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Thought you might be interested to read this little piece.
I enjoyed it! And you make excellent points of course.
The one downside to such a provocative title is that it makes you want to ask you: there is of course Metal Bembo isn't there?
And of course the answer is there is no point specific Bembo in digital fonts yet which is really the problem.
Will you be making one by any chance?
This brings me back to something I think about a lot lately: it’s time to bring back the Monotype.
>it’s time to bring back the Monotype.
It hasn't totally gone away yet. Here's an example of a place that prints from Monotype machines, and will sell you the metal Bembo, in many sizes.
i kind of got the impression that this article was a bit of a dig at strict revivals of typefaces from bygone type technologies. did i get the wrong impression. what kris seemed to be saying, or so i thought, was that old faces are less relevant to design today and that new types that embrace the framework of new media, constraints and all. Of course some revivals can work well, as Bembo itself is a revival based on the De Aetna typeface (which you all know). To me it seems a bit odd to hear talk of reviving Bembo instead of the De Aetna typeface, but IMO it's probably not possible to recreate the full feeling of these types from outside their context. Just as Bembo looked to De Aetna and updated it, we should work in the same manner: not looking to reive Bembo, but to take from it and build something new that is more relevant today.
Aren't Edward Tufte's books typeset with Monotype machines (and Monotype Bembo?), whose text printed blocks are then photographed and put on the offset plates along with the images, etc. for the book we eventually see? One way around digital faces to spindly, I guess…
Sorry, I thought the conclusion was a non sequitur. I agree completely with the first half — and thought you were going to conclude that we need to do a better job of making digital fonts that match the style characteristics of metal type. But then you swing off to the left and make unfounded remarks about the irrelevance of older type in modern books. Given that you've just extolled the beauty of metal Bembo it just seems that you have two ideas running that have not been harmonized.
Just my 2 cents.
I think Paul is right that it is not possible to recreate the *full* feeling of the original metal types. I think letter press looks blacker than offset, particularly on rough paper, which is a particularly attractive look.
However, I do think you can capture a lot of the feeling of a metal type. As I mentioned in the thread, by careful attention to recreating the effects of ink spread, Matthew Carter's Monticello recreated the feeling of the metal Linotype version pretty well. --That was Carter's brief, as the digital font was intended for printing additional volumes of Jefferson's papers, the first of which had been printed with metal Monticello.
As to whether it is worth recreating the look of a metal font, it depends on the font. Bembo was the second attempt of Monotype to revive the De Aetna face of Griffo, and the most successful. In fact Bembo is one of the best book faces from the hot metal era. So to me reviving the look of it would be a worthy exercise. I don't know how well Bembo Book has succeeded in this.
As to the question of revivals vs new types. To paraphrase Duke Ellington, there are two kinds of type: good and bad. Whether it's new or a revival, it can be good or bad. Adobe Garamond was a good revival; monotype Bembo was a bad revival. Not everything is worth reviving, but when a type has been *great* with one technology, I think it's worth reviving. That was done in the hot metal era, beginning in the 1890s, was done again in the brief phototype era, and is being done again now in the digital era. I don't think it was a bad idea, then or now.
Oh, I should add that Monticello is unusual in Carter's work in being a very literal revival. Generally his types are a freer interpretation of an earlier type. He said to me that he thinks of a revival of a type as a new performance of an old score. And most people think Beethoven is still worth performing.
Dan, most of Tufte’s book are indeed set in lead with Monotype Bembo. But for his last publication, Beautiful Evidence he decided to create a digital font called ET Bembo, together with Dmitry Krasny and Bonnie Scranton:
When converted to an electronic font, Monotype Bembo became thin and spindly (the computer people ignored "squeeze," the slight spreading of ink when the lead type hits the paper). So we made our own computer version and also made a some design changes (ligatures, several problems with the pi font, some letterforms, creation of a semibold).
I think it looks good as set in the book, but I seem to recall kerning issues every now and then.
