Printer’s specimen book 1958, Pt.3

Yet more mid-century fonts, layouts and illustration from Abbey Mills, North Wales

In the 21st century, anyone designing text and graphics has an infinite palette of colours and effects to throw at a design, and we can see the results vomited on street signs and shop fronts in all our towns. They’re not street signage of course, but the simple, effective designs here are not just a product of diligent training and effort, but also the restraints placed by what was technically possible. And surely these are delivering just as much impact.

It’s quite sad and a sign of the times that concise graphic design like this – used for everyday items, like food packaging, signage, informative and promotional materials – as opposed to book covers, artwork for music and posters, for example – has been shepherded into a visual language for what was once called the ‘discerning consumer’, shorthand for aspiring, likely to be sold overpriced product packaged beautifully or a word now rarely seen, ‘tastefully’.

Calvin Swann

In amongst all the mid century modernity, the Pepys layout above demonstrates an ongoing love of gentle baroque decoration, coloured like fine china.

Uncredited
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Printers’ specimen book 1958, Pt.2

More mid-century fonts, layouts and illustration from Abbey Mills, North Wales

Ru van Rossem

All these images are a reminder of how much has been lost in the age of digital printing: a traditional printer was a true craftsman, custodian of skills passed through generations and now lost forever. Of course letterpress lives on as a niche artisan craft, but this kind of beauty was once an everyday item, as throwaway as a paper bag. The marriage of paper and colour is incredible, the tones so pure and vivid.

Judith Bledsoe
John O’Connor
Thomas Hennell

Printers’ specimen book, 1958, Pt. 1

Mid-century fonts, layouts and illustration from Abbey Mills, North Wales

Designed by Eric Fraser, originally from Curwen Press

Featuring papers with names like Glastonbury Coloured Antique Laid, Basingwerk Parchment, Chariot Cartridge and British Oak Parchment this is a gorgeous volume. The production values are incredible, arresting the senses at every level, and even now the scent of musty forest hangs among its leaves.

Drawing by Charles Mozley

Every letter is flawlessly crisp, and touching the many silks, sheens and matts of the papers makes you feel like a Tudor merchant plunging his hands into a trove of fabrics from a newly-arrived shipment.

Figurehead by A Romney; Shop by C Arthur; Initial letter R Busbridge
Illustration by Cecil Keeling

Dustwrappers from the 30s and 50s – the Joy of Text

Some perfect ‘text only’ dustwrappers, two from the 1950s (The Hireling and Four Plays by Tennessee Williams) and two from the 1930s. Aldous Huxley’s Eyeless in Gaza is particularly dramatic – a lot of care has gone into the arrangement of that text. Such is the impact, it asks to be writ large on a film screen. I could stare at this font for hours (well, maybe a good few minutes from time to time…)

The Murder in the Cathedral dustwrapper does something quite subtle: it suggests a cathedral with a simple serif font reminiscent of stone lettering on a monument, but the diagonal slash of red shouts of scandal like a newspaper headline.

Scenes from the 1950s – the art of triple retro

Graphics by Hans Riebesehl from a beautifully designed tour guide to Hamburg, Germany which dates from around 1956. It’s fascinating to see an original that could be equally at home today, or in the mid-eighties, when this kind of font was hand-in-glove with the rebirth of black and white photography.

Does that mean we’re living in a triple retro age? The fifties are everywhere again, just as they were in the eighties.

Maybe James Dean would have been less troubled in 1955 if he’d known his immortality was assured, safe in the knowledge that every thirty years the vampire of cool would pick him up on its radar.

More images from Hamburg 1956…

Perfected poise: all eyes on the roulette wheel…

…from a time when the future was sunlit open spaces, sleek lines and a widescreen perspective: the motorway to modern.

The poster map that opens out is clever and quirky – a giant magnifying glass homes in on Hamburg, while the surrounds are peppered with ways to see the sights in the journey to a bright new world.