One of my favorite possessions is a lovely compartmen-talized tray from a newspaper printer’s type cabinet; each tray is a single wooden drawer from a chest that held a variety of typefaces in a variety of sizes used to set type for both news copy and advertising.
There used to be separate trays—or cases—for capital letters and regular letters (which is why we call them upper and lower case letters today), but that meant two drawers for each size of a particular font; a combined case like this became popular in the 1800s (this shot shows only two of the three sections of the tray).
Just as the “qwerty” layout of your keyboard is designed to make typing more efficient, so too were the compartments in a type tray designed for the convenience of the typesetter—the most frequently used letters were set in boxes in the center of the tray while the others were located on the edges and in the corners.
Numbers and oddball symbols ($, @, + and %, for instance) were in the top boxes of the compartments, lower case letters were on the left side of the drawer, upper case on the right.
Punctuation compartments were not always designated—many typesetters placed them in their own preferred locations.
This tray holds an incomplete set of Bodoni bold type—one of the most commonly used typefaces in the 19th and 20th centuries, mainly because it is so easy to read.
Giambattista Bodoni, the designer, was born in Italy in 1740. His father was a printer, so he grew up in the trade; he apprenticed at the
and later became a well-known typecutter, engraver and printer. Vatican
In 1798, he designed this typeface—a font that blended the thicker lines of older typefaces with the finer, thinner ones of newer designs.
Bodoni gains its gracefulness from a balance between those thick and thin strokes of the letters. If designed well, books typeset in Bodoni can produce that same graceful loveliness on an entire page, especially when the letters have some space between them, which keeps the lines smooth and easy to read.
Many of us read schoolbooks set in Bodoni (easy to read, remember?) and its broad face makes for a quick read on posters and advertising boards.