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The Ecstasy of the Wood Type.

Jun 09 2011

The Ecstasy of the Wood Type

by Lee Jensen

Tipoteca Italiana
Museo del Carattere e della Tipografia.

For a moment some of us were transported. There were gasps of joy. Sandro Berra (Director of Tipoteca) had pulled open a drawer of type, one drawer amongst hundreds — he might easily have been showing us a reliquary, revealing a holy secret – but it was a tray of huge Art Deco letterforms. Their geometries, though adamant, were softened by small curved corners and finials, with bright little circular counterspaces. Even Louise had not seen these.

And they were that strange kind of ugly beautiful – almost ludicrous in their scale and proportion, foolish and bravura. Why do we do this to ourselves? The type was in drawers because that’s how it’s stored. When did it become so precious?

A little earlier we’d engaged in a process that for hundreds of years had been perfectly commonplace. In a quite wonderfully straightforward way, with prompting from Sandro and the Tipoteca team, we’d got on with the task of designing, compositing, and printing a small epigraphic poster. Yet Sandro himself made the point that it is not simply because this process is old that we are attracted to it – that way went the horse-drawn carriage and the canals on Mars. There must be something else.

And I wondered about this. Perhaps it’s the fact that it is a physical, explicable process, that it returns us to a point where we understand that leading is actually lead.