that refers to the dense web of spiky
letterforms that fill the completed page, giving it a “textured”
look. Textura was an example of blackletter type, meaning that
the letters strongly resembled the calligraphic writing of medieval
scribes. The layout of the Bible is elegant and straightforward,
with the text arranged in two columns that are symmetrically
balanced. Both columns of text are justified left and right,
although most copies feature letter illuminations that defy the
boundaries which constrain the body text. Just as important as
Gutenberg’s synthesis of various printing technologies was his
commitment to making mechanically printed books that aspired
to the same high aesthetic standards as handwritten volumes. It
was important that his Bible was beautiful, in order to compete
with the richly decorated manuscripts that dominated the market
at this time. Books such as those published by Gutenberg were
rare, cherished objects and would have been far beyond the
means of all but a tiny slice of European society. From the first,
Gutenberg’s aesthetic feat pushed book printing into becoming a
field with a very high standard of typographic quality, a standard
that was maintained in subsequent generations. The release of
the Gutenberg Bible demonstrated the potential for printing,
and over the next few decades the technology spread across most
of Europe. By 1500, there were over a thousand printers in
Germany alone.
When Gutenberg defaulted on his business loans in 1455,
his workshop was seized by the businessman Johann Fust (d.
1466). Fust, along with his assistant Peter Schöffer (1425–1503),
published the lavish Mainz Psalter in 1457 (fig. 2). The Mainz
Psalter represents an important development in that it combines
printed type with woodcut illustrations, a technique that would
become the basis for centuries of letterpress printing. Woodcuts
and metal type made to the same thickness could be printed
together, facilitating a close aesthetic relationship between text
and image.
A third work of immense importance to the development
of the book was printed by Anton Koberger (1440–1513) in
1493. The Nuremberg Chronicle, as it is known in English, had
been developed by a team made up of investors, a printer,
an author, and illustrators. Hartmann Schedel (1440–1514),
author—perhaps compositor is a better term—of the Latin text,
was a local scholar who put together the pieces of the narrative,
a meandering account of the history of the world from creation
until the present day (1493), divided into the conventional six
ages. A seventh age served to offer the reader a hypothetical view
of the future. Michael Wohlgemut (1434–1519) and his sonin-law Wilhelm Pleydenwurff (1460–1494) provided the 1,804
woodcut images that were printed from a total of 652 blocks.
Many images, such as those of historical figures, were used more
than once. Koberger, supported by Sebal Schreyer (1446–1520)
and Sebastian Kammermeister (1446–1503)—who acted as
publisher—printed as many as 2,500 copies of the Chronicle,
first in Latin and then some months later in German.
The Nuremberg Chronicle represents one of the earliest
high-quality books in which the text and illustrations appear
on the same page. This relief printing process, placing metal
type and woodcut images side by side, would remain the
mainstay of printing for centuries. It allowed for a visual and
conceptual complexity that opened up a new realm in the
history of book design. Koberger offered two versions of the
Chronicle, an inexpensive one with black and white pictures
and a deluxe one with hand-colored images. Perhaps the most
prized and influential illustrations from the Nuremberg Chronicle
show views of major cities. While some of these, such as the
view of Nuremberg itself, have many recognizable features, in
other instances the views were generic. In fact, only 26 unique
woodcuts were utilized to show 69 different cities. The doublepage view of Venice shown here (fig. 3) was individualized so that
it has a number of recognizable features including the Doge’s
Palace and St Mark’s Cathedral. The text refers to Venice as “the
most powerful city on land and water,” while the woodcut gives
some sense of the terrain as the city appears almost to float upon
the waves. Books published before 1501, such as this one, are
called incunabula, from the Latin word for “cradle.” Because of
the tremendous expansion of the printing industry in the late
1400s, over 40,000 incunabula were published before the close
of the century.
While Gutenberg, Fust, and Koberger had printed their
works in blackletter, a competing style, roman letters, emerged
in Venice in the 1460s in mechanical printing. The development
3 Nuremberg Chronicle, spread showing Venice, 1493.
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4 Nicholas Jenson, Evangelica Praeparatio from
Veneta in Urbe, Jenson-Eusebius Typeface, 1470.
