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Letters of Credit: A View of Type Design Hardcover – April 1, 1987

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 219 pages
  • Publisher: David R Godine Pub; 1 edition (April 1987)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0879236361
  • ISBN-13: 978-0879236366
  • Product Dimensions: 9.8 x 6.8 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,200,342 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Typographer, writer, and designer of books, magazines, and newspapers, Walter Tracy was born in 1914 and began his career as a compositor. After several years in advertising, he went on to direct the English Linotype letter design program from 1947 to the mid-1970s. He served as typographic adviser to the London Times after Stanley Morison's death, where he adapted Morison's Times New Roman designs for the demands of modern printing. A specialist in typefaces for newspapers, Tracy also designed a number of particularly successful non-roman faces. He died in 1995. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Shannon on September 30, 2004
Format: Hardcover
We are in a golden age of typeface design. Modern software and the world wide web have made it easier than ever to design and distribute new and original typefaces at a rate that could not have been dreamed of in days previous. As Tracy notes in his final comments for the book, what should have been beneficial for the art of typeface design has instead brought on a glut of poorly designed and soporific typefaces. Little thought is given to good design or to obtaining the knowledge that is needed to produce such design. Though Tracy's book is dated (nearly 20 years old) it is as important now, perhaps even more so now, than it was when it was first written.

Letters of Credit is at once a history of modern typeface design and an introduction to the principles of good design. The book centers primarily on what is called the "body typeface," i.e. typefaces used for book/newspaper/magazine printing. As with any art, the student needs to learn the rules before he or she goes about breaking them. Conscious breaking of the rules is a sign of mastery, while breaking them out of ignorance is the sign of a poor artist.

Tracy takes us through what makes up a good typeface. The text is never so technical that the beginning student becomes lost. What makes up a good italic? What about numbers? What makes a good letter S? Which bar should be longer in the letter E? It is all here. The book is well illustrated with many black and white illustrations of the many typefaces he critiques. Tracy not only gives us what makes up a good typeface but shows us the pitfalls that can drag a good typeface down to a mediocre one.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By wiredweird HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on June 24, 2004
Format: Paperback
Walter Tracy was successor to Stanley Morison, at least in advising the London Times and in opinionated personality. In this volume, he bridges much of the gap from Morison's writings on typography up to today's practice.
There's a lot of good technical content here, almost all of it regarding nuances of letterforms and design of type faces. He offers some interesting history, as well, from the turn of the century up to about the 1950s.
Among other type designers, he describes Rudolf Koch, best known for Kabel. As presented here, Koch was the first type designer to bridge the gap between the blackletter German alphabets and the Latin letters used elsewhere in Europe, to the advantage of both traditions. Tracy also spends a fair bit of time on Frederick Goudy. Goudy is certainly worth study, for both his succcesses and his less graceful work. Tracy seems to focus on the latter - his description of Goudy reads like a left-handed compliment in essay form.
Tracy was active from the hot-lead days, through photo typesetting, and into the early electronic era. He notes the advantages and weaknesses in each technology, as of when the book was written. Digital technology has progressed since then. Scanning has almost granted his wish that ".. vectorising is an automatic process ... [so] designers' work can be reproduced directly and with complete fidelity." Electronic design has also somewhat invalidated his claim that "the method of manufacture has [little] influence on the design of type." Frere-Jones' Reactor font is one among those that could never have appeared in metal. Also, the punchcutter's craft acted as an engraved metal barrier to entry into type design. With that barrier gone, amateur type design has come into its own (for better or worse).
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Thomas W. Phinney on March 16, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Walter Tracy's "Letters of Credit" is a classic book on the construction of letterforms and typefaces. It includes historical information on each of the type families and designers it examines. The chapter that discusses the correct spacing of letters is a classic. Highly recommended to anyone with a strong interest in typeface design (along with Alexander Lawson's "Anatomy of a Typeface").
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