The Typographic Desk Reference

One can never have too many books about type and typography. One of the most recent additions to my own library is Theodore Rosendorf’s The Typographic Desk Reference or, if you’re in a hurry, simply TDR.

From the outset it’s worth stressing that this is not a how-to book. It does not compete with Bringhurst’s The Elements of Typographic Style or Felici’s The Complete Manual of Typography. It is, as its title makes quite clear, a reference book. Think of it more as a dictionary or rather a pocket encyclopedia of type terms.

Comprising four main sections, it’s pretty easy to find your way around — something essential in a book of reference.

Section one, TERMS

A collection of the most important type terms. Definitions are clear and concise, and accompanied by illustrative examples in the margin.

tdr, the typographic desk reference

Section two, GLYPHS

A listing of the standard ISO and extended Latin character set glyphs. Everything from a-acute (á) to z-underdot (ẓ). Each entry is accompanied by its respective Unicode reference (code point).

tdr glyphs

Section three, ANATOMY & FORM

Everything from definitions for the familiar ascender and descender to the less familiar like beard and double struck.

TDR

Section four, CLASSIFICATION & SPECIMENS

A tricky one. There’s really no consensus as to how type should be classified. The system used in TDR is loosely based on ATypI-Vox.

tdr specimens

The specimens are generally representative, and all the usual suspects are there, though great to see John Hudson’s excellent Constantina (Garalde) and Peter Noordzij’s Caecilia (slab serif), plus some relatively recent releases like FontFont’s Meta Serif (transitional).

A great deal of work has gone into this little book. Standing at only 136 pages, it is nonetheless a little gem. Handsomely hardbound with an embossed cover, set in Adobe Caslon, on pencil-friendly stock, the pages are well-designed, the typography uncomplicated and airy. I would have preferred to see something other than Adobe Caslon — an excellent text face, but one I’m a little tired of. The only negative thing I have to say about this book is regards its inner (gutter) margins. A little on the narrow side; but that’s a gripe I have with about 99% of all books. I also hope they publish a paperback version in the near future.

Information on ordering, along with a number of PDF sample pages is available at typedeskref.com.

I’ll conclude with an excerpt from the book’s foreword, penned by Ellen Lupton:

These pages reveal an admiration for typography’s long history as well as an awareness of its current concerns and anticipated evolution. A book such as this belongs on the shelf of anyone who works in the service of typography.

If you have a copy, then let me know what you think in the comments below. Oh, and you can follow Theo on Twitter, @theorosendorf.


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  1. Gonzalo

    I ordered it today (but I’m sure I won’t get it soon, since I’m in Argentina) because I just fell in love with it as soon as I saw it. I’m making my first steps into typography and I’ve got to say, this is really addictive! I’m amazed by how interesting and vast this topic is :)

  2. Derek

    Looks like it might be a helpful companion. Although there’s a typo in the first image! (“Main stoke”).

  3. thanks for reviewing this book, i just discovered it online and was hoping to see other people’s opinions before buying it. yours definitely helps me decide.

  4. Wow. That looks good. Speaking of the other two books you mentioned, if I were to get one of them, which one would you recommend?

  5. Kári
    They’re both excellent titles. Felici is slightly more accessible for those new to the subject.

  6. Jeff

    Looks really handy … but that s/t glyph is somewhat distracting and rather unnecessary. MY OPINION.

  7. I noticed the typo too, Derek. Might have to buy it though, looks nice.

  8. Jeff

    Ligature*

  9. Looks like a great book. Not sure I agree with the definition of aperture. The diagram above makes it appear like the aperture is simply the same thing as a counter. My definition would be “the space at the perimeter of a letter where the counter opens up to the outside” or some such. We need a term for this to talk about how “open” a letterform is.

  10. For instance, Apertura (shown above as an April Font) has a large aperture compared to other geometric sans serifs. This doesn’t mean the counters are large, it means the ‘e’, ‘s’, ‘c’, ‘g’, etc. have very open forms.

  11. Stephen
    Good points. I’ve always thought of aperture as how far a letterform opens its mouth. Yours is a little more elegant.

  12. I dunno, yours is much more clear!

  13. The book seems to be set in Garamond Premier Pro, judging from those beautiful st and ct ligatures. Jeff, they take some getting used to, as they haven’t really been much used for about 60 years, but they’ve become quite fashionable again recently, an early-letterpress-retro kind of thing, and it’s something you’ll be seeing a lot of.

  14. I ordered mine from Oaknoll on April 5th and still am waiting for the Postman to knock twice :-)

  15. Oh, and thanks, johno. Next time I make an Amazon purchase I’ll get it.

  16. Tiffany

    I really want this book. It has been too long since I read, cover-to-cover, Bringhursts book. I know I need a refresher.

  17. I’ve got a typographic desk reference specimen: Swashes. As in something used far too much, for obscure “stylistic” purposes, that doesn’t increase the legibility of a printed line. Cf. the body text of the TDR.

  18. My copy just arrived yesterday. I love it for quick references. Bringhurst’s book goes far deeper but that also makes it kind of intimidating to get into for quick references. TDR meets this need nicely. It sits right next to my desk and I’m sure I will be using it consistently.

