The Typographic Desk Reference

A Brief review

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.



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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