Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.

20.11.13

A Shorter History of Typography, Part One: Big Fat Letters.

I spent my early-1970s schooldays covering the empty space in my exercise books with words designed in flower power fonts, using, alternately, an Osmiroid fountain pen and a Ballograf ballpoint pen.

There were three reasons for this floral typographical occupation. The first was that such fonts were widespread and very popular then, especially on record album cover art. The letters were beautiful, voluptuous, infinitely variable and very accessible.

The second reason was that Form Two schoolwork was so boring it made watching paint dry look like the last quarter of the 1970 grand final or even the pre-match entertainment (if there was any then). I spent hours crafting type while the teacher went on about wool production in the Western District or the Atherton Tablelands, or the Roman who cast his hand into the fire of a brazier. Had Twitter or smart phones been invented then I might never have developed an appreciation for typefaces. I might also have grown up with the memory span of a wasp with attention deficit disorder. Instead, I drew letters and took in every word Mr Roland Forti, history and Latin teacher and ex-Foreign Legionnaire, spoke in his French-Egyptian accent.

Flower power typography is making another return. In record cover art it has outlived everything from the sunset-tinted backgrounds of 1960s middle of the road covers, to the starbursts and out of perspective drop shadows of 1970s K-tel compilations, to the geometric grid rubbish of the 1980s, to whatever it was afflicted album or CD covers in the 1990s.

This bears a passing resemblance to the Led Zeppelin III cover, or at least pays it tribute. The misspelling also recalls 1967’s Odessey and Oracle, a magnificent example of the genre. My first album, Cosmo’s Factory, bore a very restrained version of the font.

Speaking of CCR, the light qualities in its Green River cover photograph bear something of a tonal similarity to the picture below, taken by my father in the late '60s. I wonder which came first.

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