Thursday 16 October 2008

This week's crush

This week I've been doing some typeface detective work (with some help from other interested parties). The typeface in question was used for the catalogue that accompanied the Centennial Exhibition of International and New Zealand Art, which opened at the National Art Gallery in Wellington on 10 November 1939.

Printed by Wright & Carman Ltd (177 Vivian Street) the catalogue is a lovely little thing, and the font is what made it for me - the long bars on the capital G, the low-slung em dash, and in particular the quirky vertical tail on the Q.

First up was some fruitless but fun sleuthing on Identifont, where you can try to ID your font through a gradual narrowing process, making calls about bars, spurs, slants and x-heights. Identifont told me that the typeface was Neuzeit Grotesk, an attractive sans serif from 1928, designed by Wilhelm Pischner.

But no! The M is right, but the bar on the G is too short and it lacks the defining characteristic, the vertical tail on the Q. So I went old-school, and typed 'typeface Q vertical tail' into Google. Et voila - the first result was a post on Typophile titled "Geometric text sans w/low x-height and vertical tail on Q - Vogue".

The above sample of text had been uploaded as a mystery image, and people on the forum quickly identified it as Vogue - a typeface designed for the eponymous magazine in 1930, and later released for general use. There doesn't appear to be a digital version of the font out there; but it's part of the 1920s/30s rage for geometric sans serif fonts that gave birth to Kabel and Futura (both close to Vogue, but alas, lacking that vital Q tail.)

So there you go; the tyranny of distance wasn't so terrible that in under 10 years a typeface cut for a fashion mag couldn't end up gracing the catalogue of a (frankly, at that time) provincial gallery on a far-flung island in the Pacific.


Cheryl Bernstein said...

Great post, great detective work, great font! New Zealand's graphic design history has been largely overlooked by social or art historians, though maybe with projects such as The National Grid and Te Papa's Joseph Churchward show, this is finally starting to change.

Anonymous said...

Thats very interesting! we are also using a typeface designed for a fashion magazine (Wallpaper) that has now ended up being used for Arts/Catalogues (it also happens to be partly based on Neuzeit Grotesk and the heavier weights of 'Plakat' by Paul Renner (the designer of 'Futura'), its called 'Graphik' (its also the only licensed version in NZ as its unreleased!)

In Use:

Courtney Johnston said...

@Cheryl - I saw the Churchward show in the weekend; nice content, shame about that sterile little room. V. sweet to have two font neophytes wander in and look at the typeface poster & ooh & aaah over it - "who'd've thought there were so many of these thingies?".

The use of the Churchward typeface on the new (to me, bad museum goer) Pasifika exhibition was a nice gesture, but unfortunately I don't think it worked well as a label font, cf. a display font

@experimenta - nice to hear from a professional! Would you use Vogue?

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if I would use vogue, perhaps in some bizzare display context, obviously its not good for long text. (Neuzeit would be much better, there is a version with a double story 'a' rather than the school book 'a' in your image that would be super for text)

I have a book on the history of futura, I might flick through and look for a mention of Vogue.

Our studio went to the Churchward Exhibition, I actually like the sterile room (the modernist/minimalist in me!), although it is a little small.

Joe's original drawings and photo-type shame the pale digital versions greatly (which is the case with most older typefaces that have come through from the metal/photo-comp age).

I thought the Pasifika headmast was yes, a nice gesture, but hmmm maybe not used that well.

Courtney Johnston said...

@experimenta - yeah, I agree, not for paragraphs.

I should have been clearer in my post; the NAG 'catalogue' was catalogue size/length, but really just a long, beautifully laid-out list of works, so only sentences of 3-5 words. Artists' names in small caps, titles in normal, and lots of use of that long low em. Looks great.