Japanese typography & Motogi

In the context of writing a master dissertation about Japanese culture at the Inalco (Paris), I dived into the history of Japanese typography, focusing on the figure of Motogi Shōzō. As there are only few sources in English about the development of Japanese typography, I want to share here some of the elements I discovered. (This article was first published on the blog of Émilie’s type foundry, www.aisforapple.fr)

In Europe, we learn at school that printing has been invented by Gutenberg, in Germany, in 1460. Johannes Gutenberg, thanks to his strong will and by dint of mysterious research, is believed to have invented from scratch the way of making books on a large scale, and to be at the origin of the democratization of knowledge in Europe. Whereas the city of Mainz keeps the printing technique a secret, it is ransacked in 1462 and printers spread out all over Europe. This is how other printing centers are created, starting with Rome (1465), Venice (1468) and Paris (about 1470). 1
When we say “printing”, it is a shortcut that means in reality “typographic printing”, that is to say printing pages of text using metal letters. This technique is divided in different successive steps : engraving one sample of each letter in metal, reproducing identically these samples dozens of time, setting text using these signs made of metal, et then finally printing the typographic composition on paper.

In 1460 in Germany, the technique of engraving metal was already in use for the making of medals, and the printing press was well known : images were engraved in wood and printed using a press. Gutenberg, pictured in history textbooks as a brilliant inventor, based his invention on existing techniques. His creation has been to bring these techniques together and to finalize the production of metal letters thanks to a specific mould. Furthermore, he did not work alone, but had business partners. 2

In the same way that we turned Gutenberg into a symbol, Japan considers that the “father of Japanese typography” is Motogi Shōzō (本木昌造, 1824-1875). Magata Shigeri 3 paid tribute to this man in a short biography in English, published 18 years after Motogi’s death : “After years of toil and experiment, [Motogi] invented types for Japanese characters and for the first time made printing a business. We owe, indeed, to him alone the success and prosperity of Japanese typography in modern times. He is therefore most deserving of our esteem, as the Father of Japanese Typography.” 4
This idea then spread out.

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Buginese Script

Detail of page 109 of the Lettergieterij “Amsterdam” voorheen N. Tetterode type specimen, 1910.

“Wait! What is this? Is this an alien script or something?”

That was me looking at the book Non-Latin typefaces at St Bride Library, which displayed a page from the Lettergieterij “Amsterdam” specimen with the Buginese script.

“People can read this?! What the…” (5 seconds later…) “That’s it, this is the project for my typeface/dissertation!”

Buginese, also known as Bugi, is the language of the population in the province of South Sulawesi, Indonesia. This language is often written using the Latin script but traditionally, the Buginese script, also know as Lontara, was the common writing system. That was until the 19th century, when the Dutch colonized Indonesia and the Buginese script (amongst others like Javanese and Balinese) was displaced.

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Language as Design Criteria? Part III

During the research for my dissertation, Language-specific type design, I came across some inventive ways to deal with a language’s idiosyncrasies. Excessive use of diacritics and the resulting jaggedness of written language is one of the challenges typeface designers face frequently. This is a small selection of ways designers tried to master it for some of the Slavic languages in the past.

Preissig Antikva, Vojtěch Preissig, 1924

Preissig Antikva, Vojtěch Preissig, 1924

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Language as Design Criteria? Part II

The lack of aesthetic compatibility between Latin uppercase and lowercase letters has long been a topic for discussion among type designers. The mismatch is particularly apparent in written German in which the first letter of all nouns is capitalised (see Part I for more background). In the 1920s and 1930s, experimental proposals to harmonise German were put forward. Attempts ranged from reformations of spelling and grammar, to designs for universal alphabets which tried to connect the various languages of the Latin writing system. This is a very brief introduction to some of those ideas.

Bayer’s proposal for a universal alphabet

Herbert Bayer’s proposal for a universal alphabet, published in Offset, no. 7 (1926)

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Language as Design Criteria? Part I

A recent conversation on TypeDrawers about cultural preferences in typography threw me right back to 2011 and the months before I submitted my dissertation for the MA in Typeface Design at the University of Reading. Back then I attempted to find out if there are typefaces that suit some languages better than others and whether or not we can draw conclusions from their designs.

I was inspired by Ladislas Mandel who said that the designer ‘needs to analyse the characteristics of his supposed reader socially and culturally and choose shapes accordingly’ in order to achieve high legibility [1]. Richard Southall also touched on the topic in his article ‘A survey of type design techniques before 1978’ [2]. In his opinion, one makes different decisions on the fitting (spacing and kerning) of a typeface depending on the language the test document is set in.

I was left wondering if, for example, condensed typefaces are especially suited to typeset languages with a high frequency of long words. Or, if languages which make heavy use of diacritics require a lowered x-height. Should language be design criteria?

Antykwa Półtawskiego

Antykwa Półtawskiego by Adam Jerzy Półtawski was designed for use in Polish

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Schriftguss AG vorm. Brüder Butter

The Brüder Butter / Schriftguss AG type foundry in Dresden, Germany was one of the most interesting and multifaceted ones in Europe in the 1920s — yet almost no one has ever heard of them.

