The lay reader may not focus on the details or have a comprehensive historical model in mind, but a skilled typographer can design a page that will evoke a particular time and place, at least subliminally, for any reader who takes in the page as a visual object in addition to seeing it as a repository for a stream of words.
Recreating obsolete typesetting styles is not something that’s called for every day, and I don’t do it every day. But I’d like to show you three projects that illustrate what I’m talking about.
19th c. AmericaJanice Campbell, at Everyday Education, wanted to publish a facsimile edition of McGuffy’s Readers. Mostly this consisted of cleaning up scans of the original pages, but the publisher wanted to include a modern introduction contextualizing the relevance of this series in the modern school environment.
My challenge was to integrate the new frontmatter, including a title page, copyright page, table of contents, and the lengthy new introduction in a way that complemented the original pages, so that there would not be an abrupt and jarring transition. It was sufficient to choose a font that was similar enough to the original to give the page a similar color and feel overall but that still met modern standards for readability and legibility. The introduction was long, and I wasn’t trying to make reading it a painful experience.
|A scan of an original McGuffy's Reader page|
|A page from the modern frontmatter|
17th c. EnglandThe progenitor of the Horton family in America was one Barnabas Horton, born in England in 1600. Jackie Dinan spent years delving into primary sources from the period to produce an award-winning biography of her husband's ancestor, in which she quoted extensively from 17th c. documents.
My first challenge was to ensure that I chose a typeface that existed and was used in England during the man's lifetime. When we think of the Colonial period in North America, we think of Caslon. After all, it was William Caslon's types that Benjamin Franklin used, right? But Caslon wasn't born until after Barnabas Horton died. So that choice would have been anachronistic. I ended up choosing a digital version of Jenson that closely follows the Jenson types English printers imported from the Continent in the 17th c.
Then I wanted to evoke the kind of page layout and typesetting current during the era (using ligatures like ct and st, for example) but without intruding excessively on the reader's consciousness (as would be the case if I had also used the long s). I ended up with something a little bit affected, I'll admit, but I think it worked.
|A page from Leviathan, published in 1651|
|A partial page from In Search of Barnabas Horton (Pynsleade Books, 2015)|
Mid 20th c. England
|Scan from Across the Black Waters|
|A standard template applied|
|The font matched|
|A dead-on match|
|The finished test|