Since before agricultural civilization, humans have used plants for their special properties – to nourish and heal, to harm and to poison. The earliest written compilations of plants can be traced back to the second millennium BC, with early traditions in Egypt, Mesopotamia, China and India. In Greco-Roman antiquity, the Athenian, Theophrastus (c. 371 – c. 287 BC), a contemporary of Aristotle and Plato, is often considered the father of botany; his Historia Plantarum (‘Enquiry into Plants’) proving influential right through to the Italian Renaissance. Books dedicated to describing herbs and plants and their properties and uses are known as herbals. Such books proved popular with doctors and apothecaries throughout the entire Middle Ages.
Informal is not an adjective that readily comes to mind in describing anything in the type catalogue of New York foundry, Hoefler & Co. From the highly formal sparkle of Renaissance inspired text romans like Requiem through its humanist sans, Ideal Sans, to the precision and aplomb of the shaded and layered Obsidian, all walk the page with a decidedly formal poise. Perhaps the closest they have come to informality is in the beautiful cursive letterforms in the italic styles of the recently released ‘non-typewriter typewriter face’, Operator – but again, informal those letters are not.
David Ricardo (1772–1823) was a versatile man. A stock trader, politician and, most importantly, an economist. He is considered the first of the classical economists, thus symbolizing the transition from mercantilism to capitalism. While his theories are mostly derived from mathematical abstractions, he communicated his ideas in understandable, down-to-earth language. Besides a versatile man, Ricardo is also a versatile typeface that bridges the gap between geometrical and humanist typeface design.
Recipes are as old as eating and recorded recipes date back to the invention of writing, with the most ancient examples from Mesopotamia, written in Akkadian cuneiform and dating to about 1750 BC. From late Imperial Rome, a collection of recipes from the late fourth or early fifth century, commonly referred to as Apicius, has survived via eighth- and ninth-century manuscript copies. Moreover, dozens of recipe books have survived from the Middle Ages, including the tenth-century Baghdadi cookbook by Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq and the fourteeth-century treatise on cookery and cooking techniques, Le Viandier, written by Guillaume Taillevent, chef to the Court of Charles V of France. The book includes a section on dishes for the sick, in which barley gruel and, naturally, chicken soup is recommended.
It has been estimated that prior to the European invention of typographic printing in the mid-fifteenth century, some ten million manuscripts were produced.* During the incunabula (c. 1450–1500), some 30,000 editions were printed in as many as thirteen million copies. Thus, in the course of just fifty years, more books were produced than had been in the previous 1,000 years! But what did fifteenth century readers read? For the most part, Renaissance readers differed little from their medieval forebears. One third of everything published in the fifteenth century was religious in nature, and as this is Europe prior to the Reformation, then by religious literature we mean that of the Catholic Church. The greatest proportion comprised liturgical books, like missals and psalters. Then the many smaller format books for private devotional use, like Books of Hours and prayer books. Then Bibles (Latin and vernacular) and Bible commentaries and books on canon or Church law, various edicts and Papal Bulls and broadsides (a single large sheet printed on one side).
Color fonts or chromatic type are not new. The first production types appeared in the 1840s,1 reaching a peak of precision and complexity a few decades later as efficiencies in printing enabled greater creative freedom. In 1874 William H. Page of Greeneville, Connecticut, published his 100-page Specimens of Chromatic Type & Borders2 that still has the power to mesmerize designers today.