Engraving, monograms, and type

Back in 2013, Intellectbooks published Mrs. Collins’s, “Engraver, communicator of content” in Book 2.0 : Volume 1 / Issue 2. That article was written for typography and design history scholars, so it is a little thick going. Later that year, Mrs. Collins authored another article for AIGA New Orleans chapter, with highlights of the article’s juicier content, in addition to quotes from the May 9, 2013, IQ critical acclaim of “…communicator of content”, and quotes from her wonderful book, The Complete Engraver: Guide to Monograms, Crests, Ciphers, Seals, and the Etiquette and History of Social Stationery, published by Princeton Architectural Press in September 2012. The Complete Engraver sold out in 2019 and is now available as an e-book.

The article refers to four historically important works illustrating why engraving has been influential to the development of type and design: I. ‘The Great Mirror of Folly’ (Het Groote Tafereel Der Dwaasheid, ca. 1720); II. Samuel Sympson’s ‘A New Book of Cyphers’ (1726); III. George Bickham’s ‘The Museum of Arts: or, The Curious Repository’ (1745?); and IV. ‘The Lincoln Crest & Monogram Album’ (ca. late 1800s). I believe that engravers have always had a greater freedom of expression than traditional typographers. Unlike traditional typesetters, who might be confined to type styles already on hand, and to generally structured pages within the confinements of a grid structure, engravers have always had the opportunity to be more lyrical and spontaneous.

Though it remains a rich and provocative subject for teaching and writing, engraving is not considered to be central to the history of type development. This is because, strictly speaking, what we think of as “type” is a technology and not a tangible object. Type technology—the method by which words have been printed for centuries—consists of little character (type) blocks arranged in a grid (called a chase) to form a word, sentence, paragraph, and or page. Once combined, the chase could be placed in a printing press machine, ink applied to the type’s surface, paper placed atop, then the whole entity would be run through a press.

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