Omit the Useless

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In 1873, the Chicago type foundry Barnhart Brothers & Spindler published their Specimen Book and Price List of the Great Western Type Foundry (see it in the RIT catalog here). In an introductory note, the typefounders write that “We have endeavored to show, in a concise and convenient form, the most useful and popular styles of letter, omitting such faces as serve neither the purpose of utility nor beauty.” But take a look at the upper-case O in the double-pica grotesque above, seen in the word fashion. Is this an o? A p? A j-o ligature? Even in 1873, surely the typeface designer would have had a difficult time defending the usefulness and beauty of this particular face. Regardless, this specimen page is a fascinating window into the culture of typographic excess that was flourishing in the late nineteenth century.

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