Another good blog, if you’re interested in design, typography, or books and magazines - Fonts in Use. If it sounds geeky, you should know that it really is. Commenters debate arcane matters of kerning and font “openness” as though there were a lot at stake. And that’s why I like it. Anyway, that’s where I learned about this beautiful, very limited (265) Arion edition of Moby Dick, published in 1978/79…

All text in the book was hand-set in metal type (one character at a time) and letterpress printed on custom hand-made paper. To accompany the text throughout, 100 stunning wood engravings were cut by renowned printmaker and illustrator Barry Moser. Due to its high level of craftsmanship, the edition was limited to 265 copies, and is considered a masterpiece of modern bookmaking — named by the Grolier Club as one of the “100 Most Beautiful Books of the 20th Century”.

The typeface used for the main body type — Goudy Modern — has a rustic texture which matches both the story and illustrations perfectly. It also seems fitting that a typeface by such a quintessential American type designer like Frederic Goudy was used to set one of the most quintessential American novels.

To complement the body type, a set of large capitals were designed specifically for the book’s initial caps and titling. The stately face, aptly named Leviathan (not to be confused with H&FJ’sface of the same name), was designed by Charles Bigelow & Kris Holmes, of later Lucida fame. As the name implies, Leviathan was intended for very large sizes, where its sharp details and exaggerated flaring can really shine.

Considering the wide spectrum of writing styles that appear throughout Moby Dick, Hoyem’s typographic restraint is impressive. Using just one weight of one typeface, in only two sizes, he manages to compose most all of the story’s narration, technical documentation, asides, poetry, quotations, etc … not to mention administrative text like captions and folios. With a touch of Leviathan’s stylistic flair, the “just enough is more” typographic palette relies on smart typesetting to communicate the sometimes-complex hierarchy instead of a mess of weights and sizes.

I’m tempted to keep quoting (I’ve already quoted most of it) because, for a bibliophile or anyone with half an interest in design, it’s all really interesting. I encourage you to go and read the rest at the site.

Having the weakness for such things that I do, it’s going to be hard to resist the urge to spring for the newer trade edition of this book, as it will be for the Peter Mendelsund-designed edition of Kafka’s books, whenever it comes out (June or July, apparently). This edition was the subject of another post at Fonts in Use. I might not have noticed the font, or thought twice about it if I had, but it was interesting to hear Mendelsund’s reasons (excuses, some designers might say), for using the down-at-heel “Times” font…

My associations with Times are two-fold, and contradictory. On the one hand, Times puts me in mind of Microsoft, MS Windows, Word (with which Times is distributed and is most people’s intro to the font), which in turn makes me think of nefarious organizations and the powerlessness of the individual in the face of the large, uncaring, politico-corporate entity. On the other hand, as the universal default face, it has an everyman-like humility to it. Kafka, I think, would approve.

The other font, the script, is based on Kafka’s own handwriting. I love those borders, too! Book fetishists, mark your calendars. 



Saint Passionate

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