As a Design Fellow here at the Walker Art Center in 2008, curiously browsing through the stacks of archived journals on art and design in the Walker’s library, I found a group of old journals and magazines on typography. There, I came across Typographica and eventually gravitated toward a feature written by Alan Bartram in Typographica 6 (1962), titled “Typewriter type faces.” Bartram’s writing was accompanied by an extensive index of typewriter typeface specimens. These specimens not only showcased the quantity of typefaces that were produced by the likes of IBM and Olivetti, but also, to my intrigue, the range of stylistic offerings made available to typewriter users during the prime of typewriters. Condensed typefaces, stylized italic typefaces, sleek sans serif typefaces, proportionally spaced (non-monospace) typefaces, “Pin-Point” typefaces, blackletter typefaces, script typefaces that mimic cursive handwriting, and many more.
I loved that moment of true discovery—of learning that the available range of typewriter typefaces was not as limited as I would’ve previously guessed. Rather, as Bartram’s feature illustrated, I found that the typewriter market back in the day was full of nuanced, specially-designed typefaces.
I ended up sharing my discovery that spring on The Gradient as a part of a blog post titled Typewriter Typefaces.
Fast-forwarding eight years, to this past fall, I received a note from Geneva-based designer Mathieu Christe. Mathieu had written to tell me that he and La Police had just recently published a new type design periodical titled Footnotes. Not only that, but this debut issue of Footnotes included a very faithful reprinting of Bartram’s “Typewriter type faces” feature. Considering that my post from 2008 hadn’t crossed my mind in quite some time, you can imagine how thrilled I was to receive Mathieu’s note.
Using our shared interest in “Typewriter type faces” as a jumping-off point, Mathieu and I, among other topics, had a conversation about precision, his collaborations, looking back on the history of Swiss type design, inventing a portmanteau, the study of typewriter typefaces in criminal investigations, affordable means of publishing, and what to expect in the forthcoming issue of Footnotes.
Ryan Gerald Nelson (RGN)
Hi Mathieu! So tell me about your first encounter with Alan Bartram’s “Typewriter type faces” feature in Typographica 6.
Mathieu Christe (MC)
Having just finished my studies at the TypeMedia Masters course in 2008, I was enjoying some time off in Holland before relocating to Switzerland. After just one, although very intensive, year of drawing, I felt that I needed to practise a lot more. So, I set myself to work on two revival projects: a Didot and a typewriter (a round one from the firm Olympia). Redrawing a forgotten typeface is a way to remember the past and learn from it. I always research about the type and the period—an essential part of the process for my motivation too.
Honestly, I can’t remember if I read your blog post beforehand, but I ended up visiting the Special Collections at the Library of the Universiteit van Amsterdam to read Alan Bartam’s article. I remember the very tactile cover made of Braille dots.
So you were eventually in correspondence with Bartram, correct?
My reaction to this discovery was the same as yours, fascinated by the rich spectrum of styles. As I wanted to know more, I decided to get in touch with Alan Bartram in 2013. He replied that he couldn’t add much to this 47-year old article and that I was free to reproduce it.
Sadly, he passed away before issue A was released. I sent a copy to his brother though.
I see that you had a crew of collaborators. I imagine that they helped you to bring this reprinting back to life? It was really encouraging to read that you and your collaborators had taken such care with regards to the research, reproductions, and to all of the details. Was it difficult to find individuals to collaborate with and who shared in your interest in faithfully reprinting “Typewriter type faces”?
If you’re referring to the list of names under the “acknowledgments,” most of these people helped me contact Bartram. At some point along the chain of contacts, my message was forwarded to him and I received this bit of info: “Please note that he [Bartram] does not use email so any correspondence will be by letter or telephone.”
As I was researching typewriter typefaces, I visited many blogs (from the Typosphere, an online community) and forums, sometimes posting questions or requests (under my name). This led Nicolien van der Keur to contact me in 2012. She is a PhD student in The Netherlands, doing a thesis (under Gerard Unger’s guidance) on the topic of the development of typefaces for typewriter. We’ve been in touch ever since, exchanging documents, and helping each other. She scanned the whole of Bartram’s article in hi-res, using Gerard Unger’s personal copy.
Regarding the quality of reproduction, my lithographer and colleague, Nicolas Robel, took care in preparing all samples for a reprint, which proved to be a surprisingly daunting task. Initially, I thought we could simply tune every page, but close inspection revealed that every sample (about 200 altogether) needed individual care.
