Winter 2010

When the pen was mighty

Custom Lettering of the 40s & 50s; Custom Lettering of the 60s & 70s

by Rian Hughes, Fiell, £24.95 each

These two volumes (Custom Lettering of the 40s & 50s, Custom Lettering of the 60s & 70s, Fiell, £24.95 each) are a labour of loving typographic archaeology by the type designer and illustrator Rian Hughes. Reminders of an age before the instant effects of the Mac, photosetting or Letraset, these designs were hand-lettered by now-forgotten commercial artists for magazines whose designers demanded more fashionable and expressive headline typography than the sober ranges of printer’s metal display type could offer.

Created for popular British women’s magazines, hobby titles and comics, these artworks have been rescued from disappearing publishers’ archives and scanned, retouched and categorised by Hughes into every graphic style from ‘Representational Wood’ to ‘Speedlines’ (see ‘Drawn to be wild’ in Eye 71). From the 1950s excitements of ‘Party Dips’ to ‘Hot Pants Take Off’ in the 60s, these custom-drawn headlines and titles capture the flavour of mainstream vernacular typography before a new breed of art directors and lettering systems swept them and their pen- and brush-wielding creators away. Simon Esterson

First published in Eye no. 78 vol. 20 2010

Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions and single issues.