"Anyone know what typeface this is?"

Often (younger) designers will post a vintage image and say "Anyone know what typeface this is?" They don't realize that from the 1920s through the 1950s (into the 60s too, but less so) much of the decorative display text and headlines in advertising was hand lettered. Of course the late 19th century and early 20th had lots of hand lettering too-- but often these were such elaborate extravaganzas no one would mistake them for a typeface. Decorative lettering of that sort-- what you'd see on certificates or legal documents-- was called "engrossing." Hand letterers-- or "penmen"-- were a major commercial force in the 19th to mid-20th centuries and there were dozens of highly esteemed penmanship schools around the country. Next post, I'll focus on the Zaner-Bloser penmanship school -- it'll blow your mind. As an aside, there are several digital typefaces that have been created that are based on handlettering. See Zaner script for example.//

A friend gave me this wonderful 1927 style guide for commercial hand letterers last night. It was so fantastic that it inspired me to finally end my long absence from this space. So if there's anyone out there still reading this blog-- enjoy!


B. de B. at the TDC

B. de B. on view at the Type Directors Club through March
see all the prints at www.b-de-b.com
B. de B. is a project of The Graphics Office. It's a growing collection of historically-based designs that rescues ephemera from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and reimagines it for the twenty-first.

Our alphabet prints are inspired by nineteenth-century British children’s educationalchapbooks, pamphlets of rhymes, folklore, and news that were sold on the street for pennies.

We created this series with images and letters from a large, antique scrapbook made in England in the 1830s, which we bought a few years ago. "B. de B. Russell Juvenile Album" stamped onto the cover led us to trace its long ago owner Blois de Blois Russell, a young man of privilege with a strikingly unusual name. He attended Oxford, rowed crew, and died at 22.
The prints are on view through March at the Type Directors Club: 347 West 36th Street, Suite 603.
Come visit at upcoming events like Book Night: Present & Tense (Thursday, March 13) and Designers in the Nursery: A Look at Picture Books by Graphic Artists (Tuesday, March 18)

There are three sizes of prints on heavy, bright white archival stock available for order at
:  8 x 10 inches   •  18 x 24 inches   •  24 x 33 inches


a journey through cloudland*

Note: Even more to bring to this encore post; a friend alerted me to Russian photographer Alexey Kljatov who is following in Wilson Bentley's path— fashioning a DIY attachment to his camera and capturing stunning images of snowflakes. See images at bottom. Yet another Russian, Andrew Osokin, has done the same just with a macro lens, documenting snowflakes as they touch the ground, moments before they disappear.

Kljatov is most in the spirit of Bentley with his personal intensity for the project and home made mechanical ingenuity. He also, like Bentley, photographs the snowflakes against a homemade black backdrop. Kljatov's specimens have a crystalline sharpness. Otherworldy, they look alien and almost unsettling. They are, for me, too clinical to have the same resonance as Bentley's soft, idiosyncratic and sometimes humorous work.

Also of note: A couple years ago this Talk of the Town (All Alike by Adam Gopnik) mentioning "Snowflake" Bentley was a beautiful adjunct to this post.

Wilson Alwyn Bentley
(February 9, 1865 - December 23, 1931) was born in Jericho, Vermont, in a farmhouse that remained his lifelong home. He was home-schooled and never ventured far from Jericho. At 19, after he combined two treasured presents– a microscope and a bellows camera–
Bentley succeeded in capturing the world's first photomicrograph of a snow crystal or snowflake. Working outside, of course, he caught each crystal on a black board and transferred it rapidly to a microscope slide. Doing this he was able to create about 5000 images over the course of his life.

In town, Bentley was considered odd and was known to many neighbors as the "Snowflake Man" because of his quiet demeanor and unusual preoccupation. Although he was a gifted musician– he played piano, organ, clarinet, coronet, and violin, as well as composed music –he devoted himself to his photography
and study of snow.

In 1931 Bentley worked with William J. Humphreys of the U.S. Weather Bureau to publish Snow Crystals, a monograph illustrated with 2,500 photographs. After picking up his copies of the newly published book he walked home in a snowstorm. He died of pneumonia at his farm on December 23.

. . . . .
"The rare delight of seeing for the first time this exquisite lineaments under a microscope, the practical certainty that never again will one be found just like this one... To perpetuate each masterpiece the image of each of each rare gem in the photograph, before its matchless beauty is forever lost (to us) is an experience is so rare so truly delightful that once undergone is never forgotten...Was ever life history written in more dainty hieroglyphics!"–
Wilson Alwyn Bentley
. . . . .
Bentley donated his collection of original glass-plate photomicrographs of snow crystals to the Buffalo Museum of Science
*Bentley's description of a snow crystal's trajectory

Thanks to
Herbert Pfostl/Blindpony for alerting me to Bentley.

Snowflakes by Russian photographer Alexey Kljatov. Read more about his technique on his blog



Snow Days

blizzard 1922
c. 1830s. Why the women are out in snow in short sleeves is a mystery
"Diana in the Snow", 1915 Jessie Tarbox Beals
Diana was the statue atop the old Madison Square Garden which used to actually be on Madison Square

c. 1940, Shorpy
Snow removal, 1908 NYC
"Snow man— Happy Days”, 1888
Snow shoeing, 1886


Pill Heds

I've been thinking about drugs names. I don't think I'm alone in my occasional scrutiny of these mysterious, often ridiculous, sometimes brilliant confabulations. (The pharmaceutical business spends a good chunk of their budget on branding and naming and I think this tangential element of design justifies my assessing the results, no? I'm not going into the logo design here, but see this amusing step by step "review" of Ablixa.)

