Entries filed under

Digital type

Daily Drop Cap and other versals

Daily Drop Cap: B

Illustrator, lettering artist, and designer Jessica Hische (also the designer behind the recent Buttermilk typeface) just launched a new website project called The Daily Drop Cap, where she aims to post a new decorative initial — or versal — every day. She’s also generously offering them for usage under a Creative Commons license, “ for the beautification of blog posts everywhere”.

If Jessica’s servings aren’t enough for you, the Briar Press letterpress community website hosts a large collection of digitized initial caps, almost all available for free download.

Briar Press - initial caps

Historically, some of the earliest decorated letters were large woodcut initials; their use in early printing lead to the first complete ornamented typefaces and, eventually, the entire field of display typography. I won’t get in to the specifics of versal history and terminology (e.g. illuminated manuscripts, historiated initials, inhabited initials, initiums, lettrine, rubrication, drop caps, elevated caps, etc, etc, etc), or how they evolved toward the first decorated typefaces. For those details, see the first chapter of Rob Roy Kelly’s American Wood Type: 1828–1900, the related pages in Robert Bringhurst’s The Elements of Typographic Style, or, for a breezer course, the Wikipedia page on initials.

What I will share here is an interesting example of initials that I encountered recently: Last week I had the pleasure of experiencing a page from the Gutenberg Bible first-hand (in the private library of David Rose). As you can see in the photo I took (below), empty spaces were built in to the bible’s printed typography that could later be filled with hand-scribed initials.

Gutenberg Bible initial

Page from the Gutenberg Bible with hand-scribed initials, in the private library of David Rose.

Skipping ahead several hundreds of years to a completely different set of stylistic norms, I figured I would also share an example of a typeface that seems like it’s just asking for the job of the proverbial “ten-gallon hat” [see Bringhurst, §4.1.4] — ornately marking the beginning of text blocks.

Wood & Sharwoods' 16-line Ornamented No. 1, from 1838

1838 showing of Wood & Sharwoods' "Ornamented No. 1" in 16-line size, as reproduced in Rob Roy Kelly's "American Wood Type: 1828–1900".

Bill Moran and Hamilton Wood Type

Prolific design author Steven Heller recently interviewed Bill Moran – a letterpress printer, typography teacher, and co-author of Hamilton Wood Type: A History in Headlines – about the Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum for Voice, the AIGA Journal of Design.

In 2004 Bill’s studio, Blinc Publishing, worked with type designer Chank Diesel to publish the BlincType Letterpress Fontpak, a set of fonts inspired by wood type from the Hamilton Museum. The most interesting of these (I think) is an experimental typeface design called Hamilton Offset which translates an interesting print effect called “ghosting”.

Hamilton Offset font by Bill Moran

From Chank’s description of the project:

While working on a poster project, Bill Moran accidentally offset some reject proofs and came up with an effect that could only come from this strange brew of raw materials of the printing and typesetting crafts. Bill translated the ghosted type from press proof into a digital format. He then converted the digital type to a new wood-carved alphabet. Working on equipment used by his grandfather, he respectfully created a worthy addition to Hamilton’s lineage.

Also see the information on the Blinc site about the project.

©2010