View profile

#60 — Walnut Ink

Coffee Table Typography
#60 — Walnut Ink
By Coffee Table Typography • Issue #60 • View online
Type friends!
Last week, I tweeted something silly. Nothing new there. However, it was typography related, and Solona Armstrong, so unexpectedly, followed it up with the most beautiful excerpt from a poem she once wrote. You have to read it 🧡. I encourage you to reach out and ask her about its entire thing—beautiful words.
(before moving on, huge shoutout to new Patreon supporters 🎉)
• • •
I’ve stumbled upon a really random, fascinating thing earlier this week: a searchable database of hundreds of thousands of Japanese woodcut prints. Really, hundreds of thousands; and all of these are available in high quality to be fully appreciated in all its finest detail. I especially enjoyed the birth of full colour series (from the 1740s), and for Suzuki Harunobo there’s no less than 1800 prints.
Still with physical type, I’ve gotten to browse a copy of the wonderful book from Tobias Frere-Jones, Fifty Type Specimens, and it’s a wonderful book for any appreciator of the fine details of typeface design. The specimens are large, highly detailed, and as random in style as you need not to get bored with it — highly recommended even as a coffee table typography book (yes, I know what I’ve just said. #goals).
I’ve also recently found out about an amazingly interesting project, the Atlas of Endangered Alphabets. It’s on Kickstarter and already wrapping up, but it certainly deserves a very profound look as it’s an ambitious and fun project. As I write this, Keith Houston has written the 4th and last part of his amazingly thorough series of Emoji History, named “Who Owns Emoji?”. A unique read with so much insight into the (spoiler alert) life behind the curtain of the Unicode Consortium.
Lastly, a click bait-y title from the Creative Review: Survey Reveals Designers’ Favorite Typefaces, and I’m not sure how I feel about these results. If we ignore the fact that Helvetica and Avenir topped the list, the underdogs which made it to the top are Nexa, Basis Grotesque and Freight Sans. Thoughts, feelings? Oh, I’m sure!
Until next time, 🙏