Huge potential money-makers like psychopharmacological agents and erectile dysfunction buttresses have particularly high stakes in naming and design. According to Medscape the cost in 2001 of consultation on naming alone ranged from $100,000 to $700,000. Elsewhere I read the numbers are "easily" $500,000 up to a couple million.

Each drug receives 3 names:
• the chemical name—usually a string of prefixes, numbers and a lot of "ethyls" and "phenyls"
• the International Nonproprietary Name (INN, also known as the generic name)— these names are created from a standardized group of "stem" components which represent different classes of drugs (eg. anti-inflammatories, antidepressants)
• the brand name

here's an example:
  • chemical name 7-chloro-1,3-dihydro-1 methyl-5-phenyl-2H-1,4-benzodiazepin-2-one
  • generic name diazepam (-azepam is used for many antianxiety agents)
  • brand name Valium
Names have to be memorable, convey something medicinal and curative, not interfere with international marketing (ie. should not sound like "bad luck" in Chinese) and not be too similar to something already out there. This last criterion is not only for marketing purposes— the FDA evidently rejects 4 out of 10 names so as to not create confusion and possible medical disasters (for instance Celexa vs Celebrex).

Going through what must surely be a gauntlet of committee presentations and focus-grouping, how on earth do names like Xalkori and Xofigo see the light of day? The New York Times noted that "drug makers have favorite letters, and they run the gamut from X to Z." They quoted James Dettore of Brand Institute and explained;
"the letters X, Z, C and D, according to ...  "phonologics," subliminally indicate that a drug is powerful. "The harder the tonality of the name, the more efficacious the product in the mind of the physician and the end user," he said." 
 According to Slate, though, there might just be a computer algorithm behind all those Xs:
During tough financial times... many drug manufacturers skip human consultants and use computerized algorithmic name generators because they just want something that will get quick approval from the FDA and don’t care how ridiculous the name looks or sounds. //
My not-so-empirical approach to looking at drug names
the word-- how does it sound? how does it look?, associative images–– what does it sound like? what does it bring to mind?, appropriateness–— how well does the name work for what the drug does?

Ambien—pretty good at conveying a zoned-out calm, perhaps a little too techno
Zoloft—  its propping you up, get it?--holding you zoloft
Viagra— brilliant— it's vigorous, it's vital, it's Niagra Falls for chrissakes
Abilify— "this antidepressant has abilified me to be functional!"
Keppra— Strangely elegant and aloof, like the name of an ancient Egyptian deity. Not bad for an anti convulsant

The not-so-greats:
Vioxx— a vanquished Transformers villain— anti-inflammatory now off the market
Viibryd—looking like something you'd find at IKEA (thanks Andrew) this antidepressant doesn't even have an aspirational quality. plus the sound of it seems a bit too manic for a mood stabilizer
Coumadin—a blood thinner that sounds like a mid-level bureaucratic title of the Ottoman Empire; its generic name, warfarin, sounds like a strategic conflict board game
Effexor— this antidepressant reminds me of Gigantor, Space Age Robot
Aubagio— sounds to me like an Italian restaurant you'd find on Staten Island, odd association for drug to treat multiple sclerosis
Stalevo— treats Parkinsons disease but looks like it's a city in Serbia
Simponi Aria— is it part of an Italian opera? an obscure part of the brain (see Wernicke’s area)? No it treats rheumatoid arthritis. Perhaps it leaves you singing.

Fungizone— targets potentially fatal fungal infections; the name sounds appropriate in a blatant ham-fisted way, but I would not like to tell people I was on it.
Latuda—an antidepressant that seems more like a vulnerable area of the lower back; see  "phonologics"mentioned above—this drug doesn't sound man enough to make me happy
Lamictal— looks like a term for a pus-forming condition—not so good for a mood stabilizer/anti convulsant
Zortress—suppresses the immune system but sounds like a 1980s video game
Zingo— just completely wrong


Cloisters and Cardiff

Janet Cardiff's 40 part Motet closed this past weekend at the Cloisters. The installation was crowded but the piece still effective. The vocal work at its center is called Spem in Alium or “Hope in any Other” by Thomas Tallis, composed c 1570 for eight choirs of 5 voices. It was written as a progression of voices— sometimes singing in unison, sometimes in call and response. Cardiff's piece, as you may know, consisted of 40 freestanding speakers, each approximately six feet tall, set up around the Cloisters’ Fuentiduena chapel. Each speaker projects an individual voice, (the 40 were recorded separately) so that as you move around the space you experience each voice intimately. You are at the center as the music is projected back and forth across the space.

The Cloisters itself— a faux medieval abbey which houses much of the Metropolitan Museum's medieval collection—can strike one as characteristically American. If you think too long on its conception it can color your visit, or at least it did mine: rich diletante (George Grey Bernard) collects bits and pieces of medieval architectural details from around Europe and imports them here; a medieval pastiche financed by another rich American (John D Rockefeller) is constructed to house them; land both immediately surrounding the complex as well as across the river along the New Jersey palisades is bought up to preserve the view. A testament to American wealth and cultural boldness— buying up history wholesale and bringing it home. Thus the Fuentiduena chapel is actually an apse from one location, statuary from another, and a fresco from yet another, inserted into a "chapel" built in 1938. Throughout the building there are door frames from France housed with pillars from Spain flanking rooms made from Netherlandish accoutrements. Still, I dont really mean to criticize. Its a lovely haven in Manhattan and the gardens with researched, period-appropriate plantings are wonderful in and of themselves.


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