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Personal journal: Albertus blues

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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. I’d worked in one other studio before that, where I cleaned paint pots, made coffee, ran messages and generally played the fool. 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, brush ruling, paste-up and retouching he would occasionally unleash me on a bit of design. 

Project8_Layout 1  This issue of Boy’s Own Paper has a bit of my hand lettering at the foot.

This was at a stage when I had discovered a copy of Josef Müller-Brockmann’s, The Graphic Artist and His Design Problems at evening class and had fallen in love with it. Mr Smith was far removed from the world of Brockmann and I began to realise 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 sixty or so, and 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.

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 This is the kind of thing that Mr Smith aspired to, via his relently enthusiasm and use, I learned to loathe it.

I on the other hand had fallen in love with a new Letraset transfer typeface called Standard Medium (actually Akzidenz) and was desperate to show off my clean modernist approach, courtesy of my bedtime reading. 

Screen Shot 2022-09-08 at 17.29.20The book that changed everything for me.

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 Albertus caps will work perfectly. It wasn’t long after that I left Mr Smith for pastures new. I have never used Albertus since.  

October 19, 2023

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June 22, 2019

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September 04, 2017