The Press’s Choice of Typefaces
AL Taylor’s initial selection of Caslon Old Face as the Golden Cockerel’s typeface showed no great originality on his part. Aside from the lucky few allowed to use some of the Fell types held by Oxford University Press, every private printer attempting good work was likely to select Caslon as the best English type available. Taylor may have been influenced by its use in his translation of Charles de Coster’s Flemish Legends for Chatto & Windus (1920) but probably Hilary Pepler at the St Dominic’s Press taught him to believe it the noblest roman of them all.
Caslon can present problems for the typographer. Though an excellent face to achieve close setting, its old style numerals impose design limitations. If used with massed capital letters the smaller numerals look wrong. By trying to avoid such juxtapositions, and with a repertoire of 9-pt, 11-pt and 14-pt roman and italic, plus smaller titling fonts in larger sizes, Cockerel could usually manage quite well. Taylor used no other typeface in his books.
For Cockerel dust-jackets and for advertising (in The London Mercury) Taylor used Forum Titling type. Designed by Frederic Goudy, this American face had been shown to good effect by Francis Meynell at the Pelican Press by 1917.1 One can safely assume that, looking forward to the Great Revolution, Taylor was acquainted with Meynell’s work. In any case, Gay Taylor worked on the Daily Herald, and would have been brought into contact with Meynell and his typographic ideas through the paper.
Robert Gibbings gave up the use of Forum, but was content with Caslon Old Face in his early Cockerels. He augmented his stocks by the purchase of the 18-pt size in roman and italic. He used this in the Poems and Songs of Henry Carey and in the Bible series; and later with great effect in Troilus and Criseyde, Lamia, and the Canterbury Tales.
Not all Cockerel engravers were able to match the colour and attack of their engravings to Caslon’s subtle line. Gibbings himself had difficulty with it. Probably it was at Eric Gill’s prompting that in 1927 Gibbings purchased a supply of the newly-introduced Caslon Lining type, in the 12-pt size. This modification greatly reduced the length of the descenders in the original Caslon Old Face – what was in effect a type with the same x-height as 14-pt Old Face could be cast on a 12-pt body. Caslon Lining was also provided with modern style numerals replacing the non-aligning old style numerals of Caslon Old Face.
The Caslon Foundry’s arguments for Caslon Lining type were advanced in the Golden Cockerel Spring 1927 List, as a reason for preferring to use it for the Psalms. Though a reviewer commented on the ugliness of its type, other Cockerels were also spoiled by its use. The Twelve Moneths (for instance) showed a clumsy and uneasy mixture, using the Lining Type for the text but a smaller size of Caslon Old Face for the glossary. Old style numerals would certainly have been preferable in that volume.
Lining numerals were also used in The Chester Play of the Deluge and in Micro-Cosmographie. Coppard’s Count Stefan was also spoiled by the use of the Caslon Lining type.
Rather than accept that its purchase had been a wrong decision and abandon it, Gibbings also used Caslon Lining type in Utopia, and in the Phaedo. In these, the device of putting 2-pt leading between the lines effectually disguised an essential weakness of Lining Caslon’s design. Gill’s superb engraved lettering, and the masterly use of several sizes of Caslon capitals, also helped. Leading the lines, however, made it no more economical in the use than unleaded 14-pt Caslon Old Face would have been. Caslon Lining type was abandoned. Though it formed part of the stock moved to the Chiswick Press’s premises in 1933, the partners had better sense than to use it again in a Cockerel.
When an artist could match his line to the colour of Caslon Old Face type (in the 14-pt, and particulary in the 18-pt size) the face supported wood-engraved illustration well. But, in their search for a mode of book illustration blending wood-engravings with type, in the way their work on Troilus and Criseyde, Lamia and the Canterbury Tales were pointing, Gibbings and Gill were attracted by the idea of a new typeface. They wanted one whose colour and shape would harmonise perfectly with the engraved line.
Gill had already provided Golden Cockerel with a range of engraved initial letters. Some, like the initials provided for Colley Cibber and for Gulliver’s Travels, were highly mannered in a style he had used in commissions for Count Kessler’s Cranach Press in Weimar,2 and did not lend themselves to frequent use in a wide variety of books. Others, like the initial words or letters The Song of Songs or Pictor Ignotus,3 or Gill’s titlepage lettering for Troilus and Criseyde,4 were more versatile and showed all the beauty of Gill’s inscriptional lettering. The large alphabets of initials which Gill provided for Golden Cockerel use in 1928 were some of the handsomest roman letters ever cut for a printer.5
When Gill cut these, he was already working closely with Stanley Morison at the Monotype Corporation. He was starting to develop the very similar lettering designs which he and Monotype were to make into the Perpetua roman, and its accompanying Felicity italic. These were the typefaces which, (with Gill’s Sans-serif face) were to colour the whole of English printing for the next generation. In June 1928, when Gill and Morison were discussing the italic fount to go with the Perpetua roman, Gill raised the difficulty of his prior commitment to Gibbings. He said his agreement with Gibbings barred him from designing new founts except for the Press: ‘they are particularly anxious [he said] that I shd. do a new italic to go with the Caslon l.c. & yet be an improvement on the existing Caslon italic…’.6
Gibbings and Gill seem to have been contemplating a sloped roman of the kind Gill designed to accompany all his roman faces, rather than a true cursive italic design. This was very much in tune with Morison’s own thinking at the time. It would have been a monstrous mismatch for Caslon’s roman, and luckily it progressed no further.
