A Legacy of Letters: An Assessment of Stanley Morison’s Monotype ‘Programme of Typographical Design’. Mark Argetsinger

This beautifully produced book by Michael & Winifred Bixler (2008) was originally written as an essay to be included in the 1999 Godine reissue of Morison’s “Tally of Types”, but was judged to be too long for the book.

Argetsinger does an excellent job of providing a brief historical background to Morison and his times.  Typography had been widely argued about for a half-century before Morison first started working at Cambridge University: this discussion largely begun by the great William Morris, who demanded not only that craft be an art, but that typography should go back to its scriptorial roots.

Morison began his career at a time when many books began to be photographically reproduced, via offset, rather than being printed with type.  Morison was both a conservative, in that he insisted that historical type fonts and layouts be thoroughly researched, yet also a radical because he demanded that it be efficient and utilitarian.  In his own words, he says that typography is “the efficient means to an essentially utilitarian and only accidentally aesthetic end.”

One of the most thought-provoking sentences in the book is this comment by Argetsinger: “The engineers  are beholden to art to the degree that they must make it their task to prevent the servant mechanism from contaminating the master letterform.”  This is especially interesting in light of today’s age of electronic display of type.

Although the essay is fascinating in itself, it is further enhances by nice plates of type specimens.