The Chronicles of Reading, part I

The Fleuron, 6 and 7. Image taken from a copy held at the Reading Room, Department of Typography & Graphic Communication, University of Reading.

* This article was first published in Spanish online magazine, March 12th 2010. This was the first of a series of articles called The Chronicles of Reading [Las Crónicas de Reading], written while  I was studing at the Department of Typography at the University of Reading.

When I was asked from write about my studies at Reading University, I agreed enthusiastically, but then I realized I had to find a personal way to approach it. And that did not happen until a few weeks ago.*

Every day I visit the Reading Room where hundreds, if not thousands, of books are waiting for someone to rescue them from the shelves. And every day I read –some intensely, some just a glance– those that catch my attention, or those I know, or those I do not know about. So my purpose is to share here those moments of reading that I am passionate about. May come a time when I can say, as Miss Beatrice Warde in his day, after so much reading  “I could not help to became an expert.” Until then, I will continue browsing and reading books and magazines and, most importantly, sharing those moments in these pages from a completely personal and subjective point of view. I have to thank the Department of Typography, University of Reading, especially his head of department Paul Luna and our beloved librarian, Diane Bilbey, for helping me and allowing me to post pictures of their books.

And to honor to the title of the section [originally “Give me that Times, Mr. Morison”], there is not a better start that taking a look at the books of Stanley Morison. The first could be none other than The Fleuron, the magazine that SM edited for seven years (1923 to 1930),  seven issues where published, each one more amazing than the last.

Compared with current magazines, The Fleuron looks more like a book, with a impeccable binding, with two versions published a standard and a deluxe one, and probably quite expensive at the time of being published. It must be said that, in fact, the first four isues were released by Oliver Simon, and it was his father who paid  for the magazine when they ran out of money. With the arrival of Morison also arrived Frederic and Beatrice Warde, who had a particular influence in the layout and texts. Morison, who must have been an obsessive man, always tried to maintain a spirit of  high quality and therefore the latest issue took more than a year to appear. The collaborators, who were paid very little, were first-line typographers and printer, such as Daniel B. Updike, Bruce Rogers and Jan Van Krimpen, and along the pages of The Fleuron the work of other publishers and printers was shown, with originals pasted onto pagesNow we are used to seeing reproductions of the works of others, but this was not so common at that time.

The striking thing about The Fleuron is the spirit of change (and tradition) that had those young, impregnating everything they touched. The office where The Fleuron was conceive was near the British Museum and it was a place of encounter and knowledge, and where apparently, many designers and typographers who came from the continent always ended up having a chat with Stanley Morison and Oliver Simon, making that office at a key point in the history of typography in the 20s.

Talking about Stanley Morison and Beatrice Warde is also talking of The Monotype Recorder, a bimonthly publication that was published by the Lanston Monotype Corporation company since 1902, a pamphlet which over the years was taking shape, which showed and explained the glories Monotype. It was somewhere between a manual and advertising flyer, and it was sent for free to the Monotype costumers. When Beatrice Warde became director of the Recorder in 1927 –although probably she was collaborating already for a while– it became an educational magazine, including articles on the history of typography in addition to the usual items on the machinery of the Lanston Monotype, and in several articles that appeared Stanley Morison, who at the time worked as Adviser Typographical at Monotype.

Another basic book on the career of Stanley Morison is Four Centuries of Fine Printing, a jewel on the history of printing. The first edition I saw  was the one in the general Library, an pocket edition with reproductions of medium quality. But in the Reading Room  there is a luxury edition, edited by Stanley Morison, with a size that almost seems like an incunable, printed in an outstanding paper. Circa 500 copies were published, of which 100 were in German and a few in a deluxe edition that include handmade paper. This book has been sometimes criticized for the excessive subjectivity of Stanley Morison when selecting the images and for telling the story from his own point of view, but when you have it in your hands that seem less important.

Finally, in order to get to knowStanley Morison as if he were family, the most recommendable is the book of Nicholas Barker Stanley Morison. The copy held at the Reading Room is not like the paperback version at the central Library, but a carefully printed edition. Without being a typographic gem really it is quote useful to know every little detail about  Stanley Morison and his closer friends and family: Daniel B. Updike, the Wardes, Eric Gill…

Undoubtedly, there is much more out there about Stanley Morison, and of course, the ubiquitous Times New Roman, that has again hit the headlines, but I had to start somewhere. Soon there will be more.