Type: A Visual History of Typefaces

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A book about fonts – if you think about it for too long it’s kind of a strange idea, right? It’s like a poem about words or a sketch about pencils. But regardless of how odd the notion might sound, typefaces are actually quite interesting. Don’t believe me? What if I were to tell you that some of the fonts that you have on your computer date back to the late 1500’s? Fonts haven’t always been so ubiquitous as they are today, and with so many of them at your fingertips, it’s easy to forget that the printed word has a rich story behind it.

Before we get into what you’ll find in these books, you should know that neither volume is intended to be read from cover to cover. Rather, they’re much better suited for laid-back coffee table reading. Big, luscious pages, ample illustrations, and painstakingly detailed reproductions of various typefaces make them great for a casual thumb through; stopping here and there to read the history of this font or that.

We must admit that the title is a bit misleading, though. These books are not so much a complete history of typography as they are a visual tour through the collection of Jan Tholenaar – a Dutch bibliophile who had a soft spot for ornamental metal typefaces. His collection of type specimens is incredibly large, and while the books do offer up a wealth of good history behind each one, we still can’t call this a complete history. Volume I covers the period between 1628-1900, and Volume II covers types collected from 1900-1938, but both books tend to focus on ornamental types and not much else. That being said, however, ornamental typefaces are definitely the most fun to look at.

If you make it past the choppy preface and introduction sections, you’re sure to come across something that piques your interest. Certain passages are better than others, but overall I found them to be a fun and enjoyable read, and they’ll definitely be occupying a spot on my coffee table for years to come.

Volumes I and II are available on Taschen.com