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Times New Starling
August 17, 2009 11:32 AM   Subscribe

The unexpected (possible) history of the world's most famous typeface. Mike Parker, former head of typographic development at Morgenthaler Linotype, has challenged the standard history of Times New Roman. The typeface, Parker claims, wasn't designed by "the great persuader" Stanley Morison and Victor Lardent of Monotype in 1931, but rather thirteen years earlier by an American, William Starling Burgess, an airplane and yacht designer, published poet, and naval architect who married five times and whose daughter, also named Starling Burgess, described him as “a bird of paradise in a family of English sparrows.” By the time of that statement, she no longer shared his name, but had become the celebrated children's author Tasha Tudor. (via)
posted by ocherdraco (46 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
I am unable to read about typeface without going here.

The history of Cooper Black, with a cameo by Cooper himself!
posted by Lesser Shrew at 11:39 AM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't think any link to Tasha Tudor would be complete without mention of the crazy Dickens-meets-Faulkner family lawsuits.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:41 AM on August 17, 2009


This comment, and 7 of the 8 linked pages, written in san-serif fonts.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:48 AM on August 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


I haven't come across Tasha Tudor before - thanks for the lawsuit link, Sidhedevil. Thought the stuff on the official website about family sounded hinky. Is her work very well-known and/or influential in the US?
posted by paduasoy at 11:49 AM on August 17, 2009


I have been trained to yell: HELVETICA!
posted by zach4000 at 11:57 AM on August 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Yes, surely Helvetica is more famous?

I really hate Times New Roman -- way more than Comic Sans, say. What was good when actually smushed into pulp paper is reedy, craven and cramped on screens, on offset printing or on home printers. (Penguin books are a good way to see the difference: compare the early editions, where it was printed in hot metal and it looks beautiful, to the rare modern ones still set in Times, and it's eugh).

Thank God Microsoft dropped it as the default font in Word, at least.
posted by fightorflight at 12:03 PM on August 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


It's no comic sans.

posted by blue_beetle at 12:08 PM on August 17, 2009


Perhaps I should have said most ubiquitous? It's certainly the most something.
posted by ocherdraco at 12:14 PM on August 17, 2009


The most default?
posted by starman at 12:15 PM on August 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Bah. I totally came up with Times New Roman on my own before it was cool. Then everybody started using it, and I realized what utter crap it was, so I was too embarrassed to sue. This happened with Funyuns, too. Totally mine. Except my recipe used beets.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:37 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Font fight!

;)
posted by rokusan at 12:53 PM on August 17, 2009


Times New Roman is definitely more common in North America, or has been until very very recently (rise of the CSS-powered Web). Helvetica was, until recently, a 'European-looking' typeface.

Also, like everything 'popular' delivered by Microsoft: I'd go with "the most insidious."
posted by rokusan at 12:55 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Except my recipe used beets.

Mmmm, Bunyuns.
posted by katillathehun at 1:19 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Use of arial default in email could be considered proof of indifference.
posted by Cranberry at 1:20 PM on August 17, 2009




I shot the serif.
posted by ALongDecember at 1:24 PM on August 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


I have spent the last twelve minutes trying to find a typographic term that would scan in place of "deputy."

I have failed.
posted by ocherdraco at 1:40 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


But I did not shoot Gill Sans MT.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:46 PM on August 17, 2009 [21 favorites]


The Times Roman allegations have been around for years, but have recently resurfaced because of the death of Gerald Giampa, an eccentric Canadian type designer and an energetic promoter of the theory that Morison had stolen the design from Burgess.

It's a very tangled story, and Giampa's own website doesn't exactly make things clearer. The fact that all the relevant documents have been conveniently accidentally destroyed doesn't help either. However, it should be noted that Giampa was hardly a disinterested witness, as he owned the Lanston Type Company, which, according to his version of events, had been commissioned by Burgess to manufacture the typeface that later became Times Roman. This, if true, would have enormously increased the value of the Lanston Type Library, which Giampa spent years trying to sell to Adobe for what most people considered an inflated price.

My own view, for what it's worth, is that while Morison was a devious figure who wasn't above rewriting history when it suited him, the wholesale theft of someone else's design would have been totally out of character for him. Walter Tracy, the designer of Times Europa (the typeface that replaced Times Roman), has a summary of the whole debate in his book Letters of Credit. Tracy was prepared to give Burgess a share of the credit for designing Times Roman, but then Tracy had spent much of his career trying to break free from Morison's overpowering influence and may have had his own reasons for wanting to believe a story that put Morison in a bad light.
posted by verstegan at 1:47 PM on August 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


But I did not shoot Gill Sans MT. (It's Raining Florence Henderson)

I salute you, sir.

And thanks, verstegan, for adding all that extra background.
posted by ocherdraco at 1:49 PM on August 17, 2009


The deputy is that alternate form of the capital Q found in some typefaces (and often used in cursive handwriting) that does not use a closed loop but looks more like an offset "2."
posted by Naberius at 1:57 PM on August 17, 2009


But I did not shoot Gill Sans MT.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:46 PM on August 17


rack em
posted by Optimus Chyme at 2:15 PM on August 17, 2009




These jokes are getting awfully kerny.
posted by Mcable at 2:54 PM on August 17, 2009


Thank God Microsoft dropped it as the default font in Word, at least.

