Simon Loxley
Designed by Jerry Kelly
David R. Godine, Boston, 2013, English
Nonfiction, Graphic Design
9.2 x 5.9 inches, hardcover, 216 pages
ISBN: 9781567923674
Suggested Retail Price: $45.00

From the Publisher. The book and type designer Frederic Warde is remembered today chiefly for his collaboration with Stanley Morison, for producing the singular typeface Arrighi, and for being, briefly, the husband of Beatrice, Monotype's charismatic publicity manager. His life was short (he died in 1939, at the age of only forty-five) but in the previous two decades he had pursued a peripatetic, rollercoaster career that saw him come into contact with most of the leading players in his field, in England, Europe, and America: Bruce Rogers, Mardersteig, Updike, Ruzicka, George Macy, William Kittredge, and, of course, Morison, are just a few of a stellar cast of characters whose lives intersected with his orbit.

Until now scantily documented, Warde is the missing piece in the story of design, type, and printing in the interwar years, and this book will make essential reading for anyone interested in that critical period, one that saw the final era of hot-metal composition and printing combined with the emergence of graphic design as a distinct profession. Warde laid many false trails about his personal history, but the author has drawn upon a surprisingly large body of surviving documentation to piece together a fascinating picture of his life and of the complex, frustrating, sometimes dislikeable, but often inspiring, figure at its center.

The best of Warde’s extensive body of work displays a restraint and economy linked with an often striking color sense that feels thoroughly modern in its approach. This output was maintained, sometimes erratically, against the backdrop of Warde's mercurial and fragmented professional and personal life. Polarizing the opinions of those he met, he was unfailingly a prolific, entertaining, and informed letter writer, and his correspondence provides invaluable insights into his world and those around him. Here is a designer's life played out against the backdrop of the boom years of the 1920s, the challenges of the Depression, and the obstacles and opportunities created by his own remarkable, but troubled, genius.

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Many designers know Beatrice Warde’s name because of her oft-quoted “type as crystal goblet” metaphor, while her husband (for a short time), Frederic Warde, a classical American type designer and illustrator, is known only to an ever-decreasing number of orthodox type mavens. But now, designer Simon Loxley, author of Type: The Secret History of Letters, has taken a stab at filling the biographical void with Printer’s Devil: The Life and Work of Frederic Warde, a deeply researched and surprisingly engaging account of Warde’s life within a circle of storied type and book men. Warde led a fascinating if not disturbing life. He was “highly anti-semitic” (he spoke of the Kill-A-Kike-A-Day-Club), writes Loxley. And his marriage was overshadowed by his homosexuality (“Tomorrow morning,” Beatrice Warde wrote to her mother, “...we go straight to Paris: but if F. will continue to ‘go straight’ after he reaches that gay city, I don't know”). Of course, there is also a lot about his collaboration with Stanley Morison and the design of his famed typeface, Arrighi, as well as for being the Zelig of the fine-printing community.

Warde was a troubled perfectionist during a period when fine printing and typography were keys to an exclusive club. He was, notes Loxley in the introduction, “a shadowy figure,” and “a gifted, self-destructive burn-out … [an] ambitious failure” whose “aspirations immolated on the pyre of personality defects.” But there is more than mere melodrama here. “I gradually developed not only respect for Warde’s devotion and commitment to his craft,” Loxley continues, “but also love for much of his substantial body of work.” Warde had his loyal critics. “Nothing he did, to my knowledge,” said George Macy who hired him to design for the The Limited Editions Club, “fails to satisfy the eye: even if it is true that his books often fail to satisfy the soul.”

Jerry Kelly’s elegant book design in the style of the times, set in Minion and Arrighi JK types, might turn off some younger potential readers, but it is a package worth savoring.

How can you ignore a book about a designer who is exposed and celebrated for many flaws and curious triumphs. Or one who “either sought out or bumped up against most of the key players of the period: Bruce Rogers, Daniel Berkeley Updike, Hans Mardersteig, Rudolph Ruzicka, Frederic Goudy . . .” all heroes of the age. If that’s not enough, Loxley proves Beatrice did much of the writing Warde put his name to. “I could write easily, perhaps better than he. So I helped as I could,” Beatrice is quoted as saying. What a juicy read.

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