Regarding Kris’ article, I too have issues with Bembo although my reasons are completely different. It’s not so much that the digital pre-Bembo-Book Bembo is too thin (it is) or is misused for cultural reasons (it is, too, sometimes), but that during the original Monotype revival many choices where made that I don’t particularly approve of. So my issues are not even with the digital version, they’re with Bembo itself: I’m not claiming Monotype Bembo is a bad typeface in general, I think it’s a remarkable typeface and I have several books set in it that I truly love, I’m just claiming it’s a completely different beast from the De Aetna typeface designed and cut by Francesco Griffo da Bologna.
Contrast and compare Bembo with the De Aetna typeface, the Monotype Poliphilus typeface, and Giovanni Mardersteig’s Griffo type. The difference are just glaring: where Bembo is all spiky and sharp, all the other versions are much more organic and natural.
(As an aside, I’d love to be able to see Matthew Carter’s Yale typeface at a higher resolution instead of the low-res GIFs on the Web, and possibly also another one of Carter’s own typefaces designed for the book The Aldine Press by Nicolas Barker, composed by Gerard Lange.)
I have been lucky enough to be able to see the De Aetna several times already and it’s incredible. I’ve been collecting bibliography, sketches and ideas for a while now, and I’d love to have a go at producing my own version of the De Aetna typeface in the not too distant future. Here’s wishing for that dream to come true, eventually.
Most photo and digital versions of Bembo carried over a strange characteristic of the metal version. In metal, Monotype cut two versions of cap R. One R had a "long tail" and the other had a tail many typographers would consider to be a "standard tail". For some reason, the standard Monotype matrix case carried the long-tail R. Good Monotype composing rooms (Stinehour Press, Mackenzie & Harris) made sure to alter the matrix case and keybars to yield the short-tail R on the caster. Merely competent shops did no such alterations.
There's nothing wrong with the long-tail R in a well letterspaced all-cap line. But it looks like hell in a line of u&lc text, as the first letter in a word. It adds disruptive air before the following sort.
Most photo and digital versions kept that long-tail R. Monotype or Adobe had a font in which the only sort was the short-tail R. But it was a pain to do the S&R to get the better R. I think Bitstream's version of Bembo also had that short-tail R, but their fonts had no smalls or oldstyles, which rendered it useless for book work. Yet I bet that 90% of books I have seen in Bembo (metal, photo, digital) use the long-tail R. To me that is a sign the typographer has not really studied the face.
Is there an OT version of Monotype's new Bembo Book? If so, does it have both Rs? I guess I could look, but I'm so un-interested in Bembo these days that I have not bothered. There are far too many good new types to choose from: who needs Bembo anyway?
Will, as I remember, Monotype always included the short-tailed "R" in the expert set, back in the type 1 days. We just reencoded the font so the long-tailed R was the alternate character.
I still use Bembo -- need it, if you want. Well, our re-cut version. Not only were the fine lines of Type 1 font too thin, the ascenders & descenders were too short. Yes, there are a lot of new fonts to choose from, but they too all seem to have flaws. Might as well go with the ones where I've already fixed what I see as problems.
On a related note, I know that there are a lot of type teachers on Typophile. Do you teach your students that just because the old metal fonts are considered classics doesn’t mean that the digital revivals are really any good? I bring this up because it’s not something that comes up in typography textbooks (excluding Bringhurst, but I think many students struggle with his writing), which seem to emphasize choosing type based largely on historic and stylistic connection rather than because the typeface is actually any good.
I think it is fine to make good revivals that solve the problems of the digital world but I agree with Kris that too much reverence is given to old typefaces and it is assumed they will work always with todays design and communications issues. I am not trying to put words in Kris's mouth but I would certainly say that we need more new original designs which address todays world than we need a plethora of revivals of historic type. Historic type will always have uses, particularly with subject matter that is equally historic but it is not the cure-all solution to typography that some users make it out to be.
By the way, Kris, I enjoyed the piece! Nicely written.
>We need more original designs which address todays world than we need a plethora of revivals of historic type.
What about revivals that address the needs of today's world?
Matthew Carter said to me that he thinks of revivals as a new performance of an old score. I enjoy listening to old songs reinterpreted by today's singers. I think that if no one ever sang Gershwin something would be lost. Don't you like to sing century-old Opera songs, Chris? Should they be banned?
