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Typo: A Monthly Newspaper and Literary Review, Volume 4

Design in Typography. The Elliptical Ribbon

page 49

Design in Typography. The Elliptical Ribbon.


Rather less than two years after Bruce had produced his elaborate series of Scrolls, the rival house of MacKellar came out with its first Ribbon design—a combination which, at first sight, some printers might hesitate to place in this category. Nevertheless, it is a true ribbon, exhibiting much ingenuity and artistic skill on the part of the designer, and up to the present time it stands alone in its special department, never having been imitated. The combination contains 27 characters. Eight of these—the long and short concave and convex curves which are its special characteristic—may readily be found in the device at the head of this page; the other nineteen may be thus arranged:

Running-pieces, with Terminals and Corners.

Running-pieces, with Terminals and Corners.

Curved Terminals.

Curved Terminals.

Ornamental Accessories.

Ornamental Accessories.

Although it is possible, with the running-pieces in the first department, to construct very good plain borders of the ordinary style, this is only a secondary use of the combination. Primarily it is a ribbon, and a curved ribbon. It is noteworthy, as the first combination containing characters cast on curved body—an idea since greatly developed by the Germans in other directions. Here are specimens of simple devices. Compound forms of any degree of elaboration may be produced—twofold, threefold, and upwards, unsymmetrical, or evenly balanced, like the large example above. With the combination are supplied curved quadrats, corresponding with the characters.

The original feature in this design is that of the long and short elliptical curves, by the blending of which beautiful serpentine effects are produced. Curved quadrats on a similar principle had long been in use; but the application of the idea to ornaments was a decided advance. One advantage possessed by this combination over all others was in the form of the end-pieces, by which the ribbons might be adjusted to any width desired, up to about 3-line pica. This is shown in the illustrations below. The first admits a long-primer, the second a 36-point. There is little difficulty in justifying the lines of type. Every compositor who has had experience in curvilinear work must have noticed that while it is very difficult to arrange types in a circular curve, they fall readily enough into elliptical lines.

It will be noticed that the second pair of curved terminals in the synopsis is almost the same as the first, with the exception that the end is cut short off. The object of this abridgment appears to be indicated in the specimen-sheet, where it is combined in the curious fashion shown above.

Although this border stands alone, and though it had an extensive sale, it is now rarely used. When it is, it is often worked up into horrible compound corners, devoid of meaning, some of which may be seen in the founders' own specimens. It had certain defects, which actual handling made manifest. It was too heavy for many kinds of work—if used with other than bold-faced letter, its effect was overpowering. It filled the body too closely, thereby revealing the lines of construction. While the interior curves were free and beautiful, the exterior outline presented the effect of steps. In compound ribbons, it was not always possible to cause the ends of the shorter curves to blend with the design—in many cases in the specimen-book they are left open. It required a good deal of space; the accessory ornaments were too few, and failed to blend well with the general design; and, lastly, there were no end-pieces turning in an upward direction.

In the following year, the same enterprising foundry brought out two series of line-ornaments on the same principle of elliptical bodies. These, which avoided most of the defects of the combination of 1888, speedily became popular, and are still freely used; but since their appearance very little use has been made of the elliptical ribbon.