San Francisco: A Stroll Through the Monotype District
October 7, 2013 § 1 Comment
Featuring Type Designer Carl Crossgrove
Date of Visit : November 2012
I. Carl Crossgrove
1875 South Grant Street, Suite 720
San Mateo, CA 94402
II. M&H Type Foundry
1802 Hays Street, The Presidio
San Francisco, CA
NOTICE: This entry suggested only for serious typographic enthusiasts!
The Monotype Type Casting System
From its start in the mid-15th century, type composition (arranging cast metal letters for printing a page of text) was a labor-intensive process requiring scores of employees (including strike-prone trade union members). During the 19th century the demand for an automated system spurred a number of inventors to invest their careers and fortunes in that endeavor. One of the most successful entrants in the race to automate was the Monotype type casting system, patented by Tolbert Lanston in 1887.
Lanston’s complex invention was fraught with serious problems that threatened its viability. John Sellers Bancroft, a mechanical engineer in Philadelphia, came to the rescue in 1899 as he “took what came to him scarcely more than an ingenious mechanical toy, frail, unreliable and difficult to construct” and redesigned it. He “produced a thoroughly practicable substantial machine of much greater scope and capacity than the original. From a partial failure Bancroft evolved a great commercial and mechanical success.”
Monotype’s main competition was the Linotype, a device that cast entire lines of type. Each of the two systems had certain advantages: Linotype’s lines of type were easier to move around in large set-ups, making it practical for newspapers whereas the Monotype system produced single letters, easier to tweak when setting complex material or to correct in case of error, a better match for small fine press printers and mid-range production shops. Elbert Hubbard of the Arts and Crafts era Roycroft Press, purchased a Monotype caster for his shop in East Aurora, New York. Hubbard embraced the new mechanized type system with his typically populist enthusiasm. “Goodbye Expert. Farewell, Prima Donna. Any compositor can operate this new composing machine at sight.”
Lanston Monotype grew into one of the top three type suppliers in the world. In addition to manufacturing type casters, the company designed and supplied fonts adapted to work with their system. The type library expanded and grew prominent in the decades between 1920 – 1950 under the management of Sol Hess (designer of 85 typefaces) and the designs he commissioned from Frederic Goudy.
A separate type concern was born from Lanston’s Monotype, the British Lanston Monotype Corporation Ltd. In 1887, just after obtaining his patent, Lanston needed a cash infusion to complete the refinements on his invention. Financial relief came from the sale of the British and colonial patent rights for $1,000,000 to a group headed by Great Britain’s Lord Dunraven (who installed himself as chairman at the London office).
At first the British branch repaired and refitted the Monotype casters shipped from the United States and offered training classes for Monotype keyboard operators. All of the initial type offerings were limited to existing 19th century type designs (Albions, Clarendons, Grotesques, Old Faces and Moderns) that were adapted to work with the Monotype system. By 1911 the first original type offering, Veronese, was released.
Things changed after WWI when the company expanded in response to the peacetime demand for equipment and new typefaces. The UK branch started manufacturing equipment and embarked on an ambitious type development program. The chief architect of the British Monotype library was Stanley Morrison, a self-educated type expert and contributing author to prestigious typographic journals such as the Fleuron and Penrose Annual. While writing for UK Monotype’s house organ, Monotype Recorder, Morison’s proposal for developing a “programme of typographical design, rational, systematic, and corresponding effectively with the foreseeable needs of modern printing” earned him the position as British Monotype’s typographic advisor in 1922 —and a pulpit from which he would exert a serious influence over the future of modern type design. Morison commissioned and developed numerous important type designs but is broadly known for his involvement with Times New Roman (1932) a face he developed (drawn by Victor Lardent) as a challenge to improve legibility of The London Times.
By the 1940’s British Monotype broke into three divisions, each independent entities. Its name changed, as did ownership, through continual acquisitions of other type vendors and a merger with Agfa /Compugraphic in 1998. Today as Monotype Imaging, the company has acquired some of the best known type libraries in the world, including Bitstream, ITC and its old rival, Linotype. Currently based in Boston, there are offices across the US, throughout the UK, Europe and the Pacific rim.
