Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Type Tuesday - Mergenthaler Linotype Company's Monticello

Monticello typeface, cast in 1796 by Binny and Ronaldson's Philadelphia type foundry, is considered to be the first typeface designed and manufactured in the United States. As a transitional serif typeface, Monticello was a departure from the Old Style tradition of type, where there was little variance of thick and thin strokes, small, short serifs, and which more closely resembled the human movement of the hand, toward the Modern typeface with designs reflecting sharper forms, higher contrast and less humanistic movement as presses become more industrialized. 

In the 1940s, Mergenthaler Linotype Company's Vice President for Typeface Development, Chauncey H. Griffith, partnered with Princeton University Press' P.J. Conkwright to embark on the laborious task of converting Monticello hand-set type to Linotype. Their work, finally completed in 1949, was displayed in the fifty volume Papers of Thomas Jefferson, published by the Princeton University Press. 

Mergenthaler Linotype Company promoted Monticello's "inherent readability" and "optical harmony," making the typeface an ideal choice for the printing of books and newspapers throughout the 1950s. In the mid-1960s Mergenthaler seems to seek out a different audience. Their advertisement, seen below, attempts to sell hip art directors - who were probably up to their necks with ad copy printed in Cooper Black and Helvetica type - on the staid Monticello type. A wig stand donning a Thomas Jefferson-style coif espouses the modern-ness of Monticello typeface to a seemingly indifferent wig stand sporting a severe brushcut.

The ad copy encourages the "astute art director" to bring the "back-country Baskerville" to modern day swinging uptown. The "back-country Baskerville" being a playful derision of Monticello type. Monticello, Virginia, home to Thomas Jefferson, was certainly a back country burg compared to England's bustling 18th century Birmingham, where Baskerville, another serif transitional type, was designed by John Baskerville in 1757.

Here is a complete specimen of Mergenthaler's Monticello type.

Jaime Henderson,
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