A new Visual History of Type

Paul McNeil’s comprehensive survey of the major typefaces produced since the advent of printing with movable type features rare specimens reproduced at actual size. CR’s art director, Paul Pensom, picks his favourites from the book

In The Visual History of Type, more than 320 typefaces are displayed in the form of their original type specimens or earliest printing. Each entry is supported by a brief history and description of key characteristics of the typeface.

The book is the work of Paul McNeil, co-founder of design studio MuirMcNeil and Senior Lecturer in Typography at the London College of Communication.

We asked our Art Director, Paul Pensom, to pick his favourites from the book. His reasons are detailed below along with a brief description of each typeface by McNeil.

Griffo’s Roman from The Visual History of Type

1. Griffo’s Roman/Bembo
This page reproduces a beautiful spread from Pietro Bembo’s De Aetna of 1495. Font and setting clearly influence typographers and designers to this day.
“The type was cut for the Venetian printer and publisher Aldus Manutius (1449-1515) by Francesco Griffo (1450-1518) for use in De Aetna, a short travelogue written by the young Italian humanist poet Pietro Bembo.”

2. Thorne’s Modern
I love this crisp and authoritative Modern face from one of the lesser known (to me anyway) 19th century type founders.
“His were the first English typefaces in the modern style, with a sharp overall appearance based on strong vertical stress, a high contrast between thick and thin strokes, and fine, bracketed serifs.”

Walbaum as featured in The Visual History of Type

3. Walbaum
An old favourite of mine looking superb here in this rare specimen. One of the great strengths of this new book is in using scarce samplers and specimens gathered together and reproduced at actual size.
“Justus Erich Walbaum’s roman typefaces represent one of the most significant departures from the blackletter tradition in the history of German typography.”

4. Figgins Antique
I’ve always had a lot of time for the brutish, clumsy solidity of Egyptians, and here is one of the most influential. I particularly like distinctive quirks such as the inset tail on the double storeyed g and the hook armed 2 and 3’s, reminiscent of contemporary grotesques.
“Like many other new styles, when the Egyptians first appeared they were considered to be typographic monstrosities. However they were very successful commercially, reflecting the industrialised ethos of the period and influencing the development of the more modulated Ionic and Clarendon styles developed in the 1840s.”

Sample of Venus as featured in The Visual History of Type

5. Venus
I simply had to include a Grotesque, and this is an excellent example — a characterful face cut for Wagner & Schmidt between 1907 and 1910. I first came across Venus when Neville Brody used an early digital cut for Macromedia in the first half of the 1990s. It has all the solidity and authority of Akzidenz in the upper case, but exhibits delightful eccentricity in the lower. See particularly the hook tailed gs and ys, and the hooked 2s.
“Although hugely popular in the early part of the 20th century, Venus did not survive the technological transitions to machine composition, photosetting or the digital era.”

The Visual History of Type by Paul McNeil is published by Laurence King, £60. Sample images courtesy St Bride Foundation.

We have a special offer for CR readers courtesy of Laurence King. If you buy the book from the Laurence King website, enter the code CR30 at checkout to receive 30% off