The British Library, London.
5 Aldus Manutius, De Aetna, Bembo, 1495.
The British Library, London.
6 Martin Luther, trans., New Testament, 1522.
Woodcuts of the Apocalypse by the Master
(sometimes identified as Hans Cranach).
The British Library, London.
7 Claude Garamond, Gros Canon Romain typeface (adopted by Hendrik van den Keere), c. 1570. Museum Plantin-Moretus/Prentenkabinet, Antwerp.
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of roman type is directly tied to the central role that printing
played in the Renaissance. (The term “Renaissance” is used
generically to designate the period from roughly 1300 to
1600, when much of Europe enjoyed a significant economic
expansion, but it refers specifically to the rebirth of interest in
the Classical culture of ancient Greece and Rome.) Renaissance
printing in Italy was influenced by scholars known as humanists,
who concentrated their energies on the study of philosophy,
literature, the arts, and languages. Italian humanists had adopted
a type of handwriting called Carolingian minuscule that was
based on the style of writing used for official documents in the
Carolingian Empire during the ninth century. Partly derived from
ancient Roman cursive, this handwritten script was adopted by
Renaissance humanists because of its ties to antiquity. During
the late fifteenth century, this style became known as Humanist
minuscule, and it is the basis for roman forms through to the
present day. As the printing industry became more respected
and commercially viable, there was even greater use of roman
letters because it was no longer necessary for printed works to
imitate the gothic script of handwritten works in order to be
deemed valuable.
Printing was the core technological achievement that made
possible the advent of an era of increased scholarship during
the Renaissance. While in previous centuries it had taken
years for scribes to produce a few hundred copies of a book,
with mechanical presses thousands of copies could be made in
a matter of months. One of the finest early books printed in
Venice using roman type was Eusebius’s treatise De Praeparatione
Evangelica. Eusebius was a fourth-century Christian theologian
who is considered one of the first historians of the Church. The
treatise was published by a French expatriate, Nicolas Jenson
(1420–1480). Jenson had learned the technique of printing in
Mainz, where he lived prior to moving to Venice in 1467. Jenson
proved to have an excellent eye for forms that were both highly
legible and beautiful, and Jenson-Eusebius, with its light, open
roman letters, is much admired to this day (fig. 4). The contrast
in forms and the sloping stress are both derived from writing
with a quill pen. Despite the handwritten roots of the typefaces,
it is significant that typographers such as Jenson were essentially
metalworkers, who designed letters as part of the process of
engraving the metal punches—they did not draw their type
by hand. This fact makes the smooth, flowing forms and good
“color,” or overall visual texture, of Jenson’s roman that much
more remarkable.
Around 1500, Aldus Manutius (1449–1515), a Venetian
humanist and printer, published the first work in roman italic
type. Based on cursive handwriting, italic was not used as a
subset to create emphasis, as it mainly is today, but was its own
style—one that proved valuable because more words could fit on
each line than with either gothic or roman. In 1501, Manutius,
in association with the punch cutter Francesco Griffo, released a
volume of poetry by the ancient Latin author Virgil. Manutius’s
attention to economic issues led him to become one of the first
publishers of small printed books, called octavos because each
sheet was folded so as to create eight leaves.
Manutius also produced a number of roman forms, and
the one he used in his 1495 volume of De Aetna, by Pietro
Bembo, proved highly influential (fig. 5). This essay tells of the
Renaissance author’s journey to Mount Etna, the volcano in Sicily
that was sacred to the ancient Romans. The type designed for the
book, now referred to as Bembo, was even more readable and
harmonious than similar ones produced by Jenson. Its refined
proportions allow the eye to flow smoothly across the page.
While the individual letters are eminently legible, they are also
quite stylish; the midbar of the “F,” for example, is elongated
for aesthetic purposes. Along with Jenson-Eusebius, Bembo is
the basis for the group of roman types called Old Style, which
together are distinguished by their understated contrast, bracketed
serifs, and oblique stress. Historic typefaces are traditionally
grouped into three stylistic and chronological categories: Old
Style, followed by Transitional, and then Modern.
