Book review, Typography

A2Z+ book review

Above: Front and back covers of a school kit, USSR 1968 (Pollocks Toy Museum). From A2Z+ by Julian Rothenstein


Notebook 5 March 2018 | BOOK REVIEW: A2Z+ by Julian Rothenstein. Published by Laurence King, April 2018


Although we spend much of our day tapping away on a phone or keyboard the majority of us still pick up a pen and make marks on a piece of paper. It’s good to see that schoolchildren continue to scribble and doodle in the margins of their exercise books and make use of decorative titling and other flourishes on the covers of their notebooks and school diaries. When I was a teenager there was a fad for writing titles with extravagant bubble writing with one outline letter overlapping the next – almost like a graffiti tag. My take on this was to use drop-shadows, 3-D blocking or primitive serifs (see pics at end) based on typefaces such as Cooper Black or the slabs of Clarendon or Playbill. Reference material for my decorative titling would have been old press adverts, packaging or the Letraset catalogue (which my father used in his work) but if I’d had a copy of a new book called A2Z+, which is an archive of old lettering and type, I’d have been delighted – it would have been a brilliant resource to make use of. The picture below is from a chapter in the book called Signwriters’ Alphabets with examples from the early 1900s. These alphabets were made available as off-the-shelf models for sign writers and artists to use for shop fascias, fairground signs and so on.

A2Z+ is compiled and edited by Julian Rothenstein who has been squirrelling away old graphic ephemera for over 30 years. His new book is an off-beat collection that includes, not just type specimens and signwriters’ alphabets, but also optician’s old eye-charts, logotypes, sign language and semaphore alphabets, monograms, old book and magazine covers and many other items that he has gathered together from across the globe. Much of the book includes goodies from the first half of the 20th century and there is a chapter entitled Czech Graphic Modernism that features a splendid Constructivist jazz-age alphabet made up from letters that incorporate a dancer in a series of dynamic poses. I’ve picked out some of my favourite details from the book and they are shown below.

Above: Constructivist jazz-age alphabet with dancer, Czechoslovakia 1926

Julian Rothenstein is the founder and owner of Redstone Press who publish the annual Redstone Diary as well as many other publications which include Surrealist Games, The Playful Eye (An album of Visual Delight) and The Book of Shrigley (a collection of drawings by artist David Shrigley). One of Rothenstein’s earliest publications was Story Without Words & The Idea – two dramatic picture stories told in woodcuts by the Flemish illustrator Frans Masereel in the 1920s.

A2Z+ is published by Laurence King in conjunction with Redstone Press and costs £25. Laurence King publish many books on art, design and photography including the brilliant The Visual History of Type by Paul McNeil which I reviewed here last year. Two other indispensable LK publications for those specifically interested in magazine design and publishing are: Editorial Design by Caldwell and Zappaterra 2016 and So you want to publish a magazine by Angharad Lewis 2016.

Finally, here’s a few of the decorative titles from my school exercise books c1970: