Mike the Mad Biologist

What’s with Font Narratives?

In the back of a book I just finished, I noticed this odd paragraph on its own page:

This book was set in Electra, a typeface designed for Linotype by W.A. Dwiggins, the renowned type designer (1880-1956). Electra is a fluid typeface, avoiding the contrasts of thick and thin strokes that are prevalent in most modern typefaces.

So I checked a couple of other books on my shelves and found:

The text of this book was set in Electra, a typeface designed by by W.A. Dwiggins (1880-1956). This face cannot be classified as either modern or old style. It is not based on any historical model, nor does it echo any particular period or style. It avoids the extreme contrasts between thick and thin elements that mark most modern faces, and it attempts to give a feeling of fluidity, power, and speed.

All your Electra typeface are belonging to us? Any ideas what this is all about?


  1. #1 Joseph j7uy5
    August 4, 2007

    All I can say is that some people are absolutely nuts about fonts. They are sort of like entomologists, in the way they notice details that others would never see or care about.

  2. #2 writerdd
    August 4, 2007

    That’s called a colophon and it is traditional to include that type of information in a book. Some contemporary books also list the software that was used in production.

  3. #3 Ian
    August 4, 2007

    I think it’s a sop to the typeface designers who have been so ripped-off and neglected since printing became industrialized, and particularly since computers started sucking up these things like they were (are?!) going out of style and turning them into a readily distributable commodity.

    Maybe Google or Wikipedia can deliver some detail on the topic.

  4. #4 MiddleO'Nowhere
    August 4, 2007

    The latest Harry Potter had a similar paragraph talking about the Adobe Garamond font used in the printing of the book.

  5. #5 PhysioProf
    August 4, 2007

    “Any ideas what this is all about?”

    As was already pointed out, this is a colophon. What it is all about is that typeface design and typesetting are extremely skilled crafts, and the choice of a typeface for a book is a key design decision. The colophon provides valuable information to those who care about such matters.

    Most readers can just about tell the difference between a serif and sans serif typeface–think Times New Roman versus Helvetica. There is a *lot* more to the history and design of typefaces, much of it fascinating. The reason no one is aware of any of this is that the apotheosis of good typeface design and typesetting is that the reader not notice any of it.

  6. #6 PennyBright
    August 7, 2007

    For some reason, most of my books are set in Janson. I always enjoy reading the little type blurb, myself.

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