First/early female typeface designers

Every other month the question about who was the first female typeface designer comes up. From my armchair research, for up to the 1950s, so far we know of

  • Hildegard Henning, Belladonna, Julius Klinkhardt, 1912
  • Elizabeth Colwell, Colwell Handletter, ATF, 1916
  • Maria Ballé, Ballé Initials, Bauersche Gießerei, date unknown, 1920s?
  • Elizabeth Friedländer*, Elizabeth, Bauer, ±1937
  • Ilse Schüle, Rhapsodie, Ludwig & Mayer, 1951
  • Gudrun Zapf von Hesse, Diotima, Stempel AG, 1952–54 (Ariadne ’53, Smaragd ’54 …)
  • Anna Maria Schildbach, Montan, Stempel AG, 1954
  • (That is women credited with a typeface’s design. Many have worked in drawing offices and type production but remained unknown. And post-metal type design is another blog post.)

    I have been talking a lot about this with Dan Reynolds, who is researching 19th century type making in Germany for his Phd (this is such a brief generalization of his topic that he will probably kill me). After the war, West German type foundries published a couple of typefaces designed by women, but of pre-war typefaces Dan could so far not find more than the two mentioned above — Belladonna and the Elizabeth types. (It’s debatable whether the Ballé initials count since they were “not actually cast as foundry type, but rather electrotypes mounted on metal”, as some sources state.) While the idea that Anna Simons might have designed some of the Bremer Presse types is intriguing, it seems that this was just a 1980s American speculation, not actually a fact.

    Last weekend, Dan visited the printing museum im Leipzig and writes:
    “I finally made it to the exhibition from Jerusalem, which exhibited work from Moshe Spitzer, Franziska Baruch, and Henri Friedlaender. That exhibition included Stam, a Hebrew typeface designed by Franziska Baruch for Berthold in the 1920s. Baruch left Germany for Palestine and died in Israel in 1989. She had a career as a designer in Germany in the 1920s and ’30s, and then in Palestine and Israel after that. Much of her graphic design for the State of Israel and for her Israeli clients was significant; however, she never wrote about her work.

    While it was not mentioned in the exhibition, I suspect that Baruch was commissioned to design Stam by Oscar Jolles, who was Berthold’s director in the 1920s. Jolles was a prominent figure in the Berlin Jewish community, and Berthold’s publication of Hebrew type specimen took place during his tenure. Jolles died in 1929, but like Baruch’s mother and sister, his wife and daughter were all murdered in 1943, albeit in different death camps.”

    I believe Liron worked on this exhibition and its original catalog? Does any of you type history or Hebrew researchers have more info on Franziska Baruch and her typeface Stam? I had never heard of her. Glad we can add another name to our Olden Type list.

    * There is a documentary about Elizabeth Friedlander that just came out and will be shown in London on October 20. If you are in the area, this is worth watching.
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    The Pre-Vinylette Society

    The PreVinylette Society exhibition

    If you happen to be in the Windy City over the next few weeks, you’re going to want to head over to the Chicago Art Department to check out The Pre-Vinylette Society: An International Showcase of Women Sign Painters. Opening on Friday, September 8, the exhibition features the work of over 60 women sign painters from the United States, the UK, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Scotland, Ireland, and Norway.

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    Dear Alphabettes: Freelancing and working from home

    Dear Alphabettes,

    Of the freelancers among you, what problems and anxieties are you facing? (Is a certain amount of uncertainty and anxiety maybe even necessary for the creativity of a freelancer?) Also, what are your experiences with working from home?

    Jeremy

     
    Dear Jeremy,

    I don’t know if anxiety is necessary for creative practice, but it is certainly something I battle with in life generally! (I have OCD, anxiety and have had a bunch of panic attacks — my work is absolutely a trigger).

    When I started out as a designer, I imagined a career in a studio leading a team of collaborators. When I got to that point, I was earning great money, working alongside people I admired on excellent projects — I was, in theory, achieving all my goals, but I was miserable, burnt out, and a nervous wreck. The trouble was in a corporate environment I was determining my worth by the quality of my work — so every project outcome (and compromise) became critical in my self-confidence, and I was busy striving for perfection in every project which was a fast track to the psychologist’s office.

    So when I found myself looking to find a more healthy balance in my career and started to seriously consider freelance I was already incredibly anxious (seeing a psychologist twice a week) — I doubted my ability — wasn’t confident I could do good work, get the right clients or pay our mortgage. I wrote a tonne of pro’s and cons lists before getting started and also mapped out my back up career if everything turned to custard! But I was incredibly fortunate to have people around me who believed in my ability when I did not. That support structure was fundamental to me being able to turn my back on a well-paying job to freelance.

    Before I wrote a business plan, I drafted a bare-bones household budget (to know exactly how much I needed to earn to cover our essential bills and living expenses). Then I wrote a business plan to ensure I could meet that minimum (x hours at y hourly rate = keep a roof over our head was my most basic formula!). Breaking it down like that gave me an achievable (less daunting) entry point and a specific number of hours to strive for each month.

