New bottle old wine
Drawing on the punches, matrices, specimens and smoke proofs at St Bride Library, Commercial Classics give nineteenth-century typefaces a new lease of life
Type designer Paul Barnes is acutely conscious of the way in which the letterforms of the past recur and evolve in the context of the present day. He explains this with reference to the last days of letterpress. ‘Not so long ago, you could use anything that had existed in the era of letterpress. Even if it was from the sixteenth century, if you wanted it, it could have been recast.’
Commercial Type’s Paul Barnes revived this style, originally made in capitals only, based on examples of matrices (right) and specimens in the archive at St Bride Printing Library in London. Barnes based his design for the lower case on the Figgins slab serif style.
Top: Pages from Specimen of Printing Types, Henry Caslon, 1842, which informed Isambard.
All photographs taken at St Bride Library by John Bodkin and Philip Sayer.
John L. Walters, editor of Eye, London
Read the full version in Eye no. 98 vol. 25, 2019
Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions and single issues. You can see what Eye 98 looks like at Eye Before You Buy on Vimeo.