The Barbarian Nurseries
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9 Comments on “The Barbarian Nurseries”
Thanks for posting the link to Kaitlyn Tiffany’s article! I’ve been meaning to add it myself, you beat me to it. I’m pretty sure Stephen’s recent posts featuring uses of Lydian were motivated by her synopsis. Tiffany writes that Lydian –
This is not entirely accurate. Lydian was used for the 2011 reissue of Woolgathering by New Directions. The original edition of Patti Smith’s book from 1992 was published in the Hanuman Books series and used different typefaces, namely Kompakt and Brush Script. I’ve added a post about it.
It’s true that Lydian recently has seen a major revival that started about a decade ago. Rodrigo Corral was among those who fueled it, as documented by Stephen. One of the earliest re-adopters was Bureau Mirko Borsche with their rebranding of the Thalia Theater in 2009. This iconic and controversial use is included in the article, but hasn’t been documented on Fonts In Use yet.
Tiffany mentions Lydia, released by Colophon in 2013, and describes it as follows:
That condensed, bold, italic Lydian is a lot less twiggy than the original.
It’s worth pointing out that Lydia is a pretty direct revival of Lydian Bold Condensed and Bold Condensed Italic, designed by Warren Chappell in 1946 and marketed by ATF from 1949 on [McGrew]. As such, it’s part of the original family. Here are two in-use examples from 1955 and 1965.
These minor inaccuracies aside, it’s great to see general-interest media channels like Vox’s The Goods discuss typeface trends! We’re honored that Fonts In Use could serve as a resource for this.
Here’s what Cynthia Hollandsworth had to say about Lydian. Her take might be extreme, but I’d argue it’s nevertheless representative for Lydian’s perception in the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s. This might help to explain the void mentioned by Matthijs:
Ugh! Fingernails scraping on a chalk board, visual inanity, ugliness given credibility by age alone. There’s no excuse for such a meaningless design, and all the more astounding that a foundry took the time to cut it in metal. It is neither fish nor fowl, not a script not a Roman, not a text, not a display. Its dithering leaves it strident on the page, at odds with every other design, incapable of smooth companionship with other typefaces.
Is it calligraphic? Only in the bad dreams of Arrighi. It is featureless, emotionless, foolish in its simplistic shape. It means nothing, intuits nothing, lies there a dead thing, making everything around it dead, too.
Legende is real, and Optima is real. Give me Delphian or give me death! But please, oh please, don’t set it in Lydian! Hammer Uncial and Solemnis at least have a design, while Lydian is worse than the most basic schoolchild’s primer. Boring, obsequious Lydian!
Horrors, it makes a chill on my spine. Because you are neither hot nor cold, humanistic or machine, because your form defies any known organic or inorganic design, I spew you out of my mouth, and condemn you to eternity in the outer darkness of forgotten typefaces. Good riddance!
From: Types Best Remembered/Types Best Forgotten. Edited by Robert Norton. © 1993 Parsimony Press. Yes, this is a book worth reading! You can get it from Oak Knoll Books.
There is a second factor at play. Nostalgia or – more generally and less judgmentally – the analog and handmade (real or faux), can be signified in many different ways.
Lydian occupies a special niche. It’s for those who don’t want to use scripts and other informal, animated, non-standard typefaces (let alone actual hand lettering), but still want to communicate “organic” somehow. The best shortcut to do so is via stroke contrast. Nothing says “calligraphic” faster than the implied broad-nib pen. With Lydian, one can achieve this goal without having to leave the comfort zone of the plain sans serif, which is the standard letter of today (to a much wider extent than it used to be in 1938). Lydian is a dressed skeleton: It brings in lots of the tool, but very little of the hand – that’s what I read into Hollandsworth’s rant about “its simplistic shape”. Lydian is back in fashion because it combines the simplicity of the modern sans with the aura of the handmade.
It’s not by coincidence that in virtually all the contemporary examples, Lydian is used exclusively in caps. Its lowercase would tell a different, less sterile story, with the more complex forms for a and especially g which are not found back in the ordinary sans serifs, or the diamond-shaped dots which are just a tad too explicit. Likewise, it’s not by coincidence that Robinson (2016), a recent addition to the genre, has a single-storey g and round dots, for a wider usability.
Harbour is a more modern face that combines basic roman forms with stroke contrast, but with more contrast. It is also used most often in caps. If we consider Harbour as the modern Lydian, then the concept of Lydian never really went away. I really liked when they were combined here.
I didn’t even notice my comment got published!
Hi Thiago, in your user account settings, you can choose to get notified when someone comments on a Use upon which you have previously commented.
Harbour is indeed another interesting design that has been popular over a long time, and especially in recent years. It was released in 1998, but almost all of the 100+ Uses documented on Fonts In Use so far stem from the past decade, and the vast majority from the past five years. In parts, this probably has to do with the fact that it’s not that easy to find images from 20 years ago, but to some extent, Harbour also might have been a little ahead of its time – it’s a slow burner!