Robert Massin
Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York, 2003, English; originally published 1970 in English and French
Nonfiction, Graphic Design
ISBN: 9780289797860

An extensively illustrated survey of the role of type in culture from pre-history through the 1960s. French graphic designer and writer Robert Massin (b. 1925) is one of the key figures in the development of postwar graphic design. He served as art director for the preeminent French publisher Gallimard, devising its well-known Folio collection.

On 5 book lists
Tom Geismar

Type as image over the centuries. Many rare examples.

Warren Lehrer

First published in 1970, this comprehensive, profusely illustrated overview of how letters and images have intermingled in art and literature through history and around the world is still the best book ever made on the origins of what I’m calling visual literature. It chronicles the history of how letters and images were pretty much one and the same early on. Though they were separated into distinct fields (art and writing), the impulse to bring them back together continued as evidenced in letterforms intertwined with humans, foliage, and animals; pattern poetry, figured verse, calligrams, shaped poetry and prose; the use of letters in fine art; and modernist movements up to concrete poetry and other text-art of the 1960s. As a practitioner, Robert Massin is mostly known for being an innovator and experimentalist, but he was also a scholar who felt a compulsion to better understand the roots of a tradition he was extending.

Rick Poynor

Massin’s anthology of letterforms as images, illustrated with more than 1,000 historical examples, is a phenomenal feat of visual research. First published in 1970, this cornucopia of peculiar characters has few peers to this day. I can testify to the book’s continuing usefulness for anyone conducting research in this field. Working on a recent exhibition, I was able to track down an original copy of some pictorial lettering from the 1950s entirely thanks to its inclusion in the book. Massin’s use of picture numbers in the margin next to references in the text makes it easy to find your way around this lavish compendium.

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