an ode to naked type

whilst sorting through piles most high i had a visitation. the earthly remains of a long forgotten loved one brought before my naked eyes, bones, but made so animated by the rush of memories as to seem a phantasm! i trembled. i gasped. i was about to call out “no!” when hamlet’s well known words came to my lips: angels and ministers of grace defend us! be thou a spirit of health or goblin damn’d, bring with thee airs from heaven or blasts from hell, be thy intents wicked or charitable, thou comest in such a questionable shape that I will speak to thee: I’ll call thee dry transfer lettering! i’ll call thee prestype! i’ll call thee letraset!

yes that’s right. i said it. dry transfer lettering. once covetted, hoarded, beloved, but now in 2005… forgotten. the computer, like digital hemlock, saw to that. when i was in college the computer was still more a tool than the all encompassing toolbox it has become. i was right on the dividing line. could still resist it and turn in hand done design projects. in point of fact though i did use the mac, photoshop, etc, and toted around massive syquest discs, i really didn’t become fluent in “design digitalis” until after i’d graduated and weaseled my way into the workplace. before then one of my most beloved resources was my stack of dry transfer lettering. letraset. c-thru. prestype. chartpak. does anyone even remember them anymore?

evidently letraset introduced dry transfer lettering in 1961 instantly revolutionizing type use. democratizing it. suddenly lettering could be done quickly and easily by anyone. i’ve seen it said that it’s introduction was one of the touchstones for what we all consider a classic period in typography. quote: ” the quick success of dry transfer lettering led to a sense of fun in type face design, creating special effects through distortion and trickery, by cutting or tearing type to produce sci-fi effects, shivering typefaces like Alaska, Arthritis, Narcotic etc . Rules about the relationship between type and image were challenged, conventions about using or not using certain kinds of typefaces were abandoned. Fantastic design break throughs were promoted through the cinema with classics such as the credits for the James Bond series.” i for one loved it. the sheets were printed in such a way that every piece of information on a sheet, including the company logo, the guides, hairlines, and the copyright information were usable, and i used them all. my now beloved macintosh helped doom rub on type after 25 years or so. it’s still out there, used in model building, miniatures, and the like. information on it’s history and it’s ongoing slide into dustbin of design is scarce though.

consider this then a metaphoric pouring out of “a 40 on the ground for my bruthas that ain’t around.” perhaps one day after the nuclear or biological armageddon which surely awaits us has passed, and after we’ve seen to the rebuilding of little things like shelter, medicine, our food supply, etc, dry transfer lettering might once again rise to greater glory? perhaps… but in the meantime, here are a few humble images by way of memorial (click each for full image). cue the bruce banner music…

ode to naked type
(after the first stanza of ode to a naked beauty by pablo neruda)

with burnisher, and squinting
I celebrate you, my beauty,
restraining my hand
so that the line
surges and follows
your contour,
and you embed yourself in my page,
as in a paul rand, or saul bass:
an ounce of glaser’s class,
or chwast’s music.

posted by jmorrison on 03/11 | sights & sounds | (15) comments | send entry