Summer 2002

User-friendly book of books

Five Hundred Years of Book Design

Alan Bartram
The British Library, £25

I’ve long been a fan of Alan Bartram’s writing. An Atlas of Typeforms (co-written with James Sutton and published in 1968) was a landmark of its kind: a history of typefaces told through examples of their original usage, mainly in books, and virtually all shown at actual size. Although Five Hundred Years of Book Design does not have the virtues of scale of that earlier work, it nevertheless represents another invaluable addition to any designer’s bookshelf.

Designers’ attitudes to history vary. There are those for whom history is an unnecessary encumbrance. For some it is fascinating in itself; for others it is simply a set of sources to be plundered when there is a need for period allusion or ideas run dry. For others still, it provides . . .

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