Looking for a few words about letters.
May 27, 2010 10:15 PM   Subscribe

What are good resources for the history of letterforms?

I'm mostly interested in European and latin letterforms, especially their evolution directly before and after widespread usage of the printing press.
I'm not looking for books just on typography (though ones that have a good amount of history would be nice).
posted by thebestsophist to Society & Culture (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The History and Technique of Lettering (Nesbitt)... I liked it enough to pick up an old publishing from a 'free book' table at university because it seemed pretty cool when I flipped through it. Lots of old scripts from hieroglyphics to poster fonts, mostly about hand written lettering (a bit about letters for press printing). It's been years since I've read it, and probably the only book on lettering I've ever read so it may or may not be what you're looking for.
posted by zengargoyle at 11:22 PM on May 27, 2010

This might not be quite on point, but I found it a pretty fascinating look into the early history of letters. It is a little repetitive, since it was originally a weekly newspaper column rather than a comprehensive book, but it's still pretty interesting.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:54 AM on May 28, 2010

Somewhat relevant is the epic The Universal History of Numbers. Traces the evolution of number symbols through time. Numberforms are kind of like letterforms?
posted by smackfu at 6:26 AM on May 28, 2010

I'm not sure if this is what you're looking for, but I enjoyed Letter Perfect by David Sacks.
posted by iftheaccidentwill at 8:29 AM on May 28, 2010

I'm reading a book right now called Lettering & Type that does have a brief history of the Roman alphabet at the beginning of the book and it covers what you are asking about, but it is only about 10 pages. I haven't gotten around to reading it, but I bet Robert Bringhurst's Elements of Typographic Style probably has a fair amount of information about the evolution of lettering. You should be able to find it at a University library or maybe through inter-library loan.
posted by Slothrop at 9:31 AM on May 28, 2010

You might find Shapes for Sounds interesting (review at Designer's Review of Books).
posted by James Scott-Brown at 10:07 AM on May 28, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you for the great suggestions, so far these are all the type of books I'm looking for.
Slothrop, I have (and have read) EoTS, and love it dearly (it's what really got me into type), sadly it doesn't have as much on letterforms themselves. Ultimately, I want to try my hand at proper type design, but wanted to learn about their history first. How is Lettering & Type in general?
posted by thebestsophist at 11:16 AM on May 28, 2010

tbs, I've found L&T to be very helpful in breaking down the steps a typographer would take to create a typeface. As someone who has done an MFA and who teaches design, some of the talk about creativity is not that necessary, but there is some nice specific instruction and diagrams toward the back of the book regarding how different letters tend to be related and shaped in a well-designed face...
posted by Slothrop at 2:43 PM on May 28, 2010

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