Handmade Type

Handmade Type

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Thoughts on the preservation of typographic materials by James Mosley

This is the text, more or less as it was delivered, of the first Justin Howes Memorial Lecture, which was given at the St Bride Institute on 21 February 2006, just one year after Justin Howes died. It was intended mostly as a personal tribute to a friend, and as the reader may detect, it was not written with publication in mind. There was in fact more of it than could be spoken in a reasonable time. Since the generous offer has been made to print it, I have responded by making only some slight pruning and correcting, and I have added details of some the publications to which I referred.

Three hundred and fifty copies of this lecture have been printed on Zerkall Butten paper using Monotype Caslon cast by Harry McIntosh at Speedspools. The title-page border uses 19th-century Figgins ornaments recast by Stevens Shanks in the 1950s.

The book is two sections, 24 pages, 10 x 6 inches, and cased in stiff card with a square spine.


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From James Mosely's introductiion

The general theme of this lecture is one with which I knew Justin had full sympathy. I had already approached it in an Editorial that was published in the Bulletin du bibliophile, Paris, in the summer of 2005. I am well aware that there is no easy answer to the questions I raise. It seems to me, though, that it is high time to address them while we still have some grasp of the nature of the vanishing culture, technical and aesthetic, within which many typefaces that are currently in use were first created.

Justin Howes was born in 1963 and died in 2005. Notes on his life and work were published in The Times, the Independent and the Guardian. I contributed a personal note of my own to Forum, the journal of Letter Exchange, the association of calligraphers and letter designers. His early interests were centred on the calligraphic world that was associated with the work of Edward Johnston and his pupils. But his intellectual gifts took him into the world of software, and his enthusiasm expanded into the field of printing types, and together they led to the making of the digital type, based on original types, that he called Founder?s Caslon. We cooperated in the mounting of an exhibition called Primitive Types at the Soane Museum in 1999, dealing with the rediscovery of the sanserif letter, and one result of this experience for Justin was an exploration of the changing attitudes to letter forms that evolved during the eighteenth century. This would have been the subject of the research for his doctoral thesis at the University of Reading that he was only beginning when he died. There are plans to publish some of the fragmentary work that he had completed, but they will be poor compensation for the loss of the mature writing that he felt, with reason, that he was now able to produce.

For two years Justin, as curator at the Type Museum in London, had been cataloguing some of the materials of Stephenson, Blake, the Sheffield typefoundry, which had been bought in 1997 with the help of a grant from the National Heritage Lottery Fund. They comprised not only punches and matrices but also type specimens and commercial archives, and they offered a unique resource in Britain for understanding how types were made and sold before the arrival of machine composition of text at the end of the nineteenth century started the long decline of typefoundries in every country, and as I recalled in my talk, he had been due to travel to Antwerp to begin a programme of casting types from old matrices in a hand mould in the week in which he died. At the time of his death no single living person was better fitted than Justin to carry out the kind of work that, as I have tried to say in this lecture, I believe to be urgently necessary in order to save something of our typographical heritage. If his friendship and his example leads enough people with at least some of his gifts and qualities, not excepting his infectious enthusiasm, to carry on this work, then it will certainly be one of the happiest legacies that we could have received from him.

James Mosley retired as Librarian of the St Bride Printing Library in 1999, a post he had held since 1958.  One of the founding members of the Printing Historical Society, he received the annual award of the American Printing History Association for his contributions to printing history.