Another important contribution to Renaissance typography
was made by the French printer and publisher Claude Garamond
(1480–1561). One of Garamond’s key contributions was an
adaptation of Manutius’s Bembo that is perhaps more refined
than the original (fig. 7). With their broad forms and light
proportions, Garamond’s designs represented a startling change
from the rather heavy contemporary French gothics. In absorbing
Italian aesthetics, Garamond was following the path paved by
his mentor, Geoffroy Tory, a humanist who had journeyed to the
Italian peninsula and brought back an enthusiasm for the work of
Jenson and Manutius. This was in concert with the strong overall
trend in French art and culture during the later Renaissance
to admire and absorb Classical forms that were being revived
in Italy. While Garamond’s roman faces have many Italian
characteristics, overall they have somewhat more pronounced
contrast and slimmer, mainly horizontal serifs. It is important
to be aware that contemporary versions of historic typefaces such
as Garamond are often not true to the originals.
It was Garamond’s promotion of Old Style typefaces that
resulted in the gradual disappearance of blackletter in French
publishing, as roman faces came to the fore during the sixteenth
century. In fact, from that time on, roman type became strongly
associated with the French and Italian traditions, while Germany
laid claim to the blackletter form. Garamond is also credited with
establishing the first type foundry, as he would make copies of his
faces and sell them to other printers. He was the first typographer
to use italic as a complement to roman type, and he designed the
first italic face that was intended not to stand alone but to serve as
a partner to roman letters.
At the time of the invention of mechanical printing, so-called
gothic, or blackletter, scripts predominated in Europe. While the
older styles called Textura, used by Gutenberg, and Rotunda—
which had also been around since the Middle Ages—continued
to be used, the new styles called Schwabacher and Fraktur would
prove to be much more influential in future centuries. The reason
for this longevity was related to their roots in Germany, through
which Schwabacher and Fraktur came to be associated with that
region’s national identity. Schwabacher appeared in Germany
as early as 1480, but its importance was greatly increased in
1522, when it was used for the publication of Martin Luther’s
(1483–1546) German translation of the New Testament (fig. 6).
In rejecting the authority of the pope and the Roman Church,
Luther sparked the establishment of Protestantism, a process
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8 Philippe Grandjean, Romain du Roi typeface, 1702. St Bride Printing Library, London.
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now referred to as the Reformation. However, Luther’s choice of
Schwabacher for his text also signaled a rejection of the roman
type that prevailed in Italy, giving his seal of approval to the idea
that blackletter styles were somehow quintessentially German in
From the standpoint of our current era in which so much
is made of the impact of digital communication on culture and
subjectivity, it should be recognized that it would be hard to
overstate the revolutionary effect that the invention of mechanical
printing had on European society. When Martin Luther wrote his
“95 Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences” in 1517, a
new chapter in the history of Christianity began. It began because
of printing. Luther’s protest spread across Europe in a matter
of months in a manner that would have been inconceivable a
century earlier. Not just the Protestant Reformation, but the
Enlightenment (see below), even the development of democracy
itself, would have seemed unlikely without the invention and
dissemination of the printing press.
Eight years before the publication of Luther’s New
Testament, in 1514, the printer Johannes Schönsperger the elder
(d. 1520) had developed the type called Fraktur (somewhat
confusingly, the term “fraktur” is also used generically to refer
to all blackletter scripts created after 1450). Based in Augsburg,
Schönsperger relied on that city’s long tradition of fine calligraphy
in order to design his new type. As suggested by its name,
Fraktur features broken curves and oblique strokes that retain
the character of the calligrapher’s brush which originally inspired
the forms. Fraktur first appeared in 1514, when Schönsperger
published the Gebetbuch, a kind of prayer book, for Kaiser
Maximilian I. As would be the case with Luther’s book, this event
helped to reinforce the concept that blackletter was related to
the religion, government, and culture of Germany. By the end
of the sixteenth century, roman and blackletter type were both
flourishing and were often printed side by side; however, the
roots of their future opposition had already been established.
