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Typo: A Monthly Newspaper and Literary Review, Volume 4

Design in Typography. The Original Type Ribbon

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Design in Typography. The Original Type Ribbon.


New ideas in typographic design are introduced as a rule so gradually that it is difficult to point out the originator; and many of the novelties in the decorative printing of today may be found foreshadowed in the work of sixteenth-century printers. One of the later novelties, however, which marks quite a fresh starting-point in design, and has proved exceedingly fruitful in results, was the « Ribbon » combination of Messrs Stephenson, Blake & Co., shortly afterwards followed by the « Scroll, » —both, we believe, designed by Mr E. Pechey, the gentleman in charge of the firm's London branch—a practical printer as well as typefounder. While the influence of this simple and ingenious combination is to be traced in a score or more of later and more elaborate designs, we cannot find anything in the earlier type specimens that may be said to suggest it. Until the introduction of this novelty, the enclosure and decoration of single lines was rarely attempted—it is now a leading feature of ornamental work. Before the appearance of the first type-ribbon, the only thing resembling it in typography, so far as we know, is to be found in the quarto specimen book of J. & R. M. Wood, published some twenty-five or thirty years ago. Several pages are devoted to the elaborate geometrical combination called the « Greek Fret, » and at the head of the last of these is a genuine ribbon, of five folds, enclosing the heading to the page. It is entirely set in metal type—a feature of the combination being the entire exclusion of brass rule. The ribbon is remarkably stiff, and though in the centre the angle of the fold is properly reversed, at the bend at the ends the same diagonal (45°) is continued, producing a bad effect. This was a very faint foreshadowing of the type-ribbon, and differed from it materially in not being adapted to brass rule.

We do not know the precise date when the type-ribbon appeared— we first saw it in 1873. It was brought out in three sizes—great primer, pica, and brevier, and the following is the synopsis of pieces (great primer):—

There are ten characters in metal, and the ribbon is completed by brass rule, two faces of which are supplied, the double-fine for the top and the shaded rule for the bottom. For the smaller sizes, a twelve-to-pica single rule is supplied, thin for the top and thick for the bottom. In the brevier, there is one character less, the end-piece being perpendicular, and serving for either end. The diagonal folding pieces being cast to three different lengths, considerable variety may be obtained, but the specimens are in every office, and the designs are so familiar that it is scarcely necessary to show them. The following are specimens of the application of the type-ribbon in its simplest forms:

Scrolls, right-and left-handed, may be set in this fashion.

With each set very explicit directions for use were supplied—an example which typefounders generally would do well to follow—but we have again and again seen every possible mistake made in setting this simple design. One of the commonest is to make the end-piece slope in the same direction as the back fold of the ribbon, instead of the opposite—

instead of

A master-printer once told us his experience of a comp. who used to put the end-pieces in at random—generally wrong. « One day, » he said, « I took a paper-shaving, folded it, and showed him that the angles ran in opposite directions. 'I see they do,' he said, 'but what has that got to do with the work? 'I gave it up after that. » Other common mistakes are to turn the shade inside instead of out (although the outer side is specially nicked), thus and to run the fold from the middle instead of the end

As the design is decidely a realistic one, errors like these are ruinous to its effect.

Certain defects limiting the usefulness of the original ribbon soon became apparent, and some of these have been remedied in later designs of the same kind. The slope of the end-piece, though assisting the effect, is troublesome in practice, as the rules used even though of the same length, must not come exactly over each other. One or both of the rules must be a little short, and they are liable to slip:

In the second example, the rules being of the same length, the upper rule overhangs at each end. The first and third are set correctly; in the first the top rule is short, and in the third both rules are short, the top pushed to the right and the bottom to the left. In an elaborate design, this is troublesome.