Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘vintage’

18 JULY, 2011

A Brief Visual History of Vintage Typographic Scripts

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From Victorian letters to modernist lettering, or what Venice has to do with children’s penmanship.

Iconic design writer Steven Heller has previously delighted us with a peek inside the sketchbooks of famous graphic designers and a fascinating look at the design and branding of dictatorships. Now, he and his partner of 28 years, acclaimed designer Louise Fili, are back with Scripts: Elegant Lettering from Design’s Golden Age — a treasure chest of typographic gems culled from advertising, street signage, type-specimen books, wedding invitations, restaurant menus and personal letters from the 19th to the mid-20th century. Ranging from the classic to the quirky, the 350 stunning images are unified by a common thread: All the typefaces featured are derived from handwriting or symbolic of the handwritten form, and the letters in each touch each other. And in a day and age when pundits are lamenting the death of handwriting as a much deeper cultural death, there’s a special kind of magic about the celebration of beautiful scripts.

We started gathering materials for the book by just going through the shelves of my studio: the stunningly timeless black, white and red St. Raphael enamel sign, French button cards, type specimen books and of course my albums of sign photos. While many of the selections were obvious, some were serendipitous: For example, while teaching a summer masters workshop in Venice, two of my students gave me a composition book they had unearthed from a recycling bin on the Grand Canal. It was from 1923 with verses written in perfect Italian school children’s penmanship.” ~ Louise Fili

At once sentimental and visionary, Scripts is a living capsule of the near-forgotten beauty and allure of vintage lettering, but also of books themselves — lavish, vibrant, tactile, with lush typography winking at you from the page in come-hither seduction unlike the screen ever could.

Images courtesy of Felt & Wire

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13 JULY, 2011

From Old Books: Heaven for the Visual Bibliophile

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Making good use of geocentric models of the universe, or how to brush up on 18th-century British slang.

Thanks to the tireless curators behind brilliant sites such as 50 Watts, BibliOdyssey, Paleofuture, and How to Be a Retronaut, to name just a few of the Internet’s treasure troves, we now have collections of archival material that would have been unthinkable even a decade ago.

A newcomer to this stable of gems, From Old Books is similarly fueled by an individual’s passion for preserving graphics, and so also the culture, of bygone eras. Its creator, a British web developer named Liam Quin, has assembled a stellar selection of over 3,000 images from — and of — more than 180 rare antique books.

From fantastically creepy momento mori, to beautiful children’s book illustrations, and enough examples of typography that you could take up whole days just browsing, From Old Books is a fantastic place to look for royalty-free inspiration. We’ve gathered a small handful of the site’s weird and wonderful objects for your viewing pleasure.

Armillary Sphere

From Ebenezer Sibly's Astrology: A New and Complete Illustration of the Occult Sciences (1806)

I have subjoined a plate of the Armillary Sphere, which is an artificial contrivance, representing the several circles proper to the theory of the mundane world, put together in their natural order, to ease and assist the imagination in conceiving the constitution of the spheres, and the vairous phenomena of the celestial bodies. For this purpose the Earth is placed at the center, pierced by a line supposed to be its axis”

Strange Machine

From T. Antisell's Handbook of the Useful Arts (1852)

Hour Glass

From William Andrews's Curiosities of the Church: Studies of Curious Customs, Services and Records (1891)

Of the few remaining specimens of the hour-glass, a fine one is preserved in the church of St. Alban’s Wood Street, London. It is mounted on a spiral column near the pulpit, and the minister can conveniently reach it when preaching.”

Machines for Boring Holes in Castle Walls

From Charles Knight's Old England: A Pictorial Museum (1845)

Switchboard

From Sydney F. Walker's Electric Lighting for Marine Engineers (1892)

It will be understood, of course, that there should be an ampère meter on each circuit, so that the engineer can see what is going on. This, however, is not always done. In many “tramps” not even one ampère meter is to be found.”

The Sun Typewriter

Advertisement from Charles Scribner's Scribner's Magazine No. 11 (1903)

Enjoy more gems on From Old Books — but don’t say we didn’t warn you: bibliophilia takes hold quickly, and as far as we know, there’s no cure.

Kirstin Butler is writing an adaptation of Gogol for the Google era called Dead SULs, but when not working spends far, far too much time on Twitter. She currently lives in Cambridge, MA.

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.

12 JULY, 2011

Albertus Seba’s Amazing Cabinet of Natural Curiosities

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Getting a private viewing of the King Bird of Paradise, or how to set the exchange rate for flying squid.

Lying at the intersection of art and science, the practice of natural illustration has long been the recipient of Brain Pickings adoration. So we swooned over the recent release of Cabinet of Natural Curiosities, a reproduction of the unequalled collection of Amsterdam apothecary Albertus Seba. Born in the mid-17th century, Seba spent decades gathering a wunderkammer of birds, insects, reptiles, and exotic plants for use in his drug preparations.

One hundred years before the eminent German naturalist Ernst Haeckel was even born, Seba had published two volumes of engravings of his compendia; the last two wouldn’t be finished until after his death in 1736. Seba’s internationally famous cabinet of animals, insects, and plants was coveted by prominent collectors, but eventually purchased by Czar Peter the Great for display in Russia.

Seba’s fantastic assortment no longer exists as a whole — its parts scattered throughout the globe, and some of its individual specimens extinct — but, happily, the images do. The professional pharmacist and amateur zoologist commissioned illustrations of every single item in his collection. In gorgeous reproductions of the original color plates, we get to see detailed drawings of Phasmatodea (or Walking Stick, as the insect is colloquially known), three-banded armadillo, and snakes from Suriname. And while a complete edition of Seba’s visual thesaurus was sold at auction for nearly half a million dollars, we can happily enjoy it for far less.

A spectacular exhibition of 18th-century natural history, Cabinet of Natural Curiosities will enchant the curious cross-disciplinarian and bring a bygone era of scientific study back to life.

Kirstin Butler is writing an adaptation of Gogol for the Google era called Dead SULs, but when not working spends far, far too much time on Twitter. She currently lives in Cambridge, MA.

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.