Friday, January 21, 2011

Announcing a forthcoming publication: Specimens

The type specimen is a curious hybrid in the history of the book. Born of a base necessity—the need to sell type—the specimen quickly took on a life of its own and fulfilled a parallel need to delight and entertain. Part portfolio, part brag sheet, the type specimen allows the designer to present the best-case scenario for a specific typeface, to show off its finer aspects while presenting an ideal method of use. In this way, the type specimen is flight of fancy and style manual combined, an exercise in utility heightened and illuminated by extravagance. Some of the more elaborate type specimens, like those of William H. Page and Co., are suffused with a playful futility, a special knowledge that, once sold, the types displayed will never be treated with the same reverence or care. But all type specimens, to some degree, are conceived in that rare instance in which commerce plays second fiddle to imagination, when the demands of industry and utility enhance, rather than diminish, the expression of a creative impulse. 
    When cast in this light, SPECIMENS is more accurately an exhibition than a type specimen. The alphabets displayed in it are not for sale. Instead, they were designed for proprietary use, often with specific texts or authors in mind; they were designed, in other words, to only be used in their ideal settings. While borrowing the form and the guise of the type specimen, the motivation, the book’s raison d’être, is to be an object in its own right, rather than a catalogue of typographic widgets. 
    The alphabets in SPECIMENS, the texts in which they are displayed, the method by which they are printed are all integral parts of a kaleidoscopic portrait. Composed of three sections, SPECIMENS opens with a multi-chromatic display of short texts set in a variety of styles. Following this, a selection of alphabets are displayed in lengthier texts appropriate to their forms: Baskerville’s Great Primer is displayed in a chapter from Candide; a new translation from Cicero’s Second Philippic is set in Cancellaresca Milanese Terzo; Saturn, which was inspired by the inscription on the Temple of Saturn, is displayed in a chapter from Vitruvius on the design of temples; Strand Serif in a selection of new prose pieces by Mark Strand; etc. Finally, the book concludes with a section of notes detailing the alphabetic and textual sources for each specimen.
    SPECIMENS will be printed from photo polymer plates and metal type in a wide array of colors, with hand embellishments in ink and smoke. In all, sixteen complete alphabets will be displayed; one of which, Iohann Titling, is being cut, fit, and cast in foundry metal specially for the edition at the Dale Guild Type Foundry. The paper is being handmade with a custom laurel leaf watermark at Velke Losiny in the Czech Republic. The binding will be executed by Book Lab II. A total of sixty-five copies will be printed. Fifty copies, numbered 1-50, will be bound in quarter leather with pattern paper boards and housed in a cloth covered clamshell box. Fifteen copies, lettered A-O, will be bound in full leather using two different skins, housed in a quarter leather clamshell box, and accompanied by a suite of state proofs selected from the display settings as well as a form of new metal type locked into a chase in the box. 11 x 16 inches; approximately 120 pages. Publication is expected by November 2011