Books of joy #2 – Typaedia

April 9, 2010

Hush now Daily Mail readers, Typaedia has nothing to do with children. I love this book, mostly for nostalgic reasons but also for the little bit of history as well.

The Typaedia is exactly what it looks like, a great big book of index numbered typefaces which you could leaf through to order sheets of letraset-type font sheets to create layouts, negatives and all the other stuff a working print-shop may use typefaces for. There’s an introduction page:

Introducing Conways’ Typaedia*
Conway’s Typaedia is a unique collection of some 4000 display faces.
Each is shown in its entirety, with caps, lower case, variants, punctuation and signs, arranged alphabetically in two separate sections, and all available at Conways’ as headline photosetting.
The first section shows the bulk of the faces – 3300 in alphabetical order with the second section showing 700 faces in the Agency series.
There is an Introduction to each section, a Latest additions section and a comprehensive Index.
The first section of 3300 faces is enclosed along with with the full Index.
The Agency section together with the introductions and the Latest additions, all at present at the printers, will be delivered to you early 1980.
Altogether…a unique work of reference
* Typaedia,-paedia (Latin,fem), a doctrine or learning.

From there we just dive into pages and pages of fonts, no other explanation needed. It’s a lovely catalogue, nicely spaced with no unnecessary crap, no explanations, no sales pitch it assumes the reader knows it’s purpose and doesn’t need to patronise or hard sell at them. Lessons on simplicity could be learned from here (mostly by me).

It’s a great reminder of how stupidly easy it is for us these days even in comparison to 30 years ago. When we need a new typeface we can purchase it and be using it within a couple of minutes, back then you had to go collect them or wait for an order to turn up. Every character you used had a cost, if you knackered up your design there was no undo, it was back to the supplier to get another sheet. And most importantly you had to keep your stash of lettering safe from your 8 year old who found the whole concept fascinating and would happily apply your lettering to any surface given half a chance.

My Dad gave me this book recently, which was really cool. For most of my childhood he ran a print shop (and still does), and I have some really happy memories of laying into his assorted work materials and making crap with them. I have especially fond memories of letraset and some really sharp memories of sitting on the floor rubbing the letters onto whatever materials happened to be around. Not with any real creative intent, I just found the whole process amazing, it held an almost bubble-wrap type fascination. The Typaedia was never that far from hand.

The book itself is well used, covered with splatters of ink, random bookmarks, biro scribbles and the other assorted grunge of a workshop. It’s almost comforting to have on my bookshelf. I’m slightly annoyed that I forgot to photograph the back cover which has one of Dad’s promotional stickers on it as drawn by a local illustrator (Peter Classey), as they also form a strong part of my early memories.

Thanks Dad.

Full set of Typaedia photos on Flickr.

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DSC_5946 DSC_5955 DSC_5958

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DSC_5982 DSC_5986 DSC_5997

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  • Ooh, that’s definitely a proper book of joy. I LOVE type specimen books. I should really take you to see the Typography department’s library. They have LOADS of these. I think this one’s all the more special for being personal though. 🙂

  • That would be awesome! Although it may fill me with WANT so possibly dangerous 😉

  • Mick
    29/09/2010

    Wonderful stuff. I can’t believe I found this book. I used to work at Conways from 1983-1987. There also used to ba a smaller one liner reference book for headline (typositor) fonts. I still have that somewhere, with all my original scribbles in it about what font looks like another etc. etc.

    Unfortunately, I lost my copy of the typaedia over the years, being a typographer in advertising and moving from place to place. Part of my job at Conways’ was to help people identify fonts. As a result I used to be able to name more than half of these fonts just by looking at them. Frightening but true.

    It is so wonderful that your dad kept this. Thank him.

  • Mick
    29/09/2010

    From memory the font on the cover was ITC Tiffany Heavy. Sad, if I’m right.

  • Mick
    29/09/2010

    Oh, the inside was Bembo Italic. And finally, check out the font in there called “Sunset over Cairo”!!!

  • Thanks Mike, glad this was of interest 🙂 I shall be keeping this copy safe, brings back fond memories of my childhood plus I’ve a fair interest in typography. Although must admit I’m dreadful at identifying fonts.

    Just looked up Sunset Over Cairo! That’s mental. May upload a photo when camera recharged.

  • mick
    16/01/2011

    Great if you could. I’m just talking about that face with someone on facebook

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