Type Anatomy: Sara Nielsen

Upon reading Ellen Lupton’s “Thinking with Type,” I have realized script, whether it be calligraphy or font, etc., is made unique due to subtle differences created in the type itself. Typefaces are considered as an essential resource to graphic designers, and can be either created or chosen from a preexisting library.

The history of script has been manifested from hand and machine. The first typefaces were created via handwritten calligraphy produced by scribes. It wasn’t until about 500 years ago that printed letters became accessible through Johannes Gutenberg’s movable type and the printing press. Since then, type has only evolved through engraved letters of the renaissance era, pen and quill techniques of the eighteenth century, and the creation of multiple scripts due to the rise of nineteenth century industrialism. To this day digital equipment is only growing more through laser pointers, bitmap forms and online font technologies continue evolving as a visual in print and digital media.

Lupton’s reading also looked into characteristics that make each font unique. Similarly to what we recently learned with patterns, fonts can be structured as well as abstract. For instance, humanist letterforms are traditional and structured in nature. Humanist style is similar to calligraphy and handwritten type. Transitional letterforms are more modern, abstract and less organic. Typefaces can be closely examined based on strokes and shapes created within each letter. Stems and spines, uppercase and lowercase, ascenders and descenders, are stylistic differences that make each font group unique. The placement of letter heights and baselines are also important when it comes to the anatomy of each font group. Type classification can help decipher if a typeface is traditional, transitional, modern, or a variety of serifs or sans serifs. Key components of a type anatomy come down to the type of letterform (humanist vs transitional), stylistic differences, manipulation of height, and classification of type.


1932 Lewis Carroll “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” with Virginia Woolf binder.

While visiting Manuscripts, Archives and Special Collections in the Terrell Library, Virginia Woolf’s copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland caught my eye. I personally grew up hearing and reading Lewis Carroll’s eccentric story of Alice in Wonderland and had a personal connection to the material. Also, since there is a Hogarth Press exhibit in Manuscripts, Archives and Special Collections, I felt compelled to examine this piece.


The two pages on display in the Archives were pages 38 and 39. In my opinion, these pages carry the most compelling type anatomy content given the shapes are created within the typeface itself. On page 38 the text itself spirals downward in a “mouse tail” shape to tell the story of “A Caucus Race and A Long Tale” through imagery. The typeface is printed in its normal font size at the top and gradually shrinks in size as the text reaches the bottom of the page. Humanist “old style” type is utilized throughout the entire novel. This font is inspired by classical calligraphy imitated in roman script of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Today this type can be classified under the font name “Sabon.”

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