In the seventeenth century, at a time when the roman Old
Style faces had become established across much of Europe, there
was continuing typographic development, resulting in a new class
of typefaces called Transitional. Transitional type gradually arose
during the Baroque era, a period that is roughly synonymous
with the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. While the
word “baroque” has stylistic connotations in the fine arts, where
it refers to a break with Renaissance harmony in favor of greater
expressiveness, in typography the term does not really carry any
stylistic meaning. In fact, baroque Transitional faces are very
closely connected to the Renaissance aesthetic, emphasizing
classical balance over any other attribute.
An important event in typography during the Baroque period
was the increasing patronage of the French royal government.
This development was part of a broader movement whereby the
government under Louis XIV (r. 1643–1715) instituted a state
policy through which the arts would be funded and controlled
through official institutions. Cardinal Richelieu (1585–1642),
a key advisor to the king, had earlier overseen the establishment
of an Imprimerie Royale, or “royal printing works.” In 1692,
the king ordered that a new set of royal typefaces be created
for the use of the Imprimerie Royale. After years of research
and discussion by a government committee at the Academy
of Sciences, Philippe Grandjean de Fouchy (1666–1714) was
appointed to cut the new type. The resulting Romain du Roi,
“roman of the king,” would influence European typography
for well over a century (fig. 8). The invention of the Romain
du Roi probably represents the first time that a horizontal and
vertical grid became the basic tool for structuring a typeface. The
commission that designed the typeface used a 64-square grid,
with each unit further split up into 36 smaller squares, so that
the entire system totaled 2,304 tiny squares. This design process
gave typography the imprimatur of a scientific pursuit, whereby
letterforms are worked out not by intuition but by rational, logical
processes. In a sense, this episode established the final link in the
definition of typography that exists unto the present—a field that
requires a synthesis of many disparate skills: the practical knowhow of the manual worker, the creativity of the fine artist, and the
logic of a scientist. The Romain du Roi established the stylistic
principles of the Transitional faces, including more vertical stress,
greater contrast in stroke width, wider proportions, and thin,
elegant serifs.
Another French typographer, Pierre Simon Fournier (1712–
1768), made a major contribution to the field in 1737, when he
invented the first point system for measuring type. Fournier’s
system, a part of the trend toward treating typography with the
rational approach of the empirical scientist, used a scale based
on inches, which were divisible into 72 points. Fournier also
published the first encyclopedic survey of typography, the twovolume Manuel typographique (1766; fig. 9). This work represented
the first comprehensive overview of type ever published, and
it included a discussion of type from across Europe, offering
examples of different regional trends. This kind of attention to
the classification of a given subject or phenomenon was quite
was 101%
now 83%
9 Pierre Simon Fournier, Manuel typographique, vol. 1, Paris, 1766.
St Bride Printing Library, London.
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left: 10  William Caslon, A Specimen, 1734.
opposite: 11  John Baskerville, Baskerville
typeface, William Congreve, The Works of
Mr. William Congreve, Birmingham, 1761.
characteristic of the philosophical movement known as the
Enlightenment, which began in France in the eighteenth century.
Enlightenment thinkers were consumed with the idea of
compiling and analyzing human knowledge, and the first universal
encyclopedia was published during this era. The scientific
approach to typography, whereby it was treated as a field with
consistent, mathematically based rules, suggests the application
of Enlightenment philosophy to type.
In 1725, William Caslon (1692–1766) set up a type foundry
in London that would eventually turn into a family legacy as
future generations of the Caslon family continued to operate
it well into the nineteenth century. Before Caslon, English
printing, which had been pioneered by William Caxton (c. 1422
– c. 1491) in the fifteenth century, had remained a somewhat
haphazard affair, lacking a clear aesthetic direction. While Caslon
designed over two hundred typefaces during his career, the type
known simply as Caslon, which was based on contemporary
Dutch models, would always lie at the root of his designs (fig. 10).
