Naturalized Pansophic Darwinians, and other bizarre phrases used by typemakers

A theoretical proposition here: you’re a 19th century type foundry with a brilliant new font – but how do you advertise it without having it stolen by copycats? The solution was to display a selection of carefully chosen words, rather than displaying the full alphabet. Obviously, this didn’t entirely stop the copying of typefaces – but they had to be purchased in full before this could be done, giving the creators at least something back for their efforts.

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We hold quite a few type specimens here at St Bride Library; many of the 10,000 we hold come from American foundries, which were rather good at creating quirky phrases to display the type. MacKellar, Smiths and Jordan’s 1880 ‘Compact Book of Specimens’ provides us with some absolute beauties such as: ‘Pettifogging Litigation Technicalities’, ‘Hydraulic Pumps of Aquarius’ and ‘Livery Bedecked Mounteback’!

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It seems that the British foundries weren’t quite so adventurous with their type advertising. If you created a style for the London foundry of John Black, your design would be showcased using the word ‘Rickmansworth’.

There was in fact a logical reason for this, according to Black: “Rickmansworth is a long word with a great variety of letters […] customers are able to judge the relative width of one fount to that of another.” Valid point though it is, the Americans definitely got the better – and perhaps more interesting – end of the stick.

For more information on the odd word choices of type foundries for advertising products, the library holds ‘Alphabets to Order’ by Alastair Johnston.

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