Letterpress, type, Typography

Meet the Family #2


24pt Palace Script to be more precise.

It is in the same condition as all my other metal type; well looked after, but mucky after a long storage. It’s a full fount too, with ligatures and figures, as well as these nifty fractions!

Palace Script is originally from 1923 and appears to be owned by both Monotype, and Stephenson Blake, a Sheffield type foundry who were once a major producer of metal type. Most people will know this as the typeface of choice for invitations and anything that needs to look ‘classy.’  Monotype seem to be responsible for the continuing popularity of this script with their early digital version but there are many versions available on the web to buy or download for free.

Stephenson Blake also produced some very similar copperplate scripts, such as Imperial, Marina & Society Scripts,

I have never been a fan of scripts, especially this one. I have always found it to be a little too fussy for my tastes, and the fact that it is used as a ‘default’ script has stigmatised it for me. Still, there’s no denying that the actual physical cast type looks rather beautiful here.

The ampersand is especially nice though, with an elegant swash descender looping below…

These next images show how kerning with metal type is achieved; by creating overlaps and indents in each block, so that scripts like Palace can be closely and regularly spaced. The image below shows the overhanging part well – if you click on it to enlarge it, you get a better view.

I have also mentioned Stephenson Blake quite a lot in this post, and can identify this fount very easily by the ‘SB&Co.’ on the spacing slugs. This image also shows the indents on the body of the letters and the correspondingly shaped spaces and end pieces at the right and left:


I’ve been digital for so long that I’ve forgotten just how fascinating this stuff is. I have to say, that as a student in the mid 1980’s I didn’t think this was fascinating – just a way for ancient and outdated tutors to exact their perverse revenge upon us for being young! There is so much information that I have forgotten, or didn’t learn in the first place, that all this has become a bit of an issue for me.

Most designers now think of type as purely digital artifacts, things that only exist when the ‘print’  button is employed, or the presses are rolling. Just think about this for a while; it is not so long ago when many, many men were employed to manufacture this stuff, in every standard size from 8pt to 72pt; thousands of tons of metal, precision cast to make beautifully elegant impressions upon paper, were shipped out from dirty, hot and dangerous foundries, to be arranged artfully and expertly by many, many more men (these have always been very masculine trades – unlike printing, where there is a growing history being uncovered of strong and influential female printers – often wives/widows and daughters of established tradesmen), proofed and corrected, and then inked and pressed into paper. And don’t forget the legion of apprentices who had the lovely job of cleaning it all afterwards and returning each piece of type to its compartment in the case – all made redundant and obsolete by phototypesetting and then, digital technology.

Ahh. I am enjoying the recollection of long forgotten facts and experience, but also the feeling of being a novice again. I have often said that “the moment that you stop learning is when someone else will get your job” but I am also enjoying the feeling of being an old empty vessel, newly repaired and filling up again…


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