Alphabet City

Alphabet City

Fans of the Redstone Press will love this collection of curiosities, featuring letters and signs handpicked by Julien Rothstein and beautifully displayed throughout the intriguing pages of A2Z+.


I’m not a collector of books on typefaces myself – but, happily, a lot of designers are. People with specialised interests are usually generous with their time and keen to share their collections. So compiling  A2Z+ over the last year, got me out of my studio and was mostly a pleasure.


From the signwriter's manual Modeles du Lettres pour paintres batiments, France, early 1900s. Courtesy Collinge and Clark.


Visiting the wonderfully eccentric antiquarian bookseller David Batterham in his shop is like being in Paris - and stepping back in time. Where else could you find a copy of the Macklin Bible, colour-coded by hand with each colour representing a different voice, early bull-fighting posters from Spain hand-printed with dramatic wood type in huge sizes or huge medical volumes from the last century illustrating skin diseases? I also visited the film-maker and distinguished curator Lutz Becker who would disappear into his cavernous garage for a moment and return with some extraordinary book he’d kept from his childhood in East Germany.


Les Catalanes, typeface designed by Enric Crous-Vidal from Charactere Noel, Spain 1952. Courtesy Fundacion Typographica Bauer, Spain




Signwriters’ Alphabets, designed to be bought off-the-shelf as models for the handpainted lettering of signs and fascia for public advertising use such as market stalls, commercial vehicles etc.


During my research for the book the most important discovery was, undoubtedly, the breath-taking graphics devised by the African-American sociologist and activist W.E.B. Du Bois. These hand-drawn and coloured statistical charts from 1900 were intended to show “the history of the American Negro, his present condition, his education and his literature” but they look like spectacularly beautiful Modernist paintings — at the same time getting across information in the clearest possible way. The charts would now be referred to as information graphics, but these were made well before the term was invented and they are, quite simply, masterpieces.


Statistical chart by W.E. Du Bois, Occupations of Negroes and Whites in Georgia, USA, c.1900


Whenever I have to design a publication I will always start by searching out visual stimulation to get me going and I hope that A2Z+ might serve that purpose. It’s meant to baffle you, to be used, cut up for collages, scanned, or to educate you with Mel Gooding’s marvellous texts. The choice is yours…


From Arts et Metiers Graphiques, special edition, France, 1948
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