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Typo: A Monthly Newspaper and Literary Review, Volume 5

Design in Typography. — LVIII. — The Ivy Combination

page 125

Design in Typography.
The Ivy Combination.

Ivy, of all floral and vegetable forms, appears to be the one that most readily lends itself to the purposes of the artist and designer; and it is therefore only to be expected that it should figure freely in combination borders. It is constantly found in type-ornament—sometimes silhouetted or otherwise conventionalized; sometimes freely and realistically treated. But among all Ivy combinations, one stands out pre-eminently, as the most successful attempt yet made to combine the strictest mathematical constructive principles on which combination designs are based, with the greatest freedom and realism of treatment. In either of these respects it is still unsurpassed, and when regard is had to these two qualities—so difficult to reconcile—it is not too much to say that it has never been equalled.

We know little of the origin or history of the design. It is evidently a continental production, and, as in the case of the Ribbon reviewed by us last month, our inability to trace its origin reveals to us important lacunœ in our library of foreign specimens. We first met with the design quite twenty-five years ago in Figgins's large specimen-book; it was afterwards shown by Caslon; it is in several of our French and German books, but nowhere claimed as original; it is also in the Johnson Foundry specimen-book. In Figgins's book it is associated with a rimmed black adorned with ivy to correspond, and called « Brunswick Black. » This letter is in three sizes, two of which are cast not only on uniform body, but on three different bodies, to allow of the border being carried close to the small letters. Unfortunately it did not occur to the designer to proportion the letters setwise to the body; and spacing is therefore slow and difficult, and accurate justification impossible. While we have the Ivy in many books, we find this letter (with the exception of a single stray capital shown by Flinsch) only in Figgins's. At the same time we feel assured that the border and the font were designed by the same hand. The following are the 41 characters of the Ivy:

No other combination—not even the purely geometrical « Greek Fret » of the Austin Foundry, which ran up to 109 characters—so fully embodies all the features of a perfect type combination. The reason that this is possible in a design containing comparatively few characters is, that almost without exception they are of uniform size. Full advantage can thus be taken of the eight points of contact—the four corners and the four centres, to one or more of which every line runs. For a design to join perfectly at corners as well as sides, it must necessarily be a hair-line, and this condition the Ivy fulfils. Each piece may be turned four different ways in composition— making a total, for practical purposes, of 164 characters. It may be judged what a variety of combination is here afforded, especially when it is considered that nearly every figure has two points of contact, and some as many as six. The capabilities of the design are inexhaustible. We have had it twenty-five years, and find it still as flexible, as graceful, and as useful as ever. For light decoration of corners or centres, or to break the stiffness of a square initial, it is unequalled.

And yet it has always been disliked by compositors; and for these reasons: The pieces are small and require study, and the composition is slow and does not appear to warrant the time occupied. Any design, to look well, must be wrought from the centre outwards—the reverse of straight-ahead composition. It is about the slowest combination to put together that we know of. The graceful wreaths and sweeping curves in the specimen-books look as if they had been constructed without an effort; but even to copy them accurately, piece by piece, will be found a work both of time and trouble. And if any attempt is made at introducing original effects, no man without real artistic taste and constructive skill, can succeed with it.

In actual use, we have found the advantage of tying up with thread little wreaths, sprays, corners, &c., instead of distributing them. With a few of these, an initial or a line may be readily dressed. If the founders had supplied a selection of compound pieces, fragments of wreaths, say from 24•×24• to 72•×36•, to join up properly with the smaller pieces, they would have added greatly to the popularity of this beautiful design. To show the advantage and economy of large pieces, we insert a little device composed from Rudhard's new combination, containing four border-pieces and ten spaces—fourteen in all. To compose from the Ivy a design of similar size would require fully two hundred pieces, and would necessitate the handling, by way of trial, of a much larger number.

The Ivy is very symmetrical. Nearly all the characters are made both left and right, and it would have been quite worth while to have carried out this rule in respect of the quadrant curve , as the short projecting stems do not look well reversed. Illustrations of the varied uses of the several pieces might be multiplied indefinitely: but the following examples of a few of the variations to be produced with the three curves , will serve to show the versatility of the border: Several of the characters may be effectively used with or without brass-rule, in a manner quite foreign to their primary intention, as regular running borders or groundwork patterns. Examples are shown at the head of this page.

As a general rule, the original characters are adhered to by the founders. There are, however, exceptions. MacKellar adds three characters—two rules and a +, which do not harmonize with the original series. Mayeur, of Paris, drops out eighteen characters and brings in five others in their place. These, we find, really form part of an independent combination, the « Vignettes Moyen-Age. » Flinsch, of Frankfurt, supplements the Ivy with a second series of 43 characters. As, however, the rose, convolvulus, and other elements are introduced, the effect of the two in combination, though pretty, has not the harmony that distinguishes the Ivy when used alone.