Agreed, but replacing it with Calibri 10? Plus the equally asinine default extra line after every Enter? This is madness.

*wrings hands* Won't someone take pity on those of us who read 2500 pages per semester typed by people who mainly don't or can't change the defaults?
posted by FelliniBlank at 3:21 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Why all the Comic Sans hate?

When I first saw it I called it "the front from The Simpsons" until I found out its real name. A lecturer used to produce his handout notes in Comic Sans. I found his notes eminently readable [this is going back to the mid 1990s before the internet really took off in Australia]. Now I’m too sacred to use it!

So finish this sentence.* Comic Sans sucks because_____________.

*degree of difficulty: because "everyone else says so" is not an acceptable answer.

Oh, and for what it’s worth, I also dislike Times New Roman, but find it OK as an italic. I often use it when quoting. eg. Email body in Arial, any quotes in Times New Roman italic... often cranking up the font size from 10 to 12 for some reason. Always looks smaller than Arial to me.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 6:01 PM on August 17, 2009


Is {Tasha Tudor's} work very well-known and/or influential in the US?

It was big in the 1970s, with calendars/coffee mugs/notebooks/what-not. I don't know if there's been a lot of followthrough, but it was quite a phenomenon in its day. To be honest, I never liked her work much--I was more of an Edward Gorey or Kliban cat kid back then.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:02 PM on August 17, 2009


Comic Sans sucks because_____________

it makes things look like the text in a comic-strip bubble, and that's not ideal for a presentation about ways to combat TB among the homeless population. Or really anything else except a comic-strip bubble.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:04 PM on August 17, 2009


Comic Sans sucks because_____________

it makes things look like the text in a comic-strip bubble, and that's not ideal for a presentation about ways to combat TB among the homeless population. Or really anything else except a comic-strip bubble.
(Sidhedevil)

One of the reasons I hate it is because it is actually a really poor attempt at comic book lettering. Actually good comic book lettering looks very different from Comic Sans—it doesn't have the same jokey quality.
posted by ocherdraco at 6:11 PM on August 17, 2009


I must say I found his notes eminently readable, but I also thought it was a bit odd and unprofessional looking. But y'know, lots of things back then looked odd and unprofessional.

Like those crazy IT types who used to go to work without their top button done up and a skinny piece of cloth hanging from their neck.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 6:24 PM on August 17, 2009


Or should I have written[?]: Like those crazy IT types who used to go to work without their top button done up and without a skinny piece of cloth hanging from their neck.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 6:27 PM on August 17, 2009


One of the reasons I hate it is because it is actually a really poor attempt at comic book lettering.

You'll note that I said "comic-strip", not "comic book." I mean the crap quality newspaper cartoon strips.

I am a comic BOOK lettering fangirl from way back. And by "fangirl" here, I mean "I have sent Dave Lanphear more than one fan letter."
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:21 PM on August 17, 2009


*high fives Sidhedevil for her excellent lettering taste*
posted by ocherdraco at 7:33 PM on August 17, 2009


Comic Sans sucks because_____________

I haven't seen anyone link this explanation (youtube) yet.
posted by immlass at 7:42 PM on August 17, 2009


Times New Roman is the worst font ever. I have a pathological aversion to it. Helvetica is delightful, and what about the oft overlooked, but delicately serious Garamond?

Comic Sans has its uses. I often make up my math handouts using it because it fools the poor wee kiddies into finding quadratic word problems less threatening.
posted by Go Banana at 8:05 PM on August 17, 2009


It's a sans world.
posted by fleacircus at 8:08 PM on August 17, 2009


There's a movie about Helvetica.
posted by neuron at 9:12 PM on August 17, 2009


Fascinating. I've never heard anyone complain about Times New Roman before, except my wife who claims only that she finds it "boring". It seems like a pretty safe, straightforward font to me.
posted by voltairemodern at 9:35 PM on August 17, 2009


I'm really fond of Georgia right now.
posted by Pronoiac at 9:47 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm this close to overdosing on Georgia, since half the web is in Georgia these days.

(I had the same problem with Verdana somewhere around 2003.)
posted by rokusan at 10:14 PM on August 17, 2009


Times New Roman looks lazy/hacky to me, the same way a logo in 100% red and 100% blue looks. It screams "default setting".

(Like, make an effort, people.)
posted by rokusan at 10:15 PM on August 17, 2009


But Georgia's so legible!
posted by Pronoiac at 12:08 AM on August 18, 2009


What about the oft overlooked, but delicately serious Garamond?

Yes. This. Very few documents get away from me without being set in Garamond 14; it makes even Georgia look clunky by comparison. I'd also like to wave a small flag for Baskerville – it's survived for 300 years on pure merit.
posted by him at 4:18 AM on August 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Times New Roman makes me physically ill.

Can I get a shoutout for Bodoni? It's not well-suited for the screen but looks stunningly elegant in print.
posted by Slothrup at 8:47 AM on August 18, 2009


I'm with him in the Baskerville fan club. Also Classica.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:17 PM on August 18, 2009


Got it. It's not serious enough. It's not even serious enough to be seen in a comic strip. Or was that comic book? You've answered my question in ways you probably don't realise.

Merlot is also my favourite red wine. Always has been. [More quaffable than, say, a Shiraz. I like to quaff.]
posted by uncanny hengeman at 1:22 AM on August 19, 2009


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