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You are here: Home / Conferences / Hong Kong 2012 / Programme / 11–14 October – General programme

An Alphabet of 26 Symbols

When Fri 12 Oct 1450
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What
Who Martha Carothers

In 1945, Bradbury Thompson, graphic designer and art director, introduced his typographic experiment – Monalphabet – in the publication Westvaco Inspirations for Printers 152. This experiment suggested the exclusive use of lower-case characters for the 26 letters of the alphabet. To perform the function of capital letters, Thompson prepared large letterforms with altered ascenders and descenders. He implemented these letterforms in a series of typographic experiments.

Subsequent to the Monalphabet, Thompson went on to reconsider ascenders and descenders and developed Alphabet 26. This type experiment removed ascender and descender characters and established an alphabet of only 26 symbols for the characters of the alphabet. As such, nineteen characters which varied in appearance between upper- and lower-case were eliminated. In 1951, Beatrice Warde, publicity manager for the Monotype Corporation, wrote an essay entitled, “The Design of Books”. This essay was later published in The Chrystal Goblet, 1956, a compilation of sixteen essays on typography. Warde also probed the utility of upper- and lower-case letters and proposed words “can most efficiently be set forth in the twenty-six simple code-symbols called capitals”.

It is worth taking a comparative look at Thompson and Warde’s observations and experiments. This presentation is based on an understanding of their typographic concepts, a reasoned relationship between them, and visual examples of their effectiveness in the mid-twentieth century as well as today more than half a century later.

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