George Mackie is 100 years old today. I first met him a few years ago, at a party celebrating an earlier birthday. My father, Peter Campbell, was in his last year, and not feeling up to the train. He asked me to drive him and my mother to George’s house in Lincolnshire. Peter and George had been writing to one another since George had sent what he describes as a ‘fan letter’ praising the design of the London Review of Books. They had both had long careers as typographers and illustrators. If these jobs are done well, it’s often by being as unobtrusive as possible. As Beatrice Warde argued in ‘The Crystal Goblet, or Printing Should Be Invisible’, ‘almost all the virtues of the perfect wine-glass’ – ‘crystal clear’, ‘thin as a bubble’, ‘transparent’ – ‘have a parallel in typography.’ George thinks that as his eyesight deteriorated, his typography improved. Some of the lost clarity of vision can be repaired by making clearer pages.
‘Gothic’ or ‘Black Letter’ script was used by monastic scribes in many parts of Europe from the 12th century. Early printer-typefounders, including Gutenberg and Caxton, imitated handwritten Black Letter in the first moveable type. In Italy, Gothic typefaces were soon challenged by Roman or 'Antiqua' letters (which owed their forms to classical Latin inscriptions) and Italics; and in much of Northern Europe, too, Black Letter forms were largely obsolete by the mid-17th century.