Schriftguss AG 2186

The Dresden site of the Butters in Großenhainer Straße, where today, some of Eckehart SchumacherGebler’s extensive type collection is stored. Next door, in the former Typoart building, is now his Monotype typesetting and print shop. Photo by Romesh Naik. (Incidentally, I am right here for a week of workshops currently.)

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Academic Publishing on Typography

For the scholars among you who are looking for peer-reviewed places to publish their research papers, the following publications and journals may publish articles on type and typography related topics, visual communication, etc.

Academia.edu (online forum, may not count as peer-reviewed)
British Journal of Educational Technology
Convergence — International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies
Communication Design — Interdisciplinary and Graphic Design Research
Design Issues
Design and Culture
Digital Creativity
Gutenberg Jahrbuch (DE, submission guidelines)
Information Design Journal
International Journal of Design
Journal of Artistic Research
Journal of Design History
Journal of the Printing Historical Society
Printing History
Quaerendo
The Design Journal
The International Journal of the Book
Tools and Techniques for Computer Typesetting
Typography Papers
Visible Language (of which Amy just co-edited the latest issue!)

(The International Journal of Digital Typography seems to be discontinued.)

If you know of other relevant journals or publications, please let us know in the comments. I’ll update this list as I hear of more, too.

Making Matrices

A recent visit to the Gerstenberg type foundry let me finally wrap my head around the different methods of making matrices for foundry type, and how to distinguish them:

Striking a punch into copper
This is the traditional method mostly used in conjunction with hand-cut steel punches, later only used for smaller sizes until ±28pt; larger sizes are hard to strike totally level. Also, the larger the size, the more the copper block gets deformed from the extrusion of the material.

Stamping a matrix with a machine
Often done in conjunction with machine-cut punches, especially for the production of Linotype and Monotype matrices, and for foundry type when the design is supposed to match Lino or Mono typefaces. And for sizes above 28pt. Machine-cutting of punches was also used for very small sizes that were almost impossible to do by hand, e.g. 2pt or 4pt. Stamped matrices can be made of copper, steel, or other alloys.

Electrotyping matrices
Widely used in Europe in the 20th century. Usually applied in conjunction with the cutting of patrices (cutting “punches” into soft type metal alloy, called Zeugschnitt in German), mostly done for sizes from ±28pt up. The model gets placed into a galvanic solution for 24–60 hours, or longer, to produce the matrix layer. These forms, cut up, make up the “eye” of the matrix, which is filled out with zinc, tin, or brass, later also steel or other alloys. Material for the matrix-part was copper, nickel, or brass, with copper being less durable for use in the complete caster (also a reason why the traditional method was not much used in the 20th century) but the fastest to grow matrix-layers with.

These electrotyped copper matrix-eyes came loose from their “bodies”, presumably a zinc alloy. Copper does not bind well with zinc and has to be tinned at the backside.

Electrotyped ornament matrices

Cutting matrices for poster type
Type larger than 96pt was usually produced in wood or resin, because metal type gets very heavy and “material-intensive” at large sizes. Still, large-sized matrices can be made via a patrix (type metal or wood) and electrotyping, or by cutting the form out of 3–4 mm thick copper sheets and mounting these on thicker sheets. Alternatively, a cut-out brass form can be pressed into type metal to form a (pretty soft, so not very durable) matrix. Or you could go all old-school and make a sand mold, preferably using beer to moisten the sand, more sticky.

Machine-engraving matrices from patterns
Widely used in Europe in the 20th century. A pantographic milling machine, adjustable for different sizes, engraves the matrix in several step following a pattern. The material used is sometimes bronze, later usually (high speed) steel. Getting an even, plane bottom was hard to achieve in the beginning, so engraving was occasionally combined with galvanic methods, but especially for scripts or other typefaces with large overhangs and kerns because those matrices had to be deeper.

Patterns from Stempel for pantographic matrix engraving

Engraved matrices (above Calipso from Nebiolo, especially for Florian and Isabella 🙂

Dissertations and Papers from Type Culture

Mark Jamra’s site Type Culture hosts a couple of very interesting research papers and similar texts, for instance:

Oldrich Menhart: Calligrapher, Type Designer and Craftsman
by Veronika Burian

This extensive dissertation presents the versatile work of the great Czech calligrapher and type designer Oldrich Menhart in his most unique and interesting period between 1930 and 1948.

French Type Foundries in the Twentieth Century
by Alice Savoie

The value of this dissertation lies not only in what it imparts to the reader, but also in its rarity, since relatively little information on the recent history of type in France has been written in English. To people who are less than fluent in French, most information about the state of affairs in French type and typography is woefully out of reach. This well-written study focuses on the activity of French foundries, their fateful decisions regarding the adoption of new technologies and the evolution of French type design throughout the last hundred years.

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The Story of Perpetua

This essay relates the origins of the typeface Perpetua and Felicity italic which were designed by Eric Gill and produced by The Monotype Corporation. Although the type and the collaborators are well known, the story has had to be pieced together from a variety of sources—Gill’s and Morison’s own writings and biographical accounts. There are accounts similar to this, but none could be found that either takes this point of view, or goes into as great detail.

PDF (1.3 MB): The Story of Perpetua

This was originally submitted by Tiffany in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Master of Arts in Theory and History of Typography and Graphic Communication, at the University of Reading in 2000.