Trading Faces

Around the end of the twelfth century, Blackletter script (later coined Gothic script/minuscule during the Renaissance) was used throughout Western Europe

By the fifteenth century, with the invention of moveable type and the continued expansion of trade routes, the explorers that shipped out in search of the New World brought with them more than just goods, people and conquest: they brought (and left behind) typography – and in Mexico  in particular, Europe left its indelible mark on the country with Blackletter.

Reshaped and reappropriated by the indigenous people, Blackletter now adorns a host of shops and stores, hotels, bars, countless forms of signage and posters throughout the country. It’s now an integral part of Mexico’s fascinating contemporary visual culture, as a new book from Mark Batty Publishers reveals.

Mexican Blackletter, by Cristina Paoli, looks at how this distinctive letterform-style exists in the country today. The hand-lettered type (by both professional and amateur designers) is at once elegant and prosaic: its ubiquity such that each incarnation is unique. The face carries with it a well-worn sense of the past (think of the Olde Worlde typefaces in use in pubs and bars in attempts to convey a sense of history) but here in Mexico, variants on the Blackletter type are used in all manner of contemporary applications: from signage for taxi companies to the destination signs on  local buses.

As noted in the conclusion to the book, most of the applications of Blackletter in Mexico wouldn’t stand a chance up against Jan Tschichold’s hard and fast rules for good lettering. But then, as Paoli writes: “The desire to embellish the written language, in an effort to enhance the message and the environment that contains it, is what constitutes the very purpose of its use and popularity in Mexico.” Looking through this intriguing book, long may it remain so.

Mexican Blackletter is published by Mark Batty Publishers at $24.95


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