Also at some point eg a jazz interpretation of an old song becomes almost as much an independent creation as a newly written song. I think here that you are neglecting the creativity that has gone into such revivals as Carter's Galliard--a revival of Granjon. For example Martin Majoor says of Scala: "The form principle of Scala was definitely influenced by humanist typefaces like Bembo and by typefaces from the mid-18th century French typographer Pierre Simon Fournier."
So is Scala a revival? I would argue that what matters is not how new Scala is vs how new Galliard is, but how good and useful they are.
Reread my post. You have badly misinterpreted it. Nowhere did I say that anything should be banned. Nowhere did I say there was no value in older typefaces. Nowhere did I say modern original types (including Scala) should not be influenced by older types. That is just your misread. What I said was that "Historic type will always have uses" and that they are "not the cure-all solution to typography that some users make it out to be". My point is that older is not always better nor is it better by definition. If that were true, we would still be setting everything in Gutenberg's very first typeface and the faces that would have been banned from ever being designed were Garamond, Caslon, Bembo, Baskerville and every other face after the 15th century. Every face started out as the "newfangled" thing. When Baskerville first came out, it was not well thought of.
Yes, I love to sing arias from the 18th and 19th century. I don't sing them at rock-and-roll concerts though and I don't think it is a requirement that today's pop-song writers and performers base their music on Verdi or Mozart. If they choose to be influenced by older works, fine but it is not essential nor particularly advantageous a pursuit. There have been successful borrowing of past forms like the broadway show Kismet that used Borodin's music and set it to words (see "Stranger in Paradise"). Miles Davis's "Sketches of Spain" was an adaptation of classical composition by Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo's "Concierto de Aranjuez."
My concern is that if we deify historic work too much, there will never be a new John Baskerville or William Caslon to come forward. I am asking that we don't freeze time and say there is no room for something new. I am NOT asking that we abandon, ridicule, outlaw or even criticize historic work. I am just saying "let there be more" than what we already have from our ancestors.
What about revivals that address the needs of today’s world?
Bembo isn't a revival any more, it's a corpse in its own right.
Does today's world really need another Caslon?
The market will answer when William's is released.
So locally, the Kimbell uses Bembo. Every piece in most shows has its own wall text. I know I keep watching to see if the revised, heavier Bembo shows up. Not everything is a new project that calls for a new typeface.
Chris & William, nice points indeed. William to address your points; I think that Chris is rightly suspicious of an over fawning or overly reverential approach to the old designs if that results in not thinking or looking or solving for the situation the type will be used in. Certainly the revivals you bring up do not do this. Also, in text you can stray only just so far from tradition in any event so I think Chris' position is really just a shade of grey away from yours. Chris, please correct my impression if I am misinterpreting you.
Still, I think the thrust of Kris' position is that what's needed now are point (size) specific designs be they new or revival flavored or something in between. And I think he absolutely bang on with that.
James I think you may be spinning the Bringhurst position a bit too far. My sense is that he is making a case for picking type with some sensitivity to what might resonate with the content/context of material being set. Do you think that's a bad idea? I don't think he is suggesting that you discount what is a solid font to be working with. His point was ( as I understand it ) "here are some types that are solid enough that you can select from them with tone in mind". You may not agree with his selections of course, but that's another matter.
My concern is that if we deify historic work too much, there will never be a new John Baskerville or William Caslon to come forward.
I would think that your own body of (albeit unreleased) type designs would make it pretty obvious that there are plenty of great new ideas out there, Chris.
Bembo isn’t a revival any more, it’s a corpse in its own right.
Somtimes I just fall in love with Nick’s sentiments.
I think something that has to be kept in mind is that the current trend toward rediscovering pre-modernist design history and appreciating historic designs is part of a larger ongoing kickback against modernist pedagogy and it’s rejection of history in favor of a perceived universality via simplicity. In the short term it leads us into the yet-another-Bembo/Garamond/Bodoni/etc. situations, but in the long run this will be an important part of Western designers rediscovering their place in our culture and in relation to other cultures around the world.
James I think you may be spinning the Bringhurst position a bit too far.
