Honorary Man of Letters

A review

Hayward Blake

Hermann Zapf, The Fine Art of Letters: The Work of Hermann Zapf, New York: The Grolier Club, 2000.

In preparing to review The Fine Art of Letters: The Work of Hermann Zapf, the latest publication from the Grolier Club, I had to revisit my library of Zapf books—what a truly amazing man! With the more than 200 typefaces, from metal to digital, hundreds of books written and designed, and a breathtaking body of calligraphic work—Zapf continues to astound and delight us.

Joseph Godlewski, designer and past president of the Society of Typographic Arts (STA), describes Zapf's importance in his dedication to the book Hermann Zapf and his Design Philosophy (1987): "All students of the typographic arts owe him a debt of gratitude for his inspiration and his distinguished contributions to our discipline."

Zapf's most popular typefaces, such as Palatino, Optima, Zapf Chancery, and Zapf Dingbats, are resident on most computers. His 1984 Renaissance Roman and his latest creation, Zapfino Script, are used in his latest book. The Fine Art of Letters is a delight to the eye and to the mind, with 67 illustrations accompanied by an exceptional essay by Grolier curator Jerry Kelly. I've read introductions to Zapf's books by Carl Zahn, Paul Standard, and Noel Martin, but this piece by Kelly is most illuminating and poses a thoughtful examination of and argument for more recognition of the craft of calligraphy and type design as true art forms. In addition, Zapf reveals in his lengthy piece more of his life story than I've read before, with several insights into his formative years and his development as a letter artist.

An elegant book of 96 pages, it is beautifully printed on Mohawk Super Fine, (incidentally the same paper used for our 1995 Caxton Club history). The cover, a dark blue cloth with its handsome gold stamping of a Zapf calligraphic alphabet, is quite descriptive of the interior. Most of the illustrations are in full color, and descriptions and translations are included. Of particular note for me are the more creative uses of type and calligraphy, such as the book jacket for Golo Mann, Geschichte und Geschichten (1952); a page from the Rubaiyat (1936); quotes by Thomas Alva Edison and George Bernard Shaw from the book Orbis Typographicus (Experimental Typography) (1980). They give one pause to appreciate the words and to gain an additional measure of intended response from the thoughtful arrangements.

Although it is too late to see the Zapf exhibition at the Grolier Club, I highly recommend the book—available from the Veatchs Arts of the Book (phone, 413/5841867, or email, veatchs@veattchs.com). This is your opportunity to add an inspired book, by The Caxton Club's newest Honorary Member, to your library. v

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Herman Zapf. Drawing by G. Neuert-Hoffmann, About Alphabets: Some marginal notes on type design by Herman Zapf, 1960, The MIT Press, through whose courtesy it is used.

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