FontBook

Book Review

Recently I received through the post something large, yellow and weighing 3kg. No, not a genetically modified banana, but FontShop’s FontBook, an the encyclopaedia of type. This book really should come with a health warning: my postman almost had a hernia delivering it, and very nearly sprained his wrist attempting to hold it in one hand as he passed me the delivery receipt with the other. However, with some 32,000 type samples, 1,760 pages, and 100,000 footnotes and cross-references, I don’t think FontShop will be publishing a pocket version any time soon.

I took the FontBook to my local café, where I often work in the evenings, and complete strangers approached me (unusual in Japan); several people remarked ‘ookii hon desu ne!’ (big book, isn’t it!), while others simply asked what the book was about.

fontbook-photo1.jpg

Beyond the trademark FontShop yellow covers, the content is prefaced by a ‘how to use this book’ section in both English and German; however, to be frank, you could be a Martian and/or only speak Zangalulob and still find your way around the book without any problems. The types are organised into eight main groups: Sans, Serif, Slab, Script, Display, Blackletter, Symbols, and Non-Latin.

Cross-references

My favourite feature of the book—and this must have taken ages to prepare—is the ample cross references. For example, I’m looking for something similar to one of my favourite types, Gerard Unger’s Swift (a). I can go to the Serif section—where all the types are arranged alphabetically,…p, q, r, s,… Swift! The cross reference in the inside margin displays an eye icon (denoting similar types); and listed are ITC Charter (b), Demos, Hollander and Bitsream Oranda . A very simple and very powerful feature.

fontbook-refs.gif

In fact I’d love to see this further developed, so that for example, I’m looking for a good sans serif accompaniment to Swift, and there’s a cross-reference that points me to one. I’d also like to see an index of names. Anyway, it’s the cross-references that do it for me, making FontBook an invaluable tool for just about anyone who uses type. There really should be no studio without this in its library.

After spending an hour or so flicking through its pages, Monty Python’s exploding glutton, Mr Creosote came to mind. After, consuming some 20 courses, four bottles of vintage red and six crates of beer, the Maître D, played by John Cleese, recommends “And finally, monsieur, a wafer-thin mint.” Type gluttons among you will simply not be able to resist just one more wafer-thin page.

In absolute terms, $99 is not cheap, but then this is no throw-away paperback novel; it’s a 1,760-page, 3kg encyclopaedia. An in relative terms FontBook is cheaper than 20 McDonald’s Value Meals.

Why?

The cynics among us (and I can be one too), may argue that FontBook is a marketing tool aimed at selling more fonts. It may well sell more fonts—FontShop is not the Samaritans. However, when one considers the time that has gone into producing this tome, and the costs of production, I doubt that FontBook is much of a cash cow. I suggest instead that it is simply the product of a passion for type, published not so much with pecuniary gain in mind, but simply because its authors love type.

The FontBook is to type what the chocolate house is to chocoholics.

This book is probably worth robbing a bank for (non-violently, of course). However, if you’re caught, then whatever you do, don’t mention this article; and pray that Erik Spiekermann is on the jury. If you don’t hear from me for a while, then it’s because Mafia Maurice and Billy the Bruiser won’t let me use the ‘Internet’ in Cell Block H—until I perform favours of a wholly type-unrelated nature. I guess it’s only then that I will appreciate the fact that FontBook weighs 3kg. Anyway, let’s hope I’m put in charge of the prison library.

Coming up…

Prison typography.

And there’s a prize if you can tell me which three types I used in the header “i” (1) “love” (2) “typography” (3). One correct entry will be randomly selected and announced on this week’s Sunday Type. The winner will receive a copy of typography today by Helmut Schmid.

Further reading:
One Book to Specify Them All. Khoi Vinh of Subtraction interviews Stephen Coles of FontShop.
FontBook on FontShop, with PDF sample pages.
FontBook—the movie.


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  1. Wow, what a massive book!

    I’m going to put this on my wishlist, it sounds and looks very interesting!

  2. Glad you find it useful, John. And there is an index of typeface names — it just happens to be in front of the book.

  3. Stephen
    Yes, I like that the index is in the front; easier to open such a thick volume to the front, rather than the back.
    I should have written “an index of designers’ names”.

  4. Agree. That would be nice. Until the next edition, there’s always this list of type designers which essentially represents the contents of FontBook, give or take a few faces.

  5. Rafael

    Should I tell you the names here in the comments?

  6. Rafael
    In the comments or via email jboardley{ATTTTT}gmail.com is fine.
    Thanks.

  7. Rafael

    I will send you an e-mail. I was afraid of posting the names on the comments and having my answer copied by other people. Thank you.