Speaking of details—I really respect that all of the details in Footnotes are so consistently and cohesively executed: from the typesetting, to the image captioning (i.e., stating the scale percentage at which type specimen images are being reproduced), to the index, to the writing itself. Seen together, it all demonstrates a true commitment to the content that is seemingly difficult to find in other periodicals today. Do you see this approach to detail as a signature editorial and design style? Or is that the nature and precision of typography-related content simply demands an approach centered around detail?
Thanks for noticing and I hope it’s not too overwhelming for some readers. My attention to these details is a personal trait but also a reaction to hollow and careless editorial content. I can see this precision as a signature too. As with typefaces (La Police will also publish fonts), details are key but shouldn’t overshadow the whole “picture.”
For the other feature articles in this issue, you’ve collaborated with a number of writers and designers, including Atelier Carvalho Bernau and Louise Paradis (known for her work on the Typographische Monatsblätter Research Archive). Were these features commissioned/written specifically for Footnotes? And as an independent publisher/designer/editor, how did the process of working with these writers and designers unfold?
Yes. Both of their contributions are part of the series “One-off.” The idea is to present a type project developed for a certain, sometimes unique, context. I’m expecting contributions from graphic designers—not only pure type designers—curious to learn from their practise of typography and type design.
Although these final pieces read smoothly, I initially sent questions to the designers with a note saying that they have to answer knowing that I would remove the questions in the end. It’s a rather common practise for documentaries and, in the printed medium, an efficient way to save space. Each issue will include one or two essays from that series.
The feature on Haas Typefoundry Ltd. presents a fairly extensive and detailed history of Haas, its origins, and operations. Seemingly, it’s rare to ever read about a type foundry in this capacity, if at all. But as Haas has a 400-year history (which is, assumedly, relatively well-documented), I imagine it’s easier to pull together content on this subject matter. Did you have a particular vision or direction in mind for how to shape this content in relation to a contemporary periodical on type design?
You’re right, Haas’ adventure is fairly well-documented. The most comprehensive document «Schweizer Stempelschneider und Schriftgiesser» (Albert Bruckner, 1943) was our starting reference. Nevertheless, to bridge the gap between 1943 and today, we needed an update.
Considering that La Police will also publish typefaces and, as a Swiss digital typefoundry, I felt it was important to look back on the history of Swiss type design with a historical essay. In the end, I think it contrasts nicely with the other articles. Initially I tried to commission a history of type foundries in Switzerland but soon realised that it’s a potentially boundless task and decided to focus on a more key contributor instead. The former and last director of Haas, Alfred Hoffmann, welcomed Brigitte Schuster (the writer) with much enthusiasm and generosity, which convinced us to go this way. This text will be followed in issue B by a shorter text from a digital foundry in order to make the technological transition to today and the future.
You use a term throughout Footnotes in each of the acknowledgments texts: “iconotrack”. I can’t say I’ve ever seen that term before and have been curious about it’s origin and meaning. Is it used in connection with your use of the word “iconography”?
Iconography is treated with great care, not only in terms of reproduction quality but also with regards to image and reproduction rights. Making sure that you’re granted permission (sometimes by paying fees), involves contacting many people. To credit them, I’ve invented this portmanteau made up of “iconography” and “tracking.”
On the back cover, you published a portion of a ransom note that describes a set of very specific and peculiar instructions that the murderous duo Leopold and Loeb had typewritten in 1924. Reading this made me super curious, and I ended up digging into some reading on Leopold and Loeb. I know that the typewriter used to produce the ransom note became a key piece of evidence in the murder trial, so it’s intriguing to me to imagine how you came across this case in your research related to type design. What was your path to discovering this murder case from Chicago in the 1920s?
If I remember well, the secretary at ASQDE (The American Society of Questioned Document Examiners) mentioned the name of Mr. Tytell, a typewriter expert in New York. I contacted him as I was looking for a story and picture for the cover (more below about my choice). He told me about the Leopold and Loeb case and I decided to re-transcribe the ransom note as a piece of curious evidence.
As a coincidence, shortly after the release of issue A, a local movie theater (Spoutnik, “Le plus beau cinéma du monde”) was screening the movie Swoon (Tom Kalin, 1992) about the infamous duo. I also realised that Rope (Alfred Hitchcock, 1948) was based on that case.
What’s the story behind the cover image?
One day Nicolien van der Keur mentioned the Haas Typewriter Atlas, a resource for forensic document examiners. Unknown to me, and unrelated to the famous Swiss typefoundry, it showcases the (probably) largest collection worldwide of typewriter typeface specimens.
With the pure image cover (no typography), my aim is to show intriguing images that are not obviously related to type. Knowing that experts from a different field are studying letterforms for other reasons, I set myself to find a photograph from a criminal case which used the Haas Typewriter Atlas as an identification tool. This proved impossible and, for that reason, it forced me to find a “simple” picture from the local police archives. The A D H letters on the cover are part of the original picture, probably rubbed off from a Letraset sheet.
