More joy of text – Oliver Simon’s Introduction to Typography

Introduction to Typography book


By a Typographer, I do not mean a Printer, as he is Vulgarly accounted, any more than Dr. Dee means a Carpenter or Mason to be an Architect; but by a Typographer, I mean such a one, who by his own Judgement, from solid reasoning with himself, can either perform, or direct others to perform from the beginning to the end, all the Handy-works and Physical Operations relating to Typographie.

Mechanick Exercises, or the Doctrine of Handy-works applied to the Art of Printing Joseph Moxon, 1683

Typography may be regarded as consisting of three parts: each distinct and indispensable, namely, punch-cutting, founding and printing. The practice of the different branches produces artists of three different kinds, the first punch-cutters, the second founders and the third printers, but he who combines a knowledge of all three branches is fit to be styled a Typographer.

Manuel Typographique Simon-Pierre Fournier, 1764

• the style and appearance of printed matter.
• the art or procedure of arranging type or processing data and printing from it.

Oxford Dictionary of English

This is the revised 1963 edition of Oliver Simon’s classic 1945 book – Introduction to Typography – edited by David Bland. The first two quotes are taken from the definitions of typography printed in the prelims of this edition. The third is the modern definition from the dictionary my Mac uses (the Oxford Dictionary of English according to my preferences panel). Oliver Simon was the typographer at Curwen Press from the 1920s until his death in 1956. This was in the days of the switch from physical type to film setting. I wonder what Oliver Simon would have made of things today.

Introduction to Typography book

Suitable typefaces for display type

Introduction to Typography book


I find it fascinating how processes, terminology, ideas, rules and even roles in printing and production shift and change meaning. One small example: we still refer to the author’s final ‘manuscript’, but it’s many years since I received a sheaf of typewritten pages from an author.
Another example: the role of copy-editor isn’t mentioned in this book, but what we would think of as copy-editing tasks are that of the compositor or setter. There is a section at the beginning of the book discussing what to capitalise, use of small caps, quotation marks, parentheses, italics, etc – things that modern copy-editors would concern themselves with. But the onus is much more on the author to supply a ‘carefully prepared MS. [which] must be strictly followed as to punctuation and spelling’. And Simon also notes that: ‘An intelligent interpretation of an author’s meaning by means of correctly placed punctuation marks is an art that can be acquired only by long experience, and for which no hard-and-fast rules can be formulated’. I assume that the copy-editor’s role developed as publishing increased in order to streamline the process and allow typesetters to set type quickly without having to consider the finer points of grammar and style as they went along (I remember seeing typesetters use photosetting machines – speed and accuracy were critical), and presumably as part of trade publishers’ services to authors – longer expected to supply ‘carefully prepared manuscripts’!
Today the copy-editor’s role has changed again – in many cases there is no longer a need to mark up a manuscript for the typesetter to follow – often the author’s Word document is directly amended by the copy-editor before it goes on to the typesetter (if it goes to a typesetter at all) – and sometimes these copy-editing tasks are undertaken by someone who can not only edit, but set the text professionally too. With the rise in self-publishing and small, independent publishers there are definite advantages to being multi-skilled in all aspects of putting publications together, be they print or digital. Maybe we are coming full circle? Perhaps again a typographer will be ‘…such a one, who by his own Judgement, from solid reasoning with himself, can either perform, or direct others to perform from the beginning to the end, all the Handy-works and Physical Operations relating to Typographie.’?

Introduction to Typography book


Introduction to Typography book

Discussing paper

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