Photo composition by mehallo for Agfa Monotype, 2000
Mike Parker’s been in the news lately, mostly about the origins of Times New Roman.
I met him several years ago at one of the TypeCons. And as someone who just started teaching a History of Graphic Design course, I had to spend some time picking his brain. How often does one meet the former co-director of typographic development at Mergenthaler Linotype – one of the guys who greenlit Helvetica – and more important, someone who could help me learn to pronounce some of the names in the various design history books I’d been collecting.
There haven’t been many controversies in the type world. Except for the Garamond thing.
the garamond scandal
Turned out that early 20th Century Garamond revivals were not actual Garamonds, but based on a mislabeled specimen taken from the French Imprimerie Nationale. And in 1926, it was a woman going under the pen name Paul Beaujon who blew the lid off of this rather large mishap. (And the enigmatic force behind Beaujon, Beatrice Warde (1900-1969), can be found today on Twitter. Of course.)
the major players
Typography was Big Business in the early 20th century. The major players were Mergenthaler Linotype, Monotype and American Type Founders [ATF]. Work from The Big Three fed where Bitstream and Adobe went in the 1980s. The types we use today are just the grandchildren of work tackled 80 – 100 years ago. Digital revivals of revivals are Big Business today.
Which brings me back to Mike Parker and Times New Roman.
When we spoke, he broke out for me a class struggle story – about a factory worker at British Monotype and the elite Stanley Morison, typographical advisor to the Monotype Corporation, Cambridge University Press – and the driving force behind Times New Roman.
Times New Roman was developed under Morison’s direction (illustrated by Victor Lardent) for The Times of London – released in 1932 – and is arguably the most-used font family in the world today. Like it or not (I do like it; especially the lowercase e), it’s everywhere it can possibly be.
I scribbled my notes, but didn’t have more than that. He referenced a print journal article that I know I’d never find. But I’m not above reporting on hearsay.
history: not very accurate
The short conversation has been part of the Early 20th century type design portion of my history class for a few years now. Hell, history is all about hearsay. Whatever was written down, biases, ego and the lot. Is any of it even true? I just report on what I can find. If one can prove otherwise, great. Love it.
Donald Sutherland IS Johannes Gutenberg!
Even ‘The Father of Printing’ Johannes Gutenberg’s story is unsubstantiated. And if there ever is a movie made from the piles of oft-romanticized conjecture, I think Donald Sutherland should play Gutenberg. He seems to fit with the historical composite. With Philip Seymour Hoffman as Johann Fust. Or Johannes Fust, depending on what source you’re looking at.
(We don’t even know if Gutenberg even existed. That’s the latest hoo ha I’ve heard somewhere. He may actually have been a composite. Like Betty Crocker.)
Philip Seymour Hofmann as the conniving Johann Fust!
Jeremy Piven as the squeaky clean Peter Schöffer!
And Miley Cyrus as Beth.
where was I?
parker’s take on number 54
Earlier this year, Mike released his version of Times New Roman; named for the man who may have been the one with the plan. William ‘Starling’ Burgess had a brief flirtation with typography before turning to aviation. Two guys, the Wright Brothers, dazzled him with some floating invention thing they were working on; and in working for them, his career went.
But it was Burgess’ seminal lettering from 1904 – catalogued ‘Number 54’ in the archives – that may have evolved into the Times types. One story goes that development of Times New Roman may have been more difficult than expected; as the project grew out of a boast, and Morison was charged with not only developing a new typeface for The Times, high legibility and conservation of space were part of the order.
And unfortunately, in all this, there’s just not enough evidence to go on.
But here’s writer Joel Alas’ details of the The Great Times New Roman Controversy, posted last week in the Financial Times. And found via Twitter.com/MyFonts.
And Mike Parker’s Starling fonts can be purchased thru Font Bureau here.
Is it all true? Depends on what you believe. That’s the fun part of history, just never know what is real or what role Miley Cyrus will end up playing in all this.