Thomas F. Adams’ “Typographia” Review

The development of typography was extremely important in the development of human civilization. At the same time, typography may be viewed as a relatively new invention since the first efforts to develop this industry in Europe were made only in the 15th century. This is why it is possible to estimate that the development of typography accompanied the period of the great socio-economic and technological progress of Western civilization. However, often westerners ignore the fact that the art of typography originates not from Europe but, in actuality, from China that makes the research of its history very interesting and significant for the understanding of the development of this industry in global terms. At the same time, it is also very important to trace the evolution of this industry and the impact it produced on socio-economic life of the society and technological progress. Obviously, the modern typography differs consistently from the early technologies used in typography. Nevertheless, it is necessary to realize the fact that without the evolution of typography throughout centuries it could hardly achieve such results and it could hardly contribute to the development of one of the most influential media, press, which produces a profound impact on human life in the modern world. In fact, even the most advanced technologies and the use of IT is closely related to the development of typography because even modern e-texts, which seem to have little in common with original typography and technologies that were used a few centuries ago, are based on principles of typography, which has been developed in the process of its evolution. In this respect, it is necessary to pay a particular attention to such a book as Typography by Thomas F. Adams, in which the author traces the evolution of typography from the earliest developments in this field to more advanced technologies and techniques used in printed. Moreover, the author depicts in details the process of printing and progress of typography throughout time as well as he also gives practical recommendations for conducting every department that is related to typography in order to optimize the process of printing. Obviously, this book is very significant for the understanding of the evolution of printing but, at the same time, it is worthy of mention that the author rather views typography as art.

Even though it is really difficult to disagree with him in this regard, but still it seems as if the author ignores the impact of typography on the development of technologies and human society at large, while it proves beyond a doubt that typography affected the development of mankind substantially.

First of all, it should be said that the author begins his book with the historical overview of the development of typography. This is a very important part of the book because it reveals the origin and historical development and spread of printing art throughout the world. From the first pages of the book the author show his respect and admiration with typography which he calls a noble invention, which is one of the greatest blessings heaven has bestowed (Adams, 7). In such a way, he attempts to prepare the audience to the specific perception of his book as a work dedicated to a very important art that is viewed as greatest blessing. After such an introduction, it is really difficult to get rid of an impression that typography is really the greatest gift of heavens mankind can benefit from.

Nevertheless, the author does not tend to mystification and exaggeration of the significance of typography. His major goal is probably to attract the attention of the audience to the art of typography, which nowadays is considered to be a norm and does not evoke really strong feelings and emotions while in the past it was viewed as a kind of magic.

Such an attitude to typography from the part of the author is quite noteworthy because it helps better understand that many achievement of the modern world are possible only due to the development of typography.

At the same time, the author is conscious of the fact that the attitude of the audience to typography as some commodity, an ordinary part of their everyday life, leads to the erroneous view on typography as something that has always accompanied mankind. This is why the great work made by the first developers of typography remains underestimated that is apparently unjust. On the other hand, the author argues that many people who use the products of typography daily are ignorant of the fact that this art originates from China.

To put it more precisely, the author underlines that the first efforts to develop typography in Europe were made in the late 13th century, when the art of engraving in wood progressed in Europe, especially Italy (Adams, 7), though it cannot be viewed as typography in its pure form but this art of engraving was rather the early attempt to develop typography as a separate industry. Thomas F. Adams argues that this art was not a European invention, but it was rather brought to Europe by Venetian merchants from the East. He points out that the roots of typography may be traced in China where this art actually started to develop before it reached Europe in the late Middle Ages. He explains the currently dominant view on typography as a European invention by the fact of the isolation of China from the rest of the world and geographic remoteness of this country from European continent that naturally contributed to the misleading view on European origin of this art.

To prove his position, Adams refers to evidences of other Europeans and early researchers who prove the fact that typography existed in China before it was brought in Europe and, what is more, it was more advanced compared to early European efforts to develop this art. For instance, he refers to Father du Halde who describes peculiarities of Chinese typography in details: the work intended to be printed is transcribed by a careful writer upon a thin transparent paper: the engrave glues each of these written sheet, with its face downwards upon a smooth tablet of pear or apple – tree and, then, with gravers and other instruments he cuts the wood away in all those parts upon which he finds nothing traced; thus, leaving the transcribed characters ready for printing He then prints the number of copies ready for printing (Adams, 8). In such a way, the process of printing is described in details and with the use of such techniques, which became widely spread in Europe only by 15th century.