  19. Even Beatrice Warde bitched about ‘distracting’ ct and st ligatures in the 1930’s. One can consider them for display but they don’t always work for continuous text.

  20. So “asce” is pronounced as “ash”? Yes, I need that book!

    Talk about a strange psychic flash… the moment I finished reading this article I felt compelled to walk over to my bookshelf to look through one of my design books. The first book I reached for was D.I.Y… which just “happened” to be edited by Ellen Lupton. I have no idea why I did it. The brain does some really strange, creepy things sometimes!

  21. Hi John!
    Finally, the review has come out!! I’ve been waiting really long for this. I will buy this book as soon as my internship cheque clears! I just wanted to mention two things in the article.
    Firstly ‘comprised’ itself means ‘consisted of’ and therefore should not have an ‘of’ after itself. The sentence can be: ‘Comprising four main sections, it’s pretty easy to find your way around — something essential in a book of reference’.
    The second one is this: Each entry is accompanied by the its respective Unicode reference (code point). ‘by the its’ to ‘by its’.
    I only mention these as my contribution to this wonderful blog of yours. I hope you don;t mind my pointing these errors thus.
    Looking forward to the rest of the things you mentioned you would be writing about!!

  22. Vim

    nice book, i was thinking of purchasing this and your review helped thanks

  23. Satwik
    Fixed now. Thanks.

  24. Hmm, sounds like I might grab this one before I get Elements of Typographic Style.

    Seems like a useful reference. I’ve almost finished reading The Complete Manuarl of Typography, but I keep forgetting small details. This books seems like a good tool when you forgot one of those details.

    I also think it looks beautiful as well!

  25. mh

    This is a very good tool for teaching, i had been using it in my classes this month.. nery nice review,

    mh

  26. Michael

    Kari

    The TDR site says “The principal text is set in Adobe Caslon…” Just fyi.

  27. Natalie

    This site is great and I often find some good inspiration here!

    I was searching for an answer to a question that I have for you, but wasn’t coming up with anything previously mentioned. I am about to invest in a good font package. I work mainly on the web, and was wondering if you had any good suggestions for a good, somewhat reasonably priced font package that would include some of the best classic fonts, but also some of the best newer fonts of this year and last. I need something that has some good standards, but is very modern. What have you tried, heard about, looked into? I am ok with purchasing some fonts individually, but still need a good large set of them as well.

    Let me know what you got!

    Thanks so much!
    Natalie

  28. Lix

    Someone needs to make a poster of the 3rd image ASAP. I’d have it grace the wall above my bed.

  29. - Lix

    If you make a poster out of it for above your bed you shoud photoshop out the ‘g’ so as to read Hand Love.

  30. Sell Art Online

    Its about type for a new design related book =) Added to my wishlist!

  31. The best feature for me is being able to look up unicode numbers for glyphs conveniently—though I wish the uni numbers were at left under the glyph name.

    ChrisL

  32. Looks really great! I have to order a couple of copies for the office :)

  33. Stephen Hampshire

    I’ve had mine a while now. I would say it’s a great little book, but expensive for what it is. As long as you know what you’re getting - a handy desk reference for the type geek, and nothing else - then I’d recommend it.

    It does, like Bringhurst, to some extent teach by example. It is very nicely produced, although I personally found the CT and ST ligatures in the body text a little bit over the top.

  34. In the major languages which use it, the a-e ligature Æ is pronounced Aeh. Like the e in Ever and an aspiration behind it: “eh.” It is not really a ligature anymore, either. It is its own letter of the alphabet. Our alphabets end on X Y Z Æ Ø Å. Asch is, I think, solely an anglo-saxon name for it.

    The biggest languages using it are Danish and Norwegian. Swedish creates much the same sounds with diacritical marks: X Y Z Ä Ö Å

  35. That’s not entirely accurate. In Norwegian and Danish æ is called what is pronounced as a in bad. In Faroese it is called ‘seinna a,’ meaning latter a. It is pronounced the same as regular a in Faroese. In Icelandic it is pronounced as I or eye and the name of the letter is also pronounced thus. Swedish ä corresponds historically with this letter, and is pronounced similar to the Norwegian and Danish æ. /nitpick

  36. Hei, Kari Emil,

    Jeg vil fremdeles argumentere for at Æ ikke uttales helt som A-en i “bad”. Men jeg kan godt være enig i at den kan ligge et sted mellom “bad” og “ever”. Den er iallefall nærmere E-en i ever på de fleste norske dialekter, og de fleste av de danske, etter min mening.

    /native speaker

  37. Þú hefur rétt fyrir þér, „bad“ er ekki mjög gott dæmi. Danskt a er frekar eins og a í “bad”, ekki æ. Svarið mitt var skrifað í flýti. Það var aðallega „an aspiration behind it: “eh.”“ sem ég var að setja út á; það er ekkert h-hljóð venjulega, alla vegana ekki í dönsku.

    Anyway, Æ is a ligature when used in English, Latin and French - it actually is used instead of ae - but not so much when used in the Nordic countries or in Farsi when written with the Latin alphabet.

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