Brian's History of Communication Design Blog

Weekly exposition on recent learnings.


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final post

For my final posting, I wanted to share the photos I took on our class trip to the Vancouver Public Library’s Special Collections floor. We saw some amazing books.

The first three photos are of an abbess’ Book of Days, an incunabula on vellum.

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We then saw a leaf from the Gutenberg bible.

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This was followed by an early book, printed in Venice. The page was densely covered in type.

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Of particular interest to me was a book fo Martin Luther’s works, in Latin, that had been owned by William Morris. One has to wonder how much influence the typesetting and type design had on Morris himself.

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To contrast against Morris, we also looked at Owen Jones’ Grammar of Ornament.

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There was a classic example of Morris’ work available as well. True to form, the frontispiece was more elaborate than the inner pages.

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Finally, we looked at Owen Jones’ masterpiece, his two volume work on Alhambra. It was exquisite and reminded me of all the work I’d done on Islamic themes.

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The King James Bible or Shakespeare

The last class reviewed the early history of the printed page, from the Roman-inspired incunabula through the advent of Gutenberg A comment made by the professor was how Gutenberg’s bible led to the standardization of modern German. And although there was no German state, there was certainly a German language. The Gutenberg bible, therefore, standardized orthography and word use.

I began to wonder, therefore, about modern English. I had read and long believed that Shakespeare, with his extremely broad and inventive vocabulary, and his active adoption of non-London dialects into his plays, had a profound impact on the standardization of modern English.

But when you consider that it was indeed the KJV of the bible that had a far greater scope of reach than Shakespeare (after all, most homes would have a bible, but not everyone would bother to buy plays), I began to realize that the KJV would have a much greater impact than Shakespeare.

Indeed, the King James bible added 257 idioms to English, more than any single source, including Shakespeare, including, according to Wikipedia, feet of clay and reap the whirlwind. Not to mention the standardized orthography.

I guess Shakespeare worship is best left to the English literature department. His plays are brilliant, but he didn’t have the overall effect on modern English at the level that the KJV did.


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Vienna Secession Typeface Reborn in Psychedelia

We were reviewing the various movements that followed on after Art Nouveau (Jugendstil, the Glasgow School, and the Vienna Secession), and it was interesting to see how the typefaces of the Vienna Secession developed. At first they were similar in their clarity and elongated forms to those of the Glasgow School, but they soon developed more abstract, less legible, forms.

Of particular note was one by Alfred Roller, shown here in an example of a calendar page from Ver Sacrum.

Ver Sacrum August

Alfred Roller typeface in Ver Sacrum

When I saw this I immediately thought of the typeface used in late 1960s psychedelia posters, particularly those from San Francisco. I found two examples that used Roller’s typeface:

brignallimg2Jefferson Airplane at the Fillmore

I think it’s great that it might have taken nearly 70 years for the renaissance to occur, but that a perfect one did happen for Roller’s very unique typeface.


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Art Nouveau’s Birth in a Chair

Last week we were looking at artists from the Victorian age, and one in particular that struck my eye was Mackmurdo.

He produced a set of five chairs in 1882 that clearly predates that Art Nouveau movement by perhaps as much as 20 years, yet is clearly a precursor of Art Nouveau in its styling. To wit:

Mackmurdo Chair

The fluid lines suggestive of, yet not representational of, plant forms, are clearly the same as seen in Art Nouveau works.

For example, the design of the Paris metro stations by Guimard:

Guimard Metro Station

Guimard Metro Railing

Guimard designed these stations in 1900, just to give an indication as to how far after Mackmurdo his work came.


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Changing Book Design

One of the slides we had a brief look at in class was a classic example of Victorian book cover design, The Pencil of Nature.

The Penicl of Nature

This dates to 1844. What amazes me is the similarities and differences in what William Morris was doing nearly 50 years later in book design.

William Morris Book Design

We still have an ornate sense of decoration, albeit an organic one, but there has been a shift from blackletter typeface to a more humanist transitional typeface (designed by Morris). Morris also uses a a more traditional canon (dating back to Gutenberg) for the layout of the page, instead of centering it.


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Mighty Ships

In reviewing the lecture slide show from the class that I missed, the image that struck me the most was that of a WWII US Navy recruiting poster:

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It was clearly referential to the Art Deco masterpiece of Cassandre:

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I love how the Navy was referencing a work of romance and art to create something needed for recruitment. It takes the art of the Navy to a whole new level.