E R Weiss: the Typography of an Artist

E R Weiss: the Typography of an Artist

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Gerald Cinamon's biography of the German artist, typographer and book designer is the first monograph written in English about this important interwar designer.

Emil Rudolf Weiss was born in 1875, and as a student and young man was influenced by the new style sweeping Europe at the end of the century, Jugendstil or art nouveau, from which his own style rapidly developed. Throughout his working life he was a painter, illustrator, teacher, wood-engraver, graphic designer, and calligrapher. As a poet, his texts were set to music by Jan Sibelius and Max Kretschmar. He designed wallpapers, fabrics, furniture, stained-glass windows, company logos, ceramics, and was a muralist for country houses and ocean liners. Although he claimed that his book work was a secondary interest after his water-colour painting, his outpouring of book related work was impressive: he designed books and magazines - the typographic arrangement of the pages, and, as required, the bindings, the dust-jackets, end-papers, title-pages. If an opening initial or illustration was needed, he drew it or cut it in wood, or engraved it. If floral decorations were needed, he designed and drew them. This brought his work to the attention of the Bauer Typefoundry, and he was commissioned to design ornaments to be cast in type metal, and subsequently designed for them at least three major type-faces for text setting and three sets of Weiss Initials.

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We discovered his work while researching the German designer Elizabeth Friedlander, who designed Elizabeth type for Bauer and while living in England after the start of the War, ornaments for Monotype and Linotype. She had been a student of Weiss at the Berlin Academy, a name we remembered from our catalogue of types available from the Neufville Type Foundry of Barcelona, successor to Bauer of Frankfurt. In Friedlander's papers, the only samples of types, apart from her own, that she had kept, were those of Weiss.

Several years later Gerald Cinamon published his fine book about Rudolf Koch (Oak Knoll, 2000). By the time we approached him to see if he would write a book about Weiss, there were two suitcases full of research material and examples of Weiss's work, all in German, which we couldn't read, but collected because of their typographic beauty. Starting from this, Cinamon has constructed a narrative that puts the book design into a context -- bringing Weiss and his work to life, and awakening our interest in this generally unexplored area of German book arts.

This book begins with a photographic plate from Weiss's first published work, a page of calligraphic lettering strongly in the Jugendstil fashion from the new journal Pan, for which Weiss became an important designer in a very short time. He contributed design work for several journals in his early years, including Insel both before and after it evolved into the major publishing house that it still is in Germany. In 1905 he studied calligraphy with Professor Anna Simons, who in turn had studied with Edward Johnston. Calligraphic title-pages for books were evidently popular in Germany, and our book includes many examples in different styles showing Weiss as a versatile designer throughout his career, his lettering seen in a variety of contexts as it develops. He excelled as a master of conveying a symbolic, condensed expression of a book's contents through its title page or cover. 

Weiss was first invited to design a typeface as a commission for a consortium of German publishers who wanted to issue a uniform edition of classic texts. This became the Tempel-Klassiker series, and they had exclusive use of Weiss Fraktur from 1908 to 1913. Weiss also designed the general layout of these books including the title-page and the various bindings. Weiss went back to the 18th-century types of Johann Friedrich Ungar for inspiration, and examples of his working drawings accompany the explanatory text by Georg Hartmann of the Bauer Foundry, translated here for the first time. Cinamon points out that, like Zapf's Palatino, Weiss's typeface followed a tradition but was not 'mired in the past'. It was a resounding success, and each copy of this book has an original pair of leaves as an example.

Weiss wrote comparatively little about his approach to his craft, but what there is, we have. There are two major texts, both translated and published here for the first time. One is in fact the transcription of a talk he gave in 1925: 'Artists and Book Artists - past, present, and future', subsequently published as a booklet in Germany. Before then Weiss contributed an essay to the Twenty-fifth Anniversary Yearbook of Fischers, organizers of the Tempel consortium, giving his views on "The Book as an Object" (1911). Additionally the book contains criticisms and appreciations of Weiss written by his peers throughout his career, again mainly translated for the first time for this book by Susan Mackervoy.

Most of Weiss's book designs were for mass-market books, and his essays reflect his interest in giving such books the best dressing possible, a common concern through the 1920s and 30s . Sometimes a limited number would get a special binding, and we show some of these; Weiss also designed special editions for book collectors clubs. Among these was his account of a holiday: Three Months in Spain, published in 1931, and using his magnificent roman typeface, Weiss-Antiqua. This is the ultimate book for Weiss appreciation; he wrote and illustrated it with auto-lithography, designing the typeface, layout and binding. The edition was of 300 signed copies, and we illustrate the title-page as an example of the new typeface. The type was subsequently the subject of a Bauer publicity booklet published in English and addressed to primarily US type purchasers, the text and some of the photographs from which are included in the book.

Weiss's only work for a US publisher was his edition of The Four Gospels for the Limited Editions Club in 1932. Hand set in double columns of Weiss roman, each page is bracketed top and bottom with drawn line, and his large hand-drawn initials are used as appropriate.  An original leaf graces each copy of our book.

In our usual style, this book is illustrated with many facsimiles tipped onto the pages. These are mostly letterpress printed, as were the originals of course. Some photographic reproductions are also used, printed by Northends of Sheffield who do such good work for Parenthesis, the journal of the Fine Press Book Association. Every effort has been made to make the illustrations march with the text to avoid unnecessary flipping back and forth. Where appropriate, double-page illustrations are used to show how Weiss designed an opening, and these are sewn onto guards. Also illustrated are designs for complete bindings, paper over boards, dust-jackets, and working drawings alongside a photograph of the finished book.

The final section of the book shows original examples of Weiss types in use today.  Since the roman and italic types have been digitised, they have become popular with commercial designers. Each book includes the cover for the novel by Marilyn Chin, Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen, courtesy of the publisher Hamish Hamilton and designer Alice Smith.  We invited guest printers who know and appreciate the designs to supply new settings using Weiss metal type, so we have attractive commercial work by Christian Brett of Bracketpress, a newly translated poem printed by Richard Healy (Right Hand Press) with his own wood-cut initial, the rarest of Weiss-fractur types set and printed by Jerry Kelly (Kelly-Winterton Press), and a two-colour alphabet broadsheet designed and printed by Leonard Seastone using Weiss initials.

Weiss died aged 67 following a heart attack in November 1942.  Early the following year a memorial was held at the Schiller Theatre in Berlin.  His old friend and colleague Georg Hartmann produced a booklet for those who attended.  This has been translated and reproduced following the style of the original, letterpress printed by Phil Driscoll at Clinton, Michigan, and set using his Weiss inter-type matrices.  It may be found in a pocket in the back board of the book. 

The book is printed on acid-free Magnani paper from Italy.  A wide variety of archival papers have been used for the samples and tip-ins (mostly Zerkall and Hahnemule Bütten).  A large format, about 14 by 9 inches (35 by 24 cm), the book is hand bound, and supplied with a slip-case.  The front board is decorated with a motif drawn by E R Weiss, his initials pierced by a quill pen.  The binding style follows that of the magnificent Fest-schrift produced for Weiss's fiftieth birthday in 1926.  Jan Tschichold was an admirer of Weiss's book work, so we have had the book set in his Sabon type by Harry MacIntosh in Edinburgh, the first book set using his MacTronic 2 computer/Monotype interface. It is printed in an edition of 250 copies.