Caslon would become the most influential face ever produced in
England. What made the original Caslon so popular was not any
dramatic, stylish flair, but rather its solid functionality. The type
is eminently legible, meaning that each character can easily be
recognized, as well as readable; text set in Caslon seems to flow
effortlessly past the reader’s eyes. Versus Old Style faces, Caslon
has a larger x-height, more vertically oriented stress, greater
contrast, and finer serifs. In addition, Caslon appears overall more
fluid than Old Style. In 1734, Caslon issued a broadside specimen
detailing 37 typefaces that firmly established his reputation as the
premier English typographer of the day.
Caslon became more than just an official type like
Grandjean’s Romain du Roi; indeed, it became invested with the
idea that it encapsulated English national identity. As a national
type, Caslon was used in a wide variety of printed matter, from
the most exalted government proclamation to the most ephemeral
broadside. Caslon made its way across the Atlantic Ocean to the
United States, where it was also used as an official type, notably
on early printed copies of both the Declaration of Independence
and the Constitution. The pre-eminence of Caslon, which is
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based more on its overall usefulness than its aesthetic qualities,
prefigures the similar widespread use of Helvetica in the second
half of the twentieth century.
The other notable English typographer of the eighteenth
century was John Baskerville (1706–1775). Around 1751,
Baskerville established a printing business in Birmingham,
producing his first book, a volume of Virgil, in 1757. The edition
titled The Works of Mr. William Congreve (English playwright,
1670–1729), published in 1761, aptly demonstrates the fluid
readability of Baskerville’s type designs (fig. 11). However,
in direct contrast to the outstanding success of Caslon, the
Transitional types created by Baskerville (the punches were cut
by John Handy) were almost universally condemned for what was
perceived as their stark, abstract qualities and extreme contrast in
stroke widths. In addition, the delicate forms of the letters were
criticized as too thin to be read easily.
A desire to print his typeface accurately had led Baskerville to
a number of innovations in the printing process. First, Baskerville
had invented new inks in order to make the slender, delicate
shapes of his letters stand out on the page. He experimented
with different paper types, finally settling on wove paper that
had a smooth, glossy finish. Baskerville also used a technique
called “hot pressing,” whereby he would heat newly printed pages
between copper plates, a process that smoothed the sheet while
also setting the ink more effectively. It is hard for modern eyes
jaded by an astonishing range of typeface designs to understand
why Caslon could have been viewed as a supreme achievement
in type design, whereas Baskerville’s types were condemned
as experimental, amateurish products. Today, only committed
typographers would be likely to note the differences between
these two romans, which have a number of similarities in terms
of stress and basic letter shapes. While the lighter proportions
of Baskerville in comparison with Caslon are quite evident,
it is difficult to imagine an age when such apparent subtleties
would be recognized and debated outside the profession itself.
Furthermore, it may be difficult to conceive of an era when
homely appeal won out over stylish experiment.
The second half of the eighteenth century witnessed the
continuing evolution of typographic styles, in particular the
creation of Modern typefaces. (This term may prove confusing
in the context of other usages of the word “modern,” which is
commonly associated in the history of art with developments
in painting from around 1850.) Modern typefaces tend toward
even greater contrast between thin and thick strokes, so much
so that the thin ones are often no more than hairlines. Serifs
also are reduced to hairlines. The stress of a Modern face is
decidedly vertical, as is the overall geometry of the individual
letters, which are more abstract in appearance. The Modern style
represents a decisive move through which metal type no longer
resembles handwriting but consists of forms built on an armature
of horizontal, vertical, and circular elements. In line with the
Enlightenment’s exaltation of science, it became common for
typographers about this time to use tools such as the compass
and ruler in the development of typefaces.
