I was recently introduced to two distinctive books that share common ground in terms of their use of atypical typewriter typefaces. These typefaces function, at times, as simple typographic flourishes throughout the unwavering pages of these two books. But what I appreciate most about these typefaces is that they are unexpectedly refreshing while also holding stylistic relevance (especially in light of such contemporary, typewriter-derived, typefaces like Courier Sans).
The first of these books is Herbert Muschamp’s File Under Architecture (fig. 1), a book published in 1974 by MIT Press that encompasses Muschamp’s brashly worded views and critiques on architecture. The second book is Maurizio Nannucci’s self-titled artist book (catalogue d’exposition) (fig. 2) published in collaboration with the Internationaal Cultureel Centrum in Antwerp, Belgium, in 1979.
File Under Architecture—with its cardboard cover, grocery-bag-like text paper, generously spaced lines, absence of imagery and its appearance of being completely typeset on a typewriter—is impressive in terms of its restraint and pragmatism (fig. 3). The combination of these nuances, in my mind, are features that make this book a precious and more noticeably tactile object. As for the typefaces that this book is set in, there are four supplemental typewriter typefaces used as sidenotes (in addition to the standard typeface used for the body text). The varying characteristics of the typefaces give the sidenotes of this book a distinct feel and an almost distracting voice. But despite the irregular cadence and the non-unified system seen throughout this set of sidenote typefaces, they beg to be read.
The artist book from Maurizio Nannucci is also quite special considering its unbound nature and the range of delicate and rare materials (prints on tissue paper, photographs, a 7-inch vinyl record, etc.) included throughout the book. In a similar way to File Under Architecture, I appreciate the raw and semi-processed spirit of certain components of this artist book. In this particular context, typewriter typefaces are used more simply. There is a typeset interview within a standard stapled document that is housed in this artist book in which one alternate typeface is implemented as a way to differentiate one commentators words from the other. What I found most striking about the typeface defining the words of “P.S. Vraag” on these pages is that it was unlike anything I had seen in the realm of typewritten documents. The cursive and stylized features of the typeface (fig. 4)—much like the cursive typeface found in File Under Architecture (fig. 5)—are a complete contrast to what we typically visualize when thinking about typewriter typefaces.
Looking at both of these books and their lo-fi aesthetics, it’s almost as though I can imagine Muschamp and Nannucci sitting at their typewriters, manually interchanging their typeface cassettes for an alternate typeface, or, even completely switching typewriters for that matter.
This notion of using alternate typewriter typefaces sparked my interest in many ways. I began to think about how I only wished that making typographic selections were that simple and hands on (a sort of no-nonsense approach to typography). One of the things that I became most curious about was the names or types of custom typewriter typefaces that had been used during the height of typewriter technology and how many typefaces were commercially available to typewriter owners.
After a bit digging around, I found a fantastic resource at the Walker library—a journal about design and typography titled Typographica. I was fortunate enough to find issue #6 from 1962 in which an entire section of the journal was dedicated to typewriter typefaces (fig. 6). The article was introduced by a simple explanation of how typewriter typefaces were manufactured and how they functioned. In addition to this intro, the supplemental pages of this article were used to display the large number of typefaces available within the typewriter market in 1962. As you will see in the image below (fig. 7), I have selected a few of my favorites from the collection put together by Typographica.
In the end, after discovering these two books and the article from Typographica magazine, I was happy to learn a little more about the wide variety of typewriter typefaces made available during that time. And although the idea of typesetting on a typewriter in this technological age could be considered a nostalgic trap, I admittedly find the idea to be a very charming and fundamental one. I also find myself wondering: will we ever look back at our tools—G5 Apple computers, Adobe InDesign, etc.—and think of them in the same way we do the typewriter?