I appreciate the extra bits of printed ephemera that were included with Footnotes: a bookmark, two visual table-of-contents-like cards, and a simple business-card-sized advertisement for the lithographer of Footnotes, supertiptop. The two visual table-of-contents-like cards are, graphically, really enticing. Can you tell us a bit about the significance of the graphic bits and icons that live on these cards?
On press, two covers are printed on one sheet with extra room for these goodies. The bookmark with issue A’s table of contents will be inserted into issue B’s copies, and so on. That way, the reader will know about the previous issue’s articles, which is important when articles are split between issues. This bookmark is meant to be used as a “shelfmark” too since Footnotes is stapled, thus without a flat spine.
The visual cards display graphic extracts from the respective articles’ iconography. I use them as promocards, which I occasionally drop at bookshops or various venues. “Enticing” is the right word as my aim is to tease the visually oriented people.
The before/after lithographer’s card (supertiptop) was designed by him to prove that you need to take care of black and white images, more so when printing on uncoated paper. He supported my project by offering a very careful preparation of all of the images. As he’s only working for cultural projects, I took the opportunity of my many mailings to spread the word about supertiptop.
And, of course, the printing of Footnotes is very important. In this regard, I worked with the passionate and knowledgeable printer Noir sur noir impression in Geneva. As the editor and publisher I feel a responsibility to offer readers original and well-reproduced images. In that sense, the visual information is treated with as much respect and care as the written content.
That’s a smart move—to make use of the extra space on the press sheet! The economy of that decision, as well as the overall modesty of the printing of Footnotes, brings me to my question about the production and funding of Footnotes. How did these two factors come to shape your thinking and decisions about what Footnotes could be in the end? Did certain compromises need to be made to aspects such as size/format, page number, and printing during the process of making Footnotes? Or, rather, did you let the limitations of the production and funding inform your decisions from the very beginning?
As references, I’d mention the bulletins and flyers from societies of collectors (i.e., mushrooms, stamps, etc.). These printings are simple transmitters, produced with affordable means. Of course, they also have an aesthetic which seduces me and I tried to preserve that charm.
In terms of reader’s impressions, I wanted to play with contrasts: an understated appearance with in-depth content and obsessive attention to details.
With the help of subsidies (in the form of services and time) from my friends, no ads, and wise production decisions, Footnotes can be released quite independently. I should also mention that with no strong connections to institutions or schools, I am able to preserve a certain editorial freedom.
The production decisions were also influenced by observing the evolution of print. In the field of sequential art (I co-run B.ü.L.b comix), books have become more and more refined. To maintain affordable prices, or to put it another way, to keep the price psychologically inviting for the reader, subsidies and printing abroad comes in handy. Contrary to the philosophy behind paperback publications—simple and affordable publications for the masses—the market is increasingly seducing readers and collectors by offering more for less and at no real additional cost. Designers, publishers, and institutions have a responsibility too, and I see Footnotes as a statement in this regard.
As for the format: it is defined by the postal service norms (cheapest shipping category) as well as the number of pages that fit on the printing press and press sheets. I see them as constraints, not compromises.
What can we expect from issue “B” of Footnotes and subsequent issues after that? Do you have a particular editorial or thematic strategy planned for each issue?
To begin with, I will be publishing the second (and last) part of Haas’ article, followed by a contemporary perspective from one of the earliest digital foundries of the country.
Additionally, I will include: the first part of an extensive research, lead by a French crew (Alice Savoie, Dorine Sauzet, Sébastien Morlighem), on Ladislas Mandel’s typefaces for telephone directories; a critical essay on typeface redesign by Christian Mengelt; after a few lectures on Dr. A. V. Hershey’s fonts, a written-report by Frank Grießhammer who re-coordinated these early vector fonts; and, of course, exciting one-off type projects and the Proofs page showcasing in-progress typefaces.
As you can see, I don’t have a thematic strategy. Some issues might have one, if appropriate. I research to find interesting content and contributors, then try to mix them over the course of a couple of issues. Simple and free.
Thank you for your time, Mathieu. And best of luck on issue B!
Footnotes issue A features contributions from: Mathieu Christe, František Štorm, Atelier Carvalho Bernau, Alan Bartram, Louise Paradis, Brigitte Schuster, Allen V. Hershey, and Frank Grießhammer.
Stay up-to-date with Footnotes on their website or on Twitter. Footnotes issue A is available from a handful of stockists in the US and Europe, or it can be ordered directly from the Footnotes online shop.