Monotype in San Francisco
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries San Francisco was home to a large concentration of printers, making it an ideal location for type founding. On a recent stop in San Francisco we were able to see some of the West Coast descendants from both the British and American Monotype still actively at work. From Monotype Imaging we met with type designer Carl Crossgrove and later briefly toured one of the last stops of the Lanston Monotype Company, the M&H foundry.
One of ten staff designers for Monotype Imaging, Carl Crossgrove creates type for the digital market at the San Mateo location just outside San Francisco. He also releases faces through his personal foundry, Terrestial Design. Because he works from home two days a week we were able to meet him for a Mediterranean lunch in the Castro district. It was easy to spot his fierce signature mustache but behind that visage resides a refreshingly calm, self-effacing and thoughtful individual.
Crossgrove spent his formative years experimenting with lettering styles influenced by comic books and album covers, but towards the end of his high school years he turned to classical lettering and calligraphy. Although Crossgrove’s path to becoming a full-time type designer was circuitous, he never ceased designing letterforms. He did not rush immediately to college after high school but spent time exploring other directions (including painting and a lot of printmaking), not aware that type design could be a viable occupation. Then, during a visit to Boston in 1990, he learned otherwise when he met David Berlow, Mike Parker and Matthew Carter of Bitstream (the first digital type foundry). He came to the realization that “there was actually such a thing as the type industry and type design could be a real career.”
He rather spontaneously attended a late summer type conference, Type90 in Oxford, England, and returned to attend the printing program at Rochester Institute of Technology. His intention was to train as a professional printer with hopes of building his own independent type practice on the side. Although there were not a lot of classes offered for the “type concentration” part of his degree program, he augmented his training by applying for a summer position for “type enthusiasts” that he stumbled across in the back of Fine Print on Type. The position was a six-month internship at Adobe Systems in Mountain View, California. Adobe Type Manager David Lemon hired Crossgrove based upon a telephone interview and his portfolio, the contents which Crossgrove now wryly recalls as being “rather primitive.” Two separate Adobe internships exposed Crossgrove to talented Adobe type designers, including Carol Twombly and Robert Slimbach, who influenced and refined his sensibilities. At both Adobe and RIT Crossgrove worked with the Ikarus system, teaching himself details of typography such as spacing, kerning, etc.
A student of type history and type designers, Crossgrove traveled to printing museums in Europe to study the original drawings of lettering giants Rudolf Koch, Georg Trump and Hermann Zapf. One of his most respected type heroes is Czech type designer Oldřich Menhart (1897-1962) who trained as a calligrapher and printer before beginning a career in type design. Menhart, who “saw writing, calligraphy, lettering and type design as belonging to the same discipline”, designed one typeface for British Monotype, Menhart Roman and Italic, in 1934.
Crossgrove in San Francisco
After graduation from RIT in 1994 Crossgrove moved west to San Francisco where his highly technical printing education was more than adequate for his first position which he describes as “the curmudgeonly guy on the computer at the back of a quickie printer.” The shop was his necessary bread and butter as he continued to draw custom type designs on his own time.
Before long his side work received considerable attention. Curlz for Monotype (with Steve Matteson) was hugely popular (especially with my novelty-hungry students) in 1995. His Scripsit was given Serif Magazine’s Judge’s Choice Award in 1996. He also worked on heretofore unreleased proposals Tarantella Script, Ranunculus and Penmark. Following shortly after were Minska in 1997 for ITC and Reliq, with the look of ancient Greek graffiti, for Adobe in 1998.
Although his early novel faces were popular, this direction was not necessarily where Crossgrove’s predilections were leaning. Some of his formers classmate from RIT, on staff at Monotype Imaging, fed him projects, and finally his hard work turned into a full-time position in 2001.
Crossgrove’s work at Monotype started with translating several historical revivals for digital format. His Othello, in 2002 (with Steve Matteson), is the heavy, rustic face originally offered by Monotype in 1928 as an alternative to Rudolph Koch’s Neuland.
The delicate Fairbank allowed Crossgrove (in collaboration with Robin Nichols at Monotype in the UK) to work in a more calligraphic mode. The original design was by Alfred Fairbank (1895-1982), a disciple of Edward Johnston at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London. It was Fairbanks’s only type face as he was more devoted to calligraphy and calligraphic activities and his role in the British Society of Scribes and Illuminators.
