Compendium is a sequel to my Burgues font from 2007. Actually it is more like a prequel to Burgues. Before Louis Madarasz awed the American Southeast with his disciplined corners and wild hairlines, Platt Rogers Spencer, up in Ohio, had laid down a style all his own, a style that would eventually become the groundwork for the veering calligraphic method that was later defined and developed by Madarasz.
After I wrote the above paragraph, I was so surprised by it, particularly by the first two sentences, that I stopped and had to think about it for a week. Why a sequel/prequel? Am I subconsciously joining the ranks of typeface-as-brand designers? Are the tools I build finally taking control of me? Am I having to resort to “milking it” now?
Not exactly. Even though the current trend of extending older popular typefaces can play tricks with a type designer’s mind, and maybe even send him into strange directions of planning, my purpose is not the extension of something popular. My purpose is presenting a more comprehensive picture as I keep coming to terms with my obsession with 19th century American penmanship.
Those who already know my work probably have an idea about how obsessive I can be about presenting a complete and detailed image of the past through today’s eyes. So it is not hard to understand my need to expand on the Burgues concept in order to reach a fuller picture of how American calligraphy evolved in the 19th century.
Burgues was really all about Madarasz, so much so that it bypasses the genius of those who came before him. Compendium seeks to put Madarasz’s work in a better chronological perspective, to show the rounds that led to the sharps, so to speak.
And it is nearly criminal to ignore Spencer’s work, simply because it had a much wider influence on the scope of calligraphy in general. While Madarasz’s work managed to survive only through a handful of his students, Spencer’s work was disseminated throughout America by his children after he died in 1867. The Spencer sons were taught by their father and were great calligraphers themselves. They would pass the elegant Spencerian method on to thousands of American penmen and sign painters.
Though Compendium has a naturally more normalized, Spencerian flow, its elegance, expressiveness, movement and precision are no less adventurous than Burgues. Nearing 700 glyphs, its character set contains plenty of variation in each letter, and many ornaments for letter beginnings, endings, and some that can even serve to envelope entire words with swashy calligraphic wonder. Those who love to explore typefaces in detail will be rewarded, thanks to OpenType. I am so in love with the technology now that it’s becoming harder for me to let go of a typeface and call it finished.
You probably have noticed by now that my fascination with old calligraphy has not excluded my being influenced by modern design trends. This booklet is an example of this fusion of influences. I am living 150 years after the Spencers, so different contextualization and usage perspectives are inevitable. Here the photography of Gonzalo Aguilar join the digital branchings of Compendium to form visuals that dance and wave like the arms of humanity have been doing since time eternal.
I hope you like Compendium and find it useful. I’m all Spencered out for now, but at one point, for history’s sake, I will make this a trilogy. When the hairline-and-swash bug visits me again, you will be the first to know.