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    Facing Our Fears: Teaching Type on the Web

    This article is based on the presentation, “Web typography is just typography, sort of,” part of the Type@Cooper West Lecture Series at the San Francisco Public Library, on July 18, 2017. Watch a video of the talk or keep reading.

    web design and typography exist in parallel

    In many design programs, web design and typography courses exist in parallel universes. If 95% of the web is typography, then why aren’t we teaching this?

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    Dear Alphabettes, when an author says they’ve written a book, don’t they mean they wrote a text?

    We’re being a little cheeky here. This question wasn’t really addressed to Dear Alphabettes, but since we’re on the subject of answering things without being asked, we thought we’d leave our contribution anyway.

    One of the temptations is to start this text (in this case, a blog post, not a book!) by asking the broader question: what are books? It reminds me of an episode of Look Around You. Talk about derailing… A book is a book is a book.

    When an author says they have written a book, what they mean, and what the vast majority of people understand that they mean, is that they have written the content of the book.

    Now you may insist: isn’t the content of a book the same as a text? Usually it would be in text form, yes, although I suppose if an author’s process was to narrate the contents of their book into, say, a recording device, rather than writing it down, we would still say they wrote a book, even if they hadn’t, strictly speaking, written anything down.
    Similarly, if you listen to an audiobook, the content would be experienced through sounds, and it would still be a book.

    When we hear the word “book”, we tend to picture it in codex form. Printed and bound, a physical object, a set of printed sheets of paper held together inside a cover. The platonic ideal of books. That rules out literature and text written in scrolls, clay or stone tablets, etc. The saying goes we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and yet here we are, defining a book by its shape rather than its contents. Today, however, many books are not even published in printed form, and are available only on e-readers. They are still books.

    So let’s not purposely obfuscate things here. When someone says they wrote a book, we all know what it means. Dante wrote The Divine Comedy, Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter. We understand that they wrote those books, and we are not talking about the physical act of writing (with a pen or a computer), or the physical shape of any specific edition of the book.

    As a group of women involved in lettering, typography and type design, we tend to enjoy the physical form of books and, more broadly, the physical form of letters that give shape to written content. There are many hands, eyes and brains that bring the book that the author wrote into the finished form that the reader will hold in their hands, or read through their screens, or listen to through their headphones, etc. Many of us work full-time contributing to this process. We appreciate and celebrate it and we imagine most of our readers do too.

    Let’s continue to celebrate all the people that bring books into existence, starting with the people who write them.

     
    Do you also have a question about questions nobody asked, the universe, or everything else? Tweet at us @alphabettes_org and if the answer doesn’t fit into a tweet, we may reply here.

    Dear Alphabettes: What was the best discovery or mind blown experience you’ve had in an archive?

    Dear A,

    I guess one of your first visits to an archive, or a library, or museum of things related to your interesest will always be one of the most memorable. Even if the things and facts that blew your mind then seem funny (to say the least) today.

    I remember my first visit at the Anna Amalia library in Weimar in 1997. I had just come back from an internship in the Netherlands that a.o. brought me to the Plantijn Moretus museum, guided by Fred Smeijers. For a young type enthusiast bursting of curiosity (more than knowledge) there is already barely a more mind-blowing experience imaginable than holding punches by Hendrik van den Keere et al. and learning about how they made them. There, I had Fred to answer all my questions and put things in context.

    Fast forward a few weeks later, by myself back in Weimar, I was looking at these marvelous books printed by the private Cranach Presse of count Harry Kessler which by themselves are totally mind-blowing! In case you ever have a chance to see their edition of Hamlet printed on vellum, it’s INSANE! I wanted to know all about these books, who made them, what these typefaces are, and who had made those, who the illustrations, the binding … I had so many questions I couldn’t quite put into order or connect, or even know what keywords to search for in the library’s physical card-based catalog, pre-Google. How for instance is it possible they say this type in the Vergil is Jenson when other books say that guy is long dead and from the 1400s, oh ok, a guy called Edward Price then, and who is Emery Walker? And the whole can of worms of private presses and revivals opened in front of me.

    It was there where I finally “got” type history – painstakingly, embarrassing and on my own, even though I had read Counterpunch and saw Fred work for months. I guess the things you painfully figure out yourself are always the stuff that really sticks, and boy was I proud of myself and my “amazing research” (that everyone else but me already knew).

    When I came to Fred with my findings and excitement about all these fancy private press books and typefaces he just shrugged and said (something like) “Private Press books are shit. Making cheap books beautiful is the real challenge and art”. I was disappointed right that moment, but sleeping on it, I knew he was right. Cured my interest in fancy press books forever.

    Best, Indra

    (Comments are open! I’m curious about your archive and library stories.)

     
    Do you also have a question about mind-blowing experiences, the universe, or everything else? Tweet at us @alphabettes_org and if the answer doesn’t fit into a tweet, we may reply here.

    Film review: Graphic Means

    A detail from the Graphic Means official poster.

    If you were a part of this era, but especially if you weren’t, you must see Graphic Means.

    These days, it is easier to find information regarding printing in 15th century Europe than graphic design processes in the United States during the 1970s and ’80s. The latter, the focus of Graphic Means, was a major transition for the design and printing industry as centuries old procedures and machinery made way for photographic processes and eventually digital technology. This dramatic shift has not been well-documented, perhaps due to the quick speed of the conversion or that it is still in recent memory.

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