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Publishers, of course, make the decisions on typeface and the design of book covers. Any lettering (title, author, illustrator, etc) on a cover may well be artwork and art direction unique to that cover. But I am aware self publishers are responsible for decisions on lettering so here’s a quick look at the history of typography. Font choice is a subtle way of suggesting an era.
The 19th century sees the development of sans-serif fonts. As advertising, billboards, signage, flyers and playbills become ubiquitous, shouty sans-serif proves useful:
Typefaces compete for attention!
The late 19th century includes a look back at early font styles by William Morris and his Kelmscott press, and a flowering of new font styles with Art Nouveau. See Alphonse Mucha’s poster designs and Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s tearoom signage for the range of beautiful design going on at this time.
The 20th century brings the sans-serif fonts we see in use to this day. Paul Renner’s Futura is a ‘geometric sans’ style, Edward Johnston and Eric Gill developed ‘humanist sans’ styles. Johnston’s font is familiar as the London Transport font. There are 1950s designs still popular today, for instance Adrian Frutiger’s Univers and Max Miedinger’s Helvetica.
In the days before Pinterest, if you liked collecting images you had to cut and paste... literally. Above is a page from my 1970s scrapbook of lettering I liked. Mainly collected from Sunday newspaper colour supplements and the magazines of the day (Jackie, 19, Honey, all long gone) and all stuck down with the newly invented Pritt stick. Pinterest has revolutionised ‘scrapbooking’ hasn’t it?
If you find yourself choosing a font for a book cover or display purposes, think about history as well as legibility.
More on 20th and 21st century fonts next month.
Louisa Glancy is the Wednesday Features Editor for Words & Pictures. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @Louisa Glancy