Simon Loxley's witty Type: The Secret History of Letters was released in Britain last winter, so it is possible that some clever television exec is already working on an adaptation. No kidding if you caught Michael Wood's BBC series In Search of Shakespeare on public television, you'll have an idea what to expect.
Loxley's itinerary includes Gutenberg's haunts in Mainz, Germany, a metal type repository at the Type Museum and a modern micro-foundry where everything is computerized. He darts around London streets once named for early type designers William Caslon and his son. Both the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights were set in a Caslon face, he points out, and Ben Franklin who knew a thing or two about printing was a fan. Loxley also traverses London looking for various incarnations of the London Underground's famous typeface. Created by Edward Johnston in 1916, touched up in the late 1970s and now licensed for commercial use, the face is one of the earliest examples of corporate identity.
A designer, teacher and typographer, Loxley discusses the nuances of typefaces with aplomb. Indeed, nothing escapes his developed aesthetic: "It costs no more, and takes no more effort, to choose a seat fabric that isn't visually oppressive," he writes of a garish bus seat. In the book's last two chapters one of which is hilariously and ominously titled "Typocalypse" he laments the sometimes detrimental influence of the proliferation of desktop publishing on graphic design.
As with any specialized field, typography is filled with connections between its major players fostered through apprenticeships, bloodthirsty competition, etc. Loxley incorporates mini-bios of these characters (no pun intended) into Type. The result is a funny, informative romp through typography.