The letters of Voices

The title page, even with its centered typography, betrays more than a little Artistic Printing influence
this credit line and address is from another publication.
The 150 Nassau Street building is now a landmarked condominium!

Voices is a small booklet of inspirational religious excerpts “arranged by Helen P. Strong” and published by the American Tract Society in 1886. I picked it up in Maine on a recent trip because, even though the subject matter doesn’t speak to me, I thought the hand lettering was exquisite. (By the way, the term for this sort of embellished, decorative hand lettering is called “engrossing” and it was. I was fascinated enough to plunk down $20 for it!) I love the text's quirky inventiveness— an almost hectic play of size, embellishment and composition. Tails sprout and tendrils meander over its Gothic/Medieval/calligraphic letterforms.

Although it’s hand lettered and chromolithographed (in brownish black, taupe gray, red, blue and metallic gold) it has an Artistic feel to it. “Artistic Printing” you may or may not know is an elaborate style of commercial letterpress printing extremely popular in the later 19th century. Doug and I wrote a book about it; read more about it here. Whether hand done, lithographed or letterpress printed, this sort of spikey, spidery decorative layering was all the rage.

The American Tract Society, an evangelical organization that dates back to 1825, was one of the first entities to mass produce and distribute printed illustrated materials (I dont remember where I read this but it seems plausible and significant). ATS appears to have used many talented illustrators, letterers, printers and engravers, including the great Alexander Anderson (See my post about Anderson, one of America’s finest engravers). Although this booklet doesnt explicitly state it, from my bit of research it seems Helen P. Strong did both the illustrations and the lettering, as well as edit the excerpts. I came across another illustrated publication of hers for sale on etsy, Memory's Sketchbook, from 1891, and noted her credit on a few other titles. I want to know more about Helen!

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