Crossgrove’s Advice for Fledgling Type Designers
Oldřich Menhart advocated for type designers to study old masters but then to develop a contemporary style. Similar advice comes from Crossgrove when he offers pearls of wisdom for aspiring type designers: “Get deeply into historical styles then create your own personal approach.” Additionally he suggests throwing away your first three type designs; he cites the Japanese practice of discarding the first 5 years of painting as an example. Another piece of advice is getting professional guidance. “You can train yourself but it is better to show your work to someone knowledgeable if you can.”
Crossgrove strongly believes in hand drawing: “I typically sketch letter shapes over and over, throughout the process of development, so that while the outlines are evolving in digital format, I’m testing shapes on paper at the same time.”
Expansive Original Faces
By 2003 Crossgrove was a seasoned and mature designer who was building a library of his own expansive type families. His ten-year project, Mundo Sans, has 14 styles with weights ranging from hairline to extremely bold. Inspired by faces like Gill, Futura and Syntax, Crossgrove “didn’t intend Mundo Sans to be revolutionary”; rather, he sought to create “a design with subtle pen ductus, a wide range of weights, and a fluid, unobtrusive italic.”
Described by some as Crossgrove’s magnum opus, the super family of Beorcana took 14 years to develop. The first release from his Terrestrial Design, Beorcana’s name refers to a runic letter for the European white birch tree, a symbol for new growth and possibility. It was an appropriate choice for a face that branched out to 28 styles.
Beorcana is a roman face designed without serifs, not a sans serif but rather a member of the unusual category of ‘serif less roman’ (or more appropriately, a calligraphic sans). The strokes appear to have grown from a pen, as does the very human diamond shaped dot over the i. Although it is customary for text faces to have serifs, this calligraphically inspired face is expressly designed for text.
The amount of work behind this design is staggering. Crossgrove created each of the styles using optical sizing, ie. designing each variation based on his visual judgment, not just increasing or decreasing the strokes by mathematical increments. His attention to scaling means that even the micro-style—as small as 3-points—harmonizes with all of the other sizes and weights. The Type Directors Club cited the design for excellence in 2007.
Biome (2009), another TDC winner, is what Crossgrove terms a “superelliptical sans, more fluid and organic than the typical sans serif”. Crossgrove points out that the soft elliptical forms are not symmetrical; if you print them out and flip them upside-down this will become apparent. It has a “retro-futuristic” feel, the sort of vibe that the Modernists were trying to accomplish (in a non-retro way) in the 1950’s.
Crossgrove is especially happy that he has been able to experience a wide variety of styles. Recently he worked on a revival of an Arabic type family, Noori Nastaliq, a connecting style of calligraphy characterized by sloping word alignments. Working with linguist Kamal Mansour, manager of non-Latin type at Monotype, the pair devised forms to fulfill the need to slowly descend along a base line. Using Open Type technology Crossgrove analyzed the original calligraphy to find a common joining scheme that would work technically while providing fluid, realistic written joins.
Crossgrove has plans for future designs, I’ve never released a serif text face of my own design. Origami is really meant for display. I think the prospect is a little intimidating when there are centuries of excellent serif book types in a huge range of styles. If I can come up with a design that serves modern purposes, I would like to complete a small serif family. I’d also like to finish a rough calligraphic design that’s been on hold for a long time: Tarantella Script. I think there is potential in the sort of eccentric, dark style of it.
Now in his 40’s, Crossgrove is well positioned between the old guard and the new. With his range of experience, his historical perspective and intense dedication his complete oeuvre will likely be substantial.
