Autumn is serious business around here. During decorative gourd season, signs sit at every intersection directing weekenders and leaf peepers to the best apples, pumpkins and cider donuts in town. Most signs are pretty unremarkable. Except for these.
Hand painted with a distinct lettering style and wacky colors, they’re noticeable and lovely and always brighten my day.
This week, Alphabettes.org turned one. Blogs, they grow up so fast! We’re celebrating with cake.
We wanted a place on the internet to publish our own thoughts and writing, so we did what any self-respecting, overcommitted people do: we started a new side project. Within two weeks of registering the domain name, the site was live. Scrappy and minimal, the original design worked (through many late night, trans-Atlantic sessions of reckless-intermediate theme editing), but we quickly began feeling some growing pains. One year later, the site boasts around 145 posts (and 25 headers), most of which feature previously unpublished content.
It’s no surprise that we type folk like hanging out in old cemeteries but it’s an extra treat when these cemeteries include the memorials of long-deceased type heroes. I’ve always known that Frederic and Bertha Goudy lived and worked in nearby Marlboro, New York. This excellent silent film on Type Culture shows Fred Goudy at Deepdene, their home and workshop. The Goudys’ workshop, an 18th century mill, burned down in 1939 (along with many of his type designs and fonts) and the home was torn down in the 70s, so there’s not much left to see on the Old Post Road property. However, I recently discovered this blog post from the Marlboro Free Library. Part of the library’s Goudy collection includes a photo of a memorial tablet in Newburgh, a small city on the Hudson river that has seen better times (but is trying hard to make a comeback). Although this probably requires some confirmation, according to this 1986 newspaper article, Fred and Bertha’s “mingled ashes” are buried beneath. Wow!
Here’s a screenshot from the article, with some lovely details about Fred tossing type out the workshop window.
Plans for converting the home into a school for type design? *swoon*
Since the design and lettering of the ‘lowly’ American penny has already been well-documented and researched by honorary Alphabette Tobias Frere-Jones, I’ve settled on an even lowlier topic: the penny tray. If you’re American, or have spent time in the clusterfuck that is currently the United States, then you know what I’m talking about. Found at the cash registers of gas stations, diners, and other small businesses, the object serves as a convenient place for customers and cashiers to dispose of, or acquire, a penny or two (but c’mon deadbeat, don’t even think of taking more than a few).
The basic tray features the phrases “LEAVE-A-PENNY / TAKE-A-PENNY” in subtly extruded shouty-caps that flank the top and bottom of the main bowl. A promotional logo adorns the front of the tray, promoting things like a local newspaper, state lottery, or community bank.
Pretty standard-looking penny tray
That was fun! Let’s do it again sometime.
Say the words “character encoding standard” to most people and their brains will congeal into a pile of glazed donuts, like 🍩. See how I embedded a cute little donut directly into that last sentence? You can thank Unicode for that. What is Unicode and how did it become the universal standard for digitally representing the world’s writing systems (yes, including emoji)? Plenty has been written about its history already, but here’s an attempt at a very brief overview.
Cover spread of “The New Wardens” in The Recorder #3. Illustration by Ellie Cryer. Additional illustrations by Ping Zhu, Ellie Foreman-Peck, Maya Stepien and Kelsey Dake.
Last spring, I was approached by Emma Tucker, the editor of Monotype’s recently revived magazine The Recorder, to write an article about women’s contributions in type for the upcoming issue. I pitched a series of interviews with women who were championing type and typography à la Beatrice Warde, given her deep connections to the original publication. Besides Shelley Gruendler, I had no prior personal contact with Indra Kupferschmid, Mariko Tagaki or Elizabeth Carey-Smith. Selecting only a handful of modern-day Beatrices was challenging; my list of potential interviewees was quite long. Ultimately, I tried to gather a variety of perspectives that included educators, practicing designers, and those active in contemporary discourse. I could have never imagined, only a few months later, they would all become an integral part of this thing called Alphabettes. Before it sells out, check out The Recorder Issue 3, featuring a host of engaging articles and contributors, as well as my interviews with “The New Wardens”. They’re in great company.
Nothing says “fashionable” like Die Mode!
If you’re a modern bird with a flair for fashion, look no further than Die Mode: a stylish, upright script face with delightful features. Published by the German foundry Ludwig & Mayer, Die Mode is both elegant and casual, with just enough personality to make those victrola dance party invitations feel fancy and jovial. Need to dress up your Callot Soeurs frock with a typeface that matches your modern style? Die Mode has you covered, way below the knee. Uppercase characters spare no details when it comes to curves that say sophisticated and friendly. Because “Fashion Demands Longer Skirts and Waistlines” Die Mode’s connecting lowercase characters gives it a distinctive, flowing style. If Parisian and Phyllis had an eccentric cousin, she’d be Die Mode. Sure, there might be a World War happening, but Die Mode doesn’t care. Inspired by calligraphic traditions in a hot new feathered hat, Die Mode is a fresh take on a new era in post-Belle Époque script type.
Turns out, it’s never been that hard to find Lady Speakers after all
Although readily available in recent years, it’s still worth mentioning there was no shortage of Lady Speakers in 1915. Yes, both Large Lady Speakers and Small Lady Speakers were made easily accessible and affordably priced. (Special shoutout to Meghan Arnold and Nina Stössinger for their help with finding this image in the 1912 ATF catalogue).
Built in 1953, the aptly named Old Library was the first free-standing library building on the campus where I teach. It eventually housed painting studios and since the late ’80s, has been home to the photography and graphic design programs. I love this space for all its mid-century collegial charm. The stately brick exterior is surrounded by mature honeylocust trees, while inside, built-in bookshelves from its past life flank the sides of computer labs and ample hallways. Soaring windows welcome an abundance of natural light and offer views of the grassy quad where students gather in good weather to play frisbee, sunbathe or strum ukeleles.
But perhaps my most favorite thing about the building is this original Modess sanitary napkin dispenser that lives in the 2nd floor women’s bathroom.