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#78 • A New Hope

Coffee Table Typography
#78 • A New Hope
By Coffee Table Typography • Issue #78 • View online
Type friends!
Welcome to the first edition of CTT of 2021. Did you know that the first edition of CTT was written on my birthday in early 2016? Messed up the interpolation of names; HTML was badly formatted, but that’s okay, as I had 1 subscriber. Back then, I had barely just moved to Berlin, where I fell in love with urban typography even more, by sheer virtue of just walking around. I was fascinated by the differences in signs and type between East and West Berlin, old and new cinemas, pharmacies, subway stations that seemed like they belonged to different countries. It’s been a wild ride since then.
Today, in Montréal, it’s also possible to find a lively typographical history, but you need to know where to look. Despite that, there are some obvious quirks; like the infamous “Arret” STOP signs. The Instagram account TroyLitten compiled a big list of STOP signs that don’t actually say “stop” or are ever so slightly different, and it’s wonderful (although I’m sad, of course, that “Arret” didn’t make the cut).
Despite calling myself a “world traveller” like any good millennial does, I somehow missed the fact that STOP isn’t a universal sign. Growing up in Portugal, a country which back then defended its language with sharp teeth, had even taught us that STOP stands for a Portuguese acronym (plot twist: it does not). But after moving to Canada, I especially embraced this type of locali/s/z/ation. After all, there are projects in Inuvik, an indigenous area in northern Canada, who aim to bring and allude to the importance of language preservation in minorities. If you haven’t heard of Inuvialuktun and Gwich'in languages, that’s exactly why we need initiatives to preserve them. Even if they begin with STOP signs.
—Ricardo