In fact, such a detailed description of the art of printing or typography is described by the author intentionally in order to debunk the widely spread myth that typography is a European invention, though, some of his opponents could argue that typography was equally developed in Europe as well as in China it was simply technology that could differ (Bringhurst, 2002). However, in this argument Adams seems to be more convincing since the detailed description of Chinese process of printing reveals that this process had already been practiced for a long time because the technology and techniques were used by typographers practically automatically. Moreover, there existed different departments or, at any rate, there were different specialists such as a graver, a writer, etc., who worked on printing in China while in Europe, in the same period of time, it was rather an exceptional work of some individuals who could be really viewed as artists.

In fact, the development of typography in Europe, according to Adams, is closely linked with Laurentius Coster who developed techniques of printing which were later spread all over Europe, though the overwhelming majority of specialists agree that it was Guttemberg who was the first inventor of printing in Europe (Bringhurst, 2002). In this respect, it should be said that the author of Typography emphasizes a very important fact that typography or printing was not the invention of a particular individual but it was rather the acquisition of the entire mankind since what was later developed into mechanical printing with the use of special machines, instead of manual labour, could hardly be created without the developments of previous generations of typographers which experimented and attempted to find the most effective ways of printing minimizing the manual work and increasing the possibilities for mass printing. This is very important because the author suggests an original view on typography and it is hardly possible to disagree with him because typography, its technologies, tools and techniques, evolved and human experience accumulated knowledge concerning this art that eventually permitted to modernize typography and improve it to the extent that printed texts became subjects of mass production available to huge masses of people.

At the same time, it should be pointed out that the author views typography as art, while many specialists (Heller and Meggs, 2001) tend to view typography as an industry which has little in common with art or it was rather a tool to print pieces of art, such as literary work or images, etc. On the other hand, it should be said that the author also understood the significance of commercial use of typography and great perspectives of typographic industry. This is why he dedicated a considerable part of his book to the depiction of the process of printing and to the organization of the work of various departments comprising a publishing house. In such a way, he attempted to give some recommendations on the basis of his researches concerning possible improvements of the process of printing that could naturally contribute to the more effective, from the commercial point of view, use of typography.

On the other hand, such recommendations of Thomas F. Adams are rather an attempt to make products of typography more accessible to the mass audience but his goal is not a commercial profit but rather an artistic admiration with the opportunities typography opens to spread art among the wide audience. Such a conclusion can made since the author is really admired with typography and this admiration that may be seen from the first line of the book may be easily traced throughout the entire book. In fact, the process of printing is interesting to Adams basically from technological point of view as a part of the great artistic job typographers did and continue to do to create printed texts and other printed materials.

Obviously, such a view is quite contrasting to many modern specialists (Swanson, 2000) who tend to view typography as a very perspective industry which was and still is commercially profitable. Even though the modern typography has lost its originality and uniqueness it had in the past, it is still obvious that this industry or art plays a very important role in the life of society and, probably, it is one of the drawbacks of the book written by Thomas J. Adams that he is too focused on typography as art, on the process of printing itself. In such a way, he pays little attention to socio-economic significance of the development of printing, which, in actuality is really enormous. In this respect, it should be said that the development of typography made information and human knowledge more accessible to the mass audience that naturally contributed to the increasing educational level of people since they could share their knowledge more effectively and easier. In this respect, the detailed description of technologies used in typography and recommendations of the author are really valuable since they show that the potential of printing was really enormous even at the early stages of its development and even a bit more than a century ago. This is why the book Typography by Thomas F. Adams is really interesting and, what is more, it is a valuable source of information about the evolution of typography. This information is very helpful in understanding the current progress of typography and the significance of this art and industry for the contemporary society. This is particularly important because nowadays the role of typography in the progress of technologies, art, and science is often underestimated nowadays.

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