I think that you misinterpreted me, my point was that Bringhurst does explain how to pick a font because the font is good in addition to cultural considerations, as opposed to other texts, which tend to stop at cultural considerations. But I think that some design students have trouble reading Bringhurst, due both to the level of his writing and his tendency to segue into oddball historical details. It seems like every typography book aimed at undergraduates has a similar generic chapter about type history and Vox classification and how those can influence type selection, and some of the newer books hit on making connotative typographic decisions, but they lack a simpler version of Bringhurst’s examinations of letterforms, spacing, formats and so on.
I posted my comments on the thrust of Kris's article at the ILT site.
Regarding revivals and revivalism, we must be aware that there are various ranges of things meant by various people and by various uses of the terms. I think John Downer did a thoughtful job of mapping out the territory in his article Call It What It Is for Emigre years back. Unfortunately, his distinctions (and especially his terminology) have not gained much currency.
Bill, I think you span quite a gamut when you cite both Galliard and Scala in the same breath. And you run the risk of conflating two different categories of historically minded interpretation.
To draw a slightly different musical analogy, we might compare/contrast some roughly contemporary pieces from the realm of classical music. On the one hand, you have Respighi's Suite of Ancient Airs & Dances (1917) and Stravinsky's Pulcinella (1920-22). In both cases, you find thoroughly modern composers looking back at 17th- & 18th-century melodies and recasting them in a thoroughly modern vernacular for early-20th-century ears.
On the other hand, you have Prokofiev with his "Classical" Symphony No. 1 (also 1917) in which he attempts to completely absorb, assimilate, and embody the style of the 18th-century Haydn and re-express this in his own unique, completely 20th-century voice.
Both approaches to historically informed work are fascinating and perhaps equally valid. It is interesting to note that the mining of ancient material by Respighi and Stravinsky was received as a rather radical move in the context of their times. However, it is also interesting to note that the expressive originality of Prokofiev's essay seems to have retained more impact over time (IMHO anyway).
It has always fascinated me that this kind of revivalism in classical music was happening at the same time as the classic type revivals of Monotype: Garamond, 1922; Fournier, 1925; Bembo, 1929; to name a few.
A few years later in 1932-5, we find Dwiggins reacting, perhaps, to this literal sort of revivalism with his Caledonia, which I would argue is his Prokofiev-like approach to reviving the Scotch form.
I don't think that anyone is advocating that the classics be "banned," Bill. What I do sense is that there is objection to a mindless clinging to accepted classics, even when their expression no longer really serves. As I said in my ILT comment, the classics cannot simply rest on their laurels. They need to be either reinterpreted (and reinvigorated) or let to rest.
As I've tried to clarify, the approach to that reinterpretation may take legitimately different forms.
As you say, they must be judged on "how good and useful they are."
I might add: "Just 'cause it's old, don't make it classic."
Chris, I'm sorry, you're right, I did misread you. I guess I've had this discussion too many times, and am arguing with ghosts at this point.
I guess the only difference between our views is a matter of nuance. I would put more emphasis on the fact that we can learn a lot from the old masters. This may be by something that calls itself 'revival', like Galliard, or something that holds forth as new like Scala. I think that every type made today should be designed to fill contemporary needs; studying the past I think can be very helpful for that purpose though. Now that I think of it, most of the outstanding type designers of the recent past have been serious students of the history of type. And many, Nick Shinn included, have done both revivals and new designs.
This one is worth enshrining in a typography quotation book. Much as my classicist inclinations favor types with historic pedigrees, Nick hit a home run with that one.
About the past, revival, history, culture...:
Many typefaces in the Font Bureau catalogue, and your own fonts in particular, are revivals or interpretations of typefaces from previous centuries. What is so fascinating about the past?
David Berlow : What is fascinating to me about the types of the past is that they take me to a particular place and time where a type was required to solve some problem. The solution, quite often, then became visually associated with the person, publication or place where the solution was needed. Then, if the design was still cool several decades or centuries later, the design was revived for new technologies. Having the first one happen over 400 or so years ago, and then the second one 150 years ago to 50 years ago, we now have several layers of technologically and culturally motivated inventions and revivals to peer through for inspiration. And of course, with the physically vacant nature of type’s modern form, all of the pieces of the past that were used to make and use type, even the rottenest old job case, are fascinating to me as well.
