The Dwindling Language of Type Specimens 1901–1914

Part of book or chapter of book English OPEN
O'Neill, Jesse (2014)
  • Publisher: University of Aveiro

At the turn of the twentieth-century, type specimen books were the primary vehicles for advertising commercial typography. Their function was to display letterforms, but for the design historian they can also reveal the wider values of the printing trade. Late nineteenth-century specimens presented their decorative typefaces through diverse text fragments that point to typography’s wider social involvements, but in the 1900s this convention began to change. This essay explores the changing role of texts in specimen design through a corpus of Australian samples produced in 1901–1914. I argue that the new uses of language reflect a wider shift in the anonymous typographers’ trade identity, showcasing a practice concerned less with its old myths of knowledge and skill, and more interested in the present acts of its own labour. The essay gives evidence of how specimen design reflected trade identity in the regional Australian market, but unravelling the design structures of these books also has implications for their wider study. Understanding how specimens were designed expands their potential use as sources in studying the anonymous designers who created them.
  • References (4)

    Batson & Co. (1886) First specimen book, Sydney: Batson & Co.

    Eckersall, K. (1980) Young Caxton: A history of aims in printing education in Melbourne 1870-1970, Melbourne: Melbourne College of Printing and Graphic Arts.

    Edward Lee & Co. (c.1913) Our type faces, Sydney: Edward Lee & Co.

    F. T. Wimble & Co. (1913) Catalogue of bookbinders and paper rulers' machinery and sundries, Sydney: F. T. Wimble & Co.

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