I know that this iconic typeface, designed by Berthold Wolpe, is worshipped by many as being beautiful, balanced and full of character, but I have always hated it. Let me explain. One of my very first jobs was in a small commercial art studio in Ludgate Hill, just spitting distance from St Paul’s Cathedral. This would have been around 1963.
Ludgate Circus early 1960's
I’d worked in one other studio before that, where I cleaned
paint pots, made coffee, ran messages and generally
played the fool…
Me playing the fool in 1963 set amidst one of the many bomb sites that surrounded the vicinity of St Paul’s.
But at this other place - which went under the name of Chevron Studio - I was an ‘assistant’ to a proper designer. His name was Mr. Smith and he wore a three-piece tweed suit complete with tie. He rarely wavered from this, save for the occasional knitted jumper. He brought his daily lunch in a Tupperware box and always stayed in. In between teaching me the ropes, like hand lettering…
This issue of Boy’s Own Paper has a bit of my hand lettering at the foot.
brush ruling, paste up and retouching he would occasionally unleash me on a bit of design. This was at a stage when I had a copy of Josef Müller-Brockmann’s, The Graphic Artist is and His Design Problems stashed under my bed for my nightly read. Mr. Smith was far removed from the world of Brockmann and I began to realize that he didn’t even really like his job, as he rarely seemed to smile or make jokes. He was in effect a rather tragic lonely man even though he had been married for forty odd years. He would sometimes tell me how he had longed to travel but his wife never wanted to. He admitted that she had held him back. But it was all too late now. Thinking back he
would have been around my age but seemed like a fossil from
another era. Anyway back to Albertus. Mr. Smith positively
worshipped the face and used it often. Far too often for me…
This is the kind of thing the Mr Smith aspired to…
I on the other hand had fallen in love with a new Lettraset transfer typeface called Standard Medium (actually Akzidenz) and was desperate to show off my clean modernist approach, courtesy of my bedtime reading...
Well, Mr. Smith went away for a long weekend. The telephone rang, it was a publishing client with an urgent book jacket. I remember the title to this day, Luther’s Meditation on the Bible.
They needed a design fast. ‘Yes, no problem’, I heard myself
saying. Over that weekend at the kitchen table I slaved lovingly
over my creation – an all-lowercase range left piece of
typography set at a jaunty 45 degree angle. Surely this would
attract attention and just sell itself?
Monday came and I hand delivered my masterpiece to the
publisher. On Tuesday Mr. Smith returned. There was a letter
from the publisher with my jacket design attached. Mr. Smith
had to down a cup of tea before addressing me. ‘They’re not
happy with this I’m afraid’. ‘I suggest we run the type
horizontally and I think Albutus caps will work perfectly’.
It wasn’t long after that I left Mr. Smith for pastures new.
And I have never used Albertus since.