More specifically, several of your own designs are inspired by nineteenth-century typefaces – I’m thinking of designs like Bureau Grotesque, Rhode, Giza. So... what’s so fascinating about the 19th century?
David Berlow : To continue what I was saying, I think viewers in many cultures have reactions to types from different times and places that infuse some of the cultural soul from those places, to the new places in which the type is used. In your example, the slightly decorative uses of type in the world that preceded Helvetica, had roots in the 19th century, and I, being inclined towards Anglo-American tastes quite a bit, made Grotesques, Egyptians and Industrial sans in response, because lots of people between me and the viewer wanted to take the viewer to a slightly more soulful place, perhaps.
What was missing with the first rounds of revivals was the fact that metal type was, by its very nature, cut to specific size and intension. You had to hand cut a punch, you couldn't just stretch or shrink the piece of steel (or "squoosh it) to automatically become a different point size. Cutting steel is serious work and not a job for the lazy. The greatest need for text work today is multiple versions to fit functional scenarios. This is as true for revivals as it is for original designs. What helps William's Caslon have some contemporary appeal is that optical sizes are part of the work in progress.
"types from different times and places that infuse some of the cultural soul from those places, to the new places in which the type is used"
We also have to realize that here and today is a time and place that has a soul which deserves to be marked as much as any previous time or place. If we don't and only revisit other times and places, what typeface will future generations have to transport themselves to our time and place?
PS: "To thyne own self be true. Neither a borrower or a lender be."
"most of the outstanding type designers of the recent past have been serious students of the history of type"
There is something to be said for taking the beaten path and following generations of knowledgeable type designers to a known and popular destination. We have to remember that at one point, that path was "the road less travelled" but without the early pioneer, would never have been taken and that destination never found. We need both the pioneers like Kris Sowersby to blaze the trail of the road less travelled as well as the many users of the roadmap to the beaten path to keep progress afoot yet ground ourselves in our heritage.
"I guess I’ve had this discussion too many times, and am arguing with ghosts at this point."
No problem, William. I have been known to tilt at a few windmills myself :-)
That was very flattering, James. There are plenty of other folks out there who are more deserving of mention than me but I appreciate your kind words.
I want to suggest that the reason digital Bembo is so popular — and it is phenomenally popular with book designers — is that it DOES fit the needs of today and DOES capture its spirit. Moreover, it is the spikiness in its design that is contributing to its popularity. It is like a hybrid between a Didot and a Jenson. Thus its popularity is due to its NOT being a faithful rendition of metal Bembo and NOT being a faithful version of the De Aetna font either. It is something new, with enough backward references to keep continuity with the book tradition of the last five hundred years.
The only empirical data points we have on what is `right for today', or `captures the soul of today' is what is popular with designers and readers today. That data suggests, pretty unequivocally, that digital Bembo is the font of NOW.
And nothing deserves to have the full weight of scepticism fall upon its shoulders than a priori opinion on what is `right for today' that just ignores what people actually want and what they spend their money on.
Personally I would like to see a more faithful digital version of metal Bembo, done in different sizes, with the ascenders and descenders done accurately this time. But I don't know, and no one knows, whether it would be more popular than the digital Bembo we now have.
In answer to a question above, Bembo Book is available in open type.
You guys are losing me when it comes to the musical references, so I'll fill in the blanks with my own ALA Rock and Roll.
Bands that play cover tunes range all over the place, from brilliant and original, to pastiche and lame-o.
The people who play brilliant covers often do so without you even realizing it. Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin are known as two of the greatest "cover" bands of all time, yet they put their own spin on the originals. They manage to pull the essence of the old tune into a new, modern context without destroying what it was about the original that was loved so much.
The people who play pastiche covers played at your Uncle Joe's wedding last year. What was their name again?
Same goes for revival "cover" typefaces. Good ones will stand the test of time as rock and roll classics, even if a cover of an even older tune. Poor ones will be relegated to a brief and un-noticed appearance on the stage and subsequently forgotten.