One of the most successful firms in France to pioneer the
Modern style was owned by the Didot family, and was a business
that was originally established as a bookseller in 1713 by François
Didot (1689–1757). Didot’s business eventually expanded into
printing and type design. One of the founder’s sons, François
Ambroise Didot (1730–1804), was responsible for a number of
typographic innovations, including the introduction of smooth
wove paper to France. As was the case with Baskerville in
England, this achievement allowed for the accurate printing
of the hairline strokes that became an important part of the
Modern style. The younger Didot also invented a new system
of type measurement based on Fournier’s original one, but now
using the French pied au roi, or foot, as the basis. This unit was
divided into 12 inches, each consisting of 72 points. Didot
rationalized the system of names given to different type sizes,
replacing the older, whimsical terms such as parisienne with the
point system. This radical new system would quickly spread
across the whole of Europe, thus creating an international
language for classifying type.
François Ambroise Didot’s two sons, Pierre and Firmin,
were mostly responsible for the final form of the eponymous
Modern roman, Didot. Around 1783, Firmin Didot refined his
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left: 12  Firmin Didot, Oeuvres de Jean
Racine, Nouvelle Edition, Paris, 1801.
The British Library, London.
below: 13  Johann F. Unger,
Unger-Fraktur typeface, 1793.
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family’s roman face to help create the new Modern style. Didot
would soon become the most influential Modern face, because
it set the standard for contrast, stress, and geometric structure.
It also introduced the Modern technique of regularizing the
width of capitals, so that they do not disrupt the consistency of
a line of text with too many disparate sizes. Along these lines,
conventionally wide letters such as the “M” are condensed,
while narrower ones such as “T” are expanded, making for a
bold block of text. Also, the Modern style eliminated ligatures
between letters, such as the “st” which had been common in the
Old Style. Didot represents one of the first instances in which a
type designer seemed to be aware of the virtues of white, negative
space, as the extreme contrasts of the strokes brought this element
to the fore.
Firmin Didot’s type was brilliantly employed by his brother
Pierre in the latter’s acclaimed edition of the works of the
foremost French dramatist of his age, Jean Racine (1639–1699).
The title page of the first volume, shown here (fig. 12), displays
the great elegance of Didot, its bold contrasts grabbing the
eye of the reader. Its simple, strong geometric quality formed
a strong parallel with the contemporary painting style called
Neoclassicism. As the name suggests, Neoclassical painting
revived the linear style of the Renaissance, but it also strove to
simplify forms and compositions to reach an almost abstract
ideal. Similarly, Didot is a reductive typeface that does away
with unnecessary flourishes in order to stress its clear and direct
underlying structure.
In 1793, Johann Friedrich Unger (1753–1804), reacting to
the increasing dominance of roman forms in Europe as well as to
the great expense suffered by German printers who had to work
in both blackletter and roman forms, sought to create a variant
of Fraktur that would be more universal in appeal. The resulting
type, Unger-Fraktur, represented an attempt to inject some of
the geometric clarity of roman Moderns into the German type
(fig. 13). Together with Didot, Unger produced a number of
variants of his hybrid type, but was unsuccessful in promoting
their adoption commercially. Already, the association of roman
with the French–Italian tradition and of blackletter with the
German tradition had become too deeply entrenched, and
European typography would remain split until the mid-twentieth
In Italy, Giambattista Bodoni (1740–1813) of Parma
introduced the Modern style in the late eighteenth century.
Influenced by the work of the Didot foundry, Bodoni created
a beautiful roman that further defined the Modern style. In
designing this typeface, Bodoni adopted many of the innovations
of Didot, but was arguably less adventurous, as some of the
contrasts, for example, are not as radical as those found in the
French one (fig. 14). Five years after Bodoni’s death in 1813,
his Manuale Tipografico—which included a comprehensive
discussion of over three hundred typefaces from across Europe
as well as Asia, and which would influence generations of future
typographers—was published. This publication in many ways
served as a culmination of the classical period of typography,
which had begun in the fifteenth century, as changes in
society during the nineteenth century fundamentally altered
the field. During this era, the element of connoisseurship that
had heretofore played such a prominent role in the history
of typography would be devalued in favor of the pursuit of
commerce. The nineteenth century also witnessed the birth of
graphic design.
14  Giambattista Bodoni, Bodoni typeface, Plautus, Trinummus, Parma, 1792.
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