II. M&H Typecasting
While the digitally adapted Monotype Imaging is still active, the American Lanston Monotype did not fare as well. During the decades after Goudy, labor disputes and manufacturing issues plagued the company. It was resold a number of times before American Type Founders purchased it in 1969, then sold to Mackenzie and Harris (M&H) in San Francisco and finally in 1983 by Gerald Giampa (1950 – 2009). Giampa set up shop on Prince Edward Island where he manufactured the type casters until 1987 when, in 2000, the last remnants of the Lanston Monotype machine works and institutional records were lost in a tidal wave. Today all that remains are the rights to the Lanston Monotype name and font library, now owned by the digital font foundry, P22, in Buffalo, New York. (E. Holub sent this correction: Giampa never manufactured Monotype casters as stated above. He purchased the patterns and machines for making the matrices necessary for typecasting, but it seems that all that ever resulted from his purchase of the remains of one department of Lanston was digital type.)
While in San Francisco we had a very quick peak at the type foundry, M&H Typecasting, one of the last stops along the Lanston Monotype trail. The foundry is located in the historic Presidio complex as part of the Arion Press. Because we arrived on a Sunday, the machines were not working; however the shelves were lined with packages of recently cast type and the row of machines attested to a busy operation. One can find a catalog of their fonts at their website.
How can you differentiate Lanston from British Monotype if you are a letterpress printer or student with access to metal type? Monotype is a general term covering a number of iterations of the original caster: composition, sorts, giant, supercaster and Thompson are all casters from Monotype and each machine casts a very different type. However, I have been taught that the shape of the nick is a reliable indicator.
Shown above left is a piece of Lanston Type from M&H, identifiable by the round knick. On the right is a piece of English Monotype from the Bixler Foundry in Skaneateles, New York, sporting a square nick. But of course the explanation of Monotype is never simple, and since we are not a type casting expert we turned to Rob LoMascolo, printer and trained type caster, for a better understanding of how to differentiate the two. (Rob is the proud owner of a 1968 English Composition Caster and plans to refurbish it in the near future.)
“The English/ American Monotype division is somewhat confusing. For example, the Bixlers use all English mats, but that does not mean that they are using all English Monotype equipment. English Monotype mats can be cast on an American caster, and American mats can be used on an English caster. The biggest difference between the American and the English mats is the depth of drive. The depth of drive is how deeply the letters are recessed into the mat, and thereby how high the face of the type will be on its body once cast. American mats are .030” and the English are .050”. The deeper depth of drive of the English mats makes type that will wear better, especially with characters that kern.”
Ok, have you got that? There is still a smattering of commercial Monotype casters across the US: in addition to M&H and Bixler are Skyline Type Foundry in Prescott, Arizona, and Sterling Foundries in Indianapolis, Indiana. Monotype casters also survive in the hands of dedicated private individuals who still cast their own type and sometimes work with serious printers, Hill & Dale (West Virginia), Firefly (Boston) and Ed Rayher’s Swamp Press in Northfield, Massachusetts.
Here’s hoping that a different sort of tidal wave (not the destructive sort but one of burgeoning interest in letterpress printing) helps to sustain the remaining Monotype casters for the foreseeable future.
In addition to our Interview : Some Sources Used for this Article.
Journal of the Franklin Institute, Volume 187 by Persifor Frazer, Apr 1919, pages 518-519.
Fine Print on Type, “Oldrich Menhart”, by Paul Duensing, San Francisco, 1989.
Catalogue of Printed Material issued by The Monotype Corporation.
The Monotype Story, by Fred Williams, Editor-Publisher, Type & Press, Spring 1984.
Stanley Morison: Significant Historian, 21 October 2011, HYPERLINK: “http://www.lawsonarchive.com/category/typographically-speaking/” Typographically Speaking, The Alexander S. Lawson Archive.
Barker, Nicolas, Stanley Morison, Harvard University Press; First Edition edition (June 1972).
Surviving Radical Technological Change through Dynamic Capability: Evidence from the Typesetter Industry, HYPERLINK : http://ideas.repec.org/s/oup/indcch.html”Industrial & Corporate Change. Oxford University Press, Volume 6 (1997), No: 2 (March), Pages: 341-77.
Burian, Veronika and Shaw, Paul. Type with Spirit: The Work of Oldřich Menhart. Codex: The Journal of Letterforms, Fall 2012.
Smitshuijzen, Edo, Interview with Kamal Mansour, Manager of non-Latin products at Monotype. Hyperlink http://www.khtt.net/person/250/en
Coming In November 2013 -Andreu Balius and his Type Republic in Barcelona.