Thursday, December 20, 2012

Stroud, Gloucestershire

Letter set (2)

Having finished the book recommendations that have occupied the last few posts, I return to buildings – but without leaving the world of books and words behind completely, because the other weekend I went to a talk in Stroud by Phil Baines, who is a professor at Central St Martin's School of Art in London. He has written two excellent books on the design history of Penguin books (Penguin By Design and Puffin By Design) and is also an expert on all things to do with type and lettering. I had encountered him a few years ago when he led a tour of central London on an antique Routemaster bus, pointing out interesting bits of lettering as we went.

During the course of the talk he mentioned that he had seen the Stroud Subscription Rooms (a 19th-century classical building by Basevi with its name high up in the frieze), and admired the lettering on them, which is a good example of a form of letter generally known as the Egyptian. In Egyptian letters the proportions are very similar to those of the English letter (see my earlier post on this), but the letters have slab serifs – rectangular, square-cut terminating strokes. The strokes often have a fairly even thickness, but if the letters are very chunky, the strokes can have some variation in thickness. Phil Baines encouraged us to go to the Subscription Rooms in Stroud, admire these letters, and pay special attention to the fine letter R. The letters stand out beautifully from the stone wall and Phil Baines was right, of course, to mention this letter; it has a lovely curve to the leg, which bends elegantly to avoid the large slab serif at the base of the descender. The two big slab serifs on the U, which nearly join together in the middle, and the big, generous D are attractive too. But the R is especially good, and in pointing it out, Professor Baines was showing us that he knows his Rs from his elbow.


worm said...

you know, if it had a bit of a slant, and the letters were thicker, it would almost be like a pre-historic version of the 'profil' font....

Philip Wilkinson said...

Worm: Yes, almost, but there's a difference (this is real anorak stuff, but follow me if you are not afraid of being dressed by Messrs Berghaus...). If you look really closely at Profil, you'll see that the serifs merge into the main strokes with a tiny curve. Whereas the Egyptian letters in my post have no curve: just a flat slab. This curve makes Profil part of the letter family known as Clarendons, another type much used on buildings, of which more soon.