Around the web
First off, if you haven’t heard about the Fresh Font’s Half Price Card, you’re in for a treat. Noemi worked very hard to get this very unique card going: a one off card purchase that gives you 50% off in several typeface purchases at many different foundries. If you’re planning on purchase type, this card pays for itself so, so quickly. They’re limited, so get yours.
Ben Mitchell made a fascinating Twitter thread pointing out some interesting mistakes that type designers make when designing Asian scripts. I’ll give you an interesting example:
Don’t be tempted to ‘improve legibility’ by increasing the size of small elements. In Thai, for example, big loops make the letters look childish! Thai readers are perfectly accustomed to noticing small letter details that a non-native might think difficult
Thanks Ben for that fountain of knowledge. In urban/city typography, the Frere-Jones Type foundry just shared how they got to work with Watson&Co to create the wordmark, track numbers, and other lettering in the new Moynihan Train Hall. The pictures are stunning, and so is the type.
Last but not least, Robin Rendle wrote a really interesting (and gorgeous) web piece on the topic of Newsletters. If you know Robin, you don’t wanna miss it, especially now that his own type newsletter has resumed.
CIA Graphic Design Rebrand
You’ve probably seen this making the rounds in the last few weeks, but despite being late to the party, I think it’s still worth sharing. If you haven’t heard of it, this is probably not what you expect.
The CIA rebrand seems to be polarising; you either hate it or you love it. The US federal agency’s new website hopes to appeal to young recruits using contemporary graphics and typefaces such as GT America, which has prompted some scathing comparisons.
But first, a little background:
In 2019, a report found that the CIA had one of the least diverse workforces of any agency in US federal government with just 26.5 per cent of its staff BIPOC. CIA director Gina Haspel (the agency’s first female director) has launched a string of initiatives attempting to attract a broader range of recruits.
The CIA rebrand is edgy. I mean, edgy. Their typeface choice was Grilli Type GT America, which is often associated with tech and design agencies, and the overall aesthetic seems like a crossover between Mr. Robot and a startup design agency. It’s not bad, but certainly not what you’d expect when you think CIA.
Designer David Rudnick didn’t hold back, stating “with this rebrand, the CIA has lost all credibility”; while Michael Bierut had a subtle dig, referencing graphic design for the TV series Homeland.
Nevertheless, their efforts to be more inclusive, like adding a much more diverse pool of headshots in their hero images, are a wonderful step forwards. Keep reading over at Its Nice that, or explore the new, young, friendly CIA website yourself.
Who Invented the Newspaper?
From the I Love Typography folk, here’s a short read that will serve both as a piece of trivia and as an interesting dinner fact, over Zoom with the family.
“News” have existed even before the invention of writing. As soon as there was language, humans were keen on exchanging pieces of information with each other, whether by word of mouth or by writing on cave walls. But when and how did we start recording them as artifacts?
In the Middle Ages, news, especially foreign news, was an expensive commodity, and only available to those rich enough to support a network of agents and messengers.
Travel was slow and dangerous and, whereas nowadays news travels literally at the speed of light, it was once limited by how fast we could run, how swiftly horses galloped, and by how favorably prevailing winds carried our ships. 
Back then, news only happened whenever there were noteworthy news to share (can we go back to this model?).
In Italy, from about 1500, a new kind of manuscript began to circulate. These avvisi, also known as gazzettesreporticorantos, and zeitungen were short handwritten news-sheets reporting on international politics and international commerce. At the beginning, Rome and Venice were among their most enthusiastic proponents, and for obvious reasons. Rome and Venice were major business spots at the time. But the newspapers and avvisi were different, and it’s important to see how:
“It’s important to understand how avvisi differed from the impending printed newspapers. They served very different audiences, and so didn’t directly compete. The avvisi were written by those in the know, by intelligencers close to the seats of real power, both secular and religious. Avvisi also earned a reputation for reliability. And, although the avvisi were not averse to regular gossip and quotidian affairs, they also excelled at social commentary, power politics, international diplomacy and commerce — the kind of news indispensable to aristocrats, politicians and business leaders. ” 
Left: Avviso from Antwerp. Right: Avviso from France, both from the 1550s
Left: Avviso from Antwerp. Right: Avviso from France, both from the 1550s
The first newspaper
By the 16th century, printing had already been (mostly) figured out, and it was time to play and experiment with new mediums. A short number of printed news publications began to appear; some were similar to newspapers but published very, very infrequently:
…the Mercurius Gallobelgicus was published in Cologne in 1592, and ran until 1635, but it was published only twice a year. 
However, things got interesting around 1605: Johann Carolus, a young German stationer and printer in Strasbourg petitioned the city council for a license or privilege to print something new. He decided to take his handwritten news pamphlets and print them. With this, he had created the first printed newspaper, called  Relation aller Fürnemmen und gedenckwürdigen Historien. Carolus had seen printed news as a new opportunity to reach a broader audience. With its success, more cities began publishing their own printed news, with France’s La Gazette becoming the first weekly newspaper.
There are a few more interesting things to learn in the original article, including how they began to be illustrated, so I’ll leave you to that.
Hieroglyphs: Dragons & Unicorns
One more fascinating piece by ILT, this game going further back than the middle ages, but perhaps more even more influential on how language was shaped today: understanding hieroglyphs in… Bibles?
For more than a thousand years the meaning of Egyptian hieroglyphs was completely lost:
For centuries, many assumed that they were magical symbols that might never be understood by mere mortals. In the seventeenth century, the polymath and walking encyclopedia, Athanasius Kircher, came closer than most to understanding how Egyptian hieroglyphs worked, but the real breakthrough only came with the discovery of a 2,200-year-old black basalt slab, now known as the Rosetta Stone, crucial to their eventual decipherment in the 1820s.
Hieroglyphics were often used to denote something profound, or even exotic. The author gives us the example of two hand coloured engravings, in which the term was used to refer to Christian allegories:
The one on the left, described as ‘Hieroglyphicks of a natural man’: Allegory of the crooked tree of disbelief growing fruits of evil, flanked by Death & watered by the Devil, and the one on the right described as Hieroglyphicks of a Christian.
Our modern fascination with hieroglyphs isn’t as random as we might initially think. The all-things-Egypt fashion coincided with the Industrial Revolution and the Great Awakenings (Christian revivals). As the author follows up:
At the same time, we see a profound shift in attitudes towards pedagogy — especially in regard to the education of children. In this climate emerges a rather short-lived but incredibly popular genre of children’s literature, the hieroglyphic Bible.
These Bibles were a new kind of literature specifically designed for children, using pictograms, which was very uncommon and unheard of in the seventeenth century.
Isaiah Thomas’s Hieroglyphics Bible of 1788
Isaiah Thomas’s Hieroglyphics Bible of 1788
Once described as ‘curious little books with quaint woodcuts’, these early hieroglyphic Bibles were among the first texts designed specifically for children. These early abridged Bible texts were used not only to familiarize children with the principal Bible stories, but were also used in teaching children to read and write.
For more pictures of these hieroglyphic bibles, head over to the original article. For an entire digitized Bible with these quirky pictograms, you can head over to loc.gov.
Typeface Du Jour ✍️
Orbikular, by CoType Foundry
CoType Foundry’s Orbikular typeface is my pick of the week simply because I can’t take my eyes off of it. It’s a typeface so perfectly adapted to any project’s toolkit that it makes you want put it to use immediately.
Some characteristics are the use of ball terminals, high x-height, vertical stress, and high contrast. We also included alternate characters, old-style and tabular numerals, ligatures, as well as various symbols in order to allow the user to easily change the personality of the typeface. This makes Orbikular perfect for use in magazines, books, and branding projects.
The fact that a variable font comes included with the family is truly a cherry on top. And will you look at that ampersand? *chef’s kiss*
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.

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With 💙 from Montreal, Canada