  8. 1. FF Meta Serif, Bold italic
    2. Officina Sans, Bold
    3. Scala Sans, Regular

  9. Oh, you tempt me, John. Thanks for the review!

    Out of curiosity, where do you keep the book? — I imagine that it’s color and size would make it stand out wherever you put it.

  10. Timon
    Thanks for your entry.

    Hamish
    It has its own room.

  11. Sounds like quite a book. (Drools-haha). No one better make me mad when I’m carrying my big yellow font book :)

  12. Haha! I like how I just sent the e-mail to your account and came here to see the answers.

    Timon, I would edit the post =P

    Great article and fantastic book. It’s the next on my list. Now I have to find room in my house for this monster.

    I would have expected the people at the cafe to be a little more surprised. Something like, “わ!でけぇな〜その本!” Haha

  13. I concur with Timon’s answers:
    “i” is in FF Meta Serif Bold Italic
    “love” is in Officina Sans Bold
    “typography” is in Scala Sans-Regular

    Next time though, it would be better to send the answers only by email, if there are prizes…

    That cross-reference in the book is really handy indeed - it would be so much easier to create font stacks in CSS using this thick FontShop book with those references.
    You know, John, I kinda like how the header looks with all those colours in the bg, perhaps you should consider adding some colour to your permanent header as well?

  14. mateus

    Good article, but 144 dollars it’s a steal (99 euros if you live in Europe).
    The book should cost 67 euro (99 dollars).

    When I bought mine in amazon, I’ve payed 99 dollars for the book, added 12,49 for shipping and spent almost less 25% then I would’ve payed if I bought it in fontshop from europe (99+12,49=111,49 dollars = 76,29 euros).

    Just to let my european fellows know how to spend less ;-)

  15. Font Book = Playboy of Type, no? I would certainly be tempted by the cover alone…

  16. Justin
    One of my friends referred to it as “type porn”; not my preferred turn of phrase, but there’s an element of ‘truth’ in it.

  17. TypoJunkie

    Nice review John!

    I’m not sure about the ease with which we now know what typefaces to combine. It used to be so much fun figuring it out, and now I fear that these suggestions will become something of a rule, disregarding other interesting combinations designer might have though up. As for getting the book, I was lucky enough to win one last year, so I don’t think I’ll buy it… there’s always the chance of me winning one again, though!

    Loved the gluttony joke (I’d ask for a second mint…),; as for the “Identify the header” contest, I agree with Vivien.

    Have a good weekend and see y’all on Sunday!

  18. george

    I have this book and it really is amazing. Sure, all the information in the book could be found one way or another on the web, but having it in printed form and being able to physically flick through the thousands of samples is fantastic. Good way to get away from the screen for a while as well.
    I also dont think its geared towards making money at all, just a great reference.

  19. Ah, FontBook! The current edition is at least the second edition, the first being printed (I believe) in 1994 (may have been 1997). After it’s release and subsequent end of it’s printing, the price slowly rose higher and higher on eBay and Amazon’s used book lists. I remember checking it about a week before the new edition came out, the average price was between $380 - $400 (asking price, anyway, I don’t know how many were sold at that amount).

    I agree with your positive assessment of the book. It is fantastic to nitpick through when looking for a typeface with just the right nuances.

  20. The FontBook is to type what the chocolate house is to chocoholics.

    Uht oh.. I’m in trouble. Type and chocolate? Thanks for convincing the little devil to buy both :-)

  21. > The current edition is at least the second edition

    Fourth, actually. See the product page. Yes, we built quite the waiting list in the years between the 3rd and 4th editions when there was no more stock. It was great to finally satisfy the patient throngs.

  22. Referencing type porn, I was trying to think of a clever portmanteau of “type” and “pornography”, but all I can come up with is “typography.”

  23. Vinney

    I absolutely LOVE my copy of the FB. It is so handy … I was doing research for a redesign of my company’s brand standards and it cut down SOOOO much time and made comparing so much easier. I picked out a bunch of my favorites that I thought were applicable, threw specimen sheets together on the FS website and was on my way.

    I <3 the big yellow.

  24. paul. that is hilarious!!

    John I feel like it’s been ages since I last visited! Did you miss me? ;* The cross reference sounds incredibly useful; what a great idea! I checked Amazon.com and fontshop has set up a merchant account over there and is selling the book for $99 + $3.99 S&H. Added it to my wishlist, but that can’t be the right price on S&H for such a heavy book! OOH!! I received my Elements and Thinking with Type books! I have been so busy, though; I’ve only had time to leaf through them. I’m very sad :( Must make time to enjoy them this weekend.