Off-topic: Dan, cover bands!! Them there are fightin' words! ;^) They've done brilliant covers, but they are not cover bands.
Well, that's what I mean. They take the old stuff, mix it with their own stuff, and turn out new stuff that is awesome.
Maybe Slimbach matches that? His Jenson and Garamond are clearly his, although revivals, as they fit the name "Slimbach" as well as his originals like Myriad and Arno.
But it has been said, not by me, that Zeppelin is the greatest cover band of all time.
Classical composers certainly borrowed as in Rachmaninov, Variations on a Theme of Correlli. Brahms, however really did it:
Brahms, Paganini Variations
Brahms, Variations on a Theme by Haydn
Brahms, Variations on a Theme by Handel
For You, Dan, and other rockers, Paul Revere & the Raiders 1st hit was "Like Long Hair" an instrumental with some riffs based on bits of Beethoven's 5th Symphony.
The old 1934 song by Rogers and Hart, "Blue Moon" was doowoped into a big hit in the 50s by the Marcels, a bunch of guys from my old neighborhood in Pittsburgh. "Bompa-pa-bompa-pa-bompa-bomp-bom, Blue Moon"
Bembo sucks ...
B B But...
Just to be clear, I don't believe in reviving a type for the sake of reviving it. I think you need a very specific and compelling reason to think that it would be desirable to have today. And then the nature of the revival--how far or close to the original--will depend on the reason you are reviving it.
That kind of brings out Bembo's animal instincts :-)
Led Zeppelin were a great covers band for precisely one album. After that they were a brilliant original band for two albums. After that they were…meh!
Okay... so now back to Optical/Size specific design?
After that they were…meh!
Houses of the Holy plays very nicely from start to finish.
And I thought someone was going to counterexample me with Kashmir!
OK back to Bembo. Does anyone know who was responsible for the initial digitalisation? What was the reason for cutting the ascenders and descenders?
For those of you with access to it, take a look at Introduction to Manuscript Studies from the University of Cornell Press. I didn't design the book, or set it, but I can take the blame for the type itself (a modified Bembo). I think it a nice Bembo, and used well in this title. I also think it addresses some of the issues discussed here, though not, of course, a different master for each size.
This isn't the best paper for Bembo, but it holds up I think, and given all the color plates, you can't fault them too much for the sheet. In passing, the color in some of the art could be better, but I saw the originals, and the problems stem mainly from those supplied images.
Charles, will Monotype buy and distribute your improved version?
I'm sure Charles, that if you made it available there would be many who would be willing to purchase it (your mod, I mean).
By the way, a quick look at Bembo Book makes me think that it has not solved the main problems — but it's hard to tell without seeing a full page set in it.
Sssshhh. I'm not sure what I did is within the my license. My foundry fonts are so old I *think* they are on 5-inch floppies, & I no longer have a drive that will take that format. As a company, Monotype has been sold many times since then.
I think Monotype would say that Bembo Book is quite good. I took a quick look at it, & the weigh issue was pretty well addressed; I'm less sure of the ascender/decender issue. Then too, there are other touches added over the years of working with it, so I'm not in the market for the Book version.
Ahh a pity!
The caps in Bembo Book seem smaller — too small to me.
The only empirical data points we have on what is ‘right for today’, or ‘captures the soul of today’ is what is popular with designers and readers today.
Those are two different user groups.
Digital Bembo is a beautiful display face. I suspect that designers like the way it looks when they work with it blown up on screen, and they're agonizing over how much to track the small caps. And they like the general impression of exquisitely sharp detail it creates on the page en masse. Readers may like that overall look too, but don't they have another need that is being short-changed when they have to read the text and it doesn't have enough oomph? Isn't it also flying on its reputation, like a certain 50-year old?
thanks for the link where we can see specimen in hotmetal print!
I enjoyed Fournier a lot. Maybe one the most charming textfaces ever made.
I had a discussion with Hrant and Raph of how to achieve metal feeling as
I tried it for the VAL project for Mardersteig. Maybe someone is interested to take a look.
Montypes metal versions are beautiful and I always enjoyed how they work
with spaces to make work a font without kerning. Pure rhythm.
Bembos sharp serifs are disgusting.