Gill’s undoubted genius in lettering did not really fit him for such work. Instead, he worked on an entirely different project; a new roman face with no relationship to Caslon, but close in its conception to his Perpetua design being produced for the Monotype Corporation.7
My terms of reference [he told Morison in July 1928] are: a heavy, closely massing type suitable for use with modern wood engravings. Therefore I plump for an almost even line letter & short ascenders & descenders….8
Gill set about this by using photographic enlargements of 18-pt Caslon Old Face, and of the Cranach Press’ 16-pt face for reference.9 In this way, Gill was able to get clear in his mind the effect and appearance of different designs in their various sizes. Once he was confident he understood, he quickly prepared drawings for his new Golden Cockerel roman, completing the finished drawings for the roman capitals, figures and lower-case letter in March and April 1929. These drawings were passed to the Caslon type-foundry. Under the direction of J. Collinge, their chief punchcutter, brass patterns were produced, and a Benton-style punchcutting machine used to cut punches for the type in 18-pt and 14-pt.
The new design was efficient and effective, particularly in 18-pt. (A titling fount in 24-pt, cut using the same patterns as for the 18-pt., was much less successful). For the 36-pt titling, Gill prepared fresh drawings, and new brass pattern letters were cut from these. The consequent type was much better than the 24-pt., and so ‘retrieved the lost elegance of the design.’
The Golden Cockerel face has sometimes been judged harshly by critics. Harry Carter roundly damned it, describing the effect of the 14-pt. size of the type as ‘somewhat pudding-like’. He dismissed the handsome 18-pt as ‘squat and clumsy’; claiming that ‘set solid it makes a dead and uninviting page.’10
Though it lacks the sharpness, the almost surgical precision of Gill’s treatment of serifs in his Perpetua face which appealed so much seventy years ago, the Golden Cockerel face nonetheless has the right colour to match wood-engravings printed on dampened hand-made paper. This was the objective. The shorter ascenders and descenders, the unusual but effective design of the ‘g’ and the greater weight added to the diagonal and horizontal strokes of the capital letters - possibly objectionable if intended for general use on smooth machinemade papers - produced a very handsome type; one which was able to ‘add fresh lustre to the plumage’ of Golden Cockerel, as the Press’s Spring 1931 prospectus proclaimed. As John Dreyfus points out, the hand-dressing of the type produced a face with very tight setting qualities, essential in so rounded a design.11 The Four Gospels showed the face off magnificently, and showed how well the 18-pt size matches the colour of Gill’s engravings.
For smaller books, in which the 14-pt design was used, the effect was seldom as good. As the Guinea Series showed, the face was a little too large on its body; the letters appear too rotund. Nor, when the companion italic face (cut only in the 14-pt. size) was provided, did it improve the appearance of the page. With his doctrinaire belief that the twentieth century printer needed a sloped roman rather than a true italic, Gill’s design had a rather clumsy serif treatment. Worse, he designed no sloping capitals, forcing the use of roman capitals married to his italic lowercase. In order to make his lowercase stand out from roman, he was forced to give it a pronounced slope. Unless a book’s design was handled with the greatest care, the results could be poor.12
Used well, however, Gill’s design could look magnificent, when printed on the papers and by the methods for which it was designed. Books printed by Gibbings and his successors in the thirties, and also after World War Two, show this clearly. However, by the time Sandford sold the Press, the type had no novelty.
The new owner of Golden Cockerel had little notion of its importance, and for years it languished unused in store at Bentalls. However it was not destroyed; the Rampant Lions Press took over the founts, and in some of their work Will and Sebastian Carter showed again how good the face could look. The punches, matrices and drawings also passed to better care.
In the mid-Nineties, a digitized version of the face was issued by the International Typeface Corporation, New York. A digitized form of another type design by Gill for a private press (his Aries design for the Stourton Press) had attracted some attention, and the Golden Cockerel face offered marketing possibilities.
What was made available through ITC owes more to Gill than to Cockerel. The original designs have been modified in many ways, and are not exact replicas of the original face. The major changes were the result of sensible commercial decisions. The first was to provide a set of ornaments, and an initial alphabet, which
represents Gill’s style of wood letters, including the exuberant flourished serifs and splendid lombardic stresses found in commissions from the Golden Cockerel, St Dominic’s and Curwen Presses and simple bookplates and devices developed through his life with letters.13
The second addition to the fount makes the type much more useable. The designers provided italic capitals
devised by studying Gill’s other types and alphabets, along with his numerous lettering projects, including stone engravings, to ensure that the set of capitals would complement the lowercase and relate well to the existing roman.