  25. This really is a must-have, isn’t it? I mean, I’d seen it before on FontShop’s site, but never really digested just how complete and excellently organized it is. I must have one and, as with every purchase above $1.25 these days will need to budget for it. On the other hand, with this new economic stimulus package coming in the U.S., although all I’ve really heard about is the rebate, I also read somewhere that the package will make it a particularly good time for businesses to invest in equipment.

    Hopefully, the FontBook’s heft will qualify it for this supposed increased tax break—I mean, maybe the weight will make it seem like a piece of office equipment to our IRS.

  26. Here is my answer:
    1- FF Meta Serif, Bold, italic
    2- Officina Sans, Medium
    3- Scala Sans LF-Regular

  27. Thanks to everyone for their entrie here and via email (about 85 entries thus far).

    Stephen
    Thanks for the link; I’d forgotten about that.

    Paul
    Inspired!

    Lauren
    Of course you were missed. I didn’t know that it could be purchased via Amazon. I’m afraid I don’t have a clue what an Amazon Merchant account is. I’m pleased you got your copy of Elements.

    Stephen
    Yes, it is one of those must-haves. And as george notes, you can’t beat seeing type in print. What’s more, there’s nothing quite like a 3kg yellow book to impress the girls (boy! I need to get out more).

    Now that I have a copy, I find it difficult to imagine life without it. I’m reminded of the words of Mel Gibson in Braveheart:

    You can take our homes; you can take our families; you can take our land; but for god’s sake don’t take my FontBook.

    And about the FontBook tax break; I think you can list it as Office furniture. I seem to recall that Erik Spiekermann uses one as a doorstop. Can anyone confirm this?

  28. I’ve been lusting after FontBook ever since I first knew there was something like it out there, about a year ago. What a delightful tome. And I wasn’t aware that it was so useful, either.

    You mentioned hanging out in a Japanese cafe; I wasn’t aware you were living in Japan. A potentially interesting post could be typography of Japanese characters. I’m not knowledgeable enough about their glyphs; I don’t think they could be styled, since they are so precise. But how do they scale? I’d be interested in hearing about that.

  29. John
    Haha. 15 minutes in Photoshop…

  30. John a Merchant account is just someone who sells items through Amazon. In other words, you order on Amazon’s site, but this third party actually has the item. I think they may give a percentage of the transaction to Amazon and people feel more comfortable buying from the third party because Amazon does enforce some rules (shipping within x days of receiving the order and such). Anyway…

  31. Hmm, the image was stripped from my comment.

  32. Hamish
    Priceless!. Deserves to be in the article. Sorry about the image being stripped. Not sure why (again). Fixed now.

  33. Great post, Johno, I especially love when you review books! This one may have to wait until the day when I’m more serious about type, like (hopefully) doing an official study of it, or something like that. But until then, I’ll dream of the font book! Big, yellow dreams… :)

    Also, like LaurenMarie, it feels like it’s been ages since I’ve been here, although it’s probably only been a week. Always good to come by, though!

  34. Leah
    Feels like months. Lots more book reviews to come. Hope all is well.

  35. oli

    What good timing - DaringFireball (an Apple/web/design weblog) has fontShop as the RSS feed sponsor this week:
    feed://daringfireball.net/feeds/articles
    10% off FontShop goods, including FontBook! You apparently need to contact them via email post-ordering to get the discount though (adding “Gruber” to the discount code box on the order page didn’t work for me).

    However, currently the postage to Japan is more than the book (!)—I’m going to email them and ask if there’s a cheaper way. Unfortunately it’s out of stock on Amazon.

    peace - oli

    PS LaurenMarie—if you’re still seeing it in stock can you post the link here please?

  36. oli

    re: my previous comment (yay! :-)
    Hello Oli,

    Thank you for contacting us. The ten percent discount is available offline and if you would like us to deliver the book via USPS flat rate then the price would be cheaper. The cost of shipping a FontBook via USPS flat rate box would be $37.00 to japan on top of the $89.00 for the FontBook. This rate is only available offline and you would have to contact us with a credit card, billing address, and a shipping address. We can be reached at 1-888-FF-Fonts or you can fax me the details at 415-252-1331. If there is anything else that I can help you with then please let me know.

    Regards,

    Theresa

    —————————————————-
    Sales & Support
    fontshop.com / fontfont.com

    ph: 415.252.1003
    fax: 415.252.1331
    149 9th Street, Suite 302
    San Francisco, CA 94103

  37. Oli
    That’s great news. Brownie points for FontShop!

  38. smithy

    LOL, i thought the picture showed the back of the book, open. I didn’t realise the left hand bit was the spine !! Ouch, poor postie! Still , I am jealous. One for the wishlist.

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