A note on typesetting

This quote about typesetting comes from Watson Gordon way back in 1927. It’s a snippet from an introduction to the catalog of the “Fifty Books of the Year, 1926”.

Composition and press work? The great book-presses have retained enough of the craft traditions to produce work adequate in those points. There are certain minor lapses – such as the over-wide spaces between words that make a page of type look like a mangy dog. But on the whole the result is good, when you can pay for it – not the best, but good. The modern world cannot afford the best.

This passage made me simultaneously chuckle and get kinda depressed. It also reminds me of Stephen Coles’ review What the iPad is Missing.

W.A. Dwiggins was also a fan of this essay. He said of this piece:

Written in 1927… So far as changes in human relations are concerned, a century ago… but in the peculiarly conservative craft of the book only eighteen years… too short a time for the essential facts to change, or for one’s opinions about them to change. So why no use it just as it was in 1927, and never mind if it “dates.”

Although I’m not a book designer myself, from my perspective I’d say this text has barely aged and is still entirely relevant. What does this say about the tradition of book design?

The entire reprint of this piece can be found Dwiggins’ book “MSS by WAD” from 1947, or more easily in issue #1 of The Shelf journal (an incredible magazine).