Having italic capitals improves the ITC Golden Cockerel face. It is good that the design is available.14
Cast in only two text sizes (and the italic only in one) the original Golden Cockerel type was not suitable for a lot of books. Having the resources of the Chiswick Press available to them, after 1933 the Press’s new owners continued to use the proprietary type, but were also able to specify other faces. The example of Francis Meynell indicated that using a variety of typefaces was advantageous. Another lesson from the Monotype Corporation (and Nonesuch) was that it was cheaper and better to use machine-set type. After 1933 most Cockerels were machine-set.15
The proprietary type was not the only Gill design available to them. For Gill’s The Lord’s Song (issued in January 1934) they chose 14-pt Perpetua, recently acquired by the Chiswick Press. Christopher Sandford really preferred Perpetua to the Golden Cockerel face, and thereafter he made much more frequent use of Perpetua in the books he designed. From time to time he also specified Caslon - but now normally in the Monotype version, no longer the Caslon foundry’s beautiful Old Face type.
If the repertoire of the Chiswick Press had been larger, Sandford would certainly have used other faces as well. But even within their limited range he used many other types -Victor Scholderer’s New Hellenic whenever Greek was called for, Garamond, Poliphilus, Bembo, Baskerville. In later years, when running Cockerel alone, and having books printed by other firms as well as the Chiswick Press - and when his need for faces matching the colour of wood-engravings had gone, because he was now using illustrations reproduced by collotype - Sandford became more playful in his choice of types.
This was particularly noticeable in his use of titling founts such as Imprint Shadow, or Pharos Titling, or Goudy Open. He liked the effect of these when printed on the soft-sized papers he was using for Cockerels in the early fifties. He also liked the effect when using composition faces such as Pastonchi, or Perpetua or Poliphilus; though clearly it was not and is not to everybody’s taste.
Overall, when one analyses the typography of Golden Cockerel books three type designs dominated. Caslon (in Old Face, the ‘bad’ Caslon Lining, and the Monotype version) was used in 110 books; a little more than half its output. Gill’s designs (Golden Cockerel, Perpetua, and Gill Sans) were used in 82 books. The Monotype versions of Francesco Griffo’s classic old faces (Poliphilus and Bembo) were used in seventeen. Other old face or transitional designs were used in five books; modern faces in only two. In this conservative approach, Golden Cockerel was characteristic of its time.
World War Two had a marked effect on the size and extent of the Press’s prospectuses and publicity, like this single sheet announcing Rutter’s death.
Postwar advertising for the Press, like this full page from Apollo (1950) often reproduced illustrations from the books. Frequently, as in this one by Buckland Wright, there is a hint of the books’ erotic content or treatment.
1. Specimens of Pelican Press work using Forum are reproduced facing page 113 in Meynell’s My Lives (London, 1971).
2. Reproduced in Eric Gill: The Engravings, ed. Christopher Skelton (London, 1990) P309. The similarity to some of the Cranach designs (P310, P314, P674, P735 etc.) is very close.
3. Skelton P326a, P348.
4. Skelton P474.
5. Skelton P552 and P553.
6. Gill to Morison 16 June 1928 [Cambridge University Library]; quoted in Nicolas Barker, Stanley Morison (London, 1972) pp.233–5.
7. ‘Paul Beaujon’ [Beatrice Warde] ‘Eric Gill: Sculptor of Letters’ in The Fleuron Anthology, ed. Francis Meynell and Herbert Simon (London, 1973) pp.268–291.
8. Gill to Morison 22 July 1928 [Cambridge University Library], quoted in James Mosley, ‘Eric Gill and the Golden Cockerel Type’Matrix 2,1982, pp.17–24.
9. Like the Doves Press type (by then destroyed) this was based on Jenson’s Venetian type of the 1470s. Using drawings produced by Emery Walker, E. P. Prince had cut the punches for both types.
10. Carter, in his typographical notes written for Napier College of Commerce, Catalogue of the Edward Clark Library (Edinburgh 1976) v.I pp.242–3.
11. John Dreyfus, A Typographical Masterpiece; an account… of Eric Gill’s collaboration with Robert Gibbings in producing the Golden Cockerel Press edition of ‘The Four Gospels’ in 1931 (San Francisco, 1990) pp.27–28.
12. The booklet printed for the Cumberland Hotel (December 1933) shows an ugly use of the italic in the indented headings.
13. ‘ITC Golden Cockerel’ by Joyce Rutter Kaye, James Mosley and Dave Farey. U&lc v. 23 no. 2, Fall 1996,
pp.24–27. The article provides a good conspectus of the faces available in the four Title, Roman, Italic and Initials founts.
14. A fuller account, with more historical background and fuller critical comment, appeared in Matrix 17, 1997: ‘The Digitised Golden Cockerel’ by Sebastian Carter, pp. 107–10; and ‘Saving Face: the ITC Golden Cockerel Type’ by Roderick Cave, pp.118–22.
15. Retaining Art & Crafts ideas about the superiority of hand composition, the partners still had Monotype-set type put through the stick by hand afterwards, to improve the spacing.