A Type History Talk Featuring the Tiny Type Museum

I was in San Francisco in early June, and the Grabhorn Institute invited me to give a short talk in their gallery about type history and the Tiny Type Museum & Time Capsule. The institute preserves the practical history of type casting and fine-art printing by perpetuating it, fulfilling orders from letterpress printers and producing new books, while running an apprenticeship program, regular tours, and inviting speakers (like me!).

Chromatic Type

I've posted my first patron-exclusive item at Patreon, where you can help directly support by work by pledging as little as $1 a month (you cancel at any time). Here's the start of the post:

When we think of the past, we often imagine it in black and white. Seeing early color photos or ones that have been realistically colored often jars the way we perceive historic events. The same is true with type and printed works of the past. We think of 19th century and earlier letterpress-printed works as being largely in a single color, and that color is black, sometimes with accents in a second color. Occasionally we’ll see a fancy example of multi-colored printing, but it stands out from that period. Any full-color images typically would have been printed by lithography and added later (“tipped in”) on blank pages reserved for the purposes.

Chromatic specimens.png

But type could be parti-colored! (I’m sneaking in a favorite word, somewhat out of fashion: parti-colored means having or being made from two or more colors.) Printers relied on chromatic type, which was designed as sets of interlocking pieces for each letter or character. Each set could be printed separately in a unique color. When all the overlapping pieces of letters combined in a final print, you had the individual colors plus additional colors created by overprinting.

In a world of largely black-only printing with splashes of color, chromatic type could look spectacular.

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My Talk on Six Centuries of Printing and My Year in Residence

As the wonderful culmination of my 2017 designer-in-residence position at the School of Visual Concepts, I gave a talk at the school last night. I covered the entire history of printing and my book-printing project, all tied together with the notion of imitation and creation and duplication. You can watch the talk on YouTube. It was an amazing year and I'm looking forward to new adventures in 2018!

I held Walt Whitman’s hand today

Through a series of circumstances and research I’ll explain later, I was at the University of Washington library's Special Collections Book Arts and Rare Book Collection, meeting its curator. Unrelated to the topic at hand, I ask offhandedly if they have any Whitman. In fact, they have a very fine concentration of Whitman editions, including a first edition of a book I have particular interest in, November Boughs, which he published in 1888 after his health broke.

She pulled three editions, including that first one, and said there was something special: Whitman had written an inscription and signed it. (J.G. Milligan appears to be a fellow Brooklynite of Whitman’s from my quick research.)

I always think of these kinds of links from one person to the next: having held a book the edition of which Whitman not only wrote and for which he supervised the printing, but also held this particular copy, it's like forging a connection back to his time. He's no longer such a distant historical figure.

Viruses of the Mind (1996)

A colleague wrote recently after trying to find a column I'd written long ago for Adobe Magazine called "Eternal September," about how AOL letting everyone into Usenet newsgroups created the same conditions as each August and September when students arrived at universities and gained access for the first time to the worldwide discussions then taking place. I dug around and found this gem from the June/July 1996 issue, introducing people to memes—and doxing!

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The Mouse and John Sculley, an Anecdote

My friend Roman Mars' podcast, 99% Invisible, just posted its latest episode, Of Mice and Men, about the history of the computer mouse. It's a terrific walk through the mouse's success and the lack of interest in single-hand or chording keysets. I provided some feedback to an early script, mostly around the edges of some historical facts, and the final story is absolutely dead on. (You can listen below in the browser.)

This reminded me of a short encounter when I worked at the Kodak Center for Creative Imaging in Camden, Maine. The short-lived teaching facility had 100 Mac IIfx models and millions of dollars of the most advanced storage, scanning, and camera gear available. We also had regular invitational events with artists and others.

At one such event in 1992, John Sculley, then Apple's CEO, attended. (He had a house in Camden at the time, too.) Kodak was using the event partly to show off Atex Renaissance, its desktop-publishing software that was going to compete against QuarkXPress and Aldus PageMaker.

The various Kodak product managers were helping the invited guests in our large computer lab use the software to create things. One was helping Sculley.

Kodak person: "Just type Command-K and it will format the text."
Sculley: "How do I do that with a mouse?"
K: "You can't. The keyboard is better."
Sculley: Pause. "No. It isn't."

He's a nice guy and that wasn't a chilling moment, but even the Kodak manager realized she'd stepped in it, telling the CEO of the company that had popularized the mouse to the extent that the mouse was closely associated with its brand that the keyboard is better.

The moment passed, and so did the software, which never caught on.