How Are Typefaces Named?
Frere-Jones Type has had this very intriguing article for about 4 years now, so apologies if you’ve already known of it. We’re too often consumed by the hardest design decisions when it comes to typography; the hardest technical skills to develop and work with good type. But what about… naming them?
Years ago, I asked one of my mentors what he thought was the hardest part of designing a typeface. I was expecting “the cap S” or “the italic lowercase” or something like that. But he answered without hesitation: the name. Finding the name is the hardest part.
The journey begins a few centuries ago; in a time where typefaces were scarce and most likely to be unique, they could be easily identified by a name which represented its features. There would be only one style of roman or italic, even if that style had been refined and focused over a span of years. The name only needed to pin down the remaining variable, the size.
Less common genres would get a single broad term: Blackletter, Greek, Hebrew, Music, and so on. In this specimen printed by Dirck Voskens’ widow, Duyts (Deutsch) literally means “German”, and Textura or Blackletter by extension.
Assendonica and Tertia, circa 1660.
Assendonica and Tertia, circa 1660.
Which is also why in the early days, different versions of a Roman or Italic version would simply be differentiated by Roman No.1 or Roman No.2. Perhaps the most endearing thing here was finding out about nicknames for typefaces from cities:
In Bodoni’s epic Manuale Tipografico of 1818, over one hundred romans and italics are shown with the name of a city as a kind of nickname, though the real name was still a size and a number. Trieste is really Ascendonica (22 point) No. 9, Palermo is Sopracanoncino (28 point) No. 3, and so on.
Because of cultural differences, mostly (I presume) based on language necessities, the designations came to mean very different things for different “markets”. For example, Antique means “slab serif” in the United States or Britain, but “sans serif” in France. In Germany, Antiqua would take on another meaning, of modern or oldstyle serif. Because, Germany.
Fast-forward a few decades, and we get Lawrence Johnson’s 1857 specimen with a much more decorated design under the name “National”. Being an adjective like all the other genre names, it’s not clear if this was meant as a unique name, or the start of yet another novelty genre. But its specimen leaves no margin for doubt as to why it’s named National:
There’s a lot more interesting things regarding this evolution of naming fonts, up until today’s arguably abstract and semi-meaningless names. Keep reading, s'il vous plait.
Subset Numerals so They're Just Right
From CSS-Tricks, this one is mostly targeted as web designers and web developers, so feel free to skip this one if you don’t fancy this sort of shananigans. This is a pretty interesting technical post about subsetting numerals in web fonts, so you can have your alphabet cake and eat it too.
You’re putting the finishing touches on your new million-dollar-idea — your copy is perfect, your color scheme is dazzling, and you’ve found a glorious font pairing but there’s one problem: Raleway’s pesky lowercase numbers make your shopping cart look confusing and overwhelm the user.
This happens often — sometimes you really need those old style numerals, some other times you really want them to line up neatly. As a use case, let’s say you need those numbers to line up for a table display, like the image below. But… should you really pull up an entire new font file just for the numbers? Read on, there’s good news in store for you!
I won’t cover in great detail the implementation details, as you can easily follow along the code examples in the article, but I’ll give you the tl;dr. We can make use of how font-family in CSS works by cascading the font-families to resort to the numbers in another file; and we’ll see how we can subset only the numerals below.
body { font-family: ‘Custom Numeral Font’, ‘Main Font’, sans-serif; }
By ordering the subsetted font first in your font-family declaration, the browser will default to it and will fallback to the subsequent fonts for glyphs that are not available in the first. This is a really important distinction — the browser is not only checking that the declared font is available, but it is also checking that its character map contains the requested character and will pass onto the next font if it doesn’t, on a character-by-character basis.
Ok, so onto subsetting. How do we use only numerals?
It depends on your font strategy — do you have control over your woff font files, or are you serving from Adobe or Google Fonts or any other font service? If you’re self-hosting, you can use tools like FontSquirrel to generate and extracted version containing only the numerals. Or any other character set, for that matter. Maybe you only want custom ampersands? The woff2 is your oyster.
After doing this, if this new numeral-only is the first font-family name in your stack, the browser will use those numerals first 🎉.
The other option is used when you don’t have access to your font files. In this case, we can make use of the wonderfully powerful unicode-range CSS property in our font stacks. With that, you can specify a range for the numbers only, and even other things such as entire language subsets.
Using unicode-range
Using unicode-range
There are however, performance implications with this approach, as the font file will still be downloaded in its entirety. If you’re using Google Fonts however, there is a neat little option that we can specify in its URL that requests only the matched characters we need, which is a useful party performance trick.
If you’re interested in the subject at all, please keep reading the more technical details over at CSS-Tricks.
A Rabbit, One Wedding & Two Funerals
Or, really, a closer look at some incredible Renaissance books, brought by the lovely people of ILoveTypography. We’ve previously talked about their thoughts on a medieval encyclopedia of animals, and this time they’re dissecting a little bit of the history and art-form of the Book of Hours. So, what is a book of hours to begin with?
During the later Middle Ages, if you owned only one book, then there is a pretty good chance that it was a Book of Hours. These portable, small-format books were essentially prayer books for personal use. They typically open with a calendar of saints’ days and special feasts, followed by, in varying order, lessons from the Gospels, other Bible lessons or excerpts and, the core of the book, The Hours of the Virgin – a selection of prayers to be recited at eight times, or hours, throughout the day.
These prayerbooks began to appear early in the thirteenth century, well into the fifteen century, and as you can expect from this time, all of the typographical and illustration work was traditionally handmade. And boy, were they something else. Have a look at a typographical detail of one of the manuscripts, Hastings Hours, from 1480:
With the invention of movable type and improvements in the printing history, their popularity weirdly only got exacerbated. In 1471, the first printed version of Book of Hours landed in Germany, and just a couple of years later in Italy, by Theobald Schenkbeche.
The interesting bit, according to ILT, is that it was set in a Roman typeface, and we can even admire and contemplate its entire character set below:
Note the gothic A, C, J, T, U and the gothic lowercase s
Note the gothic A, C, J, T, U and the gothic lowercase s
The article mainly focuses on a particular Book of Hours by Simon de Colines (15th century), and it’s quite hard for me not to spam this newsletter with its beautiful pages, so make sure you jump to the full article later on.
Why should this be interesting?
It was no other than Robert Bringhurst himself who said that,
“Colines as much as anyone built the semiotic structure of the book as we now know it.”
And it is beautiful. There’s still quite a bit of hand-painted decoration, some 5 initials to signal the start of new sections, and it overall looks a lot less Gothic than its predecessors.
However, perhaps the most striking feature of this particular copy is the title-page, which has been printed and then painted by an evidently accomplished artist. The scene depicts a contemporary printing press, with a press operator in the foreground.
How’s this for a title page, 2018? I know. Learn more details about Simon de Colines, the Book of Hours, and the evolution of typography into Roman typefaces.
Type Project Do Jour 🙌
Orelo Typefaces — by Adrien Midzic
Typeface Du Jour ✍️
Ballinger — Signal Type
On the Coffee Scene ☕️
Bye-aletti: The Death Of The Moka Pot?
Did you enjoy this issue?
Coffee Table Typography

A love for words, letters, language—and coffee.
A digest of curated resources, articles and knowledge sharing about the beauty of typography; in design, on the web, or books.
You will read these over your morning cup of coffee, while the aromas of freshly ground beans are still in the air, quickly realising that words are beautiful and that you might need that second cup after all.

If you don't want these updates anymore, please unsubscribe here.
If you were forwarded this newsletter and you like it, you can subscribe here.
Powered by Revue
With 💙 from Montreal, Canada