Paul ShawJun 20, 2023
The Eternal Letter
Two Millennia of the Classical Roman Capital
MIT Press 2015
The fiftieth anniversary of Helvetica, the most famous of all sans serif typefaces, was celebrated with an excitement unusual in the staid world of typography and culminated in the release of the first movie ever made starring a typeface. Yet Helvetica's fifty-year milestone pales in comparison with the two thousandth anniversary in 2014 of Trajan's Column and its famous inscription--the preeminent illustration of the classical Roman capital letter. For, despite the modern ascendance of the sans serif, serif typefaces, most notably Times Roman, still dominate printed matter and retain a strong presence in screen-based communication. The Eternal Letter is a lavishly illustrated examination of the enduring influence of, and many variations on, the classical Roman capital letter.
The Eternal Letter offers a series of essays by some of the most highly regarded practitioners in the fields of typography, lettering, and stone carving. They discuss the subtleties of the classical Roman capital letter itself, different iterations of it over the years, and the work of famous typographers and craftsmen. The essays cover such topics as efforts to calculate a geometric formulation of the Trajan letters; the recalculation of their proportions by early typefounders; the development and astonishing popularity of Adobe Trajan; type and letter designs by Father Edward M. Catich, Frederic W. Goudy, Eric Gill, Jan van Krimpen, Hermann Zapf, Matthew Carter, and others; the influence of Trajan in Russia; and three generations of lettercarvers at the John Stevens Shop in Newport, Rhode Island. Essays about modern typefaces--including Matinia, Senatus, and Penumbra--are contributed by the designers of these typefaces.
Paul Shaw, an award-winning graphic designer, typographer, and calligrapher in New York City, teaches at Parsons School of Design and the School of Visual Arts. The designer or codesigner of eighteen typefaces, he is the coauthor of Blackletter: Type and National Identity and the author of Helvetica and the New York City Subway System (MIT Press